Ask – Mastering

Can you really perform mastering in a DAW?
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Can you really perform mastering in a DAW? I know PreSonus Studio One Pro has a mastering page, but programs like Samplitude, Cubase, Sonar, Pro Tools, etc. supposedly include mastering quality plug-ins. Will these do the job?

Rob Perry

W. Palm Beach, FL


It depends on whether you want to do “mastering” or “MASTERING.” You can think of “mastering” as “the mastered version sounds better than the original mix” and “MASTERING” as “the sonic quality meets or exceeds anything out there, and with an album, all the songs flow together as a seamless listening experience.”

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Most DAWs can do mastering. MASTERING often requires specialized tools such as noise reduction, diagnostic plug-ins, restoration options, plug-ins that trade off CPU efficiency for sound quality, and optimally, the ability to integrate analog mastering processors. You also need to be able to assemble all your cuts and create a master file suitable for duplication or uploading to the web (often in a data compressed format). Of the current crop of DAWs, Magix Samplitude and PreSonus Studio One Pro have the strongest emphasis on mastering—but pretty much all DAWs include various mastering-oriented tools and options.

Remember that 90% of self-mastering is your ears, room, and monitors. If those elements aren’t in place, you won’t get good results with DAWs or dedicated mastering programs. But while mastering is a specialized skill where experience counts for a lot, it’s something you can learn to use to improve the sonic quality of your music. Like everything else, the more you practice your craft, the more you’ll improve—and the better your masters will sound.