Welcome To The New Blog!

Woo hoo, welcome to the new blog location.  Sorry if you got multiple notifications for this blog post the last day or so, still working out a couple last minute bugs with notifications.  Ummm, that’s all I have, but more soon!

(Strymon Timeline review…..)

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Teenage Engineering OP-1 Review

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Well, it took me a few weeks in order to find the time to do a proper video, but my review of the Teenage Engineering OP-1 is now up on YouTube:

http://youtu.be/Boo-J8jeZjI

I wasn’t able to cover everything, so there’s still a lot the OP-1 can do that I didn’t go over.  Things like tempo and tape tricks, the MIDI controller mode, etc.  If anyone has any questions, just ask in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer them!

Otherwise, I hope you enjoy!

Tarekith

The Recharge

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Well, I’m finally back from a nice long vacation to Luxembourg, Paris, and London, and it was something I needed more than I realized.  Though in a way vacation is a bit misleading, as one of the main reasons Hallie and I went was to see if Luxembourg was someplace we would want to move to.  Yes, Hallie has been offered the chance to transfer to a new position in Luxembourg and it’s something we are seriously considering.  Still a lot to weigh before we decide though.

It did give me the first chance in a long while to just get away from the studio for a couple weeks, something I haven’t done since…. well probably 7-8 years.  I have to admit it was pretty nice not really thinking about music making for so long, especially as now that I’m back I find myself recharged and more excited than ever to get back to mastering.

I guess we all need a break now and then, even when you’re lucky enough to love what you do for a living!

The first thing I wanted to do was update all of my audio production guides, and host them on my Inner Portal website, as they just feel more appropriate being housed there.  So, some minor updates to all the guides, which you can now find here:

http://innerportalstudio.com/guides

I also have to admit I made a bit of a mistake recently, concerning my recent abandoning of Facebook.  It didn’t take long for a lot of people to reach out and tell me they really missed getting blog updates and reading other interesting articles I’d find via Facebook.  So, after thinking about it quite a bit, I decided that I’ll rejoin the madness and still use that as an outlet for people to get notifications related to the music stuff i find and post.  So, if you’re not sick of the flip-flopping, feel free to friend me if you want:

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006775729027

Sorry for the hassle, sometimes it’s a struggle to manage my time versus providing useful options for people.  I’m learning, what can I say  🙂

Stay tuned for more to come shortly!

Peace and beats,
Tarekith

Promoting Yourself

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Recently I had a friend send me an email to ask me how I went about attracting clients, as he was trying to get work doing audio engineering and was struggling a bit. It’s one of the many variations on a question I get asked all the time, how do I get work in the audio field? While this guide in general tends to stick with answering that question in terms of audio engineering, I think a lot of the things I recommend can apply in other fields too.

Someone told me when I was starting up my business that it’s 90% getting the work, and 10% actually doing the work.  It took awhile for that to really sink in, but over the last 5 years that I’ve been a full-time mastering engineer it’s really hit home how much time you need to spend to attract new people to work with. These days there’s just so many more “audio engineers” online promoting their businesses, so I’d say it’s probably more like 95% – 5% actually.  Not trying to be discouraging, there’s just a lot of people out there wanting to be audio engineers, mastering engineers, mix engineers, etc. It’s almost as crowded and competetitive a field as being a musician these days!

My start was slow, but I also didn’t really plan on doing this full-time initially. I was just having fun and making some extra money at the time, and I think that’s the best way to start. You don’t need to graduate college or some audio engineering school (ahem) and instantly be a booked-solid engineer. It’d be nice, sure, but that’s a rock star pipe dream. Happens to a few, but it’s definitely the exception and not the rule, so at least have a realistic plan in place for the long haul.

I did mastering on the side along with a normal day job for 10 years before I felt I had enough clients to go full-time, and even then it can still be pretty close some months.  I’ve tried all forms of advertising, web banners, forum signatures, Facebook, print ads, Google ads, you name.  The ONLY thing that has ever worked in my case was word of mouth from happy clients.  Everything else was just a huge waste of money.You need to make people see what you do as valuable, and they need to trust that you know what you’re doing with some many other people they could choose instead.

