STEINBERG MasterTools 1.5 (Mac)

When Apogee first introduced MasterTools to the TDM world in 1995, the company aimed to provide a host of pro-level mastering features-phase inversion,
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When Apogee first introduced MasterTools to the TDM world in 1995, the company aimed to provide a host of pro-level mastering features-phase inversion, mono-compatibility monitoring, DC offset correction, and variable scale display meters, to name a few-in an affordable and easy-to-use software plug-in package. Unfortunately, MasterTools 1.0 required that a pair of administration programs run in the background, which often caused problems. As a result, interest in the program was initially limited.

Happily, those days are over. Steinberg and Spectral Designs have licensed the original code and rebuilt this unique plug-in from the ground up. MasterTools 1.5 ($799) is still available for TDM, and later this year it will be released for the VST and DirectX formats, as well.

What's New?On the outside, not much has changed since Apogee's original MasterTools 1.0 release; however, on the inside, there are a lot of cool new features to tell you about. MasterTools is now 24-bit compatible, which is great for Pro Tools/24 users. Perhaps the most exciting new feature is the ability to automate all MasterTools parameters using Pro Tools 4.0 (or newer) software. This allows you to do things that no other TDM plug-in currently does. You can convert a stereo mix into a mono mix during a bridge, swap left and right audio channels on every other beat, or invert the phase of an entire mix for true head-turning effects. This level of functionality makes MasterTools a must-have plug-in.

You also get other features, including Nova, an intelligent digital limiter that keeps tabs on any sample approaching a predefined level (also known as an "over") and reduces its level by one least significant bit. This feature lets you rest assured that your mix will not be rejected at the duplicating house. Additionally, the Over List Events (a histogram that keeps track of digital levels over 0 dB) is now shown in frames, where before it could only be displayed in seconds.

Delicious DitheringMasterTools uses Apogee's proprietary UV22 dithering process. Currently, audio CDs can deal with only 16-bit material, which means that 20- or 24-bit masters must be dithered down to 16 bits before you can print a CD. So how do you maintain the original fidelity? Apogee feels that the UV22 process solves the problem by capturing all of the higher detail and resolution of the source material while still maintaining a warm analog quality, free of the harshness typically associated with 16-bit recordings. Great idea, but does it really work? Based on my tests I'd say yes, it sure does-and at a fraction of the cost of buying Apogee's dedicated hardware to perform the same task.

The Final CallMasterTools 1.5 includes more improvements than I have room to talk about here (for example, the excellent manual), but I also have a few caveats. Support for older 68 kHz Nubus systems has been dropped, and no direct support is offered for the new Pro Tools/Mix cards. (An upgrade including support for the Mix cards should be available by the time you read this.) Lastly, I noticed that saved presets are not always recalled correctly. Perhaps this is a software glitch. These minor gripes aside, though, I think MasterTools 1.5 is a great addition to anyone's audio toolbox.

Overall EM Rating (1 through 5): 4.5