Nautilus Master Technology

Commercial CDs
Great Recording and Mastering
Evaluated by John Vestman
NEMO DMC-8
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Table of Contents

Toad the Wet Sprocket - Coil **
Dixie Chicks - Wide Open Spaces
**
Nickelback - Silver Side Up *
Alison Krauss + Union Station - New Favorite
**
Fuel - Something Like Human **
Eden's Crush - Popstars **
Ritter/Petito - In The Silence * *
Sarah Brightman - La Luna **
Deep Forest - Deep Forest
**
weezer - (the green album)
*
Beck - Sea Changes**
blink-182 - Take Off Your Pants and Jacket
*
Shawn Colvin - a few small repairs
**
Sarah McLachlan -- Surfacing *
Dido - No Angel *
Vertical Horizon- Everything You Want *
blink-182 - Take Off Your Pants and Jacket *
Bruce Hornsby - Songs From The Southside
*
Peter Cetera - One Clear Voice
*
Linkin Park - Hybrid Theory *
Sting - Brand New Day
Celine Dion - Let's Talk About Love
Nine Days - the madding crowd

Edwin McCain - Messenger
Depeche Mode - Ultra
The Goo Goo Dolls - dizzy up the girl
Corrs- In Blue

Eve6 - horrorscope
Metallica - S&M
Journey - Trial By Fire
Third Eye Blind - Blue
garbage - G
Joe Bonamassa - so, it's like that
*
Seal *
Dr. Dre - 2001
**
Vanessa Williams - The Comfort Zone
**
Snoopdogg - tha Last Meal
**
Toy Matinee - Toy Matinee
*
No Doubt - return of saturn
Creed - Weathered
Journey - Trial By Fire
Juice Newton - The Trouble with Angels
Shania Twain - Come On Over
Madonna - ray of light
Mariah Carey - Rainbow
Tevin Campbell - T
The Eagles - Hell Freezes Over
Stone Temple Pilots - 12 Gracious Melodies
Donna Lewis - Now In The Middle
Amy Grant - Behind The Eyes
Bryan Adams - So Far So Good
Hootie & The Blowfish - Cracked Rear View
Don Dokken - Up From The Ashes
David Foster - Symphony Sessions
*
Kenny G - Faith *


I always recommend listening to commercial CDs at every stage of a recording. CDs allow us to hear the end result of the biggies who are making musical history and to learn from their success. NOTE: These CDs all sound very different - and the more your system reveals those differences, the more accurate it is.

Depending on how many years you've had behind a console, I recommend spending lots of time referencing your mixes to some of these masters. It's not the most important thing to duplicate the volume on these CDs - let the masteirng engineer do that. Instead, use the DMC-8 or the COMMANDER's A-B functions to equal out the volume of your mixes so you are only listening to the sonic textures - otherwise volume wins every time. Level-match and listen to the blend, the balance, the spread of the sound stage, the smoothness, the punch, the vocal placement, the vibe... and most importantly.... enjoy the process. More A-B tips
here.

Toad the Wet Sprocket - Coil - 5-Star Reference CD*

Even as the level wars have gotten even hotter, this CD is still my favorite reference. It's well engineered, nice smooth and punchy mix, and superbly mastered by Stephen Marcussen. The level on the meters is excellent, and the apparent level is excellent (it even sounds louder than it looks on the VU meters). This is great processing and frequency selection. The bottom is big, the top is clear and smooth, and the limiting/compression strategically keeps this musical. A pleasant, exciting album to listen to, and no wonder it's at the top of my list.

Dixie Chicks - Wide Open Spaces - 5-Star Reference CD*

One of my all-time favorites - staying at the top year after year. Analog-sounding, smooth, punchy, not too hot, a great reference CD (even better than subsequent Dixie CDs). The production is excellent - open, silky highs and a clean bottom end. Plenty of excellently recorded instruments to hear on this CD.

Nickelback - Silver Side Up *
An excellent reference - I listen to it often for clear, lasting "radio" up-front vocals and aggressive tracks. The high end is a hair more generous than some CDs, and the lows go very low, but it really works. For a nice top-end contrast, compare this with Linkin Park or Seal (see below) and you'll hear that different sounding CDs still sell records whether they're brighter, fatter, etc. The songs, the singer and the performances are the most important thing...