My blog and my production guides are a huge asset for me in this area, because a lot of people know me for those initially, and then find out I do mastering (usually).  By then I’ve already established some minimal trust, and hopefully shown I know what I’m talking about.  It makes people more comfortable in taking that initial chance on handing over their money.  I’m not saying you should do the same, just that you have to leverage everything you do to help nudge people towards working with you. And to not over do it at the same time, something that’s more of a struggle than most people realize.  Nobody pays attention to someone constantly pushing something at them 🙂

Oh, and always act like a professional online, people can google anything you ever wrote at any time these days, and trust me they do when researching you.  Avoid the flame wars, be nice to people (even trolls), and generally be as easy to get along with as you can.

I guess the core of what I’m trying to say is, you need to put your efforts into making people want to work with YOU. Having the right tools, experience, all that of that is certainly important, but those things should be a given if you’re serious about what you do. And the competition will have those things in place too, so it’s not really a selling point. It’s like trying to talk someone into buying a car by saying it comes with 4 wheels. 🙂

Stay positive, and Most of all, don’t give up!

DDP – New Downtempo Track


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 Tarekith – DDP <- Right Click to Save or Play.

Well it feels like ages since I managed to finish up a track, though looking back that’s probably because it has been a few months since I have!   This track was something I started in Maschine Studio, using that to do all of the beats and most of the synths.

The backwards edited guitar parts were recorded through my older pedal board using the Xotic EP Booster, Boss Tera Echo, and TC Flashback x4 pedals.  I’m not sure how parts of that lick got reversed, it happened randomly when I was slicing the audio in Maschine.  One of those happy accidents I guess!

The other guitar parts were recorded with my newer pedal board using the EP Booster again, the TC Hall of Fame reverb, and my new favorite delay, the Strymon Timeline.  Beautiful delay, you can hear it doing all sorts of weird things on the intro guitar for instance.

The main synth melody was recorded using the OP-1.  It was just played in realtime, then tweaked a bit with EQ in the mixdown.

Since I sold the Maschine Studio before I was done with this track, the rest of the arranging and mixing was done in Ableton Live.  Used mainly the built in EQ to tweak things during the mixdown.  Mastering was done in Triumph using DMG Audio’s Equilibrium, Voxengo MSED, and Fabfilter Pro-L.

Now that I actually remember how to finish a song, let’s see if I can get some more of the ones I have started wrapped up and online soon!  In the meantime, hope you enjoy this one!

Tarekith

(and no, I have no idea what “DDP” means in this case, it just popped in my head while writing the track and refused to leave!)

Sometimes The Brain Doesn’t Work

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Chalk one up to intuition and taking a leap based on a gut feeling. So far selling Maschine and going for the Teenage Engineering OP-1 seems like it was the right thing to do. I’m not going to go into a full review of the OP-1 right now, but it’s quirky interface and use of audio recording to save your work is right up my alley. It’s much deeper than I expected too, even after reading the manual a couple times.

Whew, deep sigh of relief!

I struggled mightily on the decision to sell Maschine so soon after getting it, especially since it hit the right marks on so many fronts. Still, there came a point where I realized I was rationalizing my decision to keep it with only logical reasons, and lots of them. The fact was, as impressive as it was, I wasn’t excited using it, or even thinking about using it. It took a real effort of will to sit down in front of it, even though I always came away with some really nice sounding results.  Such an unexpected conundrum!

I’m my big believer that making music should be fun first, and I just wasn’t having fun thinking of uses for Maschine. Weird, I know, but there it is.

The OP-1 is almost the exact opposite so far. Way more limiting sound pallete and a completely different workflow, much more focused on how you get your ideas down versus recreating them.  I can’t stop thinking about it. I was up almost all night playing with it, and when I did finally go to bed, I kept thinking of new things I could do with it.  Then I woke up and all I wanted to do was play with it some more.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is the best musical instrument ever. There’s a lot of things it can’t do, and it’s definitely not for everyone. It does way more than most people realize, but it’s not a full on modern DAW in a box.  Nor should it be.

But as a fun and unique way of making music, I think it’s brilliant. Probably not something you can use solo, for years on end, but I’m looking forward to seeing exactly how much I depth I can get out of this.  More details soon!

Garage Sale, Goodbye Maschine Studio

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Well, I guess at the very least the last thing I will ever need to worry about is where to store all my gear. Kind of hard to stockpile stuff when you barely hang on to it for even a year.

Maybe I should back up.

I’m selling the Maschine Studio, and likely most of my guitar pedals. Sigh, I know, I know, not again dude, didn’t you do this before? Yes, in only a few short weeks my love affair with Maschine has come to an end, once again. Although this time around the fault lies entirely with me, and not with Maschine like before.

