Roland VS8F-3 Workshop: Mastering the Mastering Tool Kit

Roland VS8F-3 Workshop: Mastering the Mastering Tool Kit
Mastering the Mastering Tool Kit
© 2005 Roland Corporation U.S.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in
any form without the written permission of Roland Corporation U.S.
About the VS8F-3 Workshop Booklets
The VS8F-3 Workshop booklets describe how to get the most
out of the powerful effects processing found on the VS8F-3
Plug-In Effect Expansion Board for Roland’s V-Studios. They’re
intended as companions to your VS8F-3 Owner’s Manual and
the owner’s manual for your particular V-Studio.
Each booklet covers one of the VS8F-3’s factory plug-ins
in detail, with easy-to-follow explanations, procedures,
and illustrations. There’s also a booklet that covers the
exciting option of using third-party plug-in effects with the
VS8F-3, greatly expanding the processing potential of your
The VS8F-3 is compatible with the following V-Studios:
VS-2480, VS-2400, VS-2000, VS-1824, VS-1880, and
Your V-Studio may require an operating system update to work with the
VS8F-3. For details, visit the Roland U.S. Web site at
or contact our Product Support team at 323-890-3741.
About This Booklet
A Roland V-Studio allows you to have complete control of your
music productions, from conception to audio CD. An important
part of the production process is CD mastering—preparing
your completed music mixes for burning onto an audio CD.
This booklet discusses using the VS8F-3’s Mastering Tool Kit
plug-in to sweeten the sound of your mixes during the
mastering process. We’ll dive deep into its inner workings, and
offer lots of tips for creating superior master tracks.
The VS8F-2 Effects Expansion Board contains an earlier version of the
Mastering Tool Kit that’s similar in function to the VS8F-3 version. Much
of the material presented in this booklet can be applied to that effect
processor as well.
Understanding the Symbols in This Booklet
Throughout this booklet, you’ll come across information that
deserves special attention—that’s the reason it’s labeled with
one of the following symbols.
A note is something that adds information about the topic at hand.
A tip offers suggestions for using the feature being discussed.
Warnings contain important information that can help you avoid possible
damage to your equipment, your data, or yourself.
Mastering Basics
What is Mastering?
“Mastering” is the process of collecting and
preparing your completed music mixes for
their final playback medium, a “master” CD.
The V-Studio mastering procedure can include
the following steps:
importing—your mixes into a single mastering project.
editing—the start and end points of each mix to remove
any extraneous noises.
sweetening—the sound of your mixes as needed by
processing them with the Mastering Tool Kit, capturing
the results as CD-compatible disk images.
assembling—the disk images into the order you want
them to play on the CD.
placing—CD track markers that tell a CD player how to find
your songs.
burning an audio CD—so that you can play your music on
any audio CD player. This disk can also be used as a master
for mass-duplication.
A Roland V-Studio equipped with a VS-compatible CD recorder
and a VS8F-3 or VS8F-2 effects board allow you to accomplish
all of these processes.
For detailed information about track editing, creating disk images, and
burning audio CDs, see the owner’s manual for your particular V-Studio.
What Are the Advantages of Mastering?
You might be asking yourself, “Why do I need to master my
recordings? Can’t I just burn my mixes to an audio CD and be
done with it?”
Well, you certainly can, and the V-Studio’s “Track at Once” CD
burning option makes burning songs one at a time extremely
easy. And if you’re just sharing song demos, you probably
don’t need to go to the trouble of mastering.
However, when you’re ready to compile a group of recordings
for a final CD release, mastering has some important benefits:
It allows you to create a good song-to-song balance on
the CD—Recordings mixed at different times can sound
quite different from each other. By subtly adjusting the
equalization, dynamics, and level of each mix, you can
make them all “live together” better on the final CD.
You can enhance your mixes—By “polishing” the overall
sound with digital processing, you can often improve the
aural presentation of your songs. (Mastering can’t always
solve problems with poor mixes, however. Great masters
always start with great mixes.)
It provides a fresh perspective on your music—The process
of recording and mixing a song is very detail-oriented.
Mastering, on the other hand, is a subtler approach,
one that’s more concerned with the presentation of a
collection of songs.
It helps you compete with commercial CDs—100% of all
commercially released recordings are mastered to some
degree. Good mastering can help your music stand sideby-side with other recordings in areas of impact, presence,
and punch. One particular benefit is in increasing the
average level of the music by using an effect called
Ultimately, though, the goal of mastering is quite simple: To
create a CD that sounds great on any system it’s played on, be
it a home stereo, boom-box, car stereo, or the radio.
What is the Mastering Tool Kit?
The Mastering Tool Kit—or “MTK” for short—is one of the
factory plug-ins that’s included with the VS8F-3. The MTK is not
just one effect, but a powerful multi-processor that combines
several different effects under one hood.
About the VS8F-2’s MTK Processor
If you’re an experienced V-Studio user, you’re probably
familiar with the Mastering Tool Kit algorithm available on the
VS8F-2 Effects Expansion Board. Conceptually, the new MTK
is very similar to the old: They both contain the same types
of effects, and their intended usage is the same. However, the
VS8F-3’s MTK provides the following benefits:
The VS8F-3’s Mastering Tool Kit as seen on a VGA display.
