ANALOG & DIGITAL ENVIRONMENTS

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My tools for mastering

The right tools for the job is always a must.

Here's a list with the tools I use which are a combination of digital and analog processors as well as plugins; these I have gathered through years of experience, some have been with me since day 1, some others have been added along the way and others have been replaced as my taste and techniques have been evolving; each and every one of them give something special to the sound but remember, not all of them are suitable for all records and different genres demand different treatment.

 


 

Dynamic Range

To me, this is the most important part of Mastering and that's why I have all types of compressors used in Mastering: VCA, Vari-Mu and Digital.

Name Type Use  
Weiss - DS1 Digital Renowed as the best mastering compressor and my personal favorite because it offers full control over the the signal, it even handles 3 knobs for release, it can operate in stereo, M-S and dual-mono modes; it also offers the best parallel compression, plus being digital makes it as transparent as it gets which clears the way to other saturation processors.
Song using Weiss

Same song using Varis
Algorithmix - SplitComp Digital It's very rare that I resort to multi-band compression, it's just not my style however, there are ocassions when it's needed and the digital domain is by far the best choice. This compressor is way better than any other tool in the market, it is not coincidence that it costs more than 1,000 €.
Song using SplitComp

Same song using Shadow Hills
Distopik - VCA Analog This is a very hard-ass compressor but it also adds very sweet harmonics due to its vaccum tube circuitry, this is a great option for a quick-responsive compression that can tame the most aggressive sound.
Song using Distopik

Same song using Weiss
HCL - Varis Analog This one is a Vari-Mu compressor based on a vaccum tube design; it's ideal for very complex mixes with a lot of instruments like latin or jazz bands, it's compression is very gentle and if you need more strength you can choose between diode, triode, tetrode and pentode transformer to spice up the sound.
Song using Varis

Same song using Shadow Hills
Shadow Hills Industries - Mastering Compressor Analog Arguably the best analog compressor for mastering, this is a unit that offers two compressors, first an opto frequency-dependant stage with a fixed ratio, attack and release, and then a VCA stage with fixed 5-option attack, release and ratio knobs. Its sound is astoning and to make things more awesome it has 3 options for transformer, a nickel one, an iron one and a steel one, each of them offers different sound colorations. A true master piece specially designed for mastering.
Song using Shadow Hills (nickel transformer)

Same song using SplitComp
Fairchild 670 - Vari-Mu Analog This unit was constructed from the original Fairchild schemathics which is regarded as the Holy Grial of compressors. This unit differs from the original in the ratio knob which was fixed to 2:1 in the origial and the fact that although its audio processing is purely analog with 20 tubes and 13 transformers that fits in a 6-rack unit space, its control is purely digital which makes it much more precise and very easy to recall presets.
Tema usando Fairchild

Mismo tema usando Varis
In these examples, the first option is the ideal compressor for the song and the second one is the least ideal option to make more evident tha fact that not all processors are the best fit for all genres.

Overall Loudness

This is the last stage in the mastering chain and is always at the very end; it is also the only one I do entirely with plugins as I feel it works best for the music as it can get the needed volumen without squahsing the sound.

Name Use  
Weiss - MM-1 Derived from the Weiss DS1, this maximizer is the most transparent you can get and it is alse very precise and flexible, I use this one on masters that already have enough character and color and just need pure maximization.
Song using MM-1

Same song using Limiter No6
McDSP - ML8000 There are records that need a final treatment on certain frequencies, thats where ML8000 comes in, its sound is very transparent and it offers 8 bands to work with; it also offers different realease algorithms that make it very flexible, specially because it has a global stage and a multi-band stage, it's like two limiters in one.
Song using ML-8000

Same song using Vintage Warmer
PSP - Vintage Warmer There are occasions when a little more character is needed, specially with records with a vintage vibe; because of its character (and its name) it has a very warm sound and it allows to control the release decay, which works wonders when working with too much low-end.
Song using Vintage Warmer

Same song using Weiss MM-1
TDR - Limiter No6 Some records don't require a dedicated multi-band process but they do need some band separation, this is where Limiter No6 comes in handy because it offers a very precise multiband procesing with a separate high frequency limiter and a clipper that expands even further the reamining dynamic range.
Tema usando Limiter No6

Mismo tema usando ML8000
In these examples, the first option is the ideal maximizer for the song and the second one is the least ideal option to make more evident tha fact that not all processors are the best fit for all genres.

Stereo Image and Depth

The stereo width of your music is very important in mastering because a sound that is too wide may lose strength and presence, on the other hand, a very narrow sound will lose impact and ends up being too boring. Depth is also very important because a "flat" sound may result in ear fatigue so in most cases I'll have to recover some of this space but I have to be careful because, as helpful as it is, it could easily turn into an artificial sound.

Name Type Use  
DMG - Dualism Digital There are records that need some M-S proportion need some work, it could be to narrow the sound, to widen it or just to filter some frequencies from the mono component; whatever the case is, this processor does a fine job becuase it's completely transparent in sound coloration and precision.
Sound using DMG Dualism

Same song without Dualism
Algorithmix - K-Stereo Digital To me, this is the most advanced processor available out there; conceived for mastering only by Bob Katz's genius, this plugin allows to recover the original depth of the sound without introducing any external artifact, pure and precise psychoacoustics. The version I use of this processor is the Algorithmix one, because it's way more precise than the UAD one.
Song using K-Stereo

Same song without K-Stereo
NMS - Spreader Analog This was the surround control of the Behringer Tube UltraFex harmonics exciter, but I had it replaced with a stereo spreader for mastering (along with a huge upgrade in components for mastering) as a result it is a very usefult tool that comes in handy when the mix needs to widen up or narrowed down but also is clean enough to be done with analog gear.
Song using NMS Spreader

Same song without NMS spreader
Given its demo character, the processes depicted here are a bit exagerate than in the actual master just to make the sound more obvious.