It’s impressive, again and again it surprised me at how capable and well thought out Maschine has grown. The Studio controller was fantastic, really well done, and unlike the MKI version, let me create all the music I wanted out once needing to look at the computer. It truly is the best groovebox I’ve ever used, hands down. Kudos to Native Instruments for really nailing it on this one.

Unfortunately, the more I used it, the more I realized that right now perhaps the groovebox workflow is not really the best way for me to work at the moment. A bitter pill when you have the best groovebox in front of you, but lately I’ve just been more into recording longer passages for my music. Doable on Maschine, but cludgy compared to just recording into a DAW.

I was afraid this might happen, but luckily I bought it during the big sale last month, so I hopefully won’t lose too much money selling it. In the meantime, Control Voltage in Portland has a Teenage Engineering OP-1 on its way to me, something I’ve been wanting to try out for awhile. More on that at a later date though. 🙂

On to the guitar pedals, why in the hell am I selling those?

Going with separate pedals and making a really nice pedal board has always been something I’ve wanted to do. It was a fun experience planning and putting it all together, and it was everything I wanted it to be when I was done.

Except that I realized I’m too much of a sound designer at times to settle for such a simple set up. Not so much simple, but really to get the best use out a pedal board you’re leaving all the pedals largely to set and forget mode. I wanted to explore more, and most importantly be able to save those explorations if I hit on something cool sounding.

Another factor was just that I realized I’d likely have more fun with just a really nice delay and looper pedal, and that the TE-2 and MO-2 pedals just weren’t getting used that much. The EP Booster and Hall Of Fame Reverb I’ll likely keep for now, but the rest are up for sale to help pay for the Strymon Timeline that’s also on its way to me right now. More on that at a later date as well 🙂

So, in the meantime, I’ve got a few bits of gear up for sale if anyone is interested. Everything is in like new condition and comes with all original items/boxes, shipping extra if you’re outside Seattle.  If you need pics, let me know.

Maschine Studio (black) – $780

Akai MPK25 – $100

NI Traktor Audio6 – $120 (does not include Traktor software or scratch vinyl, this version was released before those were bundled)

Pedaltrain JR with dB11 Hotstone SM PSU – $120

Boss Tera Echo Pedal – $90

Boss Multiovertone Pedal – $90

Sony MDR V700 headphones – $40 (carry bag only included)

What’s In A Name?

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Ah, the joys of trying to find a new artist or DJ name! For many people this is actually a very hard task, as it’s the first time they’ve had to put an identity to their music. Especially when it’s something that might be with you for a very long time if your music is successful. I thought I’d give a few tips on choosing a new artist name, based on some of the things I’ve seen work well over the years (as well some things that didn’t work).

A good artist name can be many things for different people; a globally established brand for their music or DJing, a funny play on words to attract attention, or perhaps it’s just a front they can use to retain some sense of personal privacy. Whatever your reasons for wanting to use a name other than your own (which is certainly a viable option too!), here’s a few key points to keep in mind when coming up with yours.

Originality counts. There’s nothing worse than having an artist name that is the same or similar to other artists already out there. When I first started making music, I used to go by the artist name “rEalm”. It was fitting for the music I made, it was something that spoke to me and seemed just right. Unfortunately, there were so many other people out there using the same or similar name, that it was impossible for me to stand out using it. A quick google search of it would turn up hundreds of results that had nothing to do with me, even with the goofy capital “E” in there.

There’s also a practical side here, in that I found it near impossible to register an easy to remember domain name for my website, not to mention email addresses. I ended up just creating a completely new name from scratch as a result, something that I knew only I would be using. This has made my life so much easier, since I could use a nice and simple website like tarekith.com, or Tarekith at gmail for people to reach me. Anyone searching my name will always get pointed right to my site, useful for promotion.

You don’t have to make up your own name, but it certainly is the best way to make sure no one else is using it!

Keep it simple. A really long name, or something that’s difficult to pronounce or spell correctly, at best just makes it harder for your fans to connect with you. At worst, they’ll end up shortening or abbreviating it for you which sort of ruins the point. Keep it fairly short, ideally 3 syllables or less if you can, and make it easy to pronounce and spell.

Funky spellings and weird abbreviation might seem like it’s helping you stand out, but you run the risk of it looking dated later on (I.E. replacing C’s with K’s, etc). It’s worth pausing and considering if this is something you can live with for 20-30 years possibly before you go this route.

