CD Mastering logo for DRT - info on audio mastering, analog vs digital mastering, tradeoffs of digital Compact Disc mastering processors and CD mastering software, analog music mastering techniques, music production tips, info on CD replication, links to CD duplicators

Core FAQ: Overview of CD mastering, analog vs digital mastering software, services.

  • Core FAQ covers analog and digital mastering, DRT's custom gear, sample tracks and pricing.
  • Background FAQ and Letters offer tips for making better mixes: compression, EQ, CDR issues.
  • Custom Service is a quick summary for people who target the Major-label market.
  • Tech News expands on selected technical topics. 
  • One-Minute Tour is where most people start. 
Core FAQ topics: You can also check out CD-quality Music Samples

CD mastering divider for DRT site - info on audio mastering, analog vs digital mastering, tradeoffs of digital CD mastering processors and Compact Disc mastering software, analog music mastering techniques, music production tips, info on CD replication, links to CD duplicators


The One-Minute Tour

People who make records need a sound that's fat, satisfying and full of impact. Often they've tried local digital studios or larger facilities that use vintage gear, and they're still looking for the next level of performance. I work for three types of clients, and offer a mastering service for each:
  • Basic mastering is geared toward independent artists who want a radio-ready sound on a very tight budget.
  • Extended mastering serves midsize labels who need more time invested in the music. They plan on a wider radio and retail distribution for the album, and they expect to sell more CDs.
  • Custom mastering is the high-end treatment, serving major labels and Indies that compete on the national and international stage. These clients expect "maximum everything": the most exotic gear, and whatever time it takes to to produce sound that's very smooth, clear and loud. Priority turnaround and delivery is included with Custom mastering.
I use cutting-edge technology that doesn't exist elsewhere. Since the 1970s, I've designed and refined signal processors tailored for mastering. These produce a sound that is not available from off-the-shelf equipment, analog or digital. I handle all mastering myself, rather than overseeing the work of other engineers, and I've delivered over 2,000 album projects. Though I've worked for large clients like Sony and Warner, I still offer test-masters to people unsure of the benefits. This keeps the focus on what I can do for your music now, not what I did for someone else last year. An ongoing R&D effort lets me constantly improve the quality of finished masters. All mastering work is guaranteed, and my clients expect and receive personalized service regardless of their production budget. They express their thanks by sending me referrals and a lot of repeat business.

Everyone wins.

Standard turnaround time for albums runs from three to five weeks, test masters, a week or less. Call for current info. I accept checks, money orders, Visa, Mastercard, wire transfers and Paypal. Quick turnarounds are usually available at extra cost. I support analog 1/2" and 1/4" tape, stereo WAV or AIF files up to 24-bit/96kHz, DAT, audio CDR, CDR-W and Minidisc. I can produce DVD-Audio masters of your project at sample rates up to 192 kHz. And if you have a fast connection, I also offer same-day delivery of your album via Internet.

I hope you find this site useful. I'll gladly field suggestions for improving it. - DRT

CD mastering divider for DRT site - info on audio mastering, analog vs digital mastering, tradeoffs of digital CD mastering processors and CD mastering software, analog music mastering techniques, music production tips, info on CD replication, links to CD duplicators

Intro & Brief bio

Major labels have their releases mastered professionally, for one reason. An album represents a serious investment, and they want it to succeed. Mastering brings out the best in the material, whether the mixes come from a world-class studio or a project room. When the sound is right, you sell more records.

You should expect three things from an experienced mastering facility:

  • The impact and life in the music will be enhanced.
  • The volume level and spectral balance (bass, mids, treble) on the CD will compare well with (other) major label product, especially on radio. The sound will be consistent on different playback systems and will translate well to cassette and online formats such as MP3.
  • You'll be treated with professional courtesy and respect.
Most people, after finding the basics, then look for an extra edge, to make the sound of the album really stand out. This is where in-depth experience and specialized mastering tools can make a real difference. If you're responsible for a successful CD or DVD release, you deserve the answers to questions you'd ask any creative partner: "Why should we involve you? What unique contribution can you make? What's your background?" The next two paragraphs briefly address these questions.

After doing sound reinforcement and remote recording in the early '70s, I built my first 2" multitrack studio in New York in 1975. I spent the next fifteen years in the fields of studio engineering, acoustics, and audio circuit design. Clients familiar with the sound of my gear began asking me to master their material. The turning point came in the early '90s, after completing a few hundred masters for independent labels. One of these clients passed along a good reference to someone at Warner, who approached me about working on a series of discs. The performers ranged from people currently on the charts to artists under development, in various music styles. The opportunity was simple: Plenty of work, inflexible deadlines, and the sound had to be right. Source material came from first-tier studios around the country, along with rougher tracks that were recorded in secondary markets.

This project was important for two reasons. Clearly, working with a lot of major-label product is good experience. But more interesting, from an artistic and engineering standpoint, was the challenge of bringing the rough material up to the same standard. Music recorded on a large budget usually sounds great, and mastering puts the final polish on an excellent product. Independent material is often a different story - it can demand more skill and better equipment to get "the sound." For this project, I designed and built a number of processors to extract the right feel from the less-than-ideal source material. The finished masters had more energy and emotional intensity, and the client extended the project to over one hundred discs.

In many ways, my business has flowed from this experience: I continue to develop custom tools and techniques. I can put that enthusiasm and experience to work for you too, as I've done for clients worldwide.

CD mastering divider for DRT site - info on audio mastering, analog vs digital mastering, tradeoffs of digital CD mastering processors and CD mastering software, analog music mastering techniques, music production tips, info on CD replication, links to CD duplicators

Which is preferable - analog or digital sweetening?

