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Nov 2

Written by: masterblogger
11/2/2010 3:53 AM  RssIcon

MP3-CurveHaving to master an MP3 is always problematic, but sometimes a sharp high-end cutoff, coupled with additional fixes to take care of other problems, can improve the sound.

I am not a professional mastering engineer, but have become pretty good at it over the years, and help my friends from time to time by doing their mastering. However, sometimes the only mix someone will have is an MP3 version, and for whatever reason, they can’t go back to the original tracks and do a proper mix to WAV file. Sometimes they even give me a 128kbps MP3, which of course, would never be anyone’s first choice for mastering!

I do the best I can but was wondering if you know any techniques that can help make better-sounding masters from MP3 format files.
Benjamin Mills, Lagos, Nigeria

EQ: We’ve noticed this disturbing trend as well, where musicians convert directly to MP3 because they want to put their music on the web, and either don’t keep—or don’t even create in the first place—a high-resolution file without data compression.

Some MP3 files lend themselves to mastering better than others. Often, if the person thought that an MP3 would suffice as a master, then there are other “rookie errors” in the recording that mastering can’t fix. But sometimes an MP3 was created from a quality recording that got lost over the years and is no longer available. In that case there’s hope, especially if the MP3 was recorded at a higher bit rate.

Like any mastering, you need to consider each piece of music on a case-by-case basis. However, we’ve noticed that usually, the high frequencies have an annoying quality that “smells” of data compression. Often, applying a sharp high-cut filter somewhere between 10 and 20kHz will make the high end sound much sweeter. If this “dulls” the sound too much, a slight boost below the range where you’ve cut— for example, a dB or two at 5–8kHz or so—will give a brighter, shinier sound.

Another problem with some MP3s seems to be a muddy-sounding bass, although that can be the result of the recording or mixing. Adding a narrow peak and tuning it to the kick drum’s fundamental can give more power in the low end, and drive the song a bit more. Good luck!

Ask EQ a technical audio-related question, and EQ will answer it. Send it to eqeditor@musicplayer.com.

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