Alison Krauss + Union Station - New Favorite - 5-Star Reference CD*

Amazing amazing amazing. Excellent dynamics, clear transparent engineering, astounding musical performances and arrangements.... a work of art and it is truly... my new favorite. More clarity than the Dixie Chicks (which has a superbly even top end) and more hear-the-vocal-anywhwere articulation. A must-hear.

Krauss

Fuel - Something Like Human - 5-Star Reference CD*

Mastered by Tom Baker at Precision Mastering, this has a massive rock sound with a dose of limiting/compression for cookin' levels. A nice reference for a big kic drum sound, huge guitars and well placed vocals, but you may not want to process your project to match this hot level. You're better off with the natural dynamics of your music in place when you mix except that you may want to exaggerate the kic so that it still punches post-mastering. (POD's "Satellite" CD is another good reference.)

Eden's Crush - Popstars - 5-Star Reference CD*

R&B fans unite! A rich production, topped off by genius, David Foster.... you can't go too wrong... great apparent level, smooth top end, but still bright, even if there is more Pro Tools sound to this than some other Foster albums. Mastering by... er,... not sure, but it sounds excellent for entertaining vocals, big bass and sparkly (but meaty) production.

Ritter/Petito - In The Silence - 5-Star Reference CD*

I cannot stop listening to this incredibly recorded album. It has peaceful, lasting, amazing songs, melodies, and top-of-the-line musicianship. A full sound wrapped up by Toby Mountain at the mastering helm, with some extra bottom, but still terrific. As an excellent reference CD, you'll hear a variety of acoustic instruments, beautiful vocals (betters many a Grammy winner, in my opinion) and classic verbs. Certainly not the typical (but stellar) Enya sound, this album is uplifting and can make you believe that there is still musicians who express and truly feel peace. If you love Enya for that spiritual, relaxing experience, you'll love this for a little more pop-song experience. Click on the image to go to the site of the record company that sells it!

Ritter

Sarah Brightman - La Luna - 5-Star Reference CD*

What a voice. What a production. Non other than Bob Ludwig rounding out powerhouse talent and production, and an emotional journey in music. Taking the power of contemporary production and putting next to a classical symphony... and making it all work is truly the art of mastering at its finest. With some exciting sizzle on top, this is a must-compare if you are engineering/producing a female artist.

Deep Forest - Deep Forest - 5-Star Reference CD*

This is my favorite album along with Sara Brightman. World music, incredible engineering, 3-D and all that stuff. Silky mastering by Vlado Meller at Sony New York. Nice level. Not as hot as the newer Deep Forest CDs... but if it was up to me, I'd make the new Deep Forest CDs more like this one by Vlado. Inspiring, spiritual, emotional, I can't say enough about this production. Aw... yes I can.... The panning coming out of the walls sends shivers up my spine. Reverb artistry is unmatched - congratulations on this timeless piece of art.

weezer -(green album) - 5-Star Reference CD*

Vlado Meller kicks buns here and makes a hot (but not too smushed) clear and smooth CD, superbly mixed by Tom Lord-Alge. Lots of big sound here, but of course the hot level means there's much that is even sounding - like the kic is big but it doesn't hit you in the chest like Beck (above) - but that's only natural since there is a lot of music filling up the spaces...

Beck - Sea Changes - 5-Star Reference CD*

An amazing recording. Great production, incredible vocals, awesome kick drums (best mid-bottom around) and mastered by the best of the best, Bob Ludwig. This has excellent dynamics, excellent apparent level (top of the line recording experts on this one) and it's a great reference for many mixing and mastering concepts.

blink-182 - Take Off Your Pants and Jacket

Mastered by Brian Gardner with Tom Lord-Alge doing his usual brilliant work on this production. If children are around, the Parental Advisory sticker is good to pay attention to... but as far as sound, it's a great reference for a very clear, clean mix. I don't know if I would attempt these levels at home! This one is a great example of how the actual arrangements of the songs help the end product achieve that top-of-the-sqare wave volume level. This would get a 5-Star reference from me if it wasn't so friggin' loud!