One name or many? There’s two different views on the subject of should you use one name for all your releases, or use different artist names for releases in various genres. Some people like to target different audiences depending on the music they are writing, so using various names helps them focus the release to specific audience.

On the other hand, using the same name for everything means you’re possibly attracting a much bigger following to ALL of the music you’re creating instead of just some of it. Though that might put some people off if they only like a certain style you write now and then. Personally I like being known as an artist who releases music in a wide-range of genres, but that’s a call you’re going to have make on your own.

Who else likes it? Consider how your name looks not only to your fans, but also your peers. Calling yourself DJ Dickfuck might be a good chuckle now, but will other artists want to work with you if you call yourself that? Will you have issues being put on flyers for gigs if you use an offensive name?

Some people just don’t care about this stuff and will use whatever they think is funny. But considering how competitive the music scene is, it seems odd to me to stack the cards against yourself with something a simple as your artist name. Horses for courses I guess!

Finally, don’t stress too much about. The best names usually come in moments of inspiration, just like the music we write. If something comes out of the blue, but it feels right, by all means go with it. You can always change it later too, there’s no rule that the name you pick now you HAVE to use forever either.

Which is good, because at the moment I myself have been giving a lot of thought to possibly changing my artist name. Initially I wanted an artist name to sort of define myself outside of the name my parents gave me, and to give me some layer of anonymity online. It worked great at first, but as I’ve grown my mastering business more and more, my real name (Erik Magrini) is out there more and more.

So for a few months now I’ve been considering just switching and using my real name from now on, and perhaps letting the Tarekith moniker rest for awhile. It’s a tough call though, because after so many years of building up that name as my “brand” if you will, I worry that many people won’t follow the change. Or that ultimately, changing my name again is just going to a waste of time and everyone will still call be Tarekith anyway. 🙂

Lots for me to think about, but hopefully some of my ideas have helped you out in the meantime!

Maschine Studio Review

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In some ways it feels like ages since I last gave NI’s Maschine MKI a try, but it’s been something I’ve been watching mature ever since. I loved the sounds, and the hardware integration felt pretty complete, if a bit long-winded in some cases. At the time though (pre-Maschine v1.5?), there were still too many things you needed to revert to the computer to do. And if I’m honest the basic mono-chromatic displays were a tad on the generic side. It didn’t exactly ooze character and I found it would take me awhile to locate where I was in various menus sometimes.

All-in-all I was impressed, but it wasn’t quite the hardware groovebox replacement I had hoped it would be. After a brief affair, I sold it and set about mastering the Octatrack instead. Well, now the Octatrack has come and gone, and I’m once again interested in Maschine, specifically the new Studio version with it’s fancy displays. With the recent NI price drop during May, along with Guitar Center holiday deals on top, it was a no brainer that now was the time to give it another go.

I won’t go into every function of Maschine in great detail, there’s a ton of reviews out there with that info already. What I want to look at is does it function as a true groovebox now, and how does it compare to something like Push? (a question I see all the time lately)

The hardware itself is the same solid controller body NI has been using for awhile now on things like Maschine MKI and the Traktor controllers. Largely plastic, but with some heft to it that makes it feel a bit more sturdy. Only the lower portion of the faceplate has an aluminum skin, the upper portion is the same fingerprint-attracting gloss plastic that the S4 uses. Grr. Hopefully NI makes some skins for the Studio series, I rather liked the old gun-metal blue one for the first generation.

The pads and buttons all feel nice and responsive, and the knobs are solid and feel like they’ll stand up to a lot of tweaking. The new jog wheel is a little less solid-feeling, but it works well for scrolling in any list, and for moving and editing your recorded notes after the fact. The outer ring lights up to let you know when you’re in a menu or edit function that the jog wheel will be active for, and luckily it’s not too bright even in a dark studio. Ditto the pads and buttons, they looked really bright in some videos I saw online, but in use they’re nicely dim enough to not be annoying. The displays can be independently brightened as well.

One awesome new feature is the fold out legs under the Studio, I was curious about how sturdy it would turn out to be. In use they’re great, very solid feeling and it puts the Studio right at a perfect angle IMO. I use Blue Lounge’s Cool Feet to tilt all my tabletop gear, so having this built in and working so well is a huge plus for me.

