There is now a huge number of published books covering all aspects of audio engineering and music production. They all offer something useful to the intended audience, but there is a select subset of books which are must-haves — books which manage to provide real-world practical advice backed up by easily understandable and relevant theory. A short list of such books will inevitably vary to a degree, depending on the particular interest of the reader, but of around 90 audio and music-related books filling my office shelves, I find there are a select few I refer to on a regular basis. However, the latest addition to my audio library is also one which I feel will join this select group. He also appears to be very well connected, as there are numerous short contributions in the book from many fellow mastering engineers and producers.
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There is now a huge number of published books covering all aspects of audio engineering and music production. They all offer something useful to the intended audience, but there is a select subset of books which are must-haves — books which manage to provide real-world practical advice backed up by easily understandable and relevant theory.
A short list of such books will inevitably vary to a degree, depending on the particular interest of the reader, but of around 90 audio and music-related books filling my office shelves, I find there are a select few I refer to on a regular basis.
However, the latest addition to my audio library is also one which I feel will join this select group. He also appears to be very well connected, as there are numerous short contributions in the book from many fellow mastering engineers and producers.
But whereas it is relatively easy to define, explain and document the scientific and procedural aspects of mastering, trying to get across a meaningful impression of the art and aesthetics involved in music mastering is a much harder challenge. While many books ostensibly about music mastering discuss the technology involved, Katz talks primarily about how to use the technology, with practical advice and examples in many cases, and all with such down-to-earth common sense and logical argument that even complex issues seem obvious.
Best of all, Katz is clearly a man who likes the sound of music — pretty much any music — for its own sake, and is a vehement defender of real musical dynamics. A good impression of the level of detail to be found in this book is presented on the very first flyleaf of the book.
A fold-out reproduction is provided of a hand-drawn chart made by EJ Quinby at Carnegie Hall in , showing the relation between musical pitch and notation, frequency, and the ranges of all the instruments of the orchestra, singing voices, piano and organ. It is a work of art in its own right, but the information it conveys actually underpins much of what this book is all about. Chapter By Chapter Perusing the Contents page reveals just how in-depth this book is.
The 22 chapters are divided into four sections, with a further 13 appendices and a pretty comprehensive index. Just inside the front cover is a splendid hand-drawn chart from , showing the relation between musical pitch, notation, frequency, and the instrument ranges.
Chapter one starts the ball rolling with descriptions of the various steps involved in producing a record album, the philosophy of mastering, the work flow and the basic procedures. Even in this first chapter, the detail flows thick and fast, with discussions about logging information pertinent to the mastering process, picking the right workstation, media verification, backups and archiving, and quality control.
The following chapter investigates the kinds of equipment necessary in a professional mastering studio, and how best to connect this equipment together.
This inevitably includes discussions about the rudiments of clocking and some of the important issues involved in selecting A-D and D-A converters. With the basic concepts and philosophies of mastering behind us, chapter three moves on to the most important element of all, the ear — or more accurately, how to train and use it. There is a lovely diagram included here which shows the frequency regions in which boosts or cuts in amplitude produce the subjective impression associated with terms like muddy, sweet, fat, edgy and so on.
Katz also sets seven specific ear-training exercises in this chapter — all superficially trivial and easy to do given a little effort, yet these are crucially fundamental skills for anyone interested in improving their hearing acuity in the context of recording or mastering music. The next chapter takes us back into the classroom with some theory and practical advice about word lengths and dither.
There is also lots of practical information about the subtleties of some of the more common commercial dithering algorithms, as well as the correct way to manage word lengths in digital systems. The complex issues of digital Overs, oversampling meters, sensible recording headroom, and safe peak mastering levels.
At this point Katz hints at one of the fundamental mastering concerns — loudness. This is clearly a subjective term, but one which can be made almost objective according to Katz by adopting carefully calibrated monitoring levels.
So there follows an involved discussion on gain staging, optimised signal levels, and the typical peak levels and dynamic ranges associated with different applications: recording, broadcast and mastering.
Chapter six investigates the requirements of monitoring in the mastering suite in far more detail, covering topics such as subwoofers and bass response, monitor equalisation, and some very entertaining but sadly all too true myths about what a good monitor system should be.
This is the concluding chapter of the first section of the book, so with a good understanding of the basic concepts, technologies and philosophies, we are ready to start learning about the science and art of the mastering techniques. The chapter continues on the subject of editing: topping and tailing tracks and removing unwanted noises before and after the track, adding fades and tails, editing material together, and so on.
The final section deals with the basic levelling of tracks. A section of colour plates towards the middle of the book illustrate some of the technical points raised in the text. There is also technical information about different kinds of equalisers, the functions of their controls, and the strengths and weaknesses of each of these devices in the context of mastering. The obvious next step from EQ is dynamic control, and this is the subject of chapter nine.