Shawn Colvin - a few small repairs - 5-Star Reference CD*

Mastered by Bob Ludwig with Bob Clearmountain at the mixing console. Musical, even, great levels, non-hyped top end, vocals just right, full but clean mid-bottom, it's a great reference. Sarah (next) has more hyped-highs and will make your speakers glisten, whereas this one will add some velvet to your room.

Sarah McLachlan -- Surfacing- 5-Star Reference CD*

What a pleasure to listen to! Smooth, round, even, emotional, clear.... draws you in... The, ah, writing is so small on the CD I couldn't, well didn't, get out my magnifying glass to see who mastered this, but it's very very nicely done. The production is rich with great arrangements and originality, not to mention great vocals. The levels work for me and the tonal balance and musicality will last for years. The City of Angel's CD is a great reference too.

Dido - No Angel - 5-Star Reference CD*

A big sound with Tom Coyne at Sterling Sound mastering. Vocals and drum loops are big and musical, and the levels are hot but not squashed. Some songs have a different flavor on the top, but keep listening - it's a truly great (and lasting) addition to any mix reference collection.

Vertical Horizon- Everything You Want - 5-Star Reference CD*

Ted Jensen works his usual silky-smooth magic, with a little extra wide-body low end here. Check back and forth with "Coil" (above) and Nickelback and you'll hear the difference in these well presented productions. Ted's work is super-smooth with very even mids, yet still sounding clear.

Bruce Hornsby - Songs From The Southside - 5-Star Reference CD*

Another one of my all time favorites, this piece is well engineered, with a good punchy bottom and very clear mids and highs. Vocal very intelligible, piano clear and present, nice clean kic drum, good placement of the guitars. Mid-bottom and bottom is not as full as more modern records, but Bruce shops at Clean-Records-R-Us.

Terrific mastering by Bob Ludwig, this one will stand the test of time even if the bottom isn't as robust as today's records. Bruce's sibilance edges out just a bit for me, but anyone on the production end could have made the call to de-ess or not to de-ess. This older CD level is a good 4 - 6 dB shy of today's artists, but the definition of the sound is excellent. This used to be my favorite reference CD! If you crank this one up to the same volume as today's CDs, it will out-punch 'em in a heartbeat. The midrange in this record really comes out if you hear it in a grocery store, hence the fuller mid-bottom of today would have warmed it up a bit .

Peter Cetera - One Clear Voice - 5-Star Reference CD*

Well done, nice level, smooth top, and always a pleasure to listen to in the smooth pop vocal catagory. This one keeps holding up over the years, despite the CD level war - in fact, the lower level contributes to it's lasting appeal. Ted Jensen's compression is invisible, and over all, the frequencies are nice and even - even if a hair conservative. Bernie's stuff is a little crisper, and perhaps more apparent in the mids, but then much of that lies in the hands of the tracking and mixing engineers.

Linkin Park - Hybrid Theory

Brian Gardner gets this one loud as usual, but the amazing broad spectrum of very evenly and effectively placed frequencies makes this a great reference. Big lows that won't blow up your boom box... highs that are smooth and won't make your ears bleed... hey it's a good thing given the aggressive feel of this CD. It's a good reference to the blink 182 because the top is less bright but the fullness in the low-middle is a great tone to consider.

Ok, now I'm going to throw in a personal comment - and trust me, it's not a criticism, it's an observation. I admire Brian's work for sure - but the unrelenting level thing wears you out after a while. The newer Linkin CD won't make my fav list because of that. Forget that my age is over 20..... even my teenage son (who enjoys this band) can't listen to relentless blistering non-stop chain saw guitars and drum loops that never breathe. Who's idea was it anyway that you had to be louder than the other band?

Yes, you want your album to sound hot, but could you be losing record sales by hammering people to the point where they turn to another CD after a few brain-blowing songs? How many ways do the record companies subtly turn off potential customers with square wave mania? I don't have a complete answer to that one, but I have pondered it.... I guess we should just enjoy what we enjoy and somebody out there will figure out how to get the music business on the upswing somehow... Maybe fewer swear words will get some groups more airplay and thus more exposure to the public (not to mention pre-teen kids will have a bigger selection that language-conscious parents out there will allow them to buy)! Ok, I'll get off my soap box now!

