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Master Class: Mastering With Peak Performance

September 1, 2008
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BIAS Peak Pro 6 is an extremely feature-rich environment for the Mac that's used to record, edit, process, and deliver audio. This article will focus on its mastering application, for which the program has been widely used during most of its existence.

A Room with Two Views

Although files are often edited and processed as individual documents before being assembled into the final work, mastering in Peak Pro 6 occurs primarily in the program's Playlist environment (see Fig. 1). The Playlist, which was introduced in Peak 2, has received a major upgrade in Peak Pro 6.

FIG. 1: In BIAS Peak Pro 6''s Playlist, the control area is at the top, with the Waveform View in the center and the List View on the bottom.

FIG. 1: In BIAS Peak Pro 6''s Playlist, the control area is at the top, with the Waveform View in the center and the List View on the bottom.

The Playlist window has three main areas: the Controls section at the top; the Waveform View section, which provides a graphical editing interface; and the List View, which has a text-based interface. You can perform many functions in both the Waveform View and the List View that enable you to choose between the intuitiveness of graphical editing and the precision of entering values directly.

Each view also has capabilities that are not available in the other view. The Waveform View makes it easier to customize crossfades, perform volume automation, and skip around during auditioning, whereas the List View offers the ability to configure subcode flags, enter metadata such as CD-TEXT and ISRC codes, and add processing to each Playlist Event.

Crossfades: Heart of the Matter

FIG. 2: The Move Event tool (left) is available when working in Overlap mode, whereas the Crossfade tool (center) replaces the Move Event tool in Centered mode. The Trim Event tool (right) is available in both Overlap and Centered modes.

FIG. 2: The Move Event tool (left) is available when working in Overlap mode, whereas the Crossfade tool (center) replaces the Move Event tool in Centered mode. The Trim Event tool (right) is available in both Overlap and Centered modes.

Creating and shaping crossfades is a primary mastering task, and Peak Pro 6 supplies a large array of features for crafting them to fit individual needs. The Playlist has two fundamental crossfade modes, Overlap and Centered, and two primary tools, Move Event/Crossfade and Trim Event (see Fig. 2). The Move Event tool appears only in Overlap mode, and the Crossfade tool takes its place in Centered mode. The actions of these tools are modified by the state of the Preserve Timing and Scroll Regions checkboxes.

Overlap crossfades — the kind most commonly found in DAWs and other editing programs — are used for sequencing takes or assembly editing. By default, you can adjust the crossfade's fade-out component (from the earlier Event) and fade-in component (from the later Event) independently of each other. Start and end times of one component aren't necessarily related to those of the other component, and there can be any amount of overlap between the Events, including a negative overlap (a gap between Events). The Events themselves may get moved in time while constructing an overlap crossfade.

FIG. 3: In centered crossfades such as the one shown here, the crossfade establishes an edit point based on the time relationship between the two Events. The edit point is always at the midpoint of each component''s duration and will remain fixed as you edit the crossfade.

FIG. 3: In centered crossfades such as the one shown here, the crossfade establishes an edit point based on the time relationship between the two Events. The edit point is always at the midpoint of each component''s duration and will remain fixed as you edit the crossfade.

Centered crossfades are mostly used for digital splicing, such as compositing multiple takes together (see Fig. 3). Centered crossfades are often used in editing classical music, where a large number of splices are used in a single movement of a piece. A centered crossfade is focused around an edit point that's always anchored at the crossfade's midpoint. When you adjust a centered crossfade, the edit point and the temporal relationship between the two Playlist Events remain fixed, and the start and end times change symmetrically on either side of the edit center point. Peak Pro 6's Nudge buttons enable you to precisely adjust the crossfade parameters. (For more on crossfade techniques, see the online bonus material at emusician.com.)

Fade Shapes

In the Playlist window's Waveform View, you can customize fade shapes in any desired fashion with simple BREAKpoint editing. The Zoom To Fit Transition button, which is situated next to the zoom buttons immediately above the Waveform View's right side, gets you up close to the crossfade for more-detailed editing.

FIG. 4: The Playlist Default Fades dialog box lets you configure fade shapes and durations that can be applied to every new Event. Clicking on either the Out Shape or the In Shape box (circled) opens an envelope editor for creating custom fade shapes.

FIG. 4: The Playlist Default Fades dialog box lets you configure fade shapes and durations that can be applied to every new Event. Clicking on either the Out Shape or the In Shape box (circled) opens an envelope editor for creating custom fade shapes.

In many situations, it is desirable to use the same shape for all fades. The Playlist allows for designating any available envelope shape as the default fade shape. The Playlist Default Fades dialog box appears whenever a new Playlist is created, but you can invoke it at any time by clicking on the Set Default Fades For Playlist button in the control area's upper left portion (see Fig. 4).

Clicking on the checkbox that's labeled Automatically Apply Default Settings When Adding Events To Playlist will cause the fade shapes you've selected in this dialog box to be applied each time you add a region as a new Playlist Event. To apply the default shape to an existing Event, choose Default from the drop-down menu for the desired fade in the List View.

