Mastering is one of the most difficult stages of music production. A lot of bedroom producers will outsource this final part of creating their songs. This is due to the daunting process and the required knowledge. You need to know about frequencies, compression, levels, etc.
Outsourcing this can be very expensive especially over the length of a career. It can also be a problem if your song comes back to you and doesn’t sound how you want it to. There are plugins designed to make the process of mastering your songs easier. They can help you avoid outsourcing your mastering and help to achieve a decent quality mix on your own.
We really must stand by getting a professional to master your work though. It is hard for you to be objective when listening to your own songs. For this reason, it’s best for someone else to do your mastering. However, we have compiled this list so you can do the best on your own or to help you master the work of others.
There are a few different parts of a full mastering suite. These can include but are not limited to EQ, compressor, limiter, meters, and saturation. You can of course buy or download separate plugins for each of these. For this article, we will concentrate on software packages that include several plugins. This means you can buy one bundle to make complete masters.
The premium MAX version of this suite comes loaded with 38 modules. It is also available in an incredibly well priced standard version with 9 modules. It is one of our best value picks as it is hard to ignore the overwhelming amount of content this product includes.
There are some mixing plugins in their premium versions. But, you definitely get enough mastering tools to count this as a mastering product.
One of the new additions to this version of this product is the Master Match plugin. This uses reference tracks to create an EQ curve and level adjustment. You can then edit this curve to your liking. You can use this as a standalone setting or at the end of a processing chain.
There are more than enough inclusions in this package to create a quality mastering chain. Master Match also makes mastering a little easier for beginners. It is one of my favorite inclusions for this reason. A few other mastering suites include a similar feature. It is only other high-quality premium products though.
The user interface of this product is graphically pleasing and easy to read. However, you cannot hide the graphic elements of it. This means you can end up with a screen full of meters and track representations all up at once. It can be a little frustrating to not be able to get rid of each parameter when you are not adjusting it.
There is such a huge number of included plugins in this bundle. There is one that stands out as simple to use for beginners. This is the ONE mastering plugin. With this plugin, you get controls for an EQ, compressor, limiter, low-end enhancer, and harmonic exciter. You control each of these parameters with a single knob. This makes it amazingly user friendly. You can easily move each knob around, hear the difference, and repeat. This is a great way for a beginner to figure their way around end-mastering a track.
Once you have worked your way around the ONE mastering plugin you can get more technical. You can do so by using the plethora of other inclusions within this bundle. Given the range of features, this is a great package for anyone from a beginner to a pro.
This bundle is available at three different price points with the TrackS 5, TrackS 5 Deluxe, and Tracks 5 MAX. You can always upgrade from the cheaper packages to the MAX package later. You can also use the TrackS custom shop from within the package to try any processor for free for 14 days. You can then purchase any product you love individually. This will be more expensive than buying the whole suite but you won’t be paying for anything you won’t use.
Ozone is one of the most well-known mastering suites available for a good reason. iZotope is among the industry leaders in the quality of their mastering products. Having several of their best plugins wrapped up in the Ozone suite makes for a high-quality combination.
Ozone comes equipped with everything you need to create an awesome master. It has an EQ, pre-compression, post-compression, saturator, and limiter. As mentioned earlier all these plugins are of the industry standard. Many professional producers use this software for their tracks.
This mastering package is also one of the easiest to use. It comes with a few different features that make it very user friendly.
One of these great features is the auto-match function. You can use a number of reference tracks that Ozone will analyze and create an EQ curve that applies to your track. This is a great feature because you can pick songs from whichever genre you are working on. You can then emulate their mastering for your track. This is perfect for beginners and will help them to learn how EQ works. It will also help to save time for professionals. They can get a starting point and tweak settings from that instead of starting from scratch.
You can also use presets with the Ozone suite through the Master Assistant. This has a vintage and modern option. You can get your tracks mastered automatically. Using presets anywhere intended for anything from a dance banger to an old school rock tune. Using the modern setting will provide a cleaner and more transparent sound. The vintage master preset will provide a more colored tone.
The user interface is easier to use than many other mastering suites. You get clearly labeled parameters and large visual representations. You can see what you’re doing when you edit a setting across this suite because of these inclusions.
You can use this suite inside your DAW as modules or as standalone software. Be aware that when you run them inside your DAW you can't bypass them so they will chew up your CPU power.
For an even more professional standard of mastering, you could opt for the advanced package. Prepare to pay around twice the price of the standard mastering suite for the privilege. It is definitely worth the cost. But, the standard set is definitely enough to get you started with mastering. You could always upgrade later if you need to.
This package includes 4 plugins. That may seem a little thin when compared to the huge amount available in the TrackS 5 package. However, don’t let that put you off considering this package for your mastering. Each of the included processors is incredibly detailed. They complete their functions with unmatched aplomb.
The Pro-C compressor looks great when you load it up. You could forgive yourself for thinking that it is just another compression plugin. However, once you have done some digging into the software you will figure out that it has a lot more to offer.
There are 3 different types of compression available. These are clean, classic, and opto. Each of these has their own signature style. They will provide certain characteristics to your tracks.
There is a range of extra features available under the ‘expert’ tab. As the name of the tab suggests all of these settings are rather complicated. These extra settings are not well suited for beginners.
The Pro-MB compressor in this package is a little simpler. It has 6 bands and provides an easy to use compressor to juxtapose the Pro-C.
The Pro-Q equalizer offers similar quality to the rest of this package. It has a beautiful graphical interface that makes its basic functions easy to use. You can use simple click and drag mouse functions to create and edit up to 24 bands of EQ.
Last but not least is the Pro-L limiter. When you open it up it looks to have the simplest interface of all the included plugins. We have learned by now that there is more to meets the eye with FabFilter plugins though. When you check the advanced tab you will have control over so many minute parameters. You can focus down on whatever frequencies you are trying to address in your mastering.
This package is very versatile and extremely worthy of consideration. Especially for those among us that are already knowledgeable about mastering. I would not recommend this mastering suite for beginners though. The interfaces look great and have fantastic functionality but can be overwhelming. Notably so for someone new to mastering.
We all know that the Abbey Road studio in the UK is famous for producing famous artists' albums. Some of these artists include The Beatles and Ed Sheeran. It stands to reason that there is a quality emulator for the mastering chain they use. This plugin helps others to create that same sound at home.
This plugin emulates on the EMI TG12410 that they use in the Abbey Road studio that has been there since the 70’s. That exact model was used to record Dark Side Of The Moon by Pink Floyd as well as a number of other famous albums
This software is a little more dated than the others in our top picks. As such, it is often sold on special for less than $40. You cannot argue with the functionality and quality given for such a low cost.
There are 5 modules included in this mastering chain. These are input, tone, compressor/limiter, filter, and spread. You can use these as part of a chain as the creator intended or you can bypass any part you don’t wish to use.
The compressor has a modern and original setting. The original setting has a dirtier output to match that 70’s tone that the modeled hardware has. The modern sound uses the emulated sound and cleans it up. This provides higher levels of perceived loudness.
Given that this plugin is a little older it is also a little less intuitive. Knobs control everything but not easy to use one-touch knobs as the ONE plugin uses. You will have to have at least a basic understanding of what each parameter does. This will help you get a quality result from your mastering attempts.
There are also fewer inclusions when compared to the more expensive picks. However, this is a great mastering chain to use if you have a smaller budget and know what you are doing.