Sting - Brand New Day

Mastered at Abby Road Studios, this one's hotter and crisper than some previous Sting offerings. Take 5 different Sting cds, listen to them all, and you'll hear some variety that has never stood in the way of his ability to make hits. The bottom isn't as big on this one as some American alternative stuff, but that might fare better on some people's home/car systems that have the Big 'ol Bass button pushed in... I'd also de-ess this one a tad more, but it's still inspiring to listen to.

Yours truly mastered Sting's Live Concert Series show on the Warner Brother's web site (a while back)- and yep, I was on that de-esser a lot. What a pleasure to work on the music of one of the true genius' of our time.

Celine Dion - Let's Talk About Love

For a beautifully smooth reference disc, this one keeps holding up. Stephen Marsh (chief engineer at Sony LA) told me that Vlado Meller put the mastering magic on this one. Vlado's work always is pure silk on the top. With mixing genius, Humberto Gatica and the creme-de-la-creme of talent from all over the world, how can you miss? (For grins, listen to Humberto's classic mixes of Chicago and numerous other platinum artists... you'll hear a more crisp and immediate sound as was found in those days). The goal of this production was to retain dynamics and have a warm, ultra silky-smooth sound. As a mix reference, this is opposite of Mariah's album [see below], which just goes to show... there are no rules. Hits are more about songs and singers than they are about frequency tone spectrums.

Nine Days - the madding crowd

Once again up at the top is Stephen Marcussen and this one's important because it's brighter than Toad the Wet Sprocket and has a mid range that stands out in a good way. It's hot but not too hot - full but not bloated - hey it's really well done. The combo of this and Toad is an excellent reference for clarity, articulation, fullness, punch and delivery. Great teamwork on this record.

Edwin McCain - Messenger

Bob Clearmountain does a top-of-the-line mix job here, making it easy for Stephen Marcussen to master this puppy ultra-loud and ultra clear. Do not try to get this volume level at home! This is an example of incredible work at every stage of the process which is the secret to how that volume is achieved. No wonder Clearmountain gets three-grand a day for his work. Well ok, maybe he doesn't get three grand, but trust me he's well paid! Match the volume of this album with your mix and then listen-compare-adjust. Match levels, listen-compare-adjust. A superb reference CD.

Depeche Mode - Ultra

For years this was the winner of the rad rock CD Level Contest - this thing was huge in it's day, and it still hold up to all the new CDs. Mids and highs have a bit of edge, but it's smooth and the bottom is huge on this puppy. Mastered by Mike Marsh at The Exchange (in England, I think). Good job, Mike.

The Goo Goo Dolls - dizzy up the girl

Great mastering by Bob Ludwig - put right where the level should be if you want a CD to be more timeless and lasting. Yes, other CDs are louder, but the sonic content of this album shows Bob's expertise. He keeps things sounding big, but not over the top with the limiting and compression. Crisp highs and even mid-bottom sound excellent here, although some boom boxes with super-duper hype-a-mundo tweeters may make this one spit a little. But then chances are that the buyer heard some of that hype in the first place when they bought the unit... and liked it. (Bob Ludwig and I both have classical music backgrounds - he plays trumpet, I play violin.)

Corrs- In Blue

Bob Ludwig masters a smooth, lasting sound into this CD that seems to have a variety of mixdown source formats, from what I can tell. Bob's not out to win the level wars here, just make it sound excellent. There is some sonic variety here and it should be a lasting favorite for many years.

Eve6 - horrorscope

One of my heroes, Ted Jensen (who also has a classical background) did a terrific job of putting the pedal-to-the-metal on this one. Yikes this thing is hot! It's got a huge bottom end (beware mega-death-bass-boom-boxers) and great mid-to-top sonics. How can you go wrong when Tom Lord-Alge mixes for you, though? I don't think this was a difficult one for Ted to master. Usually, the best mixers know how to get it right up front.... an excellent record to hear a great way to mix cymbals.

Ahem. However, it wouldn't be my choice to master it this loud, as you can really hear the compression in places. Now then, that's not a bad thing. That's just part of the new trend... it's ok that we're hearing the compression. We can't help it. CDs can only be so loud at the peaks, which cannot exceed a certain level. That means we have to bring up the RMS (overall) level while leaving the peaks where they are. Presto! You are now experiencing extra compression, but in this case, it's well done, and I dig Ted's work.

