8 Greatest Mastering Plugins of All Time — Professional Audio Information

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Plugins have steadily discovered their means into the mastering engineer’s workflow. Whereas {hardware} equalizers, compressors, exciters, excessive finish converters and even analog tape stay instruments throughout the ME’s arsenal, software program has improved drastically over the a long time. Mastering fully within the field can nonetheless render skilled outcomes.

This isn’t to say that one can declare to be a mastering engineer after merely buying a couple of plugin packs. There are nonetheless many expertise mastering engineers possess that transcend processing a stereo combine to sound fuller, clearer and louder. All through historical past, MEs have tailored to modifications in expertise, delivering music optimized for vinyl, 8-track, cassette, CD and now streaming. With Apple’s spatial audio possibility obtainable as a part of their music streaming service, MEs will proceed to tweak their processes to create masters optimized for an ever-evolving and sophisticated listening format.

That mentioned, there are a plethora of instruments presently obtainable in case your main purpose is to easily improve the sonics of your recordings earlier than importing for streaming and/or distributing by way of compact disc, vinyl, and so forth. These plugins can be utilized to sculpt the timbre and dynamics of your music to skilled requirements.

Listed below are my favourite mastering plugins of all time, and the way I’ve used them when finalizing mixes for distribution.

Initially launched in 2018, bx_masterdesk went on to develop into Brainworx’s best-selling plugin of the 12 months. It’s a fast and clear multi-function software that can be utilized to sculpt the tone and dynamics of in-the-box masters.

Up to date extra lately with changes to the GUI, in addition to the flexibility to detect and handle intersample peaks, bx_masterdesk is now an much more complete all-in-one mastering answer, that includes a flexible compressor/limiter part, resonance filters, a 4-band tone management, a de-esser, THD for including refined saturation to program materials, a mono maker and extra.

Bx_masterdesk True Peak, which comes with loads of customized crafted presets, is a priceless software for anybody who has even minimal expertise with mastering. It has nice sound and performance, so it might probably additionally actually enchantment to extra seasoned engineers.

Mastering Tip

The muse management is the way you set the final tonality of your grasp, permitting for emphasis on both excessive or low finish. For thicker, extra bass heavy music, flip up the inspiration management. Remember although, if in case you have a limiter inserted after bx_masterdesk, feeding extra low finish into that limiter may really end in a smaller, thinner sounding grasp.

bx_masterdesk True Peak

Taking inspiration from Passive tube EQs — whereas providing a cleaner tone and extra versatile performance — the {hardware} Knif Soma unit is a masterpiece, with pristine audio high quality thought-about down to each final part. Brainworx has taken this wanted EQ and introduced it into the digital realm. A part of the brilliance of the Soma is its “actual Q adjustment” talents. Altering the bandwidth management on a standard passive EQ will trigger an inadvertent enhance or discount the quantity of enhance or reduce being utilized, resulting in sudden modifications within the EQ curve. The Soma was engineered to stop this, providing a number of the most exact EQ capabilities present in a {hardware} unit.

The Soma options 5 bands, every with 16 selectable frequencies and a bandwidth/shelf management, in addition to low and high-pass filters. It could perform in stereo or mid/aspect mode, and comes with plugin solely options together with stereo width, headroom and mono maker choices.

Mastering Tip

I like the auto-listen function which lets you hear the precise modifications you’re making in isolation by soloing the band you’ve bought chosen. I want extra EQ plugins had this as a typical possibility. It could in fact be switched off, and I discover myself toggling backwards and forwards — utilizing it about half the time — as a result of I do need to hear what my EQ selections sound like in context.

Knif Soma

Initially designed to reinforce the sound high quality of .mp3 recordsdata, Ozone debuted in 2001 and was made to be used inside DirectX or Winamp. Sensing a necessity for mastering-grade instruments that will perform inside a DAW, iZotope quickly up to date Ozone to incorporate multiband dynamics, metering instruments and a few strong presets that helped new customers alter to this new type of mastering workflow.

Ozone 3 included modules equivalent to exact paragraphic EQs, multiband stereo imaging, dithering and a transparent-sounding mastering limiter (also referred to as the IRC Maximizer). Ozone 4 and 5 added mid-side processing and a harmonic exciter.

Throughout the loudness wars within the mid-2000s, iZotope included a number of IRC modes into the maximizer, permitting mastering engineers to tailor Ozone to this system materials. This allowed for extra clear masters, even at loud volumes. Ozone 8 adopted one in every of my favourite instruments, the tonal stability management, which supplies extremely useful visible suggestions. It additionally launched the spectral shaper, which permits MEs to search out and repair downside frequencies.

Lastly, launched in 2019, Ozone 9 options an up to date Grasp Assistant function, which supplies an knowledgeable start line in your masters primarily based on a reference or different user-defined parameters. Grasp Rebalance lets you repair combine stability points with out entry to the unique stems, and the Low Finish Focus function defines your low finish with minimal work.

As you possibly can see, Ozone has improved with each single iteration, and I discover myself utilizing it as a rule when utilizing a strictly digital mastering workflow. From tonal sculpting, to stereo imaging, to including analog-style harmonic coloration and even for ultimate limiting duties, Ozone is what it claims to be: an all-in-one mastering answer.

Whereas I’m on the subject of iZotope, I want to say two extra of their instruments that see common use when mastering. Perception 2, the clever metering plugin that options modules for loudness, ranges, sound discipline and spectrogram, has develop into a vital software for offering visible suggestions about my masters. I exploit Perception 2 to measure brief time period, built-in and momentary loudness, in addition to to diagnose mono section compatibility points.