Summary: I prefer analog, though I have excellent digital options. If you check around, you'll find that the high end of the mastering market is dominated by analog. Certain aspects of the analog process lead to more musical results.

What is the highest quality way to get music from the performance to the consumer? This is a key question for anyone involved in music production. Many people have accepted as common wisdom the idea that they should record and mix to digital tape - if possible through a digital console - then add compression, EQ and effects digitally.

Even industry people confuse the requirements for storing music and processing music. For storage, digital tapes and discs have significant advantages. They're quiet and don't degrade quickly. Even if you prefer the best analog media, its pretty clear that digital storage has a bright future.

Many assume that the advantages of digitally storing music also carry over to processing, and a few insist that music must never go back to analog once it is in a digital format. Most of my clients disagree, preferring a sound that can only be delivered with very high-end analog gear. There are at least three reasons for this:

Bandwidth: Rupert Neve and other experienced designers advocate building equipment with a bandwidth of at least 200 kHz (ten times that of CD.) There's only one reason for this: it sounds better. The harmonics of many instruments lie well above audio. If they are rolled off, a quality of naturalness and transparency is lost, and for not-well-explained reasons, superior performance at the top can improve the quality of the bass also. While you can't store the full signal on the final CD or DVD disc, having the capacity available during processing is important. (Custom designs at DRT have bandwidths from DC into the video range.) Digital processing is not close to adequate in this area. 96kHz sampling rates, while an improvement, still won't handle all the fine detail.

Downconversion: If you go for a wider digital bandwidth and process at 96 kHz, you create the problem of which samples to discard when converting back to 44.1 kHz for CD production. The calculations can be formidable, and there is considerable discussion in the industry about the sonic penalties that arise. The problem becomes simpler if you process at 88.2 kHz, but it disappears entirely if you sweeten in the analog domain and then make a single direct step back to 44.1.

Nonlinear performance: The two points above may be subtle. This one is not: Compression and EQ, which lie at the heart of the sweetening process, change the signal in very non-linear ways. From a purist standpoint, you can accurately say that we add distortion, often in significant amounts, to create positive reactions in the listener. The real issue is not specs, but which tools and techniques sound best for the job of generating the special flavor of nonlinearity that people respond to.

The human brain and emotions are exceptionally sensitive to the composition of sound. Comments like "Its warm and punchy, with more separation between instruments" describe a classic feel, a character associated with the best analog gear. When its done right, analog signal processing is more pleasing to the ear, and offers control over the fine points of the sound that is more flexible and musical.

For certain cases such as noise reduction, digital solutions can be amazing, bordering on magic. For sweetening, I almost always use analog tools and then convert to digital as the last step. Preserving and improving quality is key.

CD mastering divider for DRT site - info on audio mastering, analog vs digital mastering, tradeoffs of digital CD mastering processors and CD mastering software, analog music mastering techniques, music production tips, info on CD replication, links to CD duplicators

What mastering equipment does DRT use?

The signal path is primarily custom equipment, used to control the dynamics, spectral balance and ambient feel of the music. A number of my designs are proprietary, and these support mastering techniques not found elsewhere.
  1. The console is the core of any mastering facility. It defines the clarity of sound and the enhancements that can be made to the music. The console at DRT is used for all albums and EPs, and is built with Class-A line amplifiers. Chassis cabling and interconnects are made with specially-manufactured solid silver wire, and audio controls are stepped switches with gold or silver contacts. Other components are chosen with similar regard for quality. This is the center of my ongoing research effort, since it provides expansion bays for testing and comparing new circuits. Some of the features controlled from the console include:
  2. Compressors and limiters. These are the most powerful components available for shaping the sound of an album. Over time I've used a variety of devices, from studio units to gear built just for mastering. When I still wasn't satisfied, I started on a tube design - the Halo dynamics processor - that would deliver the sound I was hearing in my head.

    To make a long story short, I looked into the way that gain control circuits alter the music. As a model, I examined live instruments: When you play an instrument harder, resonance increases as the sound becomes more intense. Played in an ensemble, you can hear it stand out - a sort of sonic halo, for lack of a better term..

    The finished Halo design can both adjust loudness and preserve the natural attack, keeping clarity and presence. It can add energy to the mix without the constricted feel of lookahead limiters that are now in common use. The Halo project produced an unintended side benefit useful to those involved in the Loudness Wars: when you set it up right, you can create slammin' hot mixes that don't get muddy as they get more intense. Quite a few people look for that sound.

    In addition to it's proprietary features, Halo provides multi-slope, multi-time constant compression and limiting, each independently adjustable. Dynamics control can occur across multiple frequency bands if desired.

  3. Equalizers are the next choice for shaping sound. Certain EQs produce a resonant, or sweet quality, the result of nonlinearities that give a pleasing tonal color. For Basic and many Extended mastering projects, I prefer the efficiency and excellent performance of parametric EQs from Sontec and other names found in top facilities worldwide. I can also select from vintage EQs that were used in the film industry before modern designs became common.

    For Custom mastering, I developed an EQ system with the classic sound of fully passive devices followed by tube or solid state gain stages, depending on the required feel. This unit is built like the console, with silver wiring and stepped controls. The spectrum can be shaped in 1/2dB increments at frequencies from 10Hz to 60 kHz. Bandwidths range from broad "air-band" and shelving curves down to surgically precise notches. Because of it's flexibility, adjusting this equalizer can take an unusual amount of time. The result is an open, non-electronic sound and exact control that can't be found in even the most sophisticated parametric device. When time permits, I try to use some of it's features for Extended mastering also.

