Mastering is a complicated business. It’s vital to the finished quality of a track and is an area of deep expertise. For artists looking to release their music, I would say that skimping on the budget when it comes to mix and mastering is at best, very shortsighted.
However, not all music needs to be released to the same exacting standards. If you work in the music business and you need quick turnarounds, or to whip up a good WIP demo for a client, you haven’t got time to ship your music off to the mix and master engineers to get the pro sheen to your track. This is where I think plugins like Plugin Alliance’s BX Masterdesk are invaluable. Masterdesk is an all-in-one mastering plugin that cleverly brings the general master effect chain into one GUI, and enables good results from simple tweaks.
The Masterdesk chain contains compression, EQ, THD (harmonic) saturation, de-essing, limiting and stereo enhancement options. Dirk
It’s the brainchild of Dirk Ulrich, the guy who started PA, and he wanted something analog-style to shove on a 2buss to give it a quick sheen and oomph. A lot of the processes in the plugin have been pre-tuned, so with minimal effort and/or mastering know-how on your end, you can achieve a nicely mastered track. Ulrich worked with the entire Brainworx team and consulted a bunch of mastering experts, to evaluate and ensure that this plugin got the essentials of the mastering chain exactly right.
Masterdesk ensures that your mix has the same loudness, stereo width and power of any commercial mix. But you can do it with a twist of a few buttons. Sound like marketing gimmickry? Well, I tried it out. Of course, it’s marketing gimmickry. It’s never going to be as good as sending your material off to a professional mastering engineer. A plugin like this is never going to cover every specific eventuality on a per track basis. It’s more of a broad sweep of mastering, trying to sweep everything under its mastering blanket, starting with a simple 3-step process. And I think it does that mind-bogglingly incredibly well.
This is the 3 step process.
1. Turn up the volume knob to fit in the generally accepted dynamic range (most stuff is between 8 – 6dB on commercial releases) 2. Set the Foundation for the master (How you want the bass end to sound) 3. Adjust the tone stack (EQ+)
The volume knob is not just volume. The compression circuit is on, and you’re driving the signal into the compressor. This is the first part of where the plugin team tuned the algorithm so in 99% of cases, just turning the volume knob and driving the audio will create a pleasantly compressed audio signal. Similarly, with the Foundation and Tone stack, a myriad of processes are lumped together into single knobs, creating a low end that works for your music, then adding tonal character across the frequency range.
Once you’ve established these three steps to a satisfactory place, there are some extras you can mess with to fine-tune the process. You don’t necessarily need to use them, but the extras are very tasty and will complement the work you’ve already done on your master track.
De-esser – this sits at the end of the chain, to remove any harshness that may have arisen with the compression and EQ put on the track. It’s one knob: no freq selection or bandwidth.
The limiter is set to a boost of 1db. However, with this function, you can increase the boost to 2dB, which can give a super loud master. This is unnecessary for most applications, but if you want it, it’s there.
The compression section
There are four different emulations of compressor to choose from, with the hardest compression 1, to easiest at 4. They also emulate slightly different colours of harmonic distortion, so you have some different flavours to play with on the track. There’s comp mix (for parallel processing the plugin) There’s a compressor link. The default is unlinked, to avoid pumping. But if you have music where the compressor is making the stereo image skewed, then you can add the link. You could automate the link/unlink function for different sections of a song, depending on what’s going on in the source material.
THD – it’s analog distortion emulated. You can add some. THD adds subtle overtones, that, when used well, can make the music glue together nicely. I have THD on my buss compressor, and it’s always on.
Mono Maker – kind of a standard for when mixing songs, but if you forget, this will mono-ise anything up to the freq point you choose. I usually set everything below 60 at mono.
Stereo enhance – this is not M/S width, but something to do with automating EQ. I’m not sure how it works, but it does. And it sounds nice.
Resonance filters. These are a couple of notch filters that take out frequencies that are always problematic for mastering engineers. 160, 315, 6k and 3k ranges are typically areas that become problematic when mastering. So these notches are available if you feel you need to adjust there.
Presets If even this is too much for you to work with, there are a host of presets for most genres, that give you a great starting point to help you learn how tweaking the plugin affects the track.
This is an incredible and excellent-sounding tool for quick turnaround projects that need a finishing piece of gloss before sending off. I tried it on a couple of tracks that are in progress with an artist client. It helps massively when sending mixes in progress etc., just giving it that ‘finished’ sheen that stops the artist ears from getting hung up on an unmastered track. I was blown away by how quick it is to set up and get a useable sound with minimal effort. I would always say for music that you’re extremely precious about (your music) I would always recommend finding a good mix engineer and mastering engineer to complete your music. Even today, with these amazing technologies, the plugins still don’t come close to the artistry and prowess of competent mix/master engineers. But for quick turnarounds, jobs that need a bit of gloss (demos etc.) I would put this plugin in the essentials box. Considering the value to effort ratio, there’s not much out there that can give a better finish to your music with so little tweakery, whatever genre. Very highly recommended.
Masterdesk is currently on sale for $49 (regularly $299). More info here
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About The Author
Composer/Producer, and keyboard player. He has written and recorded soundtracks for a wide variety of media and co-owns DOsounds.com with Jake Owen, a music production company that gives him an excuse to buy more analog gear.