Moreover, whereas extra generally used for put up production-related duties, iZotope RX 9 sees common use for de-noising, de-clipping, to take away mouth clicks and sometimes for its music rebalance function, which permits customers to carry up or down the degrees of drums, vocals, bass and different components. That being mentioned, I’d usually relatively have shoppers re-deliver mixes with up to date balances than ever use software program like this for the duty.

iZotope continues to push technological boundaries, creating software program that helps music makers no matter which stage they’re at, whether or not or not it’s manufacturing, mixing or mastering.

Ozone 9

It actually wasn’t the primary digital limiter plugin, however for my part, FabFilter’s is the perfect. Brickwall limiting is a obligatory a part of mastering, and Professional-L 2 is a limiter densely full of useful options, but nonetheless so easy to make use of.

Enhancing on the unique Professional-L, the up to date Professional-L 2 options seven distinct algorithms (clear, punchy, dynamic, allround, aggressive, fashionable, bus and protected) that deal with program materials barely in another way, permitting customers to meticulously tailor this limiter to the dynamics of their materials. It may be pushed to attain competitively loud outcomes whereas nonetheless remaining clear and retaining the integrity of the combination, making it my go-to ultimate limiter when mastering.

Sonics apart, the tidy FabFilter Professional-L 2 consumer interface options true peak stage meters and loudness metering with help for the EBU R128, ITU-R BS.1770-4 and ATSC A/85 requirements. Its real-time stage show supplies the required data you might want to ship high quality masters in adherence with the wants of your consumer. As spatial audio turns into extra prevalent, the truth that Professional-L 2 helps Dolby Atmos 7.0.2 and seven.1.2 codecs makes it onerous to argue in opposition to FabFilter’s limiter as the perfect in the marketplace.

FabFilter PRO-L-2

Based mostly on the monstrous tube-filled {hardware} unit that presently sells for over $6,200, this emulation from Common Audio has discovered its means onto my masters for practically a decade now. The Huge Passive is what I might name a “musical” equalizer, nearly at all times bringing out the perfect of this system materials. The low finish has mojo, the midrange introduces chew with out changing into harsh and the excessive finish is silky and clear.

Regardless of its complex-looking faceplate, the twin four-band Huge Passive covers all of the sonic territory required for even essentially the most demanding mastering jobs. It’s cable of each broad stroke sweetening (all the way in which as much as 27 kHz) and exact EQ duties due to its 11 selectable frequencies per band. The low and high-pass filters are clear, and you’ll unlink the 2 channels in case there are frequency-based discrepancies between the 2 channels.


Chino, California-based Manley Labs, makers of a number of the very best tube-based audio {hardware}, formally licensed and endorsed this plugin, so that you will be relaxation assured that it may be used to elegantly sculpt your tones when mastering.

UAD Manley Massive Passive

Professional-Q 3 approaches the method of equalization with the exact same sonic transparency and precision as the opposite FabFilter plugins, which I can’t advocate sufficient for each music and post-production duties. Whereas the Professional-Q 3 doesn’t sound as candy and vibey as one thing just like the Huge Passive, it greater than makes up for it with accuracy and flexibility.

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Professional-Q 3 is full of options together with linear section, pure section, dynamic EQ modes, mid-side processing, a nifty solo function for looking down particular frequencies, a customizable spectrum analyzer and lots extra.

In observe, I’ll make use of the dynamic EQ mode on Professional-Q 3 for subtly taming harshness in vocals, cymbals and guitars, in addition to for cleansing up extreme boxiness or boominess decrease within the frequency spectrum. I’ll additionally make the most of the mid-side capabilities to sculpt a clearer stereo picture.

Fabfilter Pro Q3

As a very long time consumer of the UAD/Brainworx Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor, I used to be thrilled to see this replace, which is on the market by way of Plugin Alliance. The calling card of the SHMC is separate optical and discrete compression sections for two-stage compression strategies.

Classic King launched the Class A {hardware} in 2012, limiting manufacturing to solely 50 items.

The VCA part is punchier on the Class A. Brainworx added much more options to the emulation of the already broadly celebrated {hardware} model. Dubbed the “crimson” model, this up to date compressor is punchier, quicker and extra versatile than its “inexperienced” predecessor.

For added harmonic potential, the SHMC has switchable output transformers. Nickel provides a clear high finish sparkle, iron provides refined character within the midrange, and metal provides further harmonic distortion.

Further options courtesy of Brainworx embrace headroom management, mid-side processing, mono-maker, stereo width, parallel combine, sidechain filter, exterior sidechain and a scalable consumer interface.

All issues thought-about, the SHMC Class A is essentially the most versatile plugin compressor in the marketplace, able to nearly all the pieces from the refined taming of dynamics, to expressive and colourful enhancement of punch and timbre.

Plugin Alliance Brainworx Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor Class A

As essential because the aforementioned plugins are to my mastering course of, none of them can deal with sure duties that this specialised mastering DAW and plugin set from HOFA can. CD-Burn.DDP.Grasp PRO can:

  • Burn Pink Ebook audio CDs
  • Import audio CDs
  • Create DDP photographs
  • Grasp for vinyl
  • Insert third-party VST3 and AU plugins
  • Dither
  • Enter metadata and export audio with metadata
  • Create customizable PQ sheets

Along with the aforementioned options, CD-Burn.DDP.Grasp PRO comes with a powerful assortment of plugins together with an analyzer, de-esser, EQ, compressor, limiter and reverb.  Mastering goes far past merely processing a stereo combine, and I imagine this software program from HOFA to be an ideal funding for anybody who’s inquisitive about mastering at knowledgeable stage.

HOFA CD Burn DDP Master


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