If you plan to put the final polish on your mixes at home, you’ll need the right mastering plugins for the job. Some of these are specifically designed for mastering, incorporating things like M/S processing to finalize a song before release. Others are simply great all-around plugins you’ll want to have on hand.
Generally when it comes to mastering, you’ll want a great bus compressor, a limiter, an EQ, and most of the processors you’re already familiar with for mixing. Many mastering plugins combine many of the features you’ll need into a single piece of software.
Mixing vs. Mastering Plugins
Mixing involves combining multiple layers of a song together so that they gel together. There are 5 basic technical and creative aspects of mixing: levels, panning, dynamics processing, EQ, and time-based effects. The plugins you use while mixing will differ slightly from the ones you use mastering.
Mastering, as we’ve briefly discussed, optimizes the overall sound of a track or an entire album. When a song leaves mixing, a mastering engineer will apply his/her own additional compression, EQ, and other signal processors as the final touch.
There are mastering plugins designed just for this purpose. They’re optimally used on a 2-track bounce rather on individual mix elements.
The Goal of Mastering Plugins
The biggest thing to remember when differentiating mixing and mastering is that the latter puts polish on the finished product. In mixing, individual tracks are paid careful attention, ensuring that they sit well for the final stereo bounce. In mastering, a final stereo bounce is all you’re working with.
There’s a great analogy saying that mastering is like Photoshop for audio. You can buy a great camera, learn the art of photography, take beautiful photos, and sometimes things still aren’t quite right. The lighting may be off, or a smudge on the lens can ruin an otherwise perfect shot. A skilled Photoshop user can touch things up and make sure the photo is at its highest potential.
In a similar way, mastering engineers “touch up” an already incredible mix. In addition to equalizing track-to-track levels across an album, they’re also listening to songs individually and applying any additional processing that will help an already-mixed track.
To do this, you’ll benefit from some of the top mastering plugins on the market!
Here are some of the best mastering plugins you can get:
- Waves – Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain
- Eventide Elevate Bundle
- iZotope Ozone 8
- bx_XL V2
- UAD SSL 4000 G Bus Compressor
- FabFilter Pro-L 2
“A modular mastering chain plugin modeled after the EMI TG12410 Transfer Console used in all Abbey Road’s mastering suites since the early ’70s to this day. Use the Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain to create custom processing chains with a flexible flow and the TG magic on the master bus, or on individual tracks/groups in a mixing session.”
“Elevate is the most advanced mastering plug-in ever created. This unique multi-band limiter, human-ear EQ and powerful audio maximizer will increase the loudness of your mix while maintaining or improving its dynamic perception. It uses intelligent, adaptive technology that responds in real time to your music; creating not only the loudest, but the best sounding master.”
“As the industry’s most comprehensive mastering suite, Ozone 8 adds to its legacy by introducing new intelligent signal processing, spectral shaping, Tonal Balance Control, and more. Master your audio with over fifteen years of audio industry firsts at your fingertips. Enhanced with new, futuristic, intelligent features, Ozone 8 is your one stop for a tonally balanced, professional master with twelve essential mastering processors. It’s the smartest version of Ozone yet.”
“Brainworx developed the bx_XL V2 to provide mastering engineers with the ability to deliver the loud mixes record labels demand without squashing the life out of the mix.
bx_XL V2 uses M/S technology taken from their “modern classic” bx_digital V2 to convert stereo signals into M (mid / sum) and S (side / difference) signals. By splitting the M channel into 2 bands (high & low), you can limit and level control 3 individual channels (side, mid high, & mid low) to increase loudness while drastically improving the clarity of your stereo mixes— with far fewer distortion artifacts and much more punch than conventional two-channel limiters.”
“The creation of Brainworx owner Dirk Ulrich, bx_masterdesk gives you a high end analog mastering system in a single plugin. Containing every component you need to create professional results, bx_masterdesk allows you to master your own material with a minimal learning curve. Even if you are not a professional mastering engineer!”
“Integral to the hit-making SSL sound, the G Bus Compressor is legend for making mixes bigger, more powerful, and punchy, all the while enhancing cohesion and clarity. Fully endorsed by Solid State Logic, Universal Audio proudly unveils the SSL 4000 G Bus Compressor Collection for UAD-2 hardware and Apollo interfaces — an expert end-to-end circuit emulation that goes further than UA’s original standard-defining SSL G Bus Compressor plug-in.”
“A true peak limiter is an essential tool for every mastering or mixing engineer. Are you looking for a professional, feature-packed limiter that is loud and transparent at the same time, equipped with extensive loudness metering? Then FabFilter Pro-L 2 is your weapon of choice!”