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On to the main key feature of the Studio though, those new displays. When I first powered it on, I was a bit shocked that my first reaction was “wow, they’re not retina clarity”. Not that I expected them to be, nor should they be necessarily, just that it’s been awhile since I’ve seen LCDs that weren’t, doh! 🙂 All kidding aside, they new display looks great and NI has done a fantastic job using them to help you navigate and edit your projects as efficiently as possible.

Notice I said “edit”. One of things that sticks out to me the most about the new Studio controller, is that it makes using Maschine feel like you’re working at a dedicated editing station. NI have done such a good job of giving you easy and direct access to all the controls you need to edit your performances after the fact, that it feels like that’s the focus more to me than typical grooveboxes.

This is actually not a bad thing. Usually it’s all about performing and recording your material, and while Maschine works the same as always here, it’s the improvements to post-editing that give new life to things. Fixing mistakes and cropping together performances to create something larger in scope is so easy from just the hardware, that instead of finally achieving groovebox status, the Maschine Studio takes it to a new level.

This is further improved on by the fact NI have removed most of the restrictions of the software in terms of the number of effects you could use. Want 14 compressors? No problem! Need a fancy delay followed by a pristine plate reverb? Simple! It really is simple too, the displays on the Studio work great with the browser. Everything is color-coded tastefully and includes graphics, and with their preset tagging in place as always, finding what you need in the huge stock library is really easy. I’ll go one further even, it’s the best I’ve ever used when making music.

Back to no plug-in restrictions. One of the great things about this, is that it gives you DAW flexibility with a groovebox interface and workflow. Most grooveboxes have boring effects in the first place, or maybe you’re limited to only one or two per sound. With Maschine, you can layer endless effects per Sound, per Group, and on the Master. And then assign whatever controls you want to macros at the same Sound, Group (kit), Master levels.

Again, it takes the idea of a groovebox to a new level, especially given the quality of effects you have access to.

I was really interested in the new drum synths as well, and I’m happy to report they are every bit as awesome as I’d hoped. Nicely tweak-able from only a few key parameters, with everything created to function in a very useable range. You get a lot of useable range out of each drum model, and not a lot of dead spots where some parameters just sound bad there no matter the sound you’re trying to create. I do wish there were a few more percussion and cymbal models though.

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Since I’ve been doing a lot of work with my acoustic guitar lately, I wondered how difficult it would be to record any performances via the Maschine hardware and to edit them to use in my patterns. Happily, I didn’t even need to look in the manual to figure it out, it’s one of the simplest recording, looping, and slicing interfaces I’ve used. Dead simple to capture a recording, trim it, slice it, adjust your slices, and assign them to the pads. All without needing to use the laptop, I was impressed.

In fact, it’s pretty obvious by now for most of you that I like it overall I’m sure. 🙂

They’ve made a lot of improvements to the things that used to normally bog you down when working on a groovebox. Browsing your sounds, carefully managing how you used effects, rearranging your recorded performances, etc. Where as Maschine MKI felt a little bit short of my expectations, Maschine Studio exceeded them a lot more than I expected. Other than naming a new project and changing the colors of the groups (another very useful feature I use constantly), I’ve been able to create super solid song ideas from just the hardware. In fact, I’m pretty sure I could do a pretty cool live set from just the controller too 🙂

It’s still not perfect though.

There’s been probably a dozen times the software and controller integration has gone a little haywire and I had to restart the controller. Or a button press doesn’t do what it’s suppose to. There’s still the odd error message that you have to address on the software and not from the controller, which is annoying. If you can display a message on the controller telling me to check the software, why can’t you just tell me on the controller with a yes no button instead?

And of course, you do still need a computer and soundcard to use it. It does such a good job at working like a groovebox, a couple times I have literally been carrying it to another room to work in new surroundings before I remembers it wasn’t a standalone product. Sigh. A small case, a Mac mini, and a way to temporarily use an iPad as a display could almost make it standalone I guess. 🙂

Minor gripes aside, it’s probably one of the best grooveboxes I’ve ever used. There’s still a little bit of generic feel to the hardware that puts me off at times. But once I sit down and get sucked into the displays, it’s amazing what I can record and edit without touching the computer at all, and I always come away impressed. I can’t imagine using Maschine without the Studio controller myself, but it will be up to you and how much you use Maschine to make that call if you own any of the older hardware.

How does it compare to Push? Well, it’s almost not really a comparison, since they are almost devices with totally different uses. I find that Push is really good at coming up with some interesting and unique sounding song ideas. The step sequencers are more comprehensive since you have more pads, and the whole thing just feels like a musical instrument more than a general purpose controller.

