how many years
have behind a console, we recommend listening to commercial
CD's (or High
Resolution Audio files) at every stage of a recording. CD's allow
you to hear the end
of the pros who are making musical history and to learn from their
NOTE: These CDs all sound very different
- and the
more your system reveals those differences, the more accurate it is.
Most of these albums are a few (or more) years old. Mixing Reference
CD's should stand the test of time. We recommend these because they are
not heavily based around gimicky ideas or trends. They give you a
"center" point to get your bearing from - and then you choose your own
sound. Tone & musicality rules over
volume, as many
are stating the loudness
It's ok if your mix doesn't match the volume on these CD's - let the
mastering engineer do that. If you are using a monitor controller
that allows you to level-match a reference with your mix, then you'll
have the advantage of just listening to the sonic textures - otherwise
volume wins every time. Level-match and listen to the blend, the
balance, the spread of the sound stage, the smoothness, the punch, the
vocal placement, the vibe.... More A-B reference
convenience, if you
would like to purchase any of these CD's, we have linked each album to
Amazon. You can just click, and have them delivered to your door in a
Toad the Wet Sprocket
- Coil - 5-Star Reference CD**
With level contests getting even hotter,
this CD is
still one of my favorite references. It's well engineered, nice smooth
and punchy mix, and superbly mastered by Stephen
Marcussen. The level on the meters is excellent, and the
apparent level is excellent (it even sounds louder than it looks on the
VU meters). This is great processing and frequency selection. The
bottom is big, the top is clear and smooth, and the
limiting/compression strategically keeps this musical. A pleasant,
exciting album to listen to and it's not square-wave-loud exhausting.
Click on the image to purchase - it's a must-have!
Dixie Chicks - Wide
Open Spaces - 5-Star Reference CD**
One of my all-time favorites - staying
at the top
year after year. Analog-sounding, smooth, punchy, not too hot, a great
reference CD (even better than subsequent Dixie CDs). The production is
excellent - open, silky highs and a clean bottom end. Plenty of
excellently recorded instruments to hear on this CD (dynamic, not hot).
Click on the image
to purchase it!
Nickelback - Silver
Side Up - 5-Star
Reference CD **
An excellent reference - I listen to it
more to hear clear, lasting "radio" up-front vocals and aggressive
tracks. The high end is clean and the lows go very low and it all
really works. For a top-end contrast, compare this with Linkin Park or
Seal (see below) and you'll hear that different sounding CDs still sell
records whether they're brighter, fatter, etc. The songs, the singer
and the performances are the most important thing... Walter Trout's "Go
The Distance" CD and Johnny Oskam's "Soul
Search" CDs bring up the blues-rock references.
| George Duke - Duke
- 5-Star Reference CD**
Mastered by John
this is an excellently balanced tonal presentation by one of the great
contemporary jazz legends, the Duke himself! Grammy-nominated without
being totally slammed, the level is hot enough to compete but musical
enough to be pleasing and listenable for a long time to come. Solid
mixing by Erik Zobler and clean arrangements made this an easy project
to master. It's clear, fat and wide - an excellent reference for
keyboards, vocals, solid kic, horns and more!
Spiritual Chillout -
Artists - 5-Star Reference CD**
This is a superb record to reference a
sounds from high to low, and hear an even thread making the journey
pleasant and uplifting. Mastered here at Vestman Mastering, this
compilation CD remains one of my favorites for clear highs, big lows,
dynamics and volume, and if you're in the mood for some evening mood
music... set the candles and enjoy!
Alison Krauss + Union
New Favorite - 5-Star Reference CD**
Amazing amazing amazing. Excellent
transparent engineering, astounding musical performances and
arrangements.... a work of art and it is truly... my new favorite. More
clarity than the Dixie Chicks (which has a superbly even top end) and
more hear-the-vocal-anywhwere articulation. A must-hear. (Taylor
Swift's "Red" album is MUCH louder than Alison's, but Taylor's music
has sonic merit...)
Mastered by Bob
with Bob Clearmountain at the mixing console. Musical, even, great
levels, non-hyped top end, vocals just right, full but clean
mid-bottom, it's a great reference. Sarah McLachlan has more highs and
will make your speakers glisten, whereas this one will add some velvet
to your room. For a "there are no rules" contrast, check out Avril
Fuel - Something Like
Human - 5-Star Reference CD**
Mastered by Tom
at Precision Mastering, this has a massive rock sound with a dose of
limiting/compression for cookin' levels. A nice reference for a big kic
drum sound, low lows, huge guitars and well placed vocals, but level
match when using this as a reference. Keep a balance of the natural
dynamics in your music though you may want to push the kic a hair so
that it still punches post-mastering (Better yet mix via stems). (POD's
"Satellite" CD is another good reference.)
