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First off let’s address the elephant in the mastering studio. This is an iOS app that costs $150 to unlock full functionality. Whilst that kind of pricing is not unusual for desktop music software it is a hefty chunk of change for an app. The developer, IK Multimedia has a long track record of developing quality music software for pc/mac and have been one of a handful of bigger companies that have been early adopters of iOS as a music production platform.
They have ported some of their desktop software to iOS like Sampletank and more recently Syntronic. They have also developed some great apps just for iOS such as iLectric and the excellent iGrand piano.
So What Is Mastering And Do You Need To Spend This Much Money On A Mastering Tool?
I’ll try and give you some info on mastering and Lurssen so you can hopefully answer that yourself.
Mastering is the final polish and shine that can pull your track together and make it sound consistent on whatever you play it on. Usually, there may be some subtle EQ tweaks, some compression to tame some louder peaks and add emphasis to quieter parts. It is also common to use a Limiter to help boost the perceived volume of your mix and assure no clipping or distortion.
Many professional musicians do not do their own mastering. Ideally, a benefit of the mastering process is that the person doing the mastering is a fresh and impartial set of ears with the knowledge and experience to make your track sound great.
Most amateur and hobbyist musicians, however, do not have the resources to pay for professional mastering so ways to do this final step yourself have become more and more popular. There are multiple desktop software options out there that help you do this such as Ozone by iZotope and T-RackS by IK Multimedia.
On iOS there is Final Touch by Positive Grid and the very capable and aptly named Audio Mastering by Igor Vasiliev/iMusic Album. Additionally, for those who know what they are doing the FabFilter plugins available in Auria Pro such as ProQ, ProL, ProC and ProMB can be combined to create a very capable and flexible mastering effect chain. Final Touch ($10) and Audio Mastering ($13) are good value for what they are able to do.
The total of the in-app purchases needed to buy the individual Fab Filter plugins is on a par with the cost of Lurssen but the quality is definitely evident.
What Does Lurssen Mastering Console Bring To The Table?
The marketing blurb from IK Multimedia for Lurssen Mastering Console describes what you are buying in to fairly concisely: “a totally new approach to digital audio mastering. It provides a complete emulation of the entire mastering processing chain used by world-renowned mastering engineers Gavin Lurssen and Reuben Cohen and their team (you can see their studio here). This chain includes tube equalizers, solid state equalizers, limiters, de-essers and solid state compressors. The simulation of this chain reflects their whole chain philosophy”.
In effect what you are buying in to if you decide to take the plunge is the character of the Lurssen mastering sound that has attracted a diverse set of clientele from Metallica to Elton John to Snoop Dogg.
The app features a set of presets designed and named for various music styles. There are multiple presets for Hip Hop, Rock, Classical, Americana, Jazz and EDM that are designed to be starting points. The adjustments that you can make to the signal chain have been designed to be limited so that in theory there is not too much you can do as an amateur to mess up the final results.
The two main controls you can adjust are Input Drive which is the level of audio feeding in to the chain of processors and the Push control which can add subtle boosts to EQ in different sections of your track. You can write automation of these parameters across the track using the knobs. You can zoom in to the waveform of your track to move or create edit points and drag them to adjust location and parameter values. You can also adjust some parameters on the individual parts of the signal chain (For example Threshold and Gain on the compressor). These limited options may be seen as advantage by some but others may be frustrated by these limitations.
Import and Export are very straightforward and moving files from and finished Masters to Audioshare was easy. If you do not already own Audioshare I would highly recommend that you proceed directly to the app store as this has become the de facto file manager for iOS music making.
The app has an attractive design based on what the real hardware equipment looks like in the Lurssen studio right down to the hand drawn reference range points on some knobs that can be rotated to help with writing automations.
The user interface is simple and provides easy access to the settings you can adjust. I did find automation point editing hard to get accuracy with at times, it would be nice to be able to double tap to enter an exact numerical value for the edit points as often it skips up or down a value or two as you release your finger from the screen after editing.
The EQ adjustments you can make in Lurssen are fairly limited so it is important to have a good mix to start as you are not going to be able to dial in pinpoint EQ frequency fixes in the mastering process. If you have EQ issues in your mix it always advisable to get them dealt with at the mix stage anyway by running through a decent parametric EQ like ProQ in Auria, GooseEQ or the EQ included in your iOS DAW of choice.
Worth knowing: if you are mastering your music for streaming services like iTunes, Pandora and Spotify®, Lurssen Mastering Console has a Digital Delivery Mastering feature that provides you with mastered audio files that comply with Apple’s “Mastered for iTunes” specifications for sample rate, bit depth and peak levels, ensuring that your audio translates perfectly for compressed formats like AAC.
So What Does It Sound Like?
Below are some audio before and after examples that will probably give you the best answer as to whether this app is right for you. It has a pretty smooth sound that adds a subtle “glue” to your mix. Also, see the embedded video below where I run a mix through various iOS and desktop mastering options. FYI: I am no mastering expert, in fact I committed the supposed cardinal sin of mastering on headphones. Ideally you would have the money for decent studio monitors and/or understanding neighbors but if you don’t I have found a decent set of headphones with a flat response (Such as Sony MDR 7510 used here) can be a workable alternative.
Also, it is important to listen to your master on various systems to see if it sounds good in multiple real word listening scenarios. I always test on iPhone earbuds, car stereo, cheap Bluetooth speaker and even the iPad and iPhone built-in speakers to make sure it sounds reasonable on all. Often I will make notes while listening and go back and adjust the compression or EQ slightly to end up with a more rounded Master second or third try.
Overall I liked the quality of the sound processing. The sound of the mastered tracks I was able to get from the Lurssen app were rich and smooth. Personally, I fall more on the control freak side of things and though I don’t always know what I am doing from a technical standpoint I do know if I move knob x or fader y my ears know if it sounds better or worse.
The options within Lurssen to do this are pretty limited. There are plenty of presets provided (more have been added recently) but I did find the differences between them much more subtle than between the presets on other mastering apps and software (but mastering is all about subtle changes anyway, so this is something you can expect from this kind of software). As mentioned above I think this is largely as the app is designed to create the Lurssen signature sound by modeling their tried and tested (and great sounding) signal chains. We have a request for the developers here: we know it’s trendy, but electronic music is not just about EDM. It would be nice to add some presets that address different genres/subgenres.
The Lurssen Mastering Console app will likely appeal more to those musicians who don’t know their soft knee from their hard limiter and don’t really have the desire to dig into this. Whether Lurssen is worth the asking price is something luckily you can make your own judgment on. Just to put things in perspective, $150 is the equivalent of 1 or 2 tracks mastered by a pro mastering studio in most Western countries.
The iPad version is free to try but interjects random noise bursts periodically. This can be annoying but does allow you to import your music and try out the full controls in the app. It does not allow export of your mastered mix. A better option if you really want to explore fully what Lurssen can do is to try it on a Mac or PC if you have access to one. The desktop version allows you to try the fully unlocked software including export of mastered tracks for 10 days and costs $159 if you like what you hear.
Written by Stuart Kilbride aka Red Sky Lullaby, a musician and sound designer from upstate NY producing music mainly on iOS devices. Check him out here and on YouTube.
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