The downside of Push is that there’s very little after the fact editing other than the simple step sequencer. And frankly, the browser in Ableton is weak compare to the way NI does it. Both in terms of content and organization, Maschine is far better here, especially on the Studio controller. Maschine is also much better at post-editing, which I’ve mentioned numerous times so far.

Overall I think of Push as being for someone looking more for a new instrument, a way of playing their own sounds and maybe sketching out some quick ideas to expand on back at the computer later. Creating melodies and even step drum programming is just easier on Push since you have so many more pads to use, and the scales function is really fun too.

Push is also easier to get up to speed on, a lot simpler to figure out since it does a lot less. If you’ve used Live, Push will make sense right away. Maschine doesn’t work like a DAW even though it looks like one, so understanding the structure of a project and navigating it can take awhile.

Maschine is more for someone wanting to have a dedicated and focused way of creating more polished and complete song ideas in the studio. Either for loops or just basic arrangements, Maschine just works better for shaping things once you’ve recorded them. Provided you don’t mind recording everything with a generic 4×4 grid of pads (or with an external midi controller I suppose, though that takes away from the groovebox factor some).

As a complete all in one solution, I think Maschine Studio is probably the stronger package of the two. But if you’re already a Live user, there’s no denying how useful it is keeping it all “in the family” so to speak 🙂 And there’s all those performance options Live offers if you want to take things to the stage later on.

I’ll still use Push for playing around in Live, especially with melodic content, but I think for now the library of sounds that NI is shipping with Maschine is a little more up my alley so that’s where I’m going to be focusing my attentions for the new future.

As always happy to answer any questions if people have them, just them in the comments.

Peace and beats,
Tarekith

iOS Mastering Apps Comparison


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As a full-time mastering engineer who likes to make music on an iPad in my spare time, it’s no surprise I have an interest in the recent flux of mastering related iOS apps coming out these days. Add to that how many people I see on various forums lately asking which of the options is better, and I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at a few of the more popular mastering apps and see how they compare. I’ll be looking at the following apps in this review:

Audio Mastering by iMusicAlbum $12.99

Final Touch by Positive Grid, Inc. $12.99

Auria with Fabfilter in app purchases $49.00 + IAP’s

This isn’t a full review of each app, those are already online if you want to learn more about the specifics of how each of them work.  Rather, I wanted to see what things (good and bad) stood out in each app, and how they directly compare to each other in terms of functionality and sound quality. For this comparison I am listening to each app with my iPad Air connected to a Lynx Hilo DAC via the Apple Camera Connection Kit, an Emotiva XPA-2 amplifier, and finally my Tyler Acoustic D2x monitors.  Custom room treatments by GIK Acoustics USA.

I’m using a few songs I wrote entirely on the iPad for testing purposes, in a variety of genres.  Most have a good bit of low frequency information useful for testing dynamics processors, and they were made on the iPad and thus keep with the iOS theme.  Audio Mastering and Final Touch both can function as Audiobus and Inter-App Audio effects, as well as load files via Audioshare, Audio Copy, etc.  Auria is a dedicated DAW in it’s own right, and functions as an IAA host, as well as Audiobus Output. For all three apps I used iTunes file-sharing to import my songs however, and it was quick and painless in each case.

Because Audio Mastering and Final Touch both are similar all-in-one mastering solutions (ala Ozone on the desktop), I’m going to focus on the comparing them first, then discuss how the Auria method of iOS mastering differs.  Let’s get to it then…

Being all in one solutions, Audio Mastering and Final Touch both share a lot of features, though more differences than I expected too. Both allow you to insert various mastering related processors into your signal chain, though in Audio Mastering’s case, the order of effects is fixed. It still largely makes sense except for putting the reverb in front of the compressor, but then again I personally have never understood the need for a reverb in 99.999% of all mastering. Regardless, point for Final Touch for allowing your to freely change the order of processors, as well as for having two EQs available.

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Navigating in both apps is basically through tabs for each type of processor, with navigating done via dedicated transport buttons and a waveform you can scroll with your finger. Final Touch has the waveform visible at all times, while there’s a dedicated tab you need to go to in Audio Mastering in order to change the playback position precisely. Almost another point for Final Touch, but it has this weird fade-in it does each time the playhead is moved or playback begins. Makes it difficult when you’re trying to narrow in on a problematic transient I found.