Celine Dion - All The
Way - 5-Star Reference CD**
Recording and mastering PERFECTION. Vlado
Meller makes every track
on this record perfect from start to end. Play this at your wedding or
in your studio, it's amazing - consistent, perfect levels - no pressure
to conform with the level contest, yet it will hold up appropriately to
any CD. Vlado's touch has made this CD timeless and a must-have
reference. Vocal cruner Sam Smith has a gorgeous style, but his album,
"In The Lonely Hour," is unnecessarily hot.
Eden's Crush -
Popstars - 5-Star Reference CD*
R&B fans unite! A rich production,
topped off by
genius, David Foster.... you can't go too wrong... huge
level, big low end, smooth top end, but still bright, even if there is
Tools sound to this than some other Foster albums. Mastering by...
er,... not sure, but it sounds excellent on most songs (some do distort
a bit from too much level) with and sparkly (but meaty) production.
Ritter/Petito - In The
Silence - 5-Star Reference CD*
I cannot stop listening to this
album. It has peaceful, lasting, amazing songs, melodies, and
top-of-the-line musicianship. A full sound wrapped up by Toby Mountain at the mastering helm, with some
extra bottom, but still terrific. As an excellent reference CD, you'll
hear a variety of acoustic instruments, beautiful vocals (betters many
a Grammy winner, in my opinion) and classic verbs. This album is
uplifting and can make you believe that there is still musicians who
express and truly feel peace. If you love Enya for that spiritual,
relaxing experience, you'll love this for a little more pop-jazz-song
experience. Click on the image to purchase it!
Sarah Brightman - La
Luna - 5-Star Reference CD*
What a voice. What a production. Non
other than Bob Ludwig rounding out
powerhouse talent and
production, and an emotional journey in music. Taking the power of
contemporary production and putting next to a classical symphony... and
making it all work is truly the art of mastering at its finest. With
some exciting sizzle on top, this is a must-compare if you are
engineering/producing a female artist.
Deep Forest - Deep
Forest - 5-Star Reference CD*
This is my favorite album along with
World music, incredible engineering, 3-D and all that
stuff. Silky mastering by Vlado Meller at
Sony New York. Ideal level for musicality, but not quite enough
to blast with most of today's CDs. Buy this CD any way you can,
the engineering and lasting musicality is well worth turning up that
volume knob a notch. Inspiring, spiritual, emotional, I can't say
this production. Aw... yes I can.... The panning coming out of the
walls sends shivers up my spine. Reverb artistry is unmatched -
congratulations on this timeless piece of art. Click on the image to
weezer -(green album)
here and makes a hot (but not too smushed) clear and smooth CD,
superbly mixed by Tom Lord-Alge. Lots of big sound here, but of course
the hot level means there's much that is even sounding - like
the kic is big but it doesn't hit you in the chest like Beck (above) -
but that's only natural since there is a lot of music filling up the
Beck - Sea Change - 5-Star Reference CD*
An amazing recording. Great production,
vocals, awesome kick drums (best mid-bottom around) and mastered by the
best of the best, Bob Ludwig. This has excellent dynamics, excellent
apparent level (top of the line recording experts on this one) and it's
a great reference for many mixing and mastering concepts. Plenty
of level for my taste, but not as hot as some of today's kiln-cookin'
CDs.. but better this way, frankly. You'll still want to listen
to it years from now.
blink-182 - Take Off
Mastered by Brian
with Tom Lord-Alge doing his usual brilliant work on this production.
If children are around, the Parental Advisory sticker is good
to pay attention to... but as far as sound, it's a great reference for
a very clear, clean mix. I don't know if I would attempt these levels
at home! This one is a great example of how the actual arrangements of
the songs help the end product achieve that top-of-the-sqare wave
volume level. This would get a 5-Star reference from me if it wasn't so
Sarah McLachlan --
Surfacing- 5-Star Reference CD*
What a pleasure to listen to! Smooth,
emotional, clear.... draws you in... The, ah, writing is so small on
the CD I couldn't, well didn't, get out my magnifying glass to see who
mastered this, but it's very very nicely done. There's a pleasant
mid-range thing in this record that's probably comes from the
characteristics of the mix and instruments themselves. The
production is rich with great arrangements and originality, not to
mention great vocals. The level works for me and the tonal balance and
musicality will last for years. The City of Angel's CD is a
great reference too.
