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  Why HD Separations Sound Better

When more flexible solutions are desired, we use 4 completely separate Discrete Class-A analog processing channels. This eliminates the limitations found with a traditional 2-track "locked together" mastering that uses only one audio path.

Mastering is more powerful when you can process separate issues with separate solutions that don't overlap or create unwanted artifacts to the sound.

• A separate vocal channel allows sibilance correction without taking any sparkle away from the cymbals or snare drum.

• A separate bass channel to correct muddiness won't take out the impact of a kic drum - or remove warmth from guitars because these elements are processed separately.

• A separate drum channel can apply limiting exactly where it's needed. This prevents limiting artifacts being applied to the parts of the sound that needs NO limiting. Now the artist's entire performance will sound more musical and more true to a live performance.

Vestman Mastering is an Apple certified Mastered For iTunes (MFiT) provider

HD Separation Mastering has been used for years as a way to address contemporary playback volume of mastered audio files - while increasing the ways that the sound of voices and instruments can be enhanced -- all while keeping a closer eye on the dynamics that gives music much of it's life and distinction.

This method is practically pre-set for the goals of the Apple MFiT system - because Apple is holding up a higher standard that is not centered around "loud." HD Separation Mastering is also not centered around "loud." It's centered around "musical."

Loud digital audio masters happened because there wasn't a long-range standard for volume level (like there was when vinyl record's physical size dictated some volume limitations). So artists and record labels kept saying "louder means we're cooler."

Many mastering engineers protested the pitfalls of putting so much energy into making louder recordings. But more artists still chose to released louder recordings, and the listener got left holding the bag. The newer (louder) music in a continuous playlist with older (softer) music caused an irritating inconsistency of volume from song to song. We all know this, right?

In time, Apple heard what engineers knew. They saw that people still loved the older releases of GREAT music and they were tired of newer music blowing up their earbuds. So somebody was smart and said, "enough."

Sound Check and iTunes Radio

Apple created Sound Check software to basically restore a "level standard" playback volume in iTunes playlists. It does so by turning the volume DOWN of louder audio, and turning the volume UP if there's room in a softer audio file. iTunes Radio does the same thing. But engineers really wanted more than just equal volume, they wanted better sound.

Enter MFiT. The goal: better sounding music by using higher standards.

MFiT standard: Start with higher resolution audio file(s). We've been ready. EVERY Vestman Mastering session - for years now - has started with (and continues to be) up-sampled 96k-24 bit audio - prior to processing via our analog gear.

MFiT standard: Final audio masters have a lower peak output level to prevent clipping distortion. Vestman Mastering masters has been at that exact standard for years. It makes sense.

MFiT standard: Final audio masters are high resolution 24-bit high sampling rate files. At either 96k or 88.2k sampling rate, we have your sound quality covered.

MFiT-compliant means we monitor the Apple AAC conversion IN REAL TIME. We hear the results, and so do you.

A huge benefit: NATURALLY DYNAMIC AUDIO doesn't get blown away by slammed mastering in all situations. In fact, better dynamics will sound punchier, more open, and more distinct. MFiT is about creating better master audio files so that music will move you - the way it wanted to move you in the first place. More info here about remastering and Mastered for iTunes.

HD Separations have always had better natural dynamics

With better dynamically articulated audio from HD Separations, the sound has a natural presence - that doesn't require the smashed-down "loudness" methods. Music with dynamics "speaks" - and even causes loudspeakers to have a wider "excursion" (wider movement) that will... move you!

We have utilized the lower peak output level of -1.0 dBFS long before Apple made it an important guideline for MFiT. Out-performing hemmed-in dynamic slamming has been easy for us because musicality and optimum sonic potential has always been the natural outcome of HD Separation Mastering.

PLUS: Are you ready for High Resolution Audio home/personal playback files?

Vestman Mastering High-resolution MFiT files are suitable for these state of the art systems. Designed to satisfy the music enthusiast who isn't satisfied with compressed MP3's, AACs etc. -- check out this for customers to hear your sound using the best possible format!

Get excited about 96K MASTER QUALITY music for sale - NO COMPROMISES!

Amazing site - online convenience - check it out

Sony's High-Resolution Audio site!

Pono - a portable digital media player and music download service developed by Neil Young and his company PonoMusic He raised money for development and initial production through a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter.

