Updated: Feb 12
Mastering a song or an album is an important step in the preparation of the content for commercial distribution. It has increased in importance even more in a world dominated by a variety of music outlets and different formats. With so many artists fighting for a place in the sun, you want your song to stand out and sound professional.
There are many audio engineers who focus only on mastering and are famous for that. A lot of DIY musicians (including yours truly) believe they can do it all and come up with a decent mix and master. The process is however quite complex and can be frustrating.
Luckily there are a few options out there for those who cannot afford a professional mastering studio. In this article we will look at the Lurssen Mastering Console from IK Multimedia, a standalone application and a plugin for your DAW.
The masterminds behind this are mastering engineers Gavin Lurssen and Reuben Cohen of Lurssen mastering inc., a famous facility in Los Angeles. They have teamed up with IK multimedia to create this beauty of a plugin.
At face value this plugin is quite easy to understand and use. Since it is aimed at the final mastering of the song, you need to deliver a stereo mix with enough headroom so it can do its job. It is therefore normally placed in the stereo bus of your DAW.
The gear chain can be viewed from the user interface and consists of a chain of EQ (Tube and Solid State), De-essing, and compression. Very typical mastering chain.
It comes with a plethora of presets for various styles of music ranging from Jazz to Heavy Metal, which can be later tweaked via the controls that the plugin offers. Poking around with the presets reveals that limiter which is used in some of them, in addition to the elements above.
The controls look simple, sleek and intuitive:
· Input drive, or how much signal is pushed into its chain of virtual gear
· Brilliant looking old school VU meters
· A switch to toggle the meters between processed signal and input signal - good for checking the impact the process is having on the VU meters
· 5 bands of EQ
· Stereo or mono monitoring switch
· A push control with according to the manufacturer "will subtly enhance selected song passages via uniform EQ adjustment"
Needless to say, it is highly automated and supports 24 bits 96 kHz audio processing, subject to system specifications.
How we tested it
Of course an on/off test in a song sounds fantastic as expected. Even if you use egregiously the presets - pop in a heavy metal song - the song will just stick out instantly. It will sound louder, more consistent, brighter and ready to go to the market. But for a fair comparison we decided to compare two pieces of software that try to do the same job.
Rather than another plugin, we decided to give LANDR a go. This is an online mastering service based on machine learning and artificial intelligence. They claim to have developed software which learns from a large database of songs, figures out the genre of your song (or group of songs) and then select what are the best mastering parameters for you. It has a very basic control with three levels of intensity and that is basically it. It is a paid service with some freebies for trial. We created an account and delivered WAV with a raw mix at 24 bits 48 kHz, which is the same we delivered to the Lurssen Mastering Console via Logic Pro X. A few minutes later we downloaded the mastered WAV file.
Nothing better than a direct comparison with audio rather than words, right ? So our youtube video below has the raw track first, then the Lurssen master, then the LANDR.
Of course opinions will vary. To our ears - and meters - even with medium intensity the LANDR version sounded a bit more compressed and harsh. The IK Multimedia plugin respected clipping limitations and came with a total loudness (LUFS) in line with current expectations of digital distribution channels.
The difference is relatively small, so there is not enough evidence to discredit one approach or the other. There is of course far more control on the IK Multimedia plugin, but LANDR can process many tracks in bulk.
For our use cases we are quite happy with the Lurssen Mastering Console.
It gives nearly instantaneous benefits leaving a song ready for publishing in a very efficient and professional manner.
It comes with a variety of presets but you can tweak them and make your own. The interface looks and feels like real and is very easy to use. If you have experience with audio gear or plugins it will all be very intuitive - almost too good to be true.
The verdict is that this plugin is definitely worth a shot. You can even make it interesting and see if you can make a better master by using the plugins you already trust and use this for comparison. But in the end we see it as a massive time saver for us busy engineers turned musicians or musicians turned engineers.