Additive EQ

This type of EQ I use towards the end of the mastering chain to put a bit of strength or color to your sound, sometimes for the benefit of the vocals, sometimes for that airy sound or just to spice up the mid range, whatever the case, if needed, this process is done in the analog domain.

Nombre Tipo Uso  
NMS - Active EQ Analog This unit was rebuilt using the Behringer UltraQ chasis but with premium circuitry including Telefunken tubes and Nuvistor solid-state triodes, however, it is not linear-phase so I have to be very careful when using it.
Song using NMS Active EQ

Song before using the EQ
Distopik - Mastering Passive EQ Analog This EQ is of a passive design, inspìred in the GML/Sontec desing which is very transparent but warm. What makes this unit unique is the fact that its processing es entirely analog-tube but its controls are completely digital, controlled from the DAW through an HTML control panel.
Same song using Distopik Mastering Passive EQ

Substractive EQ

This type of EQ I use in the early stages of the mastering chain to substract the exceeding energy on certain frequencies that may become ear-fatiguing, this one process I always do in-the-box before going to any other process. I also do it exclusively with linear-phase EQs because its crucial to not have any added distortion at this stage.

Name Use  
Algorithmix - Red This is probably the most transparent and precise LP EQ, much more preicse than needed most of the time, but then again there are times when you have to be more than surgical, specially with material that comes from non-premium converters or has too much distortion between instruments within the mix.
Song using Algorithmix Red to adjust frequencies

Same song before frequency adjustment
DMG - Equilibrium This is my go-to tool for frequency correction, it has everything you could ask for, specially its crystal-clear sound and utmost flexibility, for extreme cases I'll with the afore-mentioned EQ.
Song using DMG Equilibrium

Same song before frequency adjustment

Exciters

There are cases where the music sounds a bit "lifeless", the elements are there but the mix is dull, it lacks of vibe and brightness. To bring them back to life, it's necessary to use harmonics exciters and saturation of some sort; most of the times the sole act of passing the sound through analog gear is just enough but sometimes this is not enough so exciters and saturators come into play.

Name Type Use  
SPL - Vitalizer Analog One of the most complex and well-designed units for mastering because it does not introduce harmonic distortion the way any other exciter would do so you would obtaing a more "live" or "vital" sound.
Song using SPL Vitalizer

Same song before harmonics treatment
NMS - Exciter Analog Iriginally designed as a low-cost harmonics tube-exciter by Behringer, this unit was rebuilt with top-notch circuitry, Telefunken tubes and Nuvistor solid-state triodes to induce second and third harmonicswith a very "round" character in the waveform however, its sound is a bit raw very desirable for heavy styles and sometimes very warm on "cleaner" styles when pushed with the solid-state stage only.
Song using NMS Exciter

Same song before harmonics treatment

Analog tape

This is one of the most coveted tools for saturation however, it is hardly suitable for all types of records but when it is, it sounds really great, I use both, tape emulators and the actual machine.

Name Type Use  
Telefunken - Magnetophon M15 Analog This is the actual reel-to-reel machine from the 70's, its coloration is staggering because it can boost the low-end, specially the kick drum-bass correlation. The tape is a 1/4 inch and can record at 7 or 15 IPS.
Song using Telefunken M15

Mismo tema usando el emulador AC202
McDSP - Analog Channel 202 Digital As I said before, not all cases are suitable for the actual tape machine so I use the McDSP AC202 which can emulate up to 5 tape machines (Ampex, Studer, Otari, Sony y Tascam) with 3 variations each, it also offers control over rollof, dump, release, bias, EQ and more, the possibilities are just amazing.
Song using the AC202 tape emulator

Same song using the Telefunken M15 tape machine

Tube saturation

Some records get by just passing through tubes and solid-state triodes, as I said before, in most cases it's enough by going thorugh an analog compressor or EQ but sometimes the record needs a bit more but not as much as an exciter.

Name Type Use  
Edax - MP-800 Analog This is a pure Class-A preamp and I use it whenever is necessary to lift up the overall volume of a mix because of the "airy" sound I can get from it, that analog "veil" that sounds clean and elegant.
Song using Edax MP-800

Same song with no saturation at all
NMS - Tube Saturator Analog This is also a preamp modified from the original Behringer Tube Ultragain with Telefunlen tubes and an added Nuvistor solid-state stage. The resulting sound is awesome although a bit aggressive for "softer" genres.
Same song using NMS Saturator instead of Edax
Pultec - Passive EQ Analog This one is an exact replica of the legendary EQ, same build with tubes and transformers, the only difference is that its controls are completely digital and it's controlled through and HTML GUI. So accurate is the replica that for mastering I have to use two units, since each of them is mono. The tone and character of this unit is amazing and very recognizable.
Same song using Pultec instead of NMS Tube Saturator

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It's very important to master for this format because it is quite different due to limitations on the final media.

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