What’s your favourite mastering limiter ?
Or compressor ?
Or EQ ?
And I’m always reminded of a saying I’ve heard, which goes something like:
“Ask an audio engineer what the best ______ is, and he’ll just tell you whatever he’s using right now”
There’s a lot of truth in that, and it’s one of the reasons I try to avoid getting into detailed recommendations myself, although I’m happy enough to tell people particular processors I’ve used and liked.
But now, there’s another option – you can listen and decide for yourself, thanks to a cool new website called Gearshoot.
Decide for yourself
Gearshoot is a fantastic resource put together by the guys at Kog Mastering in New Zealand, and allows you to set up your own A/B comparisons between a massive (and ever-increasing) range of hardware and software processors, with a variety of musical examples in several different genres.
So for example, you can design your own shootout between a hardware 1176 and various plugin emulations, using drums, bass or a whole mix. Or you could browse some of the many interesting examples the site owners have already put together as presets – for example, this one on mastering EQ plugins:
The results can be fascinating. Sometimes there’s almost nothing to choose between the various examples, when people have told you to expect night-and-day – and sometimes there are very clear differences where you might not have expected them, especially with the more extreme processing examples.
And despite the fact that I’ve said on several occasions that my own choices of digital EQ are driven far more by the features and interface, there are some clear and interesting differences between some of the examples in the above test.
But here’s the thing.
It ain’t what you use…
Those differences have a completely different effect, based on the material that’s being tested. So what sounds right to you for one music clip, might sound completely wrong for another one.
And when I listen to ANY of these examples, there are still tweaks I want to make, even to the ones I like best. And in my experience, after making those tweaks, the overall differences between the different processors sound even less significant.
Now that’s not true of all the examples, of course – in this EQ shootout for example, the slightly fuzzy, saturated quality of the vintage emulations can’t be achieved with the cleaner digital varieties. But I bet I could achieve something similar (or better) with some of the other tools in my collection – and probably with more control over the final result.
Of course if the EQ I’m using just happens to have exactly the flavour I’m looking for, then great – but I’m a control freak ! More often that not I still want to tweak and refine further – that’s part of what being a mastering engineer is.
And that’s why the unofficial motto of my Home Mastering Masterclass course is “it ain’t what you use, it’s the way that you use it”.
Everyone loves sexy analogue hardware, me included ! It’s just a pleasure to use, and if you’re lucky enough to have a room full of it, go for it.
But don’t agonise about it if you don’t. Nine times out of ten you can achieve a very similar result with a little ingenuity and experience using the gear and software you already have – and sometimes you can get something even better.
It’s more important to know the gear you have inside out, than have a room full of alternatives – analysis paralysis is a very real problem…
Check out Gearshoot
Having said all that though, don’t take my word for it.
Head over to Gearshoot and try it for yourself ! There’s so much to listen to there, I’ve barely scratched the surface, and it’s great fun. You can spend hours checking out all that high-end gear you’ve been dreaming about for so long, and try to decide if you really need it or not. And who knows, there may be some magic, unique sounds in there that simply can’t be achieved in any other way.
If you find some, please let me know !