Dido - No Angel - 5-Star Reference CD*
A big sound with Tom
at Sterling Sound mastering. Vocals and drum loops are big and musical,
and the levels are hot but not squashed. Some songs have a different
flavor on the top, but keep listening - it's a truly great (and
lasting) addition to any mix reference collection.
Want - 5-Star Reference CD*
is one of my
favorite mastering wizards who works his
usual silky-smooth magic, with a little extra wide-body low end here.
Check back and forth with "Coil" (above) and Nickelback and you'll hear
the difference in these well presented productions. Ted's work is
super-smooth with very even mids, yet still sounding clear. Click on
the image to purchase it!
Bruce Hornsby - Scenes
Southside - 5-Star Reference CD*
Another one of my all time favorites,
this piece is
well engineered, with a good punchy bottom and very clear mids and
highs. Vocal very intelligible, piano clear and present, nice clean kic
drum, good placement of the guitars. Mid-bottom and bottom is not as
full as more modern records, but Bruce shops at Clean-Records-R-Us.
Terrific mastering by Bob Ludwig, this
one will stand the test of time even if the bottom isn't as robust as
today's records. Bruce's sibilance edges out just a bit for me, but
anyone on the production end could have made the call to leave the ss's
alone. This older CD level is a good 4 - 6 dB shy of today's artists,
but the definition is excellent. This used to be my favorite reference
CD! If you crank this one up to the same volume as today's CDs, it will
out-punch 'em in a heartbeat. The midrange in this record really comes
out if you hear it playing in some commercial store's "background"
music system (which probably lacks bottom and upper-top end), hence the
warmer sound of today's records will seem fuller under similar
Peter Cetera - One
Clear Voice - 5-Star Reference CD*
Well done, nice level, smooth top,
and always a
pleasure to listen to in the smooth pop vocal category. This one keeps
holding up over the years, despite the CD level war - in fact, the
lower level contributes to it's lasting appeal. Ted
Jensen's compression is invisible, and over all, the
frequencies are nice and even - even if a hair conservative. Bernie's
stuff is a little crisper, and perhaps more apparent in the mids, but
then much of that lies in the hands of the tracking and mixing
Linkin Park - Hybrid
one loud as usual, but the amazing broad spectrum of very evenly
and effectively placed frequencies makes this a great reference. Big
lows that won't blow up your boom box... highs that are smooth and
won't make your ears bleed... hey it's a good thing given the
aggressive feel of this CD. It's a good reference to the blink 182
because the top is less bright but the fullness in the low-middle is a
great tone to consider.
Ok, now I'm going to throw in a personal comment - and trust me, it's
not a criticism, it's an observation. I admire Brian's work for sure -
but the unrelenting level thing wears you out after a while. The newer
Linkin CD won't make my fav list because of that square-wave sound.
Forget that my age is over 20..... even my teenage son prefers not to
listen to relentless blistering non-stop chain saw guitars and drum
loops that never breathe (no steering from dad, either). Who's idea was
it anyway that you had to be louder than the other band?
(Record companies...? managers..? lawyers..?)
Yes, you want your album to sound hot, but could you be losing record
sales by hammering people to the point where they turn to another CD
after a few brain-blowing songs? How many ways do the record companies
subtly turn off potential customers with unnatural square wave mania? I
don't have a complete answer to that one, but I have pondered it.... I
guess we should just enjoy what we enjoy and somebody out there will
figure out how to get the music business on the upswing somehow...
Maybe fewer swear words will get some groups more airplay and
thus more exposure to the public (not to mention pre-teen kids
will have a bigger selection that language-conscious parents
out there will allow them to buy)! Ok, I'll get off my soap box now!
