Analog mastering is often considered the ‘holy grail’ in the music industry but why? Read on for my take on what analog gear can do for your music.
Why analog mastering?
Affordable digital plug-ins have come a long way over the past 20 years and they can do a reasonable job of emulating the behaviour of analog studio gear. I have tried many over the years but I’ve yet to find one that can match that special something that analog can offer. You just can’t beat the real thing. What’s missing is that three-dimensional sound of true analog and my selection of gear features some of the most popular and widely used high-end kit alongside a couple of more esoteric and rare items.
What are the benefits of analog mastering?
Analog gear will add saturation, distortion and other non-linearities. This will add harmonics to the signal which results in a more full and complex tone. When used subtly, these potential sonic enhancements can add a number of unique and audibly pleasing benefits. Buzz words that musicians often use include:
Digital just can’t provide you with what you can achieve from real transformers and tubes. If you have recorded, produced and mixed solely ‘in the box’ using all digital plugins, then your mix can benefit massively by running it through an analog mastering stage.
Analog vs Digital Mastering
Digital tools certainly have their place in a professional mastering chain and I use them all the time. They are fantastic for precise and surgical moves. Digital can be very clean and adds no other artefacts other than the change you intended to make. Analog mastering equipment tends to be better for adding broader strokes, colour and vibe. I have a hybrid set-up where my analog mastering chain is ‘sandwiched’ between ‘pre’ and ‘post’ digital stages which can contain a selection of top plugins such as digital EQ and limiters. Using this unique kind of approach means you get the best of both worlds.
Making the investment
A high-end analog mastering studio is an expensive investment to say the least. Ask my bank manager! The extra gear set-up, lack of instant recall and constant maintenance is also very time-consuming. However, I believe it’s essential to get the best possible results. Mastering should not involve any compromises which is why I want all options available for my clients. Both analog and digital. No presets. No AI. Sometimes the difference can be subtle but it can give your music that final last push it deserves.
Are you ready for mastering?
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