"My goal is to try and rescue the art form that I've been practicing for the past 50 years,"
- Neil Young

This won't displace streaming (iTunes Radio, Pandora, Spotify) by any means! But it's an answer to data-compressed limitations - and it doesn't require stores to stock endless models of look-alike box-style players.

High-Def Audio File player


Beyond the mastering process, let's look at the actual sonics of the Separations themselves:

In the case of mixing "in the box"
, imagine you have 30 tracks in your project. (Some may have 60 tracks, some may have 20. Let's explore a simplified 24 bit example to explore what could be going on in a mix that has 30 tracks (not counting digital processing, phase cancellation or industry recognized 32-bit floating math for now.)

Remember: your computer is not a mixer. It's a big calculator.

If all 30 tracks were recorded with 24 bit audio on each track, that's 720 bits distributed over all 30 tracks that are playing at once. But the stereo file made from your stereo bus will only have 24 bits when you 'bounce a master file to disc'. The stereo file is not 720 bits. How can you capture all of the bits that are embedded in every track?

Unless you are using an analog summing box (Discrete Class-A required for best audio resolution) or a large format analog console, you are accustomed to hearing every channel output all (simplified for this example) 24 bits. Your 30 tracks being mixed down (rounded-down) only contain the 24-bit resolution of just one stereo master track.

It's all being done really well, to be sure.

But consider the difference using smaller number of tracks summed to make Separations
(some use the term "stems" or "subgroups"). For instance if you have 10 drum tracks in a drum Separation, that's 240 bits resolved to a 24 bit 'bounced to disc' drum file. Much different math occurring than when 720 bits are resolved down to a 24 bit full mix file.

If you have 10 vocal tracks, that's 240 bits resolved to 24 bits. If you make a bass Separation (possibly 2 tracks - 48 bits which then are resolved down to 24) and then an instrument Separation (8 tracks - 192 bits down to 24), you now have 4 Separations - each with much higher resolution than the sound you were getting from your single 2-track stereo buss summing.

Check for yourself:

I'm the first to admit, I'm not a computer programmer or math major. And you should check this for yourself. Use your ears to see if this exploration has sonic merit. Bounce a stereo all-tracks mix. Now bounce 4 Separations - Drums, Bass, Instruments, and Vocals (here's how). Put the stereo mix and the Separations into a new project. Mute the stereo mix. Listen to the Separations, then solo the stereo mix. Listen to the difference.

NOTE: The reason analog summing boxes are sold is because dividing the digital tracks out of the computer and combining them in the analog domain sounds different than  'in the (computer) box' summing. But much of that good sound isn't so much the box, but rather that each group of tracks isn't resolved the same way it is using one all-digital single stereo buss output. (There are many variables to a good sounding analog summing box system: interconnecting cables, D-A converters, the actual electronics in the boxes, (even patch bays) etc. I manufactured the Discrete Class-A Nautilus Commander (for summing in my mastering room) several years back, so I've participated in this subject personally.)

The analog signals created by the D-to-A converters are voltages of the stems/Separations. There is no numeric-calculated loss in the electrical voltages of analog sound. The waveform-voltages created by analog summing is a non-reduced "modulated" signal (within the constraints of headroom).

This means the waveform becomes more complex as more elements are added. No "rounding off" or "dropped bits" occur as more elements are added. Big-name artists who mix through large-format analog consoles (utilizing high-precision D-to-A converters) are getting higher sonic resolution than a standard in-the-box mix where the bits are calculated/resolved and loss is incurred. Plus there can be character (coloration) of the analog sound by the console - which is desireable (or not) depending on your taste (preferences).

Different systems (in or out of the computer) have their merits

I did some research a few years ago listening to an excellent comparison of over 20 summing methods, including analog summing. All summing methods have a different tone, or character. Even things like different cables can change the character of your sound. I don't claim that one method or the other is "perfect." The summing method you prefer depends on your references and preferences.

Separation Mastering allows us to recombine the higher resolution separated files you send us using our propriety HD method. It's different than ANY mastering house. Our console is set up different, our experience with this method exceeds all other mastering studios and the sound is unmatched. Our 4 channels of separate
Discrete Class-A analog processing is unique and significantly more powerful and flexible than any other mastering studio.