Avril Lavigne - Let Go
Amazing production - a sonic journey from end to end. It's got level,
it's got quite a bit of edge and cutting mids, it's got bottom end that
goes from expert to adventure, vocal placement that finds unique
characteristics from song to song, and a big sound that's mastered by
Leon Zervos at Masterdisc. Not as smooth a frequency balance as Nickleback
(above) but it's great mixing and mastering without the distortion
found on some over-the-top records. Some songs don't punch the way the
(above) does, but for a cut-through anything female rock reference,
Sting - Brand New Day
Mastered at Abby Road Studios, this
one's hotter and
crisper than some previous Sting offerings. Take 5 different Sting cds,
listen to them all, and you'll hear some variety that has never stood
in the way of his ability to make hits. The bottom isn't as big on this
one as some American alternative stuff, but that might fare better on
some people's home/car systems that have the Big 'ol Bass button pushed
in... I'd also de-ess this one a tad more, but it's still inspiring to
Yours truly mastered
Concert Series show on the Warner Brother's web site (a while back)-
and yep, I was on that de-esser a lot. What a pleasure to work on the
music of one of the true musical genius' of our time.
Celine Dion - Let's Talk About
For a beautifully smooth reference disc, this one keeps holding up.
Stephen Marsh (chief engineer at Sony LA) told me that Vlado Meller put the mastering magic on this
one. Vlado's work always is pure silk on the top. With mixing genius,
Humberto Gatica and the creme-de-la-creme of talent from all over the
world, how can you miss? (For grins, listen to Humberto's classic mixes
of Chicago and numerous other platinum artists... you'll hear a more
crisp and immediate sound as was found in those days). The goal of this
production was to retain dynamics and have a warm, ultra silky-smooth
sound. As a mix reference, this is opposite of Mariah's album [see
below], which just goes to show... there are no rules. Hits are more
about songs and singers than they are about frequency tone spectrums.
Nine Days - The Madding Crowd
Once again great work by Stephen
Marcussen and this one's important because it's brighter than
Toad the Wet Sprocket and has a mid range that stands out in a good
way. It's hot but not too hot - full but not bloated - hey it's really
well done. The combo of this and Toad is an excellent reference for
clarity, articulation, fullness, punch and delivery. Add in the
Nickleback CD and you have another great reference. Great
Edwin McCain - Messenger
Bob Clearmountain does a top-of-the-line
here, making it easy for Stephen Marcussen
to master this puppy ultra-loud and ultra clear. Do not try to
get this volume level at home! This is an example of incredible work at
every stage of the process which is the secret to how that volume is
achieved. No wonder Clearmountain gets three-grand a day for his work.
Well ok, maybe he doesn't get three grand, but trust me he's well paid!
Match the volume of this album with your mix and then
listen-compare-adjust. Match levels, listen-compare-adjust. A superb
Depeche Mode - Ultra
For years this was the winner of the rad
Level Contest - this thing was huge in it's day, and it still hold up
to all the new CDs. Mids and highs have a bit of edge, but it's smooth
and the bottom is huge on this puppy. Mastered by Mike
Marsh at The Exchange (in England, I think). Good job, Mike.
The Goo Goo Dolls - Dizzy up
Great mastering by Bob
- put right where the level should be if you want a CD to be more
timeless and lasting. Yes, other CDs are louder, but the sonic content
of this album shows Bob's expertise. He keeps things sounding big, but
not over the top with the limiting and compression. Crisp highs and
even mid-bottom sound excellent here, although some boom boxes with
super-duper hype-a-mundo tweeters may make this one spit a little. But
then chances are that the buyer heard some of that hype in the first
place when they bought the unit... and liked it. (Bob Ludwig and I both
have classical music backgrounds - he plays trumpet, I play violin.)
Corrs- In Blue
smooth, lasting sound into this CD that seems to have a variety of
mixdown source formats, from what I can tell. Bob's not out to win the
level wars here, just make it sound excellent. There is some sonic
variety here and it should be a lasting favorite for many years.
Eve6 - Horrorscope
One of my heroes, Ted
(who also has a classical background) did a terrific job of putting the
pedal-to-the-metal on this one. Yikes this thing is hot! It's got a
huge bottom end (beware mega-death-bass-boom-boxers) and great
mid-to-top sonics. How can you go wrong when Tom Lord-Alge mixes for
you, though? I don't think this was a difficult one for Ted to master.
Usually, the best mixers know how to get it right up front.... an
excellent record to hear a great way to mix cymbals.
Ahem. However, it wouldn't be my choice to master it this loud, as you
can really hear the compression in places. Now then, that's not a bad
thing. That's just part of the new trend... it's ok that we're hearing
the compression. We can't help it. CDs can only be so loud at the
peaks, which cannot exceed a certain level. That means we have to bring
up the RMS (overall) level while leaving the peaks where they are.