All of the MTK’s effects are specially tailored for the sweetening
phase of the mastering process. These effects include:
a four-band equalizer—for adjusting a mix’s tonality.
a bass cut filter—for removing unwanted low frequencies.
a stereo enhancer—for adding harmonics and sparkle to a
a multiband stereo expander—for emphasizing the dynamic
changes in a mix.
a multiband stereo compressor—for evening-out the
musical dynamics of a mix, adding tightness and punch.
a stereo limiter—to boost a mix’s overall level and maximize
the signal.
a “soft clip” processor—that inhibits distortion and adds
analog-style warmth to a mix.
Enhanced sound quality—By taking full advantage of
the VS8F-3’s powerful 56-bit, 96 kHz-capable processing
engine, the new MTK produces superlative audio quality.
A software plug-in style user interface—Like all of the
VS8F-3’s effects, the new MTK’s interface has the intuitive
look and feel of a software plug-in effect. If you have a
VGA-compatible V-Studio, you can use a mouse to access
all of the MTK’s parameters at once on a connected VGA
Informative displays—Level meter and graphic processing
displays give you excellent visual feedback about the
processing taking place inside the MTK.
If you don’t own a VS8F-3 yet, you don’t need to feel left out. Many of the
concepts presented in this booklet can be applied to using the VS8F-2’s
MTK, as well as the MTK found in some of BOSS’s BR-series recorders.
Using the MTK
To use the MTK, you’ll want to insert it on the master bus in
the V-Studio’s Mastering Room. This allows you to capture
your MTK-processed mixes as disk images that can be burned
onto an audio CD. For instructions on using the Mastering
Room, inserting effects, and opening the MTK for editing, see
the VS8F-3 Owner’s Manual and the owner’s manual for your
particular V-Studio.
A Word About Mixing with the MTK
Every song is different, and usually requires its own unique processing
approach. The factory presets are great starting points, but you’ll
probably get the best results through careful manipulation of the MTK’s
Though it’s possible to use the MTK while mixing your songs,
we don’t recommend it. It’s best to apply its processing in a
second step. This approach serves two purposes:
Using the VS8F-3’s MTK is even easier if you have a VGA monitor
and mouse connected to a VGA-compatible V-Studio. All of
the MTK’s parameters can be viewed at one time on the VGA
display, with easy onscreen manipulation using the mouse.
Checking Out the Presets
There are a number of factory presets that you can use to get
familiar with the MTK, and to use as starting points for your
sweetening applications. For information on selecting the
MTK’s factory presets, see the VS8F-3 Owner’s Manual and the
owner’s manual for your particular V-Studio model.
Input R
Input L
Signals entering the MTK are processed by its effects in a
sequential order as shown:
Once opened for editing, you’ll navigate through the MTK’s
parameters in the same manner as you would with any other
VS8F-3 or VS8F-2 effect. Use the V-Studio’s F buttons to page
through the processor’s display screens. Highlight a parameter
for editing by using the 3,4, 5, and 6 buttons, and then
change the selected parameter’s value by using the VALUE
Signal Flow
Navigating the MTK
The MTK in Detail
It gives you a clean, “pre-MTK” version of your mix that you
can always return to if you like.
It frees up the VS8F-3’s processing for other effects during
Output L
Output R
The signal flows through one processor and then into the next,
one after the other. This type of processing is called “serial”
processing. All of the MTK’s effects can be used at once, but
any individual effect can be bypassed if you don’t want to use
Each of the MTK’s seven different stereo effects processors can
be categorized as one of two general types:
a tone-shaping processor—which alters the sound by
manipulating the frequency content of the signal.
a dynamics processor—which alters the sound by
manipulating the signal’s volume.
About the Input Meters
On the left side of the first MTK page (or the
upper left-hand corner of the MTK if you’re
viewing on a VGA monitor), you’ll see the input
meters. These meters show the signal level
received at the input of the MTK.
You can adjust the level arriving here by using
the mix’s track faders. Set the level so that the
loudest parts of your mix reach between -1 and
-4 on the meters. If any part of the mix makes
the CLIP indicator light, distortion will occur. If
CLIP lights, back off the level until it doesn’t.
The MTK’s first tone-shaping processor is a powerful EQ, or
“equalizer,” that allows you to raise or lower the volume of
specific frequencies within a sound. Using EQ in mastering,
you can adjust a mix’s tonal balance—making it brighter or
warmer, harsher or sweeter. You can lower the volume of any
frequencies you don’t like, or emphasize certain frequencies
by making them louder. You can even remove an entire range
of “problem” frequencies altogether.
It’s important to adjust the MTK’s input level properly, as this ensures that
you’re taking full advantage of the VS8F-3’s 56-bit processing.
The Tone-Shaping Processors
The MTK provides three different tone-shaping processors
(highlighted below) to manipulate the overall tonality or
“spectral balance” of the signal.
The MTK’s EQ features four separate frequency ranges called
“bands.” Each band allows you to target a specific frequency
between 20 Hz and 20 kHz. A variable bandwidth—or “Q”—
control determines the range of frequencies below and/or
above a targeted frequency that are affected by the EQ band.
Each band has an adjustable level control, which allows you
to raise or lower its frequency range +/- 15 dB. There’s also a
display that shows your EQ adjustments in a graphic curve.
For overall control, the EQ has a master section with master
input and output level controls, as well as a bypass switch.