Metallica - S&M

Being both a violinist and a lead guitar player, I LOVE this CD. Once again mastered by George Marino, it's one of the best around. Once again, however, I'd bet a buck that either Metallica or the record company wanted this one hotter than George would have suggested, but hey, they're out to sell records, not cater to Audiophiles. Mixing this one, I guarantee, was a big job. There is so much complexity in making everything audible in a situation where so many instruments are all together... wow. Hats off to the production team and the band for making history here.

Journey - Trial By Fire

Mastered by George Marino at Sterling Sound, this CD sounds great. It's big, it's clear, it's smooth, it's musical. I'd bet a buck, however, that if George had his way, he'd master it slightly softer to give more dynamic range to this one. It would be a bit more open and the compression would be even more invisible.

Third Eye Blind - Blue

Brian Gardner, at Bernie Grundman Mastering, does his magic on this CD. The level's quite hot, but not over the top. There's plenty of clarity in the mids and highs, and the bottom is big but focused. This is a good reference if you like a sound with a high edge and up-to-date levels.

garbage - G

Creative, well done production. We've got great electronics and great ears with Howie Weinberg at Masterdisk putting on the finishing touches.

Joe Bonamassa - so, it's like that

Not only is mastering engineer, Emily Lazar, a major babe (with all due respect to whoever her significant other may be) - she also puts the golden touch to this excellent album. Very clear, well recorded, even bottom end, smooth but present mids, sparkle on top... hey it's an excellent reference for guitars of all kinds and vocal clarity. The overall level is contemporary-hot but the dynamics speak with complete musicality.

Seal - 5-Star Reference CD

A timeless, lasting CD made in 1994 that holds up great today. Great dynamics and smooth, but present sound, Trevor Horn could have gone anywhere in the world for mastering, and Stephen Marcussen got the gig. It has a superb, "woody" sound that initially could be viewed as a little dull, but it really isn't.... this record sounds great anywhere. It's a sound to study and appreciate if you want to know a full range of sonic options.

Dr. Dre - 2001 - 5-Star Reference CD*

This has got to be one of the hottest CDs I've ever seen! This thing is slammin. I mean it's pegging the red all day. It's not just because Brian Gardner did such a great job. It's the production, the arrangements, the engineering and the mastering. The openness and space of the arrangements just makes every beat smack you in the cans. Also, the careful sculpting of the frequency spectrum by Brian takes full advantage of the Fletcher-Munson Equal Loudness Contours.

Brian knew that this audience would be playing it on systems with a lot of bottom end, therefore, the CD itself isn't overdone down there. A key strategy in Hip-Hop mastering. I would have to bet that this puppy has some pretty flat square waves in the tops of the waveform envelopes. So what. It sells big, and it still sounds good (except I could really do without the gun shots - I'm a total peace-nic and killing each other just makes no sense to me at all). Whether this kind of level helps the music industry as a whole.... well that's another discussion. It's a hit record and it's a good reference for this kind of material.

Vanessa Williams - The Comfort Zone - 5-Star Reference CD*

This record sounds really good (there, I showed my age by using the term record). The bottom end is punchy, mastering compression is more invisible than Songs From The Southside. The compression within the mixes is very good. The width is very good, nice even highs have sparkle, but nothing is harsh. Herbie Powers did fine mastering here. I would have left more time spread before "Save The Best For Last", to give a little more feeling of reverence leading into this classic ballad. This song sounds so good on radio, and has beef in all the right places. Excellent work by all involved in this exciting, timeless production.

Snoopdogg - tha Last Meal - 5-Star Reference CD*

Once again a super-superb hot CD mastered by the Hip-Hop-Meister, Brian Gardner. This puppy is as loud as the Dr. Dre thing, but actually, it's an ever better recording. This CD is smoother, wetter sounding, and a more musical sonic follow-up to the Doc.