MONITORING KEY: If you have an analog summing box, you are actually hearing the higher resolution sound that you would not hear if you're simply taking a stereo master output from your computer. The summing box (or console) is actually a significant monitoring device. Some people are shocked to hear the clarity from HD Separation Mastering. That's because they are used to hearing that 720-to-24 sound.

It's common to get used to a more blurry, washed-together, less-articulate sound. You don't hear transients that are actually recorded on your drum tracks. You don't hear detail to the reverb in your vocal tracks. You don't hear pin-point clarity in your instrumental panning.... unless you are mixing through a large-format analog console. Then you are actually hearing all the detail in all the tracks that make up your mix. The big name artists hear this kind of clarity in their mixes because it's there to be heard in those big consoles. Separation mastering fills the gap and offers you more of that out-of-the-box higher resolution sound - and you don't have to buy an expensive summing box to achieve it (although for the purposes of real-time monitoring of Separations/stems, it's an excellent idea).

Fast, non-destructive recall

Easy recall of separate elements saves time when fine adjustments give you the perfect final sonic resolution.

Q) We don't know exactly what mastering will do and won't do for the sound.

Almost every successful commercial album you buy has been mastered by an expert mastering engineer. What mastering does to the sound depends on the how much alteration is done to the source mix. Mastering brings albums into a place of competitive sound, whether that's giving it more presence and highs - or mids for clarity - or lows for fullness - or volume for loudness. Check our site for what to expect.

Our mixes are a lot quieter than regular CD's and there seems to be no low end. We were told by the engineer not to worry because mastering takes care of that.

"No" low end should be addressed in mixing, but certainly the volume is appropriately handled in mastering. Separations solves all of that with no needed remixing.

I also read that we shouldn't have the mixing engineer compress the song because it makes it practically impossible for the mastering engineer to work with.

Not impossible, there are just fewer advantages to an overly slammed mix. Sometimes however it's appropriate when done by a professional mixing engineer. Loud audio levels sometimes depend on layers of limiting/compression in order to retain "apparent dynamics" while getting the volume up right at the mixdown stage. Separations solves all of that! Every question you have is nailed using Separations as a format to submit to mastering. Simply let us know what commercial projects you like the sound of and send or bring in reference CDs so we know exactly what your taste is.

Could you let me know whether you would consider this to be a good mix to be mastered, or if you think there should be changes made?? (more low end? More/Less guitar?? Etc…)

More guitar and low end is a preference, and while we may have a good idea about the balance, really if you send reference CDs of what you like, we can emulate that - and bypass the "trial and correct" stage by using Separations.

Q) I loved the master you did for our band 2 years ago - it still sounds great! It was almost as if you reached in and remixed it, it was so good. Are Separations more of a good thing, or could it be too much? If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

If you liked what we did before, this will blow you away - particularly the improved spatiality and space around the vocals. It's never intended to go overboard - and it's simply a SYSTEM where you're providing the ideal ways for us to achieve excellent results.... not just good ways. Separations don't replace your 2-track mix - they supplement it.

Q) We know someone else who did their own mastering using plug ins. Their songs were hot alright, but the drums that previously punched out seemed softer or flattened down. Will separations help this problem?

Absolutely. There are only so many one's and zeros relating to volume level, and when your master is slammin' hot, transients (peaks) have to be taken down in order to bring up the overall mix, otherwise the whole record is clipped to pieces. With loud mastering techniques and mindful listening, Separations can be used to restore punchier drums in the sound.

Q) Why is the sound more 3D or spread out like you're saying? Isn't it all digital?

By transferring more of the summing tasks directly into a high-end precision mastering system, you're almost getting a Direct-To-Disc recording. Whether we sum in the digital domain or the analog domain, the layering of sound sources (vs. a single-layer source) right to the mastering system is ideal. Plus if we do enhancements to the Separations, it maximizes the precision and minimizes the compromises.

Q) What if I want some help with my mixes? I like my mixes, but I'm not sure how to bring them up to the next level.

We're happy to help. We have an ideal environment to dial in and achieve your goals. Plus, mastering settings are all recallable. Once you get your master CDR, if you have ideas for further creative enhancements, we'll recall the session and take care of your requests.

Illustrated History of Separations

Created 05/05/05 Modified 02/1/15
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