EQ Types
Each of the MTK’s four EQ bands can be designated as a specific
EQ type that determines the behavior of the band. These are:
a parametric or “peaking” EQ—that allows you to target a
specific frequency, called the “center frequency,” and raise
or lower its volume. The Q control determines the range of
frequencies around the center frequency whose volume is
to be affected (the higher the Q setting, the narrower the
range of affected frequencies).
a shelving EQ—that allows you to raise or lower all the
frequencies above (high shelf ) or below (low shelf )
a specified frequency. The shelving EQ requires no Q
a filter—that allows you to remove an entire range of
frequencies. There are several ways a filter can work:
A low pass filter—removes all frequency content above
a specified “cutoff frequency.” It’s called a “low pass”
filter because it lets all frequencies that are lower than
the cutoff frequency pass through unaffected.
A high pass filter—removes all frequency content below
a specified cutoff frequency. It’s called a “high pass”
filter because it lets all frequencies that are higher than
the cutoff frequency pass through unaffected.
The low and high pass filters don’t drastically cut off all frequency content
right at the cutoff frequency—they gradually lower it over a frequency
range called a “slope.” In some instances, the slope can be adjusted with
the Q control.
A band pass filter—only allows a specified band of
frequencies to pass through unaffected, removing
all other frequency content below and above the
selected band. The Q control determines the width of
the filter band.
A band eliminate filter—removes a specified band of
frequencies. The Q control determines the width of the
filter band.
Selecting the EQ Type
To choose the EQ type for each band, set FREQ (Hz)—TYPE so
its indicator is lit. Using the selection boxes under the first row
of onscreen knobs, you can assign each band to function as
one of the following EQ types:
PEAK—Peaking EQ.
LSV—Low shelving EQ.
HSV—High shelving EQ.
LPF1—Low pass filter with a fixed gentle slope.
LPF2—Low pass filter with an adjustable slope.
HPF1—High pass filter with a fixed gentle slope.
HPF2—High pass filter with an adjustable slope.
BPF—Band pass filter.
BEF—Band eliminate filter.
THRU—Bypasses the EQ band.
For most mastering applications, a good starting point is to set the EQ
types as follows: Band 1-LSV, Band 2-PEAK, Band 3-PEAK, and Band 4HSV. However, don’t be afraid to experiment to find the types that work
best for you.
EQ Frequency
To choose the target frequencies for the EQ bands, set FREQ
(Hz)—TYPE so its indicator is unlit. Then, use the selection
boxes under the first row of knobs to select the desired target
frequency (20 Hz to 20000 Hz (20 kHz)) for each band.
EQ Bandwidth (Q)
To choose the volume of each EQ band, set GAIN (dB)—Q so
its indicator is unlit. Then, use the selection boxes under the
second row of knobs to set the desired volume for each band.
A band can be boosted or cut over a +/- 15 dB range.
The GAIN (dB) setting has no effect when an EQ band’s type is set as a filter
(LPF1, LPF2, HPF1, HPF2, BPF, or BEF).
Master EQ Levels and Bypass
These master controls affect the entire EQ:
To choose the Q settings for the EQ bands, set GAIN (dB)—Q
so its indicator is lit. Then, use the selection boxes under the
second row of knobs to set the desired Q for each band. The
available range is 0.36 (wide bandwidth) to 16.00 (narrow
When an EQ band’s type is set to LPF2 or HPF2, the Q setting determines
the steepness of the filter’s slope.
The Q setting has no effect when an EQ band’s type is set to LSV, HSV, LPF1,
or HPF1.
EQ Gain
An EQ band’s gain control allows you to adjust the volume of
the band’s selected frequency range up or down. Turning a
band’s volume up is called “boosting,” while turning the band’s
volume down is called “cutting.”
ON/OFF—turns the entire EQ section on
(lit) or off (unlit).
INPUT GAIN (dB)—allows you to adjust
the volume of the signal arriving at the
equalizer. If you’ve set the MTK input as
described previously, using the INPUT
meters, you’d normally leave this set to
LEVEL (dB)—adjusts the output volume
of the EQ. After making the desired EQ
adjustments, you should use this control
to match the EQ’s level with the signal level
when the EQ is bypassed.
It’s important to set the output gain properly, otherwise you might
overload the effects that follow in the MTK chain, resulting in distortion.
Bass Cut
Bass Cut is the next tone-shaping processor.
Basically, it’s a high pass filter with a very steep
slope. In mastering, Bass Cut is most often used
to remove “subsonic” frequencies, sounds that are
below the human hearing range.
The Dynamics Processors
A music mix consists of many loud and soft sounds that convey
the rhythm and emotion of the performance. These variations
are referred to as musical “dynamics.” The MTK provides a set
of four powerful processors for controlling them.
The Bass Cut effect is very simple, with just two
ON/OFF—turns the Bass Cut section on (lit) or
off (unlit).
FREQ(Hz)—sets the cutoff frequency below
which all frequencies are removed. For most
types of music, the default setting (20 Hz) is
The MTK’s final tone-shaping processor is
the Enhancer. It works by adding musical
harmonics at and above a selected frequency.
Depending on the setting, the Enhancer
adds brilliance, edge, or “air” to the sound.
The Enhancer has the following controls:
ON/OFF—turns the Enhancer on (lit) or
off (unlit).
FREQ(Hz)—sets the frequency at which
the Enhancer begins to act. This can
be set anywhere between 200 Hz and
20000 Hz (20 kHz).
SENS—sets the amount of harmonics added to the signal.
MIX LEVEL(dB)—sets the amount of the Enhancer effect
that is blended with the mix.