Toy Matinee - Toy Matinee - 5-Star Reference CD

Steve Hall
, another hero of mine did a superb job mastering. Extremely clean highs, nice and open sound. Pre-Manley tube compressor era, I'd say. This has more of the "discrete" sound to it, like Bernie Grundman's stuff (and mine) does. This album's first cut, "Last Plane Out" is stellar, but the rest of the songs aren't nearly as sparkly. Did the producers want to keep this contrast? For me, the second cut, "Turn It On Salvador" is just a squeeze dull compared with the sheen and pizzazz of the first cut. Here, then is a musical dilemma. Keep the original vibe, or tweak the rest of the album a bit more to get up to the level of one lone song. Remember rule #1 (found on my Secrets of Mixing page).

No Doubt - return of saturn

I can just see it.... Bob Ludwig gets the word... "make it as hot as you possibly can...." Bob finally gives in and thinks to himself..."ok - you want it hot? I'll give it to ya hot!" Bob pushes the Kill button on his Weiss digital compressor (I'd speculate) and turns the L2 to "11", and presto! the compression is very very invisible, and the level reaches quare wave heaven. Peg those meters, baby! Nice 3-D stuff in the mixing, and it makes interesting "Missing Persons-meets-alternative" music. Just don't play an older record (like some tame Led Zeppelin) before you play this piece. Unless you're right next to the volume control, you'll find your speaker cones stuck to the opposite wall when this one comes on.

Bob also mastered Creed's "Weathered" album super-hot-a-mundo...... I communicated with Bob, and I asked him if the level was his idea or someone else's request. He said [paraphrased], "I sent two versions to the record company, one less hot than the other. They picked the hot version (not my preference)." Again, do not try to get this volume at home out of your DAW. You will flatten the heck out of the dynamics, lose punch, and box the mastering engineer into a corner so that any over-processing can't then be undone. Great sound, Bob. This is a great record to listen to guitar, drum and vocal tones.

Juice Newton - The Trouble with Angels

Glen Meadows does a fine job of bringing a refined smoothness and high-end sizzle to this cd. I would have preferred more consistent levels from song to song, but the producer of this CD might have asked Glen to let more variation come through. There is some tightly packed limiting and compression that's apparent here, but again, I don't know how much processing occurred at mixdown. Check my notes on compression.

*Yours truly mastered the Oct. '99 Juice Newton album, "American Girl". Check out producer, Otha Young's comments.

Glen also did Shania Twain's "Come On Over" hit CD - there's a natural-dynamic variety within the songs. Clear and bright with a tight but conservative low end, you can't knock this blockbuster hit. When you compare this more naturally breathing album with the "in you face every second" sound of some other cds, one wonders... years from now... what will we prefer more?

Shania's new record "Up" is nicely mastered by Stephen Marcussen - full bodied and even levels from song to song.... but Shania's voice has a sound on it that's different from "Come On Over" - you decide which you prefer...

Madonna - ray of light

Ted Jensen's up to his usual great work. Excellent levels, dynamics, warmth, smoothness, mood, musicality, you name it.

Mariah Carey - Rainbow

Bob Ludwig and Herb Powers at the mastering helm(s) let the dynamics breathe more musically than some pedal-to-the-metal CDs. If the music industry ever decides to set a standard for CD levels, these gentlemen should be a couple of the chief people we listen to. I do have to mention here that Bob and Herb have a distinctly different sound. Herb starts off the record with Mariah's voice being full of airy-crispy-sizzly hype top-end (compared to Bob's more elegant, buttery sound). As a mix reference, you may want to carefully study the liner notes to see who's sound you prefer....

Tevin Campbell - T

A nice variety of producers bring out Tevin's best on this album. Prince (or whatever his name is), Quincy, Michael Omartian, Narada Michael Walden, Arthur Baker, Al B. Sure... I mean this is a compilation album of producers of the world! And of course, my hero, Bernie Grundman at the mastering helm. Nice level, but not as loud as newer records, but it's still big! Bernie gets the hi-mid-low perspective as close to perfect as I've heard. 'Course, there is incredible talent every step of the way on this record, so, who knows, maybe he cut everything flat!

I spoke with Bernie about Michael Jackson's "Invincible" album.... the level is chip-frying hot and Bernie basically took no credit for the extreme level - he gave all hat's-off to Bruce Swedien's engineering. I believe him. The arrangement and mix has as much if not more to do with getting a hot CD - although some newer CDs are NOT set at blister.... that's good news for music.