You can further customize the fade shapes with BREAKpoint editing. In the Playlist Default Fades dialog box, click on the In Shape or Out Shape box beneath the fade-duration field to open Peak Pro 6's envelope editor. The pull-down menu at the top of the dialog box will show all envelope shapes present in the Peak Envelopes folder of the user's Library→Preferences folder. You can create and save custom fade shapes in the Crossfade In or Crossfade Out editor.

With all of these manipulation capabilities, it is essential to have flexible facilities for auditioning crossfades. The control area's Audition section contains buttons that allow you to audition either the fade-in or fade-out component or the entire transition, with programmable pre- and postroll.

Adding Your Special Sauce

In virtually all cases, mastering entails adding EQ, dynamics, reverberation, or other processing to one or more tracks. It is common to have some processing that is applied to all tracks.

To process any individual Event in the Playlist's List View, choose the Active command from the Vbox Insert field's drop-down menu for that Event. Vbox will then appear, allowing you to insert one or more VST or AU plug-ins.

Peak Pro 6 XT includes BIAS's Master Perfection Suite (MPS), which contains high-quality equalization, linear-phase multiband compression, gating, spectral cloning, and analysis and metering tools, which cover the mastering processes that most users need. The XT package also includes SoundSoap Pro to tackle audio-restoration tasks.

Once configured, choosing Make Snapshot from the Vbox drop-down menu will create a snapshot of that Event's processing configuration. You can easily copy the processing chain to another Event by choosing Make Snapshot from the drop-down menu in the target Event's Vbox field.

Master processing is accomplished using the five inserts in the main application's Plug-Ins menu. The standard Peak Pro 6 package includes Reveal LE — a special, Peak-only version of MPS's metering and analysis suite. Instantiating Reveal LE in one of the master inserts lets you see the exact level, frequency response, and phase characteristics of your audio.

Special Delivery

As a mastering tool, Peak Pro 6 provides a variety of options for the final delivery format; three buttons in the Playlist window's upper right portion open the door to the available choices. The leftmost button burns the selected Events to an audio CD. To produce an output that's properly formatted to the Red Book standard, make certain that the Red Book and Enforce CD Frames boxes are checked before you start assembling your Playlist. Only in a few rare, highly specialized applications is it desirable to have Enforce CD Frames unchecked.

You may be creating regions in an audio document (rather than in a Playlist) from which you intend to make a Red Book disc. If that's the case, choose the ActionSnap ToCD Frames command to ensure that no clicks occur when CD frame boundaries are enforced in the Playlist.

Clicking on the Bounce Playlist To New Audio Document button (to the right of the Burn Playlist To Audio CD button) opens a dialog box that lets you specify the details for the file. Take a close look at the File Format drop-down menu, which shows the most commonly used formats for this application. Standard choices such as AIFF, Sound Designer II, and JAM Image files are there, but you can also choose to bounce to an iTunes Playlist.

If you're making masters for CD replication, you'll be particularly interested in DDP 2.0, a choice in the File Format drop-down menu. Disc Description Protocol (DDP) capability is standard in Peak Pro XT and optional with the regular Peak Pro package. DDP was created by Doug Carson Associates (which makes disc premanufacturing products) and is the format of choice for delivering CDs and DVDs for replication. Peak Pro 6's DDP 2.0 output can even include diacritical marks in the CD-TEXT data.

Any time that you convert the audio's sampling rate or bit depth to the format you'll need for final delivery, it's best to perform those operations while bouncing. Both functions are available in the Bounce Playlist dialog box. Peak Pro 6's sampling-rate conversion is used any time you select a target sampling rate that differs from the source rate; no other action is required to invoke this.

When you select a target bit depth that's less than the source material's bit depth, the Dither checkbox in the Bounce dialog box becomes active. Clicking on the Dither Prefs button will invoke BIAS's Dither Cloning Audio Technology, which offers an exceptionally wide selection of dither shapes, many of which are modeled on popular dither characteristics. Your choice of dither should be based on the nature of the source material and whether any further processing (such as conversion to MP3 or AAC) will be performed. Brief descriptions of each choice in the Dither Prefs dialog box can help guide you, but your ear should always be the final arbiter.

FIG. 5: The Print/Export Text Report dialog box enables detailed specification of the information that will be included in the formatted report that Peak Pro 6 generates.

FIG. 5: The Print/Export Text Report dialog box enables detailed specification of the information that will be included in the formatted report that Peak Pro 6 generates.

The rightmost of the three output buttons enables you to print or export a detailed text report of the Playlist. The dialog box that comes up when you click on the button lets you choose which data is included (see Fig. 5).

Maximum Performance

Peak Pro 6 is used by sound designers, dialog editors, Podcast creators, and many others with various audio needs, but mastering has long been a primary focus of the program. Peak Pro 6 represents the culmination of years of providing mastering facilities, and it presents a rich feature set for mastering work. As with any powerful tool, however, taking time to explore the program and its documentation will reveal features that offer both convenience and the kinds of tweaks to fine details that are essential for mastering, which is possibly the most exacting of audio jobs.


A longtime contributor to Electronic Musician, Larry the O is a musician, composer, sound designer, engineer, producer, and general troublemaker in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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