The Mechanics of Dynamics Processing
A dynamics processor is essentially an automatic volume
control. Changes in a signal’s level trigger the dynamics
processor to act, adjusting the volume according to the
processor’s settings.
All dynamics processors change a signal’s level based upon
settings determined by the following controls:
A threshold level setting—tells the processor to start
working when the signal reaches a particular level.
An attack setting—tells the processor how quickly it should
respond after the signal reaches the threshold level.
A ratio setting—tells the processor how much to adjust the
signal’s volume. The higher the ratio, the greater amount
of processing.
A release setting—tells the processor when to stop adjusting
the signal’s volume.
Applying dynamics processing can affect the overall loudness
of the signal. To compensate for this, a gain control allows you
to adjust the signal volume post-processing.
Audio engineers often refer to a post-processor gain control as “makeup gain” because it “makes up” for any volume changes caused by the
Three Flavors
The Power of Multiband Processing
To enhance their power in mastering applications, the MTK’s
expander and compressor function as “multiband” processors.
This allows each of them to process three separate frequency
bands at once, with different dynamics settings applied to
each band. It’s like having three stereo expanders and three
stereo compressors, all working independently on different
frequency ranges of the mix.
The MTK contains three different types of dynamics processors,
all of which are available at once:
Expander—An expander exaggerates the differences
between a signal’s loudest parts and its softest parts,
“expanding” the signal’s dynamic range. You can use
the expander to make a mix’s original dynamics more
pronounced, creating more energy and excitement. You
can also use it to make unwanted background noises
quieter, or remove them altogether by setting the expander
to function as a “gate.”
Compressor—The opposite of an expander, a compressor
reduces the difference between a mix’s loudest and softest
parts, “compressing” the dynamic range. This smooths
out volume peaks, making the signal more manageable.
Compression can also be used to create a tighter, thicker
Limiter—A limiter “limits” the volume of a signal’s peaks. It
functions much like a compressor, but in a more extreme
fashion. In mastering, limiting is used to maximize the
volume of the mix, creating a loud, “in your face” sound.
Here’s how it works: Before the signal reaches the dynamics
processors, it’s split into three separate frequency bands—low,
mid, and high. The points at which the bands are split are
called low and high “split points.” The frequencies selected for
the split points determine the frequency width of the bands.
From there, each band is processed with its own expander and
compressor. After processing, you can adjust the levels of each
the three bands using the MTK’s dynamics mixer.
In mastering, multiband dynamics processing is an extremely
powerful tool, allowing a degree of dynamics control that
would be unattainable with a single-band processor.
In addition to its powerful level-shaping capabilities, multiband dynamics
processing can be used as an equalization tool. Since it manipulates the
volume of the different frequency ranges of the mix, the perceived volume
of specific tonal elements can be easily emphasized or de-emphasized.
Dynamics Input Controls
The Multiband Processors
The dynamics input controls—labeled “INPUT”—allow you
to manipulate the audio signal as it arrives at the dynamics
IN GAIN (dB)—sets the volume of the
signal entering the dynamics section.
D-TIME (ms)—allows you to slightly
delay the signal arriving at the
dynamics processors from 0-10 ms
(milliseconds). A longer delay allows
the MTK more time to analyze the
audio signal, resulting in more accurate
dynamics control. This is known as
“look-ahead” processing.
LO (Hz)—determines the low-to-mid
frequency split point for the multiband
processors. This can be set from 20 Hz
to 800 Hz.
HI (Hz)—determines the mid-to-high frequency split point
for the multiband processors. This can be set from 1600 Hz
to 16000 Hz (16 kHz).
The multiband expander and multiband compressor look
nearly identical. Each processor has its own graphic dynamics
display, and a column of gain reduction meters that indicate
the current amount of gain reduction for each band.
Under each display, there’s a row of four onscreen knobs for
controlling the processor. On the left side of each display,
there’s a column of switches for selecting a band for editing, as
well as a switch for bypassing the entire processor.
Multiband Expander (EXP)
The dynamics input controls are always active, even if the individual
multiband processors are bypassed.
The first multiband processor is the expander, or “EXP.” The
expander works by reducing the volume of signals that fall
below a specified threshold.
Careful adjustment of the split points allow you to zero in on specific
mix components (kick drum/bass guitar, lead vocals, cymbals, etc.) for
subsequent multiband dynamics processing. 120 Hz for the low split and
4000 Hz for the high split are good starting points. After adjusting the
multiband processors, however, you’ll probably find that you need to
readjust the split points to get the sound “just right.”
The expander contains the following controls:
ON/OFF—turns the expander on (lit) or off (unlit).
LO, MID, and HI—selects the desired band for editing.
THRE (dB)—sets the threshold for the selected band. The
threshold value can be set from -80 dB to 0 dB.
RATIO (:1)—sets the ratio of volume reduction applied
to the selected band once the signal falls below the
threshold. The ratio can be set anywhere from 1.00:1 to
When an expander band’s ratio is set to ∞:1, it functions as a gate.
The Graphic Dynamics Displays
Each multiband processor provides a graphic dynamics display
that shows you how the processor is shaping the level of the
signal for the selected frequency band.
ATK (ms)—sets the attack time for the selected band. This
can be set anywhere from 0.00 ms to 800 ms.
REL (ms)—sets the release time for the selected band. This
can be set anywhere from 50 to 8000 ms.
Multiband Compressor (COMP)
The second multiband processor is the compressor, or “COMP.”