  4. The next step in enhancing a signal might involve image processing. This allows the width and other characteristics of a stereo image to be altered. I've made modifications to the classic Blumlein matrix which offer more precise control of the soundstage. Another original design, the Ambiance Envelope Follower, is especially useful for synth-based tracks and recordings made in less than perfect environments. It can recover, and in extreme cases, recreate the sense of depth often lost when recordings are processed too heavily. Many clients using Tascam, Alesis, Roland VS and other digital recorders have found that this device will bring out the life in their tracks.
  5. The quality of the final master depends on the excellence of the converters used. Of the three 24-bit converters I keep on hand, the one I use most often is a custom design with fully programmable dithering that supports sample rates up to 96kHz. It is directly coupled to the output of the Halo processor, preserving the shortest possible path between the finished sound and the CD.

  6. For Custom mastering, a number of designs are in the development and testing phase:
    • An ultra-wide bandwidth solid state version of Halo offers even more flexibility and performance in some areas than the original.
    • An addition to the Halo design, called the Matrix Limiter, is unusually effective for achieving hot levels with low distortion. It essentially borrows headroom from frequency ranges that are not dominant at the moment, providing "room to breath" to the parts of the music that are contributing the most impact.
    • Another specialty module for the mastering console, based on wide-bandwidth tubes from the 1920's, produces an adjustable super-fat sheen on the final master. I call it the Analog Airbrush, after the graphics tool often used to enhance the highlights in a photo. It works like the legendary "Good" knob that was built into mixing consoles years ago. ("That's good! I want more of that! Turn that knob up!") Dial in Smooth, Crunchy or Super Chunk, depending on your tastes. All kidding aside, some of the sounds connected with this early technology are amazing. They are also virtually unknown, since a few of the necessary parts have not been produced for 60 years.

    Along with the standard features - dynamics controllers, EQ, image processing and special designs, I can also select devices for effects, level and balance automation, and similar purposes. I use them as needed, first to first bring out the character of each track, and then to relate the tracks together, producing the finished album.

CD mastering divider for DRT site - info on audio mastering, analog vs digital mastering, tradeoffs of digital CD mastering processors and CD mastering software, analog music mastering techniques, music production tips, info on CD replication, links to CD duplicators

What equipment do you monitor on?

For a number of reasons, I have more than one monitor system. My main stereo environment uses a pair of large full-range electrostatics driven by custom solid state power amps. These are time aligned and matched to a pair of M&K subs and the room (which is 26 ft. or 8m long), using FFT and real-time analysis. This setup is very flat in frequency response and exhibits Doppler distortion much lower than box speakers. These are my primary reference because they are higher in resolution at low to moderate listening levels than anything else I've tried. (The music has to sound good at low levels if its going to sound good on many different systems.) Electrostatics can be a real bear to set up properly, but when you succeed, the resulting clarity can be staggering. It's possible to listen for hours without tiring.

The secondary stereo monitor I use the most is the Mackie HR824. It's verifiably more accurate than most speakers at ten times it's price, THX certified, with excellent bass for a small system. It is widely used in studios, so its a common point of reference. I have other nearfield options also, driven by custom tube amps.

On many albums, I spend more time with headphones than with speakers. Stax Nova electrostatic phones with tube driver amps are great for resolving fine detail, noise and distortion problems. They are very useful for verifying how tracks will translate across different systems. I've found that Sennheiser HD-600's work well for this also.

I also have a calibrated 5.1/6.1 surround environment, for DVD-Audio, SACD, and other high-res multitrack formats. Surround is an emerging part of the business, and some of the panning and other aspects of current releases are pretty extreme to my ear. Decisions are made to show off the benefits of multiple channels, since hardware companies are trying to promote their toys. Having lived through the 1970's Quad era, my own interest in surround mastering is engaging the listener more completely, rather than dazzling them with cool technology. The tools for authoring DVD's and other multichannel formats are pretty crude. Hopefully this situation will evolve quickly, bringing surround into financial range for a larger group of artists.

I also monitor music visually with peak and VU meters, modified real time spectrum analyzers, phase correlation meters, and a number of specialty tools that provide large amounts of information about what is happening inside the music. This enhances the process of making fine adjustments that otherwise could take a lot of time. The combination of speaker systems and instrumentation provides an analytical tool that is tough to beat.

CD mastering divider for DRT site - info on audio mastering, analog vs digital mastering, tradeoffs of digital CD mastering processors and CD mastering software, analog music mastering techniques, music production tips, info on CD replication, links to CD duplicators

How do you relate to different styles of music?

I've worked on all types of music. Each one affects me differently, and I could probably write a page on techniques I've used for each style. Here are a few quick summaries: (in no particular order)

  • Rock and Pop discs in general go into the radio market. Even though dynamic range is not an issue with CDs as it was with vinyl, producers want their discs to compare with major-label product in terms of impact and overall level. The music has to grab and hold your attention without being abrasive when you hear it multiple times.
  • Jazz has two opposing qualities when it's done right: it appeals to the intellect, and it swings. The right balance between these forces can lift you off your seat. I try to maintain impact and drive, but let the disc have more dynamic range. Since a lot of jazz is played on acoustic instruments, the quality of air is important here also.
  • Gospel music was designed to resonate within a part of us that we often ignore. I use processing that enhances this quality of resonance and ensures that vocals are clear. My earliest training was singing in choirs, and I respect the way this music can move us.
  • Rap and Hip Hop work best when they're In Your Face. The bottom is bigger, the top more aggressive. Current practice is to get the levels super-hot. Iíve developed a number of techniques to do this without creating the digital grit that you often hear. I try to bring out the subtle licks and musical comments that keep this music interesting.
  • Country is fusing with every other style, but still concentrates on delivering a story. I can handle much of it like Pop styles, but the emphasis remains on vocal clarity, with the instrumental bed strong but secondary.
  • Latin music also crosses many stylistic boundaries, from simple folk to power rock and sophisticated jazz. This market appreciates clear sound with a bit more dynamic range than English-language Pop. I first gained an appreciation for Latin styles when I spent a couple of years in South America.
  • Metal and, to a lesser extent, Industrial, Techno and their close relatives get the aggressive treatment. There is a darker EQ balance which fans expect. When the album has been mixed well, its possible to maintain a fat sound full of harmonics, increase punch and keep the levels hovering at the edge of the red zone, which is where the fans like it.

