On the web sites of many
mastering facilities, you'll find a page that lists the
gear they use for mastering. Most list their gear
for the purpose of giving their potential clients
confidence in their mastering abilities. There is
certainly nothing wrong with that. However, when searching
the web for a mastering facility, thought is seldom given
to the ability of the engineer. The engineer's ear
and decision making ability, along with full range
monitors and a well tuned room, are without a doubt the
most important pieces of gear used in the mastering
process. Yet these are generally ignored by those
searching the web for a mastering facility. Their
emphasis is always on the facilities gear. Gear is
important, but it should be a secondary consideration.
Like most mastering facilities, we use gear not usually
found in recording studios. For example: the most
popular DAW is Pro Tools. It's a good tool for
tracking and mixing, but many are surprised to learn that
it's not generally used in the mastering profession.
We have been asked many times by potential clients if we
use Pro Tools. When we answer no, the conversation
is usually cut short and the potential client moves on.
That's unfortunate because they have fallen victim to
marketing techniques created by equipment manufacturers.
Pro Tools is a fine tracking and mixing program.
However, it is not a program designed for mastering.
Mastering facilities that do have Pro Tools in their
arsenal, use it primarily for playback or processing.
They do not use it as their master recorder/editor because
it's limited in the tasks that it can perform.
Example: No CD authoring.
What gear do we use and why isn't it listed? Except
for some basic ITB plugins, our gear is custom built.
Some of our gear is vintage and is maintained on a regular
basis to insure the best performance. Because our
gear is custom built, there are no identifying brand names
or model numbers. Therefore, no way to list it.
We use PCs that are designed and custom built by us.
They are tuned specifically for audio and are powerful
"dedicated audio" computers. As far as
software goes, we use Sony's CD Architect for CD assembly,
and we occasionally use plugins from PSP, Waves, Voxengo,
FabFilter, Sony, and others. Except for digital
limiters, plugins are not our bread and butter mastering
Whether a mastering engineer uses custom gear, or well
known manufactured products, mastering can only be
successful if the gear being used is guided by experience
and engineering ability. It's the engineer (not the
gear) that listens objectively and makes the right
decisions. The talent to make the right decisions
cannot be found in hardware, software, or plugin presets.