The converse of the expander, the compressor works by
reducing the volume of signals that rise above a specified
The compressor contains the following controls:
ON/OFF—turns the compressor on (lit) or off (unlit).
LO, MID, and HI—selects the desired band for editing.
THRE (dB)—sets the threshold for the selected band. The
threshold value can be set from -24 dB to 0 dB.
RATIO (:1)—sets the ratio of volume reduction applied to
the selected band once the signal reaches the threshold.
The ratio can be set anywhere from 1.00:1 to ∞:1.
The arrow indicates the threshold point.
A diagonal line means no gain reduction.
The threshold point is indicated by the intersection of two
lines on the display (as shown by the arrow in the illustration
above). In the case of the expander’s display, the amount of
gain reduction is indicated by the angle of the line to the left of
the threshold point. In the case of the compressor, the amount
of gain reduction is indicated to the right of the threshold
When there is no threshold point shown on either graphic
display—only a straight diagonal line—no gain reduction will
take place in that band.
When a compressor band’s ratio is set to ∞:1, it functions as a limiter.
ATK (ms)—sets the attack time for the selected band. This
can be set anywhere from 0.00 ms to 800 ms.
REL (ms)—sets the release time for the selected band. This
can be set anywhere from 50 to 8000 ms.
Gain Reduction Meters
Each multiband dynamics processor has a series of
gain reduction meters (labeled “GR”) that indicate
in realtime the amount of gain reduction taking
The MTK’s next dynamics processor is the Limiter. With it, you
can maximize the overall volume and impact of your mix.
The GR meters are displayed in three columns.
Each column represents one of the three frequency
bands, with the left column representing the low
band, the middle column the mid band, and the
right column the high band.
The gain reduction meters are extremely powerful tools that show you
how the multiband processors are affecting your signal. Learning how the
meters react to changes made to the multiband processors’ controls are a
key to mastering the processors themselves.
Dynamics Mixer
The dynamics mixer—labeled “MIXER”—allows you to adjust
the volume of each frequency band post-processing:
HIGH (dB)—adjusts the volume of the high
frequency band.
MID (dB)—adjusts the volume of the mid
frequency band.
LOW (dB)—adjusts the volume of the low
frequency band.
As is the case with the dynamics input controls, the dynamics
mixer is always active. Even if the multiband processors are
bypassed, the mixer will still control the volume of the
individual frequency bands, essentially functioning as a
simple EQ.
ON/OFF—turns the Limiter on (lit) or off
THRE (dB)—sets the Limiter’s threshold.
The threshold value can be set from -24
dB to 0 dB.
ATK (ms)—sets the Limiter’s attack time.
This can be set anywhere from 0.00 ms
to 800 ms.
REL (ms)—sets the Limiter’s release
time. This can be set anywhere from 50
to 8000 ms.
You might be wondering why the Limiter doesn’t have a ratio control.
Actually, it does—it’s preset to a fixed ratio of ∞:1.
Soft Clip
Soft Clip is the final processor in the MTK
dynamics section. Essentially, it’s a limiter that
kicks in to reduce high signal levels that might
overload the MTK’s output section. Additionally,
Soft Clip’s digital processing adds a warmth to
the sound that’s reminiscent of vintage tubetype processors.
Soft Clip has only one control: ON/OFF. When on, it does all of
its processing automatically.
Output Section
MTK Master Level
The master level control—LEVEL (dB)—
provides the overall volume control for the
During mastering, you should set the V-Studio’s MASTER fader at 0 dB. This
allows the MTK’s master level to determine the volume of the disk image
as it’s being recorded.
Output Meters
The output meters provide a visual indication
of the signal level at the MTK’s output.
Normally, you’ll want the loudest signal
levels to reach the -1 indicators. If the CLIP
indicators light, use LEVEL (dB) to reduce the
volume until they don’t light anymore.
The MTK’s output meters display the signal level after the MTK master level
control, but before the V-Studio’s MASTER fader.
MTK Usage Tips
General Tips
When starting a mastering session, it’s best
to begin with all the MTK’s individual effects
bypassed. This allows you to listen to the mix
with no processing, getting a feel for what you
need to do to sweeten it. Then, bring in each MTK processor
one at a time, adjusting the controls as you listen.
You might want to create an MTK preset that has all its individual processors
bypassed, and select it as your starting point for a new mastering session.
To one degree or another, all of the MTK’s different processors
control the volume of the frequency ranges in the signal.
Because of this, the processors are extremely interactive,
and settings made on one processor can affect the sound
of another. For example, changing the ratio and threshold
settings on the compressor will often affect the EQ curve you
worked so hard to perfect. Or, adding a small high EQ boost
might make your nice enhancer setting sound edgy and
Because of all this interactivity, its takes a little patience to
achieve the best results. By listening carefully, taking your
time, and making subtle adjustments, you’ll eventually get the
hang of how everything works together. And, for your effort,
you’ll be rewarded with quality master tracks.
Bypass Tips
During mastering (and when using any effects
processing, for that matter), the ON/OFF switch
is one of the most important tools you have at
your disposal. Here are a few tips for using it
During processing, compare the processed and bypassed
sounds often—This tells you if the processing that you’re
doing is really helping, or hurting, the final result.
Listen to the processed and unprocessed signals at equal
level—Much of the processing you’ll do in the MTK
is going to add volume to the signal. Consequently,
when an MTK processor is bypassed, the unprocessed
sound may be quite a bit lower in volume. To accurately
compare the two, adjust the MTK output section’s
Level (dB) control to match their volumes as you listen.
