Mastering, a form of audio post production, is the process of preparing and transferring recorded audio from a source containing the final mix to a data storage device (the master), the source from which all copies will be produced (via methods such as pressing, duplication or replication). In recent years, digital masters have become usual, although analog masters—such as audio tapes—are still being used by the manufacturing industry, particularly by a few engineers who specialize in analog mastering

After the introduction of the microphone and electronic amplifier in the mid-1920s, the mastering process became electro-mechanical, and electrically driven mastering lathes came into use for cutting master discs (the cylinder format by then having been superseded). Until the introduction of tape recording, master recordings were almost always cut direct-to-disc.[3] Only a small minority of recordings were mastered using previously recorded material sourced from other discs.

Music and Mastering

Although tape and other technical advances dramatically improved the audio quality of commercial recordings in the post-war years, the basic constraints of the electro-mechanical mastering process remained, and the inherent physical limitations of the main commercial recording media—the 78 rpm disc and later the 7-inch 45 rpm single and 33-1/3 rpm LP record—meant that the audio quality, dynamic range,[a] and running time[b] of master discs were still limited compared to later media such as the compact disc

DIGITAL Mastering

In the 1990s, electro-mechanical processes were largely superseded by digital technology, with digital recordings stored on hard disk drives or digital tape and mastered to CD. The digital audio workstation (DAW) became common in many mastering facilities, allowing the off-line manipulation of recorded audio via a graphical user interface (GUI). Although many digital processing tools are common during mastering, it is also very common to use analog media and processing equipment for the mastering stage. Just as in other areas of audio, the benefits and drawbacks of digital technology compared to analog technology are still a matter for debate. However, in the field of audio mastering, the debate is usually over the use of digital versus analog signal processing rather than the use of digital technology for storage of audio.[2]

Digital systems have higher performance and allow mixing to be performed at lower maximum levels. When mixing to 24-bits with peaks between -3 and -10 dBFS on a mix, the mastering engineer has enough headroom to process and produce a final master.[6] Mastering engineers recommend leaving enough headroom on the mix to avoid distortion.[7] The reduction of dynamics by the mix or mastering engineer has resulted in a loudness war in commercial recordings.[8]

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