This just skims the surface of how I handle different types of music. I've also worked with a variety of film scores, radio and TV spots, Classical, New Age, Ragtime, Ethnic styles and a few truly bizarre fusion styles. Each album has a different feel, and each artist conveys their own message. It is important not to jam a certain disc into one general-purpose mold. I listen to the material, then react to it. If I think it needs a certain treatment, you'll know in advance, to be sure that this is the direction that you want to go.

CD mastering divider for DRT site - info on audio mastering, analog vs digital mastering, tradeoffs of digital CD mastering processors and CD mastering software, analog music mastering techniques, music production tips, info on CD replication, links to CD duplicators

Sweetening Options: Basic, Custom, Extended

Quick Summary: Time is money. It is often possible to bring an album into the zone of commercial sound quickly. Some independent artists look for this basic service, especially if finances are tight. Record labels usually want a more in-depth treatment, since the investment up front will translate into increased sales.

I offer three services, based on your needs: Custom mastering (typically $1500) is a "pedal to the metal" premium service geared toward larger labels and national releases. Custom involves the most time and the most exotic gear. Extended mastering ($600) was created for independent labels, and provides results that approach Custom as closely as possible. Basic mastering is the choice for artists who need radio-ready product on the tightest budget.

Here are the details:

Basic mastering is the starting point for my other services, so I discuss it first. Basic was created to make professional work available to artists with very limited budgets. I've kept the rates low by improving the efficiency of my approach. The music tells me the direction to go, often in a short time, so I can dial in the settings quickly. This service enhances the essential qualities needed for commercial success - impact, radio friendliness and sense of life in the music. What's the process?

  • I go through the entire album and decide on EQ, compression and other settings that will be required for each track. This creates a "road map" of changes.
  • I take this road map and master the album. I stop after each track, dial in the new settings, and then master through the analog signal chain directly to the digital editor.
  • Working track by track means that the music can arrive at DRT without any negative effects from a previous editing process. Since some editors can actually modify (flatten) the sound of the music, even in all-digital mode, and some CD burners do the same, I prefer to work with mixes as close to the originals as possible. Preserving the quality of the mixes is one of the main reasons why I edit all projects.
  • When all the tunes are on the editor, I space them according to your specs and/or common practice for the music style. Then I create the master CDR. A hard-disk backup is made at no extra charge and maintained for 90 days. This allows for EP releases or changes in sequence later on, at low cost.

Custom mastering is my original service, created for clients competing in the major label market. The goal is the best possible results - maximum "slam factor". This is the choice for albums that represent substantial investments and which are headed for national and international distribution. Clients want me to explore every processing option and spend extra time to analyze the music. They expect priority handling plus access to equipment designs just coming off the test bench. With Custom mastering, I use the full range of specialized processors that were developed specifically for this service. Custom provides time to try the most complex combinations of enhancements, such as simultaneously riding gain, EQ and Halo settings within tracks. Techniques like these can deliver results that are unattainable through other means.

An album mastered this way will run at least triple the cost of the same album with Basic sweetening. Folks who have worked with the major metro mastering houses tell me that this is still a great value. I appreciate the compliments, and I'm glad that they keep coming back. And clients who prefer my other mastering services also benefit since, over time, I can apply many of the new techniques and equipment to their projects.

Extended mastering evolved from methods used on Custom projects. Time, experience, and new designs that I brought online in 1996 allowed me to introduce a service which delivers excellent results at a price point well below Custom. In fact, the improvements allow me do a typical album at a cost about 50% more than Basic. Even smaller labels usually find that this is within reach.

What are the benefits? If the quality is there to start, Basic mastering reveals that quality more clearly, and takes it to the next level. Extended mastering starts with the results of Basic mastering - punch, warmth, air and depth - and brings them out even more. Extended mastering includes twice the time for trying different settings, problem solving and fine tuning. I apply analytical tools originally developed for Custom projects to profile what is happening in the music. If there are sonic problems (or opportunities for improvement), they can be handled with more finesse, using more combinations of tools and techniques. If an album arrives in nice shape sonically, I can try specialty EQs that were originally built for Custom work. (I don't do this with Basic.) I also use the extra time to switch to a different monitor system, go through the album again, and then check the new settings against the first set. This picks up on some fine details and improves the way tracks relate to each other.

Here's another way of looking at it. Assume that Basic mastering improves the sound 85%. Custom mastering can improve it 100%. Extended mastering gives you 95%. You get a number of the benefits of Custom service at a more affordable price. (If I sound enthusiastic, its because I am. I believe that if you can't get excited about what you do, you should probably be doing something else. High energy and positive attitude - plus experience - produce excellence.)