You don’t have to use them all—Often, you’ll find that you
can get the results you need by using just one or two of
the MTK’s effects and bypassing the rest.
EQ Tips
Using EQ in mastering is a lot different
than using EQ in the mixing process.
In mixing, EQ is applied in an isolated
fashion to individual sounds. In mastering, however, you’re
applying EQ to an entire musical presentation. As such, a
single EQ change affects many different sounds at once. Here
are a few things to keep in mind during the process:
Only use as much EQ as necessary—Avoid the temptation to
over-EQ. Just because there are four EQ bands, you don’t
have to use them all. You can bypass a single EQ band by
setting its type to THRU.
Equalization in mastering is a balancing act—Applying EQ
in one frequency range has a pronounced effect on the
perceived EQ of other frequency ranges. Because of this,
there are often a couple of different ways to get a similar
result. For example, if you want to warm up the sound a
little, you might boost slightly with a peak EQ in the 250500 Hz range. Then again, you could get a similar result
by cutting slightly in the 2-4 kHz area. Be aware of this
interaction, and keep it in mind while working.
Cut frequencies instead of boosting them if possible—
Generally, it’s best to remove frequencies rather than to
add them. This results in a cleaner, more natural sound,
with less potential for distortion. This isn’t to say that
all boosting is bad—it’s just good practice to try to
accomplish your EQ goals with a frequency cut first.
Work the Q—When using a peak-type EQ, the
setting of the Q control determines the width of the
affected range of frequencies above and below
the EQ band’s center frequency. Most of the time, a
wide Q sounds the most natural. For surgically
eliminating problem frequencies, however, a narrower Q
is the ticket.
Avoid excessive EQ boosts—If you must boost an EQ band,
be cautious. Boosting a band’s gain excessively can cause
more problems than it fixes. (Of course there are exceptions
to this rule, so let your ears be the final judge.)
Use excessive EQ boosts—What? Didn’t we just say not to
do that? Well, there’s one application where excessive
EQ boosts are good: As an aid in identifying and fixing
“problem” frequencies in the mix. Here’s how:
• Set an EQ band as a peak-type EQ, and set its Q to a
narrow bandwidth.
• Raise the gain on the band to a high level, around 10.0
or so. If the sound distorts, back it down a little.
While the music is playing, sweep the EQ band’s center
frequency to find the offending frequency.
Once the offending frequency is found, lower the EQ
band’s gain to a negative value to reduce the level of
that frequency. Then, adjust the band’s Q to a value
that achieves the most natural sound.
Use shelving EQs to boost the low and high frequencies—
When adjusting the low and high frequency extremes
of the sound (mastering engineers call these the “corner
frequencies”), shelving EQs sound the most natural. If you
want to bring up the overall level of the bottom end, use a
low shelf EQ set in the 60-120 Hz range. If you want to add
some air and sparkle, use a high shelf EQ set in the 10-14
kHz range.
Fix it in the mix—If you find you’re trying to fix drastic tonal
problems at the mastering stage, you might want to think
about going back and remixing the song entirely.
Bass Cut Tips
The normal use of the MTK’s Bass Cut is to remove subsonics,
those very low frequencies that are felt more than heard.
Subsonics can only be reproduced when played through a
sound system that includes a subwoofer. Some systems that
don’t have a subwoofer expend energy by trying to reproduce
subsonics anyway, even if they’re not audible. As such,
removing them can actually make the music sound better by
increasing the system’s available power or “headroom.”
If your music contains a lot of low-frequency energy, and is
intended to be played on sound systems with a subwoofer,
you may want to turn the Bass Cut off. For most types of music,
however, a Bass Cut setting of 20 Hz is usually appropriate.
Enhancer Tips
Add a little air—The Enhancer is best used to add a little
sparkle and air to the sound. The result is different than
what you’d get by simply turning up the high-end of the
EQ, as harmonics are actually being added to the signal.
The best results are usually achieved by setting FREQ (Hz)
to 4000 or higher.
A little goes a long way—The Enhancer is a seductive
effect, one that can add a lot of energy and “zing” to a mix.
As such, it’s easy to get carried away with it. Be careful
about how much you add, as extreme settings can sound
unnatural and harsh.
Multiband Processor Tips
The MTK’s multiband expander and multiband
compressor give you an enormous amount of
control over the impact of the musical presentation.
You can use one or the other, or both at the same time. Some
general rules of thumb are:
If you want to enhance the music’s impact and punch—use
the multiband compressor.
If you want to enhance the energy of the music—use the
multiband expander.
If you want to tame uneven dynamics—use the multiband
If you want to eliminate noise at the beginning and end of
a song, or during a silent moment in the song—use the
multiband expander.
The expander eliminates low-level noise by automatically turning down
the volume (per the threshold and ratio settings) when the noise isn’t
masked by the music. Since this is a realtime process, you may not always
get the result you want. Consequently, you may find that you can achieve
more precision results by using the V-Studio’s Phrase Edit functions to
manually remove any noise problems.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when tweaking the
multiband processors:
In mastering applications, conservative ratio settings work
best—During mixing, it’s often appropriate to apply
extreme dynamics processing to individual sounds, with
ratios at 4:1, 8:1, or higher. However, mastering benefits
from a subtler approach. You’ll usually achieve the most
natural results with ratio settings between 1.25:1 to 2.5:1.