One big difference in the apps is that aside from just audio processing, Audio Mastering can also apply user defined fade-in and fade-outs, convert file types before saving, as well as loop portions of the waveform if needed. So for more detailed and precise audio problem-solving, I find that Audio Mastering has the lead here.

Alright alright, but how do they sound is all anyone wants to know, right?

EQ

Of the two, I preferred the sound of Audio Mastering’s EQ to the one in Final Touch. Sweeping the mids you can hear that it’s a very smooth and natural sound, there’s very little phasey-ness happening around the active band. It does what you want and stays out of the way. The Final Touch EQ isn’t bad at all, but it can get a bit harsh the more you boost it,  it definitely imprints it’s own sound with more than a few dB’s boost. Opening the Q helps some, but I still preferred the sound of the Audio Mastering EQ for most uses.

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However I have to point out that Final Touch EQ can also be used in mid-side mode, in fact almost all of the Final Touch processors can run in M/S mode, and that’s a huge bonus. I use M/S processing a lot in my mastering work, it can work wonders when you learn to think from an M/S perspective!  Also of note is the fact that every EQ band can be set to multiple types ala low pass, high pass, peak, shelf, etc.  If you just need a few small EQ tweaks in your track, Final Touch definitely has more options in how you use it.

The built-in analyzer in both EQs work fine, though in Final Touch they are definitely smoother and better reacting, as are all the meters in Final Touch. The interface overall is generally smoother in Final Touch if I’m honest, everything moves fluidly and it’s very easy to find exactly what you’re looking for. Audio Mastering looks and feels more like a piece of lab equipment, precise and designed for a very specific and functional purpose.  🙂

Moving on…

Compression.

Both Final Touch and Audio Mastering are set up by default to work as multi-band compressors, though Audio Mastering can also be set to single-band, which is likely how I would use it for most of my mastering work. You’d be surprised at how little multi-band compression is actually used in professional mastering, but I digress…

In it’s single band mode, I thought Audio Mastering sounded very good and would likely be my first choice between both apps if that were it.   Transparent and works exactly like you’d expect, this is not a colored compression.  However in multi-band mode, I preferred Final Touch for both it’s sound and ease of use. Although strangely, there’s no way to see your actual gain reduction when using compression in Final Touch, which seems like an odd thing to remove from a compressor!  Maybe I’m missing something…

The compressor display in Audio Mastering is slightly confusing, and working with multiple bands feels like it takes a lot of tapping to get things done. One thing that’s true across Audio Mastering though, it’s much easier to nail precise settings thanks to the large faders for almost every parameter.

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Final Touch’s multi-band compressor is pretty easy to figure out, and overall sounds decent for what it is.  Though as I mentioned, I thought dialing in precise setting with the little dials a bit fiddly at times. To sum up, for compression I’d normally reach for Audio Mastering in single-band mode, but if I needed multi-band compression (and I rarely do) then Final Touch would get the nod.

Reverb.

Hands down Final Touch wins this one, unfortunately it’s not even close. Having a lot of reverb experience from their guitar apps pays off it seems, the reverbs are much more realistic and better sounding than those in Audio Mastering. In fact, Audio Mastering’s reverb is the most perplexing thing about the app for me. It’s more like an echo pre-delay sort of thing than a true reverb. It gives space without muddying things up, but it’s still a very artificial sound to my ears.

Considering this is the least important tool in the mastering chain (IMVHO), not really a big deal either way.

Spatial Tools.

Of the two, Audio Mastering gives you slightly more control over adjusting your spatial parameters for things like stereo spread or making the low end more mono-compatible, with multiple user-defined processing bands available. There’s also a built-in harmonic exciter (which I thought sounded pretty good in small doses), something Final Touch doesn’t have.

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However I personally find Final Touch a little easier to use, and the metering a bit more helpful in actually setting the parameters. Final Touch also has simple tools for checking mono compatibility, flipping channel phase, and swapping left and right channels.  While I would probably choose Final Touch for the interface alone, either one is more than good enough for the tiny tweaks processors like this usually handle in mastering.

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Limiting.

It’s hard not to associate loudness with the term mastering, as it’s what most people attribute the mastering process to. While this is handled typically by peak limiters in the studio, both apps here call these processors Maximizers.

Both limiters sounded more than good enough for transparent limiting of a few dBs, and they both surprised me by how far they could be pushed before distorting (handy for you Beatport producers 🙂 ).