Presto! You are now experiencing extra compression, but in this case,
it's well done, and I appreciate Ted's work very much.
Metallica - S&M
Being both a violinist and a lead guitar
LOVE this CD. Once again mastered by George
Marino, it's one of the best around. Once again, however, I'd
bet a buck that either Metallica or the record company wanted this one
hotter than George would have suggested, but hey, they're out to sell
records, not cater to Audiophiles. Mixing this one, I guarantee, was a big
job. There is so much complexity in making everything audible in a
situation where so many instruments are all together... wow. Hats off
to the production team and the band for making history here.
Journey - Trial By Fire
Mastered by George
at Sterling Sound, this CD sounds great. It's big, it's clear, it's
smooth, it's musical. I'd bet a buck, however, that if George had his
way, he'd master it slightly softer to give more dynamic range to this
one. It would be a bit more open and the compression would be even more
Third Eye Blind - Blue
Bernie Grundman Mastering, does his magic on this CD. The level's quite
hot, but not over the top. There's plenty of clarity in the mids and
highs, and the bottom is big but focused. This is a good reference if
you like a sound with a high edge and up-to-date levels.
garbage - G
Creative, well done production. We've
electronics and great ears with Howie Weinberg
at Masterdisk putting on the finishing touches.
Joe Bonamassa - So, It's Like
Not only is mastering engineer, Emily Lazar,
a major babe (with all due respect to whoever her significant other may
be) - she also puts the golden touch to this excellent album. Very
clear, well recorded, even bottom end, smooth but present mids, sparkle
on top... hey it's an excellent reference for guitars of all kinds and
vocal clarity. The overall level is contemporary-hot but the dynamics
speak with complete musicality.
Seal - Seal  - 5-Star Reference CD
A timeless, lasting CD made in 1994 that holds up great today. Great
dynamics and smooth, but present sound, Trevor Horn could have gone
anywhere in the world for mastering, and Stephen
Marcussen got the gig. It has a superb, "woody" sound that
initially could be viewed as a little dull, but it really isn't....
this record sounds great anywhere. It's a sound to study and appreciate
if you want to know a full range of sonic options.
Dr. Dre - 2001 - 5-Star Reference CD*
This has got to be one of the hottest
CDs I've ever
seen! This thing is slammin. I mean it's pegging the red all day. It's
not just because Brian Gardner did such a great job. It's the
production, the arrangements, the engineering and the
mastering. The openness and space of the arrangements just makes every
beat smack you in the cans. Also, the careful sculpting of the
frequency spectrum by Brian takes full advantage of the Fletcher-Munson
Equal Loudness Contours.
Brian knew that this audience would be playing it on systems with a lot
of bottom end, therefore, the CD itself isn't overdone down there. A
key strategy in Hip-Hop mastering. I would have to bet that this
has some pretty flat square waves in the tops of the waveform
envelopes. So what. It sells big, and it still sounds good (except
I could really do without the gun shots - I'm a total peace-nic and
killing people just makes no sense to me at all). I try to ignore
the verbal guff and appreciate this record as an excellent sound
this kind of material. Someday, I just hope that people figure
out that the use of negative words directed anywhere will never
motivate positive results in others. At some point, we can choose
to look at the results we have in our world, in our nations, and in our
communities and ask if we'd like things to be better..... and if we do,
then we take positive action to make it so.
Vanessa Williams - The Comfort
Zone - 5-Star
This record sounds really good
showed my age by using the term record). The bottom end is punchy,
mastering compression is more invisible than Songs From The Southside.
The compression within the mixes is very good. The width is very good,
nice even highs have sparkle, but nothing is harsh. Herb Powers did fine mastering here. I would
have left more time spread before "Save The Best For Last", to give a
little more feeling of reverence leading into this classic ballad. This
song sounds so good on radio, and has beef in all the right places.
Excellent work by all involved in this exciting, timeless production.
Snoopdogg - Tha Last Meal - 5-Star Reference CD*
Once again a super-superb hot CD
mastered by the
Hip-Hop-Meister, Brian Gardner. This
puppy is as loud as the Dr. Dre thing, but actually, it's an ever
better recording. This CD is smoother, wetter sounding, and a more
musical sonic follow-up to the Doc.