Work the threshold—The threshold control determines
when the processor will start reducing gain on a frequency
band. Subtle adjustments go a long way, so practice using
them to their greatest effect.
Use care when adjusting the attack time—Once the
threshold has been reached, the attack time determines
how fast the processor will act. For example, if the
compressor’s attack time is too short, you’ll soften the
attack of the percussive elements of the mix, making them
sound squashed. Increasing the attack time a little will
make the sound punchier.
Watch the release—The release control determines when
the volume reduction stops. If the release time is too long,
the processor can’t recover quickly enough, resulting in
a “pumping” sound. If the release time is too short, the
sound will distort (especially on low frequencies).
Keep an eye on the GR meters—The GR meters tell you
when, and how much, the processor’s altering the sound.
Watch them carefully to see how your dynamics settings
affect each frequency band.
Use the multiband processors like an EQ—By adjusting the
split points and the output levels of each processing band,
you’ll find you have a great deal of equalization control
over the signal.
Bypass the bands you don’t want to use—To bypass an
expander band, set its threshold to -80 dB and its ratio to
1.00:1. To bypass a compressor band, set its threshold to 0
Don’t get frustrated!—The right dynamics processing for
a particular song is achieved with careful adjustment of
the threshold, attack, and release controls. Finding the
right settings can be hard, especially when you’re just
starting out. But, with a lot of practice and a little patience,
your efforts will pay off. By learning to get your dynamics
settings “just right,” you can take the quality of your master
tracks to a new level.
Limiter and Soft Clip Tips
Making it loud—You’ve probably noticed that many
commercially released CDs (especially those in the pop and
R&B genres) are maximized in level. This is accomplished in
the mastering process by using the Limiter. The Limiter
works by lowering the volume of the music’s peaks,
allowing you increase the average signal level before
clipping. The peaks are controlled using the threshold
control, and the average level is increased post-limiting by
adjusting the MTK’s output level control.
There’s currently a great deal of controversy among audio engineers
over the pros and cons of excessive limiting and “making your CD as loud
as possible.” Unfortunately, it’s often necessary to allow your music to
compete in the pop music world. Be careful though: Applying too much
limiting to your music can make it fatiguing and unpleasant to listen to.
Keep it transparent—In mastering, the goal of limiting is to
raise the perceived volume transparently so that you don’t
hear any audible side-effects of the process itself. This is
usually best achieved with very fast attack and release
Don’t overdo it—Use care when working with the Limiter.
Too much limiting can make the music loud, but small and
wimpy at the same time.
If you need a little extra volume, use Soft Clip—In addition
to its signal warming effect, Soft Clip adds a bit of volume
boost to the signal.
Watch Those Output Meters!
Keep the output hot, but don’t clip the
meters—If the signal causes the output
meters’ clip indicators to light, the
sound will distort. Back off the output
section’s Level (dB) control so that the
signal’s loudest parts reach -1 on the
output meters.
We mentioned this earlier, but it bears repeating: During mastering, you
should set the V-Studio’s MASTER fader at 0 dB to allow the MTK output
section’s Level (dB) control to determine the volume of the disk image as
it’s recorded.
Listening Considerations
The ultimate goal of mixing and mastering is to create a final
product that sounds great on any sound system. Your V-Studio
provides you with the tools necessary to complete that task,
but there are a few things “outside of the box” that can have a
big influence on the quality of your master CDs.
Your Speakers
While mixing and mastering, you rely on
your speakers to tell you the truth—that
is, to provide an accurate sonic picture on
which you can base your sound-shaping
decisions. When you think of it this way,
your speakers are among the most critical
components in your audio chain.
Roland DS-8 Monitors
For the most accurate results, you should choose speakers
that are made to reproduce sound in an uncolored way—not
emphasizing or de-emphasizing any particular frequency areas.
This is known as a “flat frequency response.” Such speakers are
specifically designed for critical listening applications, and are
often referred to as “reference monitors” or “studio monitors.”
Most speakers that are sold in consumer electronics stores are designed to
enhance or “hype” the sound of a finished product. Because of this, they’re
usually not the best choice for critical listening applications such as music
mixing and mastering.
If you’re used to listening to music on consumer-type speakers, you may
find that studio monitors sound a little “unexciting” at first listen. That’s
because they’re reproducing the sound accurately, not hyping the sound
the way consumer speakers do. It’s this very characteristic that allows you
to make the best sound judgements during mixing and mastering.
The most popular type of studio monitors for home and project
studios are called “near-field” monitors. They’re designed to be
used in close proximity to the listener, usually three to five
feet away. Many near-field monitors are “active,” containing
built-in amplification that alleviates the need for an external
Near-field monitors come in many different sizes, but for
mastering your music we’d recommend you choose a model
with a good low-frequency response. For example, Roland’s
DS-8 or DS-7 monitors would be a great choice. They feature
a very flat response with good bass extension, built-in
amplification, and digital inputs for lossless connection to your
V-Studio’s digital output.
Another advantage of Roland’s DS-series monitors is that they’re
compatible with the COSM Speaker Modeling algorithms available in
V-Studios equipped with a VS8F-2 Effects Expansion Board.
Regardless of what type of speakers you choose, the most
important thing is to become accustomed to how they sound.
A time-tested way to accomplish this is by critically listening
to lots of commercially released CDs on them in order to learn
what music “done by the pros” sounds like on your speakers.