Making the decision. Which service should you choose? The choice comes down to the time you like me to invest in your project. I don't do much Basic mastering anymore, but some artists still select this option. It has provided fine results on hundreds of albums and still gives plenty of "bang for the buck"

If you need an extra edge in the radio market, (and definitely if you mix down to 24 bit files), Extended is the way to go. I prefer doing Extended work, since it allows more time to dial in the settings, especially with the new Halo processors. Folks who ask for Extended mastering often say something like "I've spent a serious amount of time getting this project ready for mastering. I want you to have the time you need to make it sound killer." Many of my clients go for Extended service. They look at the $200 average cost difference in the context of an entire production and promotion budget, and Extended makes sense for them.

Finally, if your music is ready for prime-time, consider Custom. The high-power tools used only in this service - plus the extra time - will reveal the best in your material. Albums headed for national distribution benefit from the added impact. For another discussion of this no-compromise approach, check out AnalogMastering.com.

Regardless of which mastering service you choose, all work is guaranteed.

CD mastering divider for DRT site - info on audio mastering, analog vs digital mastering, tradeoffs of digital CD mastering processors and CD mastering software, analog music mastering techniques, music production tips, info on CD replication, links to CD duplicators

Evaluating and pricing your project, Test mastering

So how do we start? Send me a tape, and I'll evaluate it at no charge. If you already know that a track needs EQ or other treatment, write it down. Include detailed notes. Tell me what kind of feel you are going for, if it is not obvious. Sometimes producers send me a CD with a feel they prefer. All expect me to react to the music as if we are sitting shoulder to shoulder in my main room. This can be done, once I know your preferences. A couple of phone calls will usually put us on the same wavelength. Then I'll master the album, ship the master to you, and we're finished.

If you need a few more changes after hearing the reference, this is not a problem, since I record the settings when I master a CD. Dialing in a few changes is easily done. A second pass to get it exactly right, while not free, will certainly not break the bank.

If you are concerned about how your music will sound before the album is complete, send me a DAT or CDR copy of one track. (Please - keep the length under six minutes. Two to three minutes is more than enough to see how my process will work.) I'll master the cut and Priority Mail back the before and after versions on CDR for $40. Check out the results on your studio, home, car or boombox CD player. You'll be making a more informed decision at very low cost. (Also, based on experience, I usually end up doing the entire album. We both benefit!) Test mastering is useful when you are looking for a very specific sound (highly compressed / ultra-purist / has to match the one in your head or on another CD exactly) or if you are unsure of the benefits of mastering for your album. For these situations I offer it as an option.

If you'd like a test, send a DAT or CDR, any notes about problems that need solving or feels that you're trying to achieve, plus a check or money order made out to DRT Mastering. Priority mail is a good shipping choice. (For tests, you do not need a filled out order form. I try to keep turnarounds for tests in the one week or less range, unless I'm swamped. (A test may have the quality of a finished master, but is not intended for production or commercial use other than evaluating the improvements made to the original. If you need a CD single for commercial production, I can deliver one track with Extended mastering for $100.)

The price sheet contains examples of how to estimate your costs. Exceptions might include CDs with an unusually high number of tracks or a submaster tape that contains problems or needs complex crossfading and editing. In cases like these, I will let you know in advance about the issues. Generally, either the flat rate can be adjusted up by some agreed upon amount, or I can do the extra work at an hourly rate. In all cases you will be kept informed.

CD mastering divider for DRT site - info on audio mastering, analog vs digital mastering, tradeoffs of digital CD mastering processors and CD mastering software, analog music mastering techniques, music production tips, info on CD replication, links to CD duplicators

Turnaround Times, Scheduling Fixed Dates

Standard turnarounds vary from three to five weeks. Call or email for a closer estimate. I work on a first come - first served basis. When your project arrives with all the information needed to start it (see the Order Form/Track Sheet), I calculate a tentative ship date. Your ship date can slide in either direction. For example, if there is a problem with the source tape of someone ahead of you and their project is put on hold, you might move up. Or if extra rush work comes in, you could slide back.

For people with tight production schedules, rush turnaround is usually available at extra cost. I schedule one or two slots each week for rush work, and they are usually filled well before the week begins. During busy seasons, rush turnaround time is usually over one week, but since a normal turn might be more than five weeks at that time, the benefit to your schedule is still significant. Please call if there is a deadline that you have to meet.

If you have a fixed date when your mixes will be done, and you need the mastering completed quickly after that, I can book a mastering slot in advance if you send certified payment, including rush fee, to hold that spot.

CD mastering divider for DRT site - info on audio mastering, analog vs digital mastering, tradeoffs of digital CD mastering processors and CD mastering software, analog music mastering techniques, music production tips, info on CD replication, links to CD duplicators

Same Day Delivery

Many studios mix down to stereo computer files and can reliably burn CDR discs. An increasing number have wide-bandwidth Web connections (250kbps or higher). If this describes your setup, consider transmitting and receiving your entire album over the Web. I've used this method to save time, shipping charges and Customs delays for clients in Europe, Asia and the US.