Katz divides the subject into two: macrodynamics — the loudness differences between different sections of a song — and microdynamics — the rhythmical dynamic changes throughout a song.
He goes on to explain the four different categories of dynamic processing before describing the benefits of manual dynamic control and the techniques involved. The next two chapters discuss automatic dynamic control in great detail, starting with the downward processors — compression and limiting. Some rather less common dynamics processing techniques are the subject of the next chapter, with upward or parallel compression and the even more rare upwards expansion techniques found in the Dbx Quantum processor and the Waves C4 plug-in, for example.
To close the chapter, Katz brings us back to our starting point by describing ways to change microdynamics manually. Chapter 12 examines noise reduction techniques, both with dedicated processors such as the CEDAR tools, and with more generic solutions such as single-ended filtering and narrow-band expansion.
The K-System Explained At this point in the proceedings Katz brings us back to the topic of a calibrated monitoring system — something he feels is an essential element in 21st-century mastering installations in order to bring some objectivity back into the perception of loudness.
He goes on to discuss the correct mechanical and electrical alignment of stereo and surround monitoring systems, subwoofers and bass management. Most mastering rooms employ analogue processors, and chapter 16 looks at the issues surrounding the use of analogue and digital processing, as well as discussing the issues involved with converting between the two domains. It also considers various aspects of digital signal processing, single and double precision, floating-point arithmetic, oversampling, dithering, and so on.
Katz talks here about mono and stereo masking, the Haas effect and its implications, the importance of microphone techniques and placement, recording environment acoustics, and the deleterious effect that poor-quality digital processing can have on the preservation of depth in a recording. Chapter 18 discusses high sample rate formats, starting with the concept of oversampling, and then moves on to the issue of up-sampling before investigating the benefits of higher sample rate PCM and DSD systems in general.
There is a great deal of fascinating technical information here, but it is all related directly to the real-world practicalities of recording, manipulating and monitoring digital audio.
There is also some useful information about mastering for vinyl and cassette media, as well as hard disk formatting and digital versus analogue monitor level controls. Throughout the book there are dividing pages between the various sections and chapters which carry pertinent and often amusing quotes. And so we arrive at the last section of this book, which starts off emphasising the need for education on the importance of dynamic range — not only for the recording and mastering engineers, but also for producers, equipment manufacturers and the record-buying public.
I have to say the final chapter of this book is, well, a little odd! After the clear technical explanations and superbly detailed practical advice of the preceding pages, it came as a bit of a surprise to find a two-page poem written by Bob Katz, presumably as he waited for the client to arrive for his mastering session one day.
Well, okay, at least Katz has the day job to rely on! The remaining odd pages of the book pick up the original theme again, starting in the first appendix with a fascinating and very thorough treatise on typical broadcast processing techniques — the dreaded Orban Optimod and its peers — with some constructive advice on how to optimise the mastering of material intended for radio play. The next appendix describes the multitude of audio file formats, and this is followed by a section on how to prepare tapes and files for mastering — media, levels, labels, tones, handles, sample rates, file names, and split multi-channel files.
All useful, practical stuff. There are even some sample labels and documentation examples to get you started on the right path. The next four appendices provide raw technical information. The first concerns relative signal levels with differing analogue tape fluxivity standards and a table relating dBu to RMS voltages. There is then a handy Q value to bandwidth in octaves converter for anyone whose equaliser of choice uses whichever is the unfamiliar term, and the last two sections cover maximum data transfer rates for different digital media and typical data capacities, costs, and the number of track hours that can be supported.
Appendix nine provides a lot of technical information on the K-System of metering and monitoring, and this is followed by a list of recommended reading and listening and a comprehensive glossary of technical terminology.
Master Of The Art? If I had to make any criticism at all of Mastering Audio bar the poem! However, to be honest, there is nothing that takes away from the fact that this is a truly excellent book. Katz is comprehensive in his coverage of the subject, detailed and unambiguous in his explanations of the technicalities, and clear-headed and logical in his philosophy and approach to mastering. If you are interested in the process of mastering — whether for background information as you watch a professional work his magic over your recordings, or because you want to improve your own abilities — you simply must read this.
Pros Detailed information in every topic area. Practical advice throughout. Sensible, clear-headed philosophy to mastering. Useful suggestions for further reading and listening. Cons The colour pictures are grouped in the centre of the book, which makes them a little awkward to refer to while reading.
Summary A comprehensive and unusually practical book which deals with exactly what it says on the cover. If you only buy one book on audio, this has to be it — it should be required reading for anyone involved with recording, producing or mastering music.
Bob Katz: Mastering Audio
Mastering Audio: The Art and the Science by Bob Katz - PDF free download eBook