Then, while mixing and mastering your own music, you
can use those CDs as a benchmark for your choices in level
balancing, EQ, and so forth.
Monitoring Tips
Don’t monitor too loud—It’s best to mix and master your
music at approximately the same level as the intended
listener is likely to listen at.
Turn up the volume instead of turning up the bass—The
ear is less sensitive to bass frequencies at lower volumes.
Instead of adding bass, first try turning up the monitoring
level to see if that fixes the problem.
Get a second speaker opinion—When you think you’ve got
it right, check your results on some other speaker systems
to see how well things translate. Use the V-Studio’s Track at
Once CD burning option to make one-off test CDs for this
Here’s where Roland’s DS-series monitors and the VS8F-2 come to the
rescue: Using COSM Speaker Modeling, you can instantly check your results
on different “virtual” speakers and save yourself the trouble (and expense)
of burning a bunch of test CDs!
Take a break—Your ears get fatigued after long periods of
listening. Taking a break will allow your ears to recover so
that you can make more accurate mixing and mastering
About Using Headphones
Headphones are useful, and sometimes
necessary to avoid bothering neighbors or
roommates. (Funny how they don’t always
appreciate hearing the same song played
500 times in a row!) However, they’re usually
not your best choice for making hard mixing
and mastering decisions. Most people are
going to listen to your music on speakers in
an open space, not on headphones, so it’s
usually best to use your studio monitors for
final audio judgements.
That said, headphones can be a great aid. For one, their sound
is not influenced by the room they’re in, so you can get a
consistent (if not absolutely accurate) aural picture of your
music. During mixing, they’re great for positioning individual
musical elements in the stereo field, and their direct response
can help you more easily identify when mix components are
working against each other.
When you’re setting the levels of elements placed at extreme positions in
the stereo field, it’s a good idea to use your speakers—headphones can be
very misleading when you’re attempting to do this.
During the editing process, headphones can make it easier
to hear subtle sounds that you might not hear as well in your
studio monitors. They’re also helpful when using the MTK,
allowing subtle changes in the processor’s settings to be more
easily heard.
Like all artistic judgements, there are no hard-and-fast rules that are
“right” 100% of the time. If you can achieve the results you desire by
mixing and mastering using only headphones, by all means do so!
Speaker Placement and Room Acoustics
Most of us home-recordists set up shop wherever it’s
convenient, and that’s often in a spare bedroom, basement, or
garage. Unfortunately, these aren’t always the most optimum
environments for critical listening.
Speaker Placement
How and where you set up your speakers has a great impact
on their performance. Here’s a few tips for optimum results:
When setting up your speakers the first time, listen to
them in a variety of locations in the room (using a CD you
know well as a reference) to determine where they sound
the best.
If possible, place your monitors so that they’re at equal
distances from the room’s side walls. This will improve their
stereo imaging.
Avoid placing a speaker directly against a wall or in a corner,
as this increases the amount of bass that it produces. Most
near-field monitors perform most accurately when placed
away from any walls.
Many of today’s active monitor designs (including Roland’s DS-series)
feature bass trim controls to offset this bass increase if it’s necessary to
place them against a wall or in a corner.
Angle the speakers inward, toward the listening position.
At the listening position, your speakers and your head
should form an equilateral triangle.
Countless books and magazine articles have been written
on the subject of optimizing your listening environment. We
won’t attempt to provide any detailed solutions here, but we
can offer a few basic things to be aware of.
At the listening position, your ears should be horizontally
level with the mid-point between each speaker’s woofer
and tweeter.
There are lots of companies that offer reasonably-priced
acoustic treatment products. Two of the most popular for
home and project studios are Auralex (
and Real Traps ( At their sites, you can
also find a lot of information on the causes of—and solutions
for—common home-studio acoustics problems.
If All Else Fails...
Place your monitors on stands or wall mounts designed for
that purpose. Avoid placing them on shelves or tables.
Room Treatment
Due to the way that sound waves reflect off of walls, the
listening room itself greatly influences the sounds you hear. A
low ceiling and parallel walls can conspire to create all sorts of
tonal anomalies such as “standing waves” and “comb filtering.”
These wreak havoc on your mixing and mastering decisions,
because you’re making adjustments based upon a skewed
acoustical picture.
Fortunately, with a little experimentation and a few relatively
inexpensive acoustic treatments, you can set up your
listening environment so that you’re much better equipped
to make accurate aural decisions. Acoustic treatments work by
absorbing and diffusing sound waves. With proper selection
and placement, such treatments can minimize your room’s
acoustic problems.
If you’re planning to go to the expense of mass-producing a
CD of your V-Studio music and haven’t yet had a chance to
perfect your home-brewed mastering skills, you may want to
consider letting a professional mastering engineer do the work
on your project. This allows you to benefit from the experience
of someone who does mastering for a living, and also provides
a fresh set of ears for objective listening. You should try to sit
in on the mastering session as well, so you can observe the
pro’s approach to the mastering process. You’ll benefit greatly
from the tips that you pick up, enhancing your future V-Studio
mastering experiences and the work you’ll do with the MTK.
The End
We hope you’ve enjoyed this booklet on using the VS8F-3’s
Mastering Tool Kit. Keep an eye out for more VS8F-3 Workshop
booklets, available for downloading at
For the latest V-Studio updates and support tools, visit the Roland U.S.
Web site at If you need personal assistance, call our
amazing Product Support team at 323-890-3741.
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