A short article I wrote for the September 2000 EQ Magazine has more in-depth info.
Here are a few of the main points:

  • How does it work?
    • I'll bring online a protected FTP server.
    • After emailing you the correct address, login name and password, you can upload your WAV or AIFF mixes to the server.
    • I master the tracks and place the mastered files back on the FTP site.
    • You download the files and burn them to CDR.
  • What about quality? Is anything lost during the transfer on the Internet?
    • FTP has a robust error-checking protocol built in. If you are wondering about quality, you can upload a short file of at least 16-bit CD resolution (not MP3) to my FTP site. Then download it again across the Internet and compare it to your original. I have yet to find a client who can tell the difference!
    • For your album cuts, we can go one step further: I can generate a text file containing the CRC checksums for all your mastered tracks, exactly as they were written to my hard disk. You can copy this file to your computer, along with another program (which I'll provide) that verifies checksums. After you download the music tracks to your machine, you can run the verifier. The slightest alteration in the audio will create a huge difference in the checksum of a music file. You will know instantly if there is the slightest change.
  • Any other benefits?
    • You eliminate overnight fees both to and from your studio.
    • Time savings are significant. For the album mentioned in the article, the finished tracks were transmitted to Singapore, burned to CDR, and were getting advance radio play within hours of when I finished the mastering.
    • If I have a question about handling a certain track, its possible to make that cut available on the site even before the project is complete. Sometimes a preview of this type can help solve a fine-tuning problem.
  • How about cost?
    $10 for same-day Internet delivery service. This covers file and site maintenance.
  • What else do I need to know?
    • Payment must be in advance, since COD delivery is not possible. I can accept Money Orders, checks drawn on US banks, Western Union or Paypal payments.
    • Test masters can be delivered by Net also. You can FTP the test track to me, and when payment arrives, I'll post the finished track back on the FTP site for you to download. No additional charge above the normal $40.
    • My FTP site can source data continuously at over 700kbps, which means the average album should take less than two hours to download, at full CD-audio resolution. This assumes you have an equally fast connection and that network traffic is not congested.
  • My connection isn't fast enough!
    Check around! A friend at a local school, college, or media outlet (TV/radio) may already have access to huge bandwidth. They'll be happy to show off their fast system for a couple of hours, in return for bragging rights and a copy of the album. People are generous. Think creatively! Note: I accept files compressed via Monkey's Audio Lossless Compression. Weird name, but it will reduce the size of your WAV file from 50% to 75% of its original value, effectively increasing your connection speed. Strong error checking, and not one bit is changed, so quality remains perfect. Might be worth checking out, depending on your connection speed.
  • In case you missed the EQ article, you can also download these files here.
    • WS_FTPLE.EXE is a simple shareware FTP program that will allow you to move files easily. I use it myself.
    • CRC32.EXE is a freeware CRC checker. You can verify the data integrity of your music with it.
    • LFTP13.ZIP is Leech FTP, an FTP client that can move multiple files at the same time. You will need a Zip file handler like PKUNZIP or WINZIP to "unpack" this program for use. Many computers are already are equipped this way, or you can go to WWW.Tucows.com to get the latest version.

CD mastering divider for DRT site - info on audio mastering, analog vs digital mastering, tradeoffs of digital CD mastering processors and CD mastering software, analog music mastering techniques, music production tips, info on CD replication, links to CD duplicators

Checklist for submitting a tape for mastering

    DRT accepts analog 1/4" and 1/2" tapes. These may be encoded with Dolby SR, Dolby A or dbx type 1 noise reduction. Store analog tapes tails out, and include calibration tones - minimum of 30 seconds each at at 100, 1K and 10kHZ. If you provide tones at 50 Hz and 15 kHz also, I can dial in the playback EQ a little tighter. Include Dolby tone or SR noise for calibration if your premaster is Dolby encoded.

    DRT also accepts digital formats up to 24 bits/96kHz. Media include DAT, CDR, CDROM, CD-RW and Minidisc. If you send data files, save them as either stereo Windows WAV or Apple AIF files on a standard ISO 9660 format CDROM disc. (I do not accept CDFS format discs or SoundDesigner II files.) Some digital recording software can save files in 32-bit format. 32-bit stereo mixes don't use the last eight bits. Convert these files to 24 bit resolution before copying to a CDROM disc or transmitting via Internet. No quality will be lost, and they will take up much less space.

  1. Make sure somebody with good ears listens to the premaster from start to finish before you send it for mastering. This may seem obvious, but in the final rush to get the tape or disc out the door, things fall through the cracks. You would be amazed how many times a strange noise, a false start, or even an entire wrong take can sneak onto an otherwise immaculate premaster. If you catch these problems, it will save time and money.
  2. On digital tapes:
    • Make sure to provide a track sheet with the song titles and start times in minutes and seconds. (Start times are not necessary for CDRs.) Handwritten track sheets are okay. They need to be clear and readable. I'll be glad to fax you a blank one if you don't have an example to work off of.
    • Preemphasis should be OFF if your DAT deck gives you the choice.
    • There should be 60 seconds of digital black before and after program material. This ensures that no signal is recorded at the (less reliable) extreme ends of the tape, and it allows me to stripe SMPTE time code onto the head of the tape if automation is required.
    • Test tones are useful but not required, since digital levels are absolute.
    • If there are stick clicks or countdowns between cuts that are to be kept as part of the program, include notes!
    • Levels should never exceed digital zero. Minus one is a better choice. (With Tascam DA-30's, minus one is the max you should use, since their meters are off standard calibration.) With any digital premaster, there is no sonic benefit to pushing the level up that last one or two dB. I'll create hot levels during mastering, if that's one of your goals.
    • I recommend Quantegy, Sony, DIC MQ, and Denon tape in that order. Reliability is key.
    • Ship the tapes via a carrier such as Fedex or UPS that allows easy tracking of parcels.
  3. Label your CDR discs, preferably with a magic marker rather than a paper label. I have dozens of CDR premasters here at any one time! Haven't lost one yet, but you don't want to be the first.
  4. If you have specific preferences as to how one track, or the whole album, is treated, type it out on a separate sheet, and include it with the DAT/CDR.
  5. Make sure to include the correct addresses to ship the reference CDR and/or finished master to.
  6. Mastering by DRT, Peterborough, NH (and/or the URL if you wish) is fine when album credit is given.