Toy Matinee - Toy Matinee - 5-Star Reference CD
Steve Hall, another hero of mine did
job mastering. Extremely clean highs, nice and open sound. Pre-Manley
tube compressor era, I'd say. This has more of the "discrete" sound to
it, like Bernie Grundman's stuff (and mine) does. This album's first
cut, "Last Plane Out" is stellar, but the rest of the songs aren't
nearly as sparkly. Did the producers want to keep this contrast? For
me, the second cut, "Turn It On Salvador" is just a squeeze dull
compared with the sheen and pizzazz of the first cut. Here, then is a
musical dilemma. Keep the original vibe, or tweak the rest of the album
a bit more to get up to the level of one lone song. Remember rule #1 (found on my Secrets of Mixing page).
No Doubt - Return of Saturn
I can just see it.... Bob
Ludwig gets the word... "make it as hot as you possibly can...."
Bob finally gives in and thinks to himself..."ok - you want it hot?
I'll give it to ya hot!" Bob pushes the Kill button on his Weiss
digital compressor (I'd speculate) and turns the L2 to "11", and
presto! the compression is very very invisible, and the level reaches
square wave heaven. Peg those meters, baby! Nice 3-D stuff in the
mixing, and it makes interesting "Missing Persons-meets-alternative"
music. Just don't play an older record (like some tame Led Zeppelin)
before you play this piece. Unless you're right next to the volume
control, you'll find your speaker cones stuck to the opposite wall when
this one comes on.
Bob also mastered Creed's "Weathered" album super-hot-a-mundo......
I communicated with Bob, and I asked him if the level was his idea or
someone else's request. He said [paraphrased], "I sent two versions to
the record company, one less hot than the other. They picked the hot
version (not my preference)." Again, do not try to get this volume at
home out of your DAW. You will flatten the heck out of the dynamics,
lose punch, and box the mastering engineer into a corner so that any
over-processing can't then be undone. Great sound, Bob. This is a great
record to listen to guitar, drum and vocal tones.
Juice Newton - The Trouble with
fine job of bringing a refined smoothness and high-end sizzle to this
cd. I would have preferred more consistent levels from song to song,
but the producer of this CD might have asked Glen to let more variation
come through. There is some tightly packed limiting and compression
that's apparent here, but again, I don't know how much processing
occurred at mixdown. Check my notes on compression.
the Oct. '99 Juice Newton
album, "American Girl" - hailed as Juice Newton's "Best - a great CD."
Check out producer, Otha Young's comments.
Glen also did Shania
"Come On Over" hit CD - there's a natural-dynamic variety within
the songs. Clear and bright with a tight but conservative low end, you
can't knock this blockbuster hit. When you compare this more naturally
breathing album with the "in you face every second" sound of some other
cds, one wonders... years from now... what will we prefer more?
Shania's new record "Up" is nicely mastered by Stephen Marcussen - full
bodied and even levels from song to song.... but Shania's voice has a
sound on it that's different from "Come On Over" - you decide which you
Madonna - Ray of Light
Ted Jensen's up to
great work. Excellent levels, dynamics, warmth, smoothness, mood,
musicality, you name it.
Mariah Carey - Rainbow
Bob Ludwig and
Herb Powers at
the mastering helm(s) let the dynamics breathe more musically than some
pedal-to-the-metal CDs such as the recent Destiny's Child record. If
the music industry ever decides to set a standard for CD levels, these
gentlemen should be a couple of the chief people we listen to. I do
have to mention here that Bob and Herb have a distinctly different
sound. Herb starts off the record with Mariah's voice being full of
airy-crispy-sizzly hype top-end (compared to Bob's more elegant,
buttery sound). As a mix reference, you may want to carefully study the
liner notes to see who's sound you prefer....
Tevin Campbell - T.E.V.I.N.
A nice variety of producers bring out
on this album. Prince (or whatever his name is), Quincy, Michael
Omartian, Narada Michael Walden, Arthur Baker, Al B. Sure... I mean
this is a compilation album of producers of the world! And of course,
my hero, Bernie Grundman at the mastering
helm. Nice level, but not as loud as newer records, but it's still big!
Bernie gets the hi-mid-low perspective as close to perfect as I've
heard. 'Course, there is incredible talent every step of the way on
this record, so, who knows, maybe he cut everything flat!
