A mastering engineer can only be as good as his/her tools. The better the tools the better the sound. We’re very lucky to have some of the best mastering gear available at Lacquer Channel. A mix of state-of-the-art new and vintage from the mid-1970s when the studio first started. All tweaked out and modded by tech-to-the-mastering-stars, Chris Muth. I think our mastering suites are some of the best sounding rooms in the world.
Equipment used in mastering has been typically been shrouded in secrecy. Here, I hope to unravel some of the mystery. I present to you a list of the gear I use in my mastering room with some explanation about why I use it and what modifications have been done.
Muth Audio Engineering Custom Bax EQ
This is a prototype of the Dangerous Music Bax EQ made by original designer of Sterling Sound, Chris Muth. This eq is like the bass and treble knobs on a 1970s stereo. Big, wide and fat.
Neve 2087 Mastering EQ
This rare-as-it-gets Neve mastering EQ came from our custom Neve Mastering Console (click for a pic of that console circa 2004) that we had at Lacquer Channel from 1975 to 2005. It’s warm and punchy at the same time. MOD: Gain is .5db instead of 1.
Sontec Mes 430-B Mastering EQ
The holy grail of mastering eqs. The Sontec Mastering EQ can be wide or surgical. It has a buttery sound unlike any other eq. This classic eq is so unique that it’s not ever been copied. MOD: Steve Firlotte of Inward Connections has installed his version of the John Hall amp cards replacing the stock Sontec HS-1000. Many Sontecs have this mod to even further improve the sound and lower the noise.
GML 9500 Mastering EQ
This very expensive eq was designed by George Massenburg to be the most transparent eq ever. It can be so surgical that you can almost boost just the kick drum from the mix. If the Sontec is butter, the GML is air.
This is a passive eq, like a Pultec, designed by German audio company SPL. Unlike the Pultec, this eq is made to be extremely transparent via 120 volt rails (most eqs are 24 or 48v).
Neumann Console EQ
Truth be told I hardly ever use this eq but it looks great in my console. When I do use it, I get that vintage Neumann German sound.
Kush Audio Clariphonic Parallel EQ
Kush Audio is a very innovative company. They make gear in a category of it’s own and unlike anything else. The Clariphonic is a high-frequency parallel eq. It creates a top-end sparkle for program material that conventional eqs can’t provide. MOD: The power circuit has been altered and the power switch disabled for lower noise.
Chandler Limited LTD-2 Mastering Compressor
This mastering compressor is very Neve 2254 like. The original Neve is very dark but the Chandler LTD-2 is more open while still maintaining a colder sound than Neve is known for. MOD: I’ve added a hard by-pass to the circuitry so it’s completely out of the chain when it’s on bypass. It also has the Sterling Sound Mastering Mod which is a matched pair with faster release times and 1dB stepped gain makeup.
Manley Tube Vari-Mu Mastering Compressor
With 4 tubes per side, the Manely Vari-mu is one fat, fuzzy and warm monster. On top of that, it’s extremely musical and clean. I’ve been using this since my first year of mastering 17 years ago. MOD: I’ve had a high-pass side-chain filter added so those big bass drops don’t make the compressor pump. Chris also did a “Calbi Mod” to it but I’ll admit I have no idea what that means.
ADT TM222 Mastering Compressor
This is a parallel compressor built by German boutique audio company ADT. It can make audio very loud without pumping. It has more controls than a space shuttle.MOD: All the numbers have been reduced. For example the ratio goes from 0:0 to 4:1 instead of 20:1.
Maselec MPL-2 Peak & High Frequency Limiter
This device is both a peak limiter (like an analog L2) and a high-frequency de-esser (like the Neumann Acceleration Limiter on our the record lathe). You find this (and other Maselec devices) in the best mastering studios. De-esser plug-ins can’t sound like this.
Weiss DS-1 MKIII Digital Mastering Compressor and De-esser
Daniel Weiss has been making digital processors since before plug-ins existed. When people ask what’s the difference between the DS-1 and plug-ins I usually joke that the DS-1 costs more than all the plug-ins combined. No software sounds like this. It makes audio sound louder, punchier, bigger and more stereo.
Dolby 740 Spectral Processor
The Dolby 740 is a very interesting processor. It was/is a secret weapon of Chief Engineer George Graves so when I rebuilt the studio a number of years ago, it had to be a part of the new arsenal. The 740 takes low-level sonic material (-40 to -60 db) and allows you to sonically manipulate it to bring it forward. Sound complicated? It took me a few years to really figure this thing out.
Crookwood Mastering Console
The Crookwood is the digital brain to my mastering and monitoring system. The flexibility and transparency of the system is unparalleled.
Dangerous Mastering Console
The Dangerous provides no-compromise analog routing. It’s also great for gain staging with input gain and and output gain pots. MOD: I’ve wired it in conjunction with my Crookwood to allow all my eqs to operate in M/S (mid-side) mode and be individually put in or taken out of the circuitry.
dCS 905 AD / 954 DA Converter
dCS is known for $25,000 CD players (and people actually buy them). These converters run all the way up to 384khz and have a sound stage so big and dynamic that just running mixes through them improves the sound. I use them with the dCS 992 Master Clock which outputs 4 different sample-rates at the same time.
Burl Audio B2 Bomber A/D Converter
As my alternate A/D converter, the Burl B2 Bomber is like no other. Instead of transparency, Burl goes for vibe. Input transformers allow you to slam the input to get distortion and clipping. This can sound surprisingly dynamic and musical.
Magix Sequoia DAW
Magix Sequoia has become the de-facto standard DAW in mastering. I’ve been using it since version 5 and it’s at version 12 now.
Kranis Custom Designed Mastering Speakers
Steve Kranis is a Toronto speaker designer. A few years ago he came into the studio and took some measurements. Some many months later he delivered us a very large and heavy set of speakers custom built for the studio. These sound big and neutral. They translate to everything from hi-fi to laptop speakers.
Bryston 4B / 7B Power Amplifiers
Bryston Amplification out of Pickering Ontario is the workhorse of audio amplifiers. In use both at studios and audiophile systems. They weigh a billion pounds and come with a 25 year warranty. I’ve got 1200watts of power to drive my speakers without distortion.
Ampex ATR 102 Tape Machine
This is THE tape machine. Fully serviced by Michael Spitz (RIP) and equipped with JRF glass heads. We’ve got both the 1/2″ and 1/4″ headstocks. If you record to tape, we can play it back. We also have a Studer A80 program/preview machine with 1/2″ and 1/4″ headstocks but it lives in our lathe room now so we can do all analog vinyl mastering.