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There are more Metering Tools available to the mastering engineer than the simple metering that we are used to during recording, because the Mastering process requires a lot more visual input to tell you the things that you need to know. Paying attention to the meters is extremely important in mastering, much more so than mixing, especially when you are trying to achieve hot levels. Typically, the mastering engineer will look at the following: A PPM meter or a Peak Program Meter, a Spectrum Analyzer, sometimes called a Real-Time Analyzer or an RTA, a Phase Correlation Meter, a Phase Oscilloscope, and a Dynamic Range Meter.
A Peak Meter is what's found on virtually every piece of Digital Equipment and Plug-in, since it has an extremely fast response. This has become a necessity for digital recording, because any signal beyond 0 dB causes a very nasty distortion. All Peak Meters have a red over indicator that lets you know you've exceeded the zone of audibly clean level. VU Meters found in analog audio gear are what's known as RMS meters, and you'll occasionally find a digital version of the Mastering Metering package, RMS stands for the Root Mean Square Measurement of the voltage of the electronic signal, which roughly means its average.
Even when your Peak Meter is tickling 0 dB, the RMS meter will settle at a point much lower, since it's measuring the signal differently than the peak meter. We don't use RMS meters much these days, since a Peak Meter is much more precise, when in the pre-digital days, that's all that was available, and it's still what many engineers are used too. The Phase Scope gets its name from the fact that in the early days of recording, a phase between the left and right channel was checked by an old-fashioned oscilloscope, which is nick-named a Scope. Phase is extremely important in a stereo signal, because if left and right channels are not in phase, not only will the program sound odd, but instruments pan to the center like lead vocals, and solos, and disappear if the stereo signal should ever be combined into mono.
While the Phase Scope take some time to get the hang of, the Phase Correlation Meter is dead simple. Any signal that's drawn towards the right-hand +1 side of the meter is in phase, which is good. Any signal that's drawn towards left-hand -1 side of the meter is out of Phase not good. In general, any meter readings above 0 and in the right-hand positive side of the scale have acceptable mono compatibility. A brief read out towards left-hand negative side of the scale isn't necessarily a problem, but if the meter consistently sits in the negative side, it could represent a mono compatibility issue.
Keep in mind that the wider your Stereo mix is, either by panning or wide stereo reverbs, the Phase Correlation Meter will tend to indicate more towards the left side, but as long as the signal stays mostly on the right, your compatibility should be good to go. A Spectrum Analyzer is an excellent tool for determining the frequency balance of your program by looking at it in 1/6th-octave portions. It's especially effective for singling out particular frequencies that are too hot and for dialing in the low-end. Contrary to what you might think, when you look at the Analyzer, the object is not to aim for a totally flat response.
The deep base below 40Hz and ultra highs above 10K are almost always rolled off compared to the other frequencies. It's very useful to look at other mastered songs that you think sound really good, get a feel for what they look like on the Analyzer. Keep in mind that your mastering job will probably not look like your chosen sample, since songs is unique, but if it is the same genre, it might be close by the time you finish working your mastering magic. The Dynamic Range Meter is very similar to a Peak Meter but adds the additional function of measuring the Dynamic Range of a signal.
Checkout the movie on Dynamic Range if you missed it, for more information on Dynamic Range. While you don't need all of these meters to do a proper mastering job, they all do serve a purpose, and can be helpful in identifying problem areas in your mixes and master tracks.
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