I spoke with Bernie about Michael Jackson's
"Invincible" album.... the level is chip-frying hot and Bernie basically took no credit for the
extreme level - he gave all hat's-off to Bruce Swedien's engineering. I
believe him. The arrangement and mix has as much if not more to do with
getting a hot CD (although some newer CDs are NOT set at blister....
that's good news for music).
The Eagles - Hell Freezes Over
Smooth, warm, full sound mastered by Ted Jensen at Sterling. Nice level... and kinda
mellow, but a great study for the natural sounds of incredible
Stone Temple Pilots - 12
This one used to be my winner for being loud, but it's a good 2 - 5 dB softer than stuff
that's out there now. Bob Ludwig at the
mastering helm. This CD is extra smooth on the warmies, but if you
listen to the voice, you'll hear an appropriate amount of highs. This
means that the guitars and drums were somewhat dull in the mix. Ok,
it's that early alternative sound. I would have added slightly more
highs, some mids to make the guitars grind and the snare snap more, and
then de-essed it so that the vocal didn't bite on the ss's. I think it
would have retained the alternative vibe, and been more immediate
sounding. Keep in mind, however, anyone (the band, the label, the
lawyers) could have influenced the sonics on this record.
Donna Lewis - Now In A Minute
I think the producer of this record
wants that warm
analog sound, and it's there, but it could be more transparent and
immediate sounding. It's got that big level, and that smooth Bob Ludwig (sigh) sound, but there's some
audible compression here (and many places along the engineering path
where it can show up). I think there's something to be said for a
little less sound saturation when you're not trying to do
blood-and-guts punk alternative metal music. If it's metal, then hey,
make it hurt (just kidding)!
Amy Grant - Behind The Eyes
The previous winner of the CD Level
Contest for the
middle-of-the-road music category. Mastering by Bob
Ludwig is smooth and loud (louder than some CDs by rocker Bryan
Adams). I wonder if Amy's producer wanted it this loud, or if it was
Bob's idea? I mean, it's Amy Grant, not Courtney Love! (Yours truly mastered Courtney Love and Hole on
Sympathy For The Record Industry label.) Either way you look at
it, Bob always gives a nice hi-mid-lo balance to everything, letting a
little extra high-end hype come out on Amy's wonderful voice.
Bryan Adams - So Far So Good
Classic rock tunes compiled and mastered
by Bob Ludwig. This puppy is rock, it's
got a sane
amount of level, it's clean and not harsh, got a smooth mid-bottom, and
Bob's limiting/compression is probably as invisible as it gets at this
level. 'Course Bob Clearmountain's engineering expertise makes any
project easy to master. More clarity than some of today's alternative
records that emphasise more warmth.
Hootie & The Blowfish -
Cracked Rear View
I would guess that a Manley tube
compressor is in
the chain somewhere here, but it's a guess folks. Nice level - it's a
loud CD, but I can hear that limiting/compression! Ok, it's a sound.
It's a hit. So what if you hear the compression. Good point. Remember
Rule #1. There are no rules. This tonal
treatment makes for hot cassettes because
the levels are so contained. Less tape hiss that way, too. Mastered by Eddie Shreyer at Future Disc, one of my fave
mastering houses. Make sure you've got a record company paying the bill
for ya, though.
Don Dokken - Up From The Ashes
1990 was a while back, and I remember using this CD as a reference for
my own mixing. It's got the ultimate '80's clarity - blazing guitars
and hyper eq'd drums (samples probably) designed to rip your ears off.
Terrific as a crystal-clear bright sound, but not the way to go for
that big warm robust sound of today. Mastered by George
Marino, it has all the edge we were shooting for in those days,
but not the bottom you would get from George now. Times have changed,
especially when you hear how low the level is on this CD (assuming it
hasn't been remastering for current copies). I've included this one as
an example of the contrast that's possible in making a top-of-the-line
David Foster - Symphony Sessions - 5-Star Reference CD
The esteemed Wally
Capitol Records mastered this musical gem. Forget
the level contest, this is about sonics for piano, pop instruments,
orchestral stuff and more. Lots to enjoy from the genius of David
Foster, one of my all time heroes.
Kenny G - Faith - 5-Star Reference CD
Talent all over the place, including
Gatica doing his tracking and mixing magic on this holiday album.
Mastered by Vlado Meller at Sony Music
Studios in NYC, it's a masterpiece. The level is perfect, the dynamics
right on, and tonal balance is clean, big and natural. Spatiality,
musicality, it's just the top of the line.