How to set up a mastering chain in your DAW

13th Jun 2014 | 11:39

How to set up a mastering chain in your DAW
Find your perfect combination

Setting up an entire mastering chain in your DAW needn't be a daunting task. Here we're going to show you one way that you can go about it.

We're going to build a typical mastering chain from start to finish. We're using Logic Pro X and a combination of stock Logic plugins and some third-party products. This setup demonstrates one possible combination you could use rather than being the definitive mastering chain setup. Experiment with your own plugins and play with the order of them to get optimum results.

For a guide to mastering at home check out Future Music issue 280, which is on sale now.

How to set up a mastering chain in your DAW
Buss compressor

The first processor used here is Universal Audio’s excellent SSL Buss Compressor. Using a single band/full range compressor across the entire mix in this way should help to give you a more cohesive sound and gel the instruments together in an organic fashion.

You don't need much treatment here - even a few dBs of gain reduction should help to give your master a more uniform signature. Remember you want to preserve dynamic range as much as you can.

How to set up a mastering chain in your DAW

Now Logic’s Linear Phase EQ is used for some subtle sweetening. Before any processing is applied, engage the analyser to check for any anomalies. It's set to post EQ so that any changes made are clearly visible in the display.

Some light high-end enhancement is added at this point using only a few dBs of gain and a high shelf setting. A similarly subtle cut is used on the subsonic frequencies using a high-pass filter.

How to set up a mastering chain in your DAW
Multi-band compressor

Multi-band compression can be useful even when there are no inherent problems. Logic’s multi-band compressor can be a gentle enhancer, as well as a dedicated problem solver.

Here you can see every band being boosted using the gain control, but also an equal amount of compression being applied. This creates a situation where both enhancement and control are applied to the signal. A subtle lift is added to all frequencies without it becoming overcooked.

How to set up a mastering chain in your DAW
Mid/side processing

M/S processing is used in this step to hit a few different targets. The excellent Brainworx bx_digital V2 is used here and its ‘mono maker’ filter engaged to ensure the low frequencies in the mix are purely mono. This gives us a more focused and controlled low-end mix.

Finally, some sweetening EQ is added to the mono data and the entire stereo field is also boosted using the stereo width control.

How to set up a mastering chain in your DAW
Brickwall limiter

A brick-wall limiter is pretty much always the final thing in a mastering chain. There is a danger that all your hard work can be undone at this point, so it pays to tread carefully with such a powerful tool.

The Sonnox Limiter is one of the best out there. Gain is fed into the unit until small amounts of gain reduction occur. In turn, the dynamic range is reduced and perceived volume is added, giving us a full punch end result.

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