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Prices and Guarantee: 2009

Note: prices valid through December 1, 2009. Updated 07/23/09

Note: Acceptable formats include DAT, CDR, CD-RW, Minidisc, files up to 24-bit/96kHz on CDROM, and (for Extended and Custom service only) analog reel-to-reel tape.

    Please note: Effective July 2009, due to heavy workload, I'm only accepting Custom mastering projects. Thanks!

  • Extended mastering (includes editing): Single track $100
  • Extended mastering (includes editing): Two tracks $160
  • Extended mastering (includes editing): Three tracks $250
  • Extended mastering (includes editing): 0-26 min. (up to 6 tracks) $450
  • Extended mastering (includes editing): 26-50 min. (8 to 11 tracks) $600
  • Extended mastering (includes editing): 50-70 min. (12 to 16 tracks) $750
  • Extended mastering (includes editing): (17 to 21 tracks OR more than 70 min.) $900


  • Please note: Effective July 2009, due to heavy workload, I'm only accepting Custom mastering projects. Thanks!

  • Basic mastering (includes editing): 0-26 min. (up to 6 tracks) $300
  • Basic mastering (includes editing): 26-50 min. (8 to 11 tracks) $425
  • Basic mastering (includes editing): 50-70 min. (12 to 16 tracks) $550
  • Basic mastering (includes editing): (17 to 21 tracks OR more than 70 min.) $700

  • Basic mastering is available only for digital sources such as DAT, CDR, or music files on CDROM. If you are sending reel to reel tapes, please select from the Extended or Custom mastering options.

  • All the above packages include CDR master disc and Priority Mail shipping.
    Add $20 for overnight delivery, or $27 for overnight COD delivery.
    Same-day electronic delivery via WWW is half the price of overnight: $10
    . WWW delivery is available for orders that are prepaid. If you are sending reel-to-reel tapes within the USA, plan on $10 to $15 to return the tapes to you via UPS ground service, once the project is complete.

  • Custom service (album pricing):
    • $1000 (0-26 min., up to 6 trx.)
    • $1400 (30-50 min., 7 to 11 trx.)
    • $1800 (50-70 min., 12 to 16 trx.)
    • $2200 (17 to 21 tracks OR more than 70 min.)
    • Overnight Air Delivery and Rush turnaround are included as part of the Custom package. Pricing for singles etc. is at AnalogMastering.com
  • Digital editing includes fade ins, fadeouts, simple crossfades, sequencing, and hard-disk archiving of your complete project for 90 days.
  • Hourly rate mastering, digital editing, recalibration $150/hour
  • Note: If your master is on analog tape and you prefer Extended mastering, add $250. There is no extra charge for analog tape with Custom mastering. Mastering from analog tapes includes calibration to one set of test tones on your master tape, which is normal for projects mixed to one deck and tape width. If the machines at DRT need to be recalibrated to tapes from different machines/head formats, the time required will be added to the flat rate.
  • Revisions to project mastered at DRT: $100/hour
  • Clients often need one or two extra CDRs as safeties or for early promo use.
    • Extra CDRs (under 26 min.): $10 for each additional master
    • Extra CDRs (over 26 min.): $15 for each additional master
  • 90 or 100 minute cassettes $5
  • Fedex/UPS overnight shipping of CDR - $27 if COD, $20 if prepaid, $40 - $100 for overseas prepaid, email for exact quote.
    (Be sure to add this to the mastering cost if you are making an estimate.)
  • Test mastering of one track to recordable CD. Includes Priority Mail shipping $40
  • Striping DAT tapes that lack Absolute Time Code (for basic mastering) $50
  • Rush turnaround $150 (Call for availability)
  • Same day rush turnaround. Includes courier to Fedex terminal by 9pm for AM delivery. (Call for availability) $300
  • Package (excluding Custom) prices do not include overnight shipping to clients or replication plant.
  • Terms are bank check, money order, or Visa / Mastercard for first-time clients. Business checks OK after that.
    International orders: Payment drawn on a US bank must be sent with client's materials. Wire transfers and Visa / Mastercard also fine. Call or email for an accurate estimate that includes correct return shipping fees from the USA.

CD Replication: I can put you in direct contact with vendors who offer excellent prices on CDs and cassettes in quantities from 10 up. Some vendors specialize in delivering complete high quality packages to working bands, some are unusually strong in the artwork design area, and some can match prices on large CD runs with the biggest plants in the country.

Sample package #1: A 24 minute EP with five tracks. You need a CDR master and one extra copy for immediate radio play. You provide the audio CDR or 24 bit files to be edited and sequenced into a final master. Delivery is overnight COD
Basic mastering to CDR - $300. Extra CDR - $10. Overnight COD shipping - $27. Total = $337
Same package with Extended mastering: $450 +10+27 = $487

Sample package #2: A 48 minute album with eleven tracks. You need one CDR master plus two copies. You prepay, so shipping is less. Basic mastering to CDR - $425. Two extra CDRs - $30. Overnight shipping - $20. Total = $475
Same package with Extended mastering: $600 +30+20 = $650

DRT Mastering Guarantee: You will be satisfied, or the work is free.
If you master your CD at DRT and judge your original to be better sounding than the mastered version, you need to notify me within ten days of delivery, and return all copies to DRT. I will refund the cost of the mastering. You pay only for the blank media that was used, shipping costs, and any rush fees incurred, based on the price list in effect when I did the project. For example: You send a 58 minute album to be mastered to CDR format. I'll ship the disc to you COD for $577. That's $550 for Basic mastering, plus $27 for COD overnight shipping. If you like what you hear, then we're square. You have a great sounding CD, and I'm paid. If you prefer your original to the DRT version, I'll send you a check for $540. You've paid only for the media plus shipping. DRT Mastering has no dissatisfied customers.