The Eagles - Hell Freezes Over

Smooth, warm, full sound mastered by Ted Jensen at Sterling. Nice level... and kinda mellow, but a great study for the natural sounds of incredible musicians.

Stone Temple Pilots - 12 Gracious Melodies

This one used to be my winner for being loud, but it's a good 2 - 5 dB softer than stuff that's out there now. Bob Ludwig at the mastering helm. This CD is extra smooth on the warmies, but if you listen to the voice, you'll hear an appropriate amount of highs. This means that the guitars and drums were somewhat dull in the mix. Ok, it's that early alternative sound. I would have added slightly more highs, some mids to make the guitars grind and the snare snap more, and then de-essed it so that the vocal didn't bite on the ss's. I think it would have retained the alternative vibe, and been more immediate sounding. Keep in mind, however, anyone (the band, the label, the lawyers) could have influenced the sonics on this record.

Donna Lewis - Now In The Middle

I think the producer of this record wants that warm analog sound, and it's there, but it could be more transparent and immediate sounding. It's got that big level, and that smooth Bob Ludwig (sigh) sound, but there's some audible compression here (and many places along the engineering path where it can show up). I think there's something to be said for a little less sound saturation when you're not trying to do blood-and-guts punk alternative metal music. If it's metal, then hey, make it hurt (just kidding)!

Amy Grant - Behind The Eyes

The previous winner of the CD Level Contest for the middle-of-the-road music category. Mastering by Bob Ludwig is smooth and loud (louder than some CDs by rocker Bryan Adams). I wonder if Amy's producer wanted it this loud, or if it was Bob's idea? I mean, it's Amy Grant, not Courtney Love! (Yours truly mastered Courtney Love and Hole on Sympathy For The Record Industry label.) Either way you look at it, Bob always gives a nice hi-mid-lo balance to everything, letting a little extra high-end hype come out on Amy's wonderful voice.

Bryan Adams - So Far So Good

Classic rock tunes compiled and mastered by Bob Ludwig. This puppy is rock, it's got a sane amount of level, it's clean and not harsh, got a smooth mid-bottom, and Bob's limiting/compression is probably as invisible as it gets at this level. 'Course Bob Clearmountain's engineering expertise makes any project easy to master. More clarity than some of today's alternative records that emphasise more warmth.

Hootie & The Blowfish - Cracked Rear View

I would guess that a Manley tube compressor is in the chain somewhere here, but it's a guess folks. Nice level - it's a loud CD, but I can hear that limiting/compression! Ok, it's a sound. It's a hit. So what if you hear the compression. Good point. Remember Rule #1. There are no rules. This tonal treatment makes for hot cassettes because the levels are so contained. Less tape hiss that way, too. Mastered by Eddie Shreyer at Future Disc, one of my fave mastering houses. Make sure you've got a record company paying the bill for ya, though.

Don Dokken - Up From The Ashes

1990 was a while back, and I remember using this CD as a reference for my own mixing. It's got the ultimate '80's clarity - blazing guitars and hyper eq'd drums (samples, maybe) designed to rip your ears off. Terrific as a crystal-clear bright sound, but not the way to go for that big warm robust sound of today. Mastered by George Marino, it has all the edge we were shooting for in those days, but not the bottom you would get from George now. Times have changed, especially when you hear how low the level is on this CD (assuming it hasn't been remastering for current copies). I've included this one as an example of the contrast that's possible in making a top-of-the-line product.

David Foster - Symphony Sessions - 5-Star Reference CD

The esteemed Wally Traugott at Capitol Records mastered this well balanced, lasting recording. Forget the level contest, this is about sonics for piano, pop instruments, orchestral stuff and more. Lots to enjoy from the genius of David Foster, one of my all time heroes.

Kenny G - Faith - 5-Star Reference CD

Talent all over the place, including genius Humberto Gatica doing his tracking and mixing magic on this holiday album. Mastered by Vlado Meller at Sony Music Studios in NYC, it's a masterpiece. The level is perfect, the dynamics right on, and tonal balance is clean, big and natural. Spatiality, musicality, it's just the top of the line.

© Copyright 1999- 2004 John Vestman
Created 1999 • Modified 10/20/03
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