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Mastering audio is the final stage in music production, where the final set of mixed songs are turned into a cohesive album through a variety of processes that make the music sound the best it can, wherever it's played. Join author and producer Bobby Owsinski in this course, as he teaches essential mastering concepts and techniques used by experienced audio engineers. Follow along as he works at Oasis Mastering, a real-world mastering facility, and learn how to apply these techniques to your home or studio setup and make your projects sound better than ever.
First, discover how to configure your monitoring setup, optimize your listening environment, and prepare and print alternative mixes that will allow you to make quick fixes during mastering. Bobby then reviews a selection of dedicated mastering tools that give you precise control over select signal parameters, from compressors to de-essers. He'll discuss the differences between mastering for CD, online distribution, and specifically for iTunes, and how to achieve the best results for each medium. The course wraps with lessons on mastering for high-resolution formats like Blu-ray, as well as delivering and archiving the master recording once the project is complete.
So what are the tricks to get the best sound quality from an iTunes encode? It turns out that the considerations are about the same as with MP3 encoding. First of all, turn it down a bit. A song that's flat-lined at -1 dB full-scale isn't going to encode as well as the song with some headroom. This is because the iTunes AAC Encoder tends to output a tad harder than the source. So there may be inter-sample overloads that happened at that level that aren't detected on a typical peak meter. All digital audio converters on consumer and professional audio gear have different sensitivities, and some may overload while others sound clean.
As a result, a level that doesn't trigger an over on your DAW's converter, may actually be an over on another playback unit. If you back it down to -0.5 or even -1 dB, the encode will sound a lot better and your listener probably won't be able to tell much of a difference in level anyway. Don't squash the master too hard. Masters with some dynamic range encode better. Masters that are squeezed with an inch of their life don't encode as well, it's as simple as that. Listeners like it better when there's more dynamics too.
Although the new AAC Encoder has a fantastic frequency response, sometimes rolling off a little of the extreme top end around 16 kilohertz and above can help to encode as well. A typical roll-off might look something like this. Any type of data compression requires the same common-sense considerations. If you back off on the level, the mix bus compression in the high frequencies of the mix, you'll be surprised just how good your AAC encode can sound.
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