Note: Usually people are happy with the mastering choices I make, but each producer has a vision of where their tunes should fit within the window of commercially acceptable music. Some people react primarily to the overall sound, and others might be unusually sensitive to an EQ change or the effects of a compressor/limiter. If, after listening to the reference, you would like to change the spaces between tracks, modify the EQ, increase or back off the compression, adjust the stereo image or make tunes louder or softer, this is not a problem. I'll be happy to do that, and it will cost you a reasonable amount. You'll usually save the most by having me make the changes at an hourly rate. The flat-rate cost of the transfer to tape or CDR will be the same as the first time, but the preparation will take less time, since I have a complete log of the settings used to create the first version.

DRT maintains a digital hard-disk archive of completed projects for 90 days, at the client's risk. DRT's facility incorporates multi-level protection against power failures, surges and lightning strikes. We take all reasonable professional care in protecting client materials but we can be responsible only for the replacement cost of blank media. UPS and Fedex lose packages occasionally! Even the best tape machines eat tapes (very occasionally)! Be prepared! Common sense and professional practice indicate that you should have a backup of any valuable materials you send to DRT.

CD mastering divider for DRT site - info on audio mastering, analog vs digital mastering, tradeoffs of digital CD mastering processors and CD mastering software, analog music mastering techniques, music production tips, info on CD replication, links to CD duplicators

Order Form / Track Sheet

Note: Album projects arriving at DRT without this information will be delayed!
Make sure to read the guarantee at the end of the price info. (Page up twice. That should do it.) This section shows the info that you should provide. If you want to print it as a form, use a fixed pitch font such as Courier.

Which mastering service do you need:
__ Custom    __ Extended   __ Basic   __ Call & advise

Are you prepaying? __ Yes   __ No (project must ship COD)

How many CDRs do you need total?
(One disc is included with Basic and Extended, two with Custom.) ____

Do you need priority service? __ No   __ Yes ($150)

Shipping (US clients): __ Overnight ($20 prepaid, $27 COD)   __ Priority Mail ($0)
Shipping (Overseas):  Call for quote                              __ Internet delivery ($10)

Additional instructions: ........................................................................
If necessary, attach a sheet with notes about handling individual tracks. Include a reference CD if you wish to sound as loud as, or similar to, a specific artist/album.

Please include comments. For example:

  • Is the overall album close to the sound you need?
  • Which tracks are closest to an ideal mix?
  • Is standard spacing OK between tunes?
  • If there are countdowns before tunes, do you want them removed or left in?
  • Important: What overall processing was applied to the stereo mix? (Compression, EQ, Spatializer, Vitalizer, Exciter etc.)

Note: List the songs in the order they are on your tape(s), and if the final album sequence is different, provide a separate list documenting the final order.

Artist: .......................................................................................

Album Title: ...................................................................................

Record Label ............................................ Phone (days): ....................

Contact person ............................................. Phone (eves): ....................

Shipping Address: ...............................................................................

(No PO boxes please) ..........................................................................

|Trk#|Track title and comments.....................................|Start time...|Endtime....|

|00..|60 seconds digital black for DAT tapes......................................|..................|.................|

|01..|............................................................................|..................|.................|

|02..|............................................................................|..................|.................|

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|20..|............................................................................|..................|.................|

CD mastering divider for DRT site - info on audio mastering, analog vs digital mastering, tradeoffs of digital CD mastering processors and CD mastering software, analog music mastering techniques, music production tips, info on CD replication, links to CD duplicators

How to contact DRT Mastering

DRT Mastering can be reached by:

  • Mail: David Torrey, DRT Mastering, 20 Vine Street, Peterborough NH, 03458
  • Email: davidt@drtmastering.com
  • Phone: Business office - 800-884-2576 or 603-924-2277 (information and messages)
  • Fax: 603-924-4384

You are visitor # Counter image to this core FAQ since August 1995, according to the web counter

CD mastering divider for DRT site - info on audio mastering, analog vs digital mastering, tradeoffs of digital CD mastering processors and CD mastering software, analog music mastering techniques, music production tips, info on CD replication, links to CD duplicators

  • Core FAQ covers analog and digital mastering, DRT's custom gear, sample tracks and pricing.
  • Background FAQ and Letters offer tips for making better mixes: compression, EQ, CDR issues.
  • Custom Service is a quick summary for people who target the Major-label market.
  • Tech News expands on selected technical topics. 
  • One-Minute Tour is where most people start. 

CD mastering divider for DRT site - info on audio mastering, analog vs digital mastering, tradeoffs of digital CD mastering processors and CD mastering software, analog music mastering techniques, music production tips, info on CD replication, links to CD duplicators

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Thanks for visiting DRT Mastering. In case you followed this link in from a search engine, this site discusses all forms of music mastering, commonly identified by terms such as CD mastering, audio mastering, music CD mastering, digital mastering, digital CD mastering, compact disc mastering, digital audio mastering. In addition to analog mastering topics, others touched upon include CD mastering software, also known as audio mastering software, and digital mastering processors: Compressors - Finalizer, Ultramizer, DBX Quantum, dithering, normalizing. Additional information is included on CDR media, areas usually referred to as music production and post production, CD duplicators and CD replication resources. You can also find tips useful for both in analog recording and digital recording. Clicking anywhere in this text will take you to the non-frames home page of DRT Mastering

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