September 03, 2009

Bob Ludwig on mastering

Bob Ludwig

Hidden Track has a good interview with Bob Ludwig, one of the masters of the art of mastering:

There is the art of mastering and there are butchers who wreck music. The tool which makes CDs sound loud are digital domain “look-ahead” limiters that examine the peak sound before it is processed and the limiter will adjust itself to be at an ideal state when the actual peak occurs. One can have zero or even negative attack times. This was impossible with analog limiters. Before digital domain limiters were invented, CDs made in the 1980’s and early 1990’s often were peak limited with a clipping circuit rather than the limiter circuits. Yes, this caused clipping distortion from the squared-off waveforms and it could only be pushed to a small degree. Going louder than these CDs from the 1980’s requires the mandatory use of compressors. The more you use the compression the louder the music will be, and if not done right, the life will go right out of the music.

The artistic mastering engineer will listen to each song and determine what the maximum level-vs-loudness trade off is. Believe me, there IS a trade-off! Every piece of gear made has a volume control on the playback and every radio station is already in competition with every other radio station to make everything, squashed or very dynamic, to be as loud as possible.

People are naturally attracted to louder versions of the same music. The good mastering engineer will stop the madness from getting too loud so the music has longevity and creates a desire for the listener to hear it again.

» Read the full interview

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