With constant upgrades in technology, there is an escalating competition between good Digital Audio Workstations (DAW). You can have great DAWs that are free to use and paid ones like Pro Tools that offer great live audio mastering. I’ve listed below the best software that are largely concerned with mastering audio tracks, both free and paid.
A majority of the final touches on the song are done at the mastering stage. This includes:
- Creating a proper sequence of songs that will appear in the final cut
- Converting the audio into its final, or master format, depending on whether you want a mastered CD or an MP3 to post it online
- Using noise reduction techniques to nullify any unwanted sound spikes or static
- Adjusting the volume of all tracks to equilibrium while limiting the peak volume of any song
The entire process is post-production.
Best Audio Mastering Software
This is a review on the three of the best audio mastering software that I’ve used so far.
The main things this product from Sony Creative Software aims for are speed and total control. Its simplicity and resourcefulness give you the speed and precision you need to just drive through any audio track editing. Its output files are fully loaded at 24/32/64-bit 192 kHz for the best sound quality. This means, all the softest tones that can be missed out on elsewhere are easily caught by Sound Forge. Tracks are edited using a simple ‘cut-copy-paste’ windows-styled interface. Drag and drop features along with precise controls for all audio effects (it boasts of about 40 studio effects) give a good deal of freedom over the simple and comfortable layout of the software display.
Sound Forge remains efficient in noise reduction methods, edge removal and fading. Version 10 provides very easy means to playing with ACID loops. It provides most of the standard editing features like dynamics, chorus, delay/echo, distortion, pitch, reverb, vibrato and wave hammer, within the 40 effects provided.
Timestretch is included in most versions of Sound Forge. It helps extend the length of audio tracks effectively without changing pitch, allowing control over the pitch and time independently.
What it Lacks
Sound Forge does not provide a good enough display for amplitude scaling. It’s pretty hard to get this done from it. Version 10 doesn’t provide much new features from 9. Sound Forge Pro is also quite costly at $319, so if you’re looking for getting simple studio done, stick to the freeware. I really don’t think Sound Forge is worth the money.
It’s in the name. Live means you get to do things as they happen, including adding effects, changing track beats, no matter how revolutionary your style is. ‘Live’ is one of the best things happening to any music scene, anywhere. I love its drag and drop effectiveness, it just adds to the whole live music production point. It’s one of those unique software that works with you, instead of just handing you a truckload of features delivered and forgotten. The ease of use is terrific, given the number of features it provides.
Ableton Live cries experimentation. This one is not originally intended for conventional mastering purposes. It’s more adaptable to people who want to produce everything in a soundtrack that they want to. No compromises. Works on most formats, including WAV, WMA, MP3, OGG Vorbis and MP4 along with FLAC too. It can work without any additional input hardware, apart from the basics, and provide complete cohesion to any that are provided. The Ableton loop producer is perhaps one of the best loop makers in business. Easy, effective and gives you a feel of actual live analog-style loops.
This has to be the usability. It comes with its guides and manuals, includes complete technical support. This comes very, very handy if you take a closer look at all the features in Live.
What it Lacks
Despite its ease of use, it has too many features for simple productions, especially studio recordings. It needs a good computer run on, and cannot work on low RAM PCs. Live will sometimes require an analysis of track formats whenever you upload any onto it, making working take more time. In fact, format conversion isn’t too easy on Live, which most freeware give. The problem is, the software package costs $329 to $499, which, combined with its extensive features, means it mostly finds buyers of a more professional or proficient-intermediate nature.
Hands down one of the best home audio management software out there. This open source (which means it’s free!) editor starts off with maximum compatibility with all platforms; Windows, Apple or Linux, compared to others. It works on most audio formats; WAV, AIFF, MP3, even OGG. Recording options include a basic line-in (external audio source or microphone) or directly through a sound card.
Because of its readiness to work with external recording sources, it becomes easier to transfer vinyl or tapes onto the computer in MP3 format (or any format it supports). Along with that, Audacity gives one of the best and easiest methods to improve capturing sound and layering it with others. You can easily add, for example, an echo on track 1, reduce the tempo on track 2 to match the first, layer them on the percussion and get a smooth cross-fade into the next track or something. The quality of each individual layers makes it easy to get better noise reduction.
Audacity’s crowning feature is its track editing abilities. It is very easy to understand and fast in the hands on someone who does. Whether it’s simple cut-pasting tracks to upload on your podcasts or add on videos or mix them up with the precision of professional software, Audacity stands on top.
What it Lacks
There are, however, two drawbacks to Audacity – total usability and uploading/publishing. If you’re looking for just track editing, look no further than this one. If you’re trying for a more professional angle, it might take a little more time for you to understand all the intricacies Audacity possesses. The major flaw lies in final uploads. Audacity simply does not possess the means to directly upload any track onto the Internet. But it’s still alright, compared to what it gives.
The Wavelab series provides one of the most versatile audio mastering software there is. It comes from the creators of the famed DAWs Cubase and Nuendo, German software manufacturers Steinberg. The biggest plus point with Wavelab 7 is its full compatibility with both PC and Mac. It comes with unparalleled features, like a VST3 audio restoration system and Red Book CD-mastering toolkit and is very easy to use. With cost as the only downside ($499), this is definitely one software you should take a good look at.
Before you finalize your choice, there one last thing you need to know: sound mastering and mixing are two different principles, both come at a different time to produce the final CD.
- Mixing comes before; it’s where you take all audio that you made and mess around with it, getting the right patterns and the right design on the audio track.
- Audio mastering involves steam-rolling whatever you’ve mixed together, making everything feel smooth and together. This includes joining up of all tracks in the recording, making them fall into sync and of the same volume, especially.
That said, software today are proving to be capable of providing both at the same time, with live capabilities even. So it’s easy to get the best of both worlds, if you know where to look.
Being a musician myself, when I want to record a simple guitar-vocal track, what I do is record the guitar at one turn, record vocals on the other, smooth them down and layer them up. If I need to record with my band, I’d still prefer Audacity, not just because it’s free, because it’s great. It simply is the first and the last freeware you need to go to for audio editing.