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This time it’s Final Touch that gets more control over the limiting parameters, including one of the most comprehensive dithering sections I’ve seen in almost any app, iOS or otherwise. Struck me as odd that they simplified in so many other areas (I.E. no compressor gain reduction), but choose to offer a huge range of choices here.

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However, despite having a lessor degree of control, I found that when pushed hard I preferred the sound of the maximizer in Audio Mastering more than Final Touch by a little bit. It was easier to retain transients and if I was called on to make things stupid loud it would go a bit further than Final Touch before starting to distort.  This is only in extreme cases, like I said for light to normal limiting duties, either app works just fine in this regard.
The more I think about it, the harder it becomes for me to say that one is better than the other. The basic mastering tools in each are more than capable for self-mastering your own releases. They each have additional tools that are slightly different from each other too, things like harmonic exciters and additional EQs.

Overall I found that Final Touch was easier to navigate in, and also simpler to figure out the controls for the devices. That doesn’t mean that Audio Mastering was difficult, just that with the flat display (which I prefer normally) and the single color interface, it can take a few seconds to find what you’re looking for. In it’s favor, you typically have finer-control over those parameters once you do.

In terms of sound quality it’s a toss up depending on what type of processing you use the most. For EQ and limiting, as well as it’s single-band compressor mode, I’m personally favoring the sound of Audio Mastering. For reverb, spatial tools, and the multi-band compressor I’d lean more towards Final Touch.

Both apps are on sale at the moment for $12.99, so if you’re serious about mastering your iOS tunes it would be well worth having both in your arsenal. At the very least it’s a small investment to make to try both and see which you prefer yourself, considering how important this step of the production process is.

Which brings us to….

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Auria

While not a dedicated mastering app in it’s own right, there’s enough professional tools available for it that Auria can fill that role easily. As a stand-alone DAW, it has all the editing and exporting options you could ask for, and the built in EQ, compressors, and limiter are all made by PSP Audioware, well-respected plug-in manufacturers in their own right.

The real power comes when you consider that you can also purchase all of the Fabfilter plug-ins to use in Auria, and for MUCH cheaper than their desktop counterparts. This gives you access to Pro-Q, Pro-C, Pro-MB, and Pro-L, some of the best plug-ins ever made and in use in professional mastering studios around the world.

These are identical to their desktop versions, and since there’s plenty of reviews of those online, I won’t get into the features. Suffice to say these are already some of the best software mastering tools you can buy, so there’s no worry about quality.

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The downside is of course the higher cost, you’re looking at $50 for Auria and on average about $30 for each of the Fabfilter plug-ins (Pro-L and Pro-MB are $40 each). It’s a sizable investment, and quite a bit more than the alternatives I compared above if you only want them for mastering. However you get a lot more flexibility with the Fabfilter plug-ins than with the alternatives too. Dozens of EQ or compression bands if you need, different limiting algorithms, upward compression and expansion, comprehensive metering and spectral analysis, etc.

But I think for some producers, some of that complexity could be overwhelming. There’s a lot of ways to alter your audio, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, not always for the better. And of course you can only use those plug-ins in Auria too, they’re not Audiobus or IAA compatible.

For me it’s an easy choice, I know my way around EQs and compressors, and Pro-L is hands down the best limiter made if you were to ask me. I’ve already mastered a few projects for people using the iPad and these tools, and they impressed me just as much as they do on the desktop. If you want the very best and you know how to use them, it’s hard to beat the options this method of iOS mastering offers.

I have to admit though, I was pleasantly surprised at how well done both of the other alternatives are. The gap in sound quality and functionality was much smaller than I expected it would be with the tools I use daily in my mastering business. So while I’m content to continue using Auria for my iOS mastering, I’m actually really glad I spent time with Audio Mastering and Final Touch too. I came away much more impressed than I thought I would be.

For 95% of all producers out there, these are all you need for mastering your own music. All the tools you need are included, they both have decent presets to get you started, and they both sound really good until pushed much harder than you probably need to. I’m pretty awed with the power and sound-quality of the tools we have at our disposal on the iOS platform, and I never thought I’d say that about something like iOS mastering tools as well!

Hopefully this helped clear up some of the differences and similarities between the mastering tools I’ve talked about here. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments or on the forum where you saw this posted. Happy to answer any questions if I can!

Peace and beats,
Tarekith