Best Mastering Plugins 2018
Let's just jump right in. In no particular order:
Newfangled Audio Punctuate
Based on the Transient Emphasis section of the award winning Elevate Mastering Limiter, Punctuate is a multi-band transient modulator based on the critical bands in the human ear. Punctuate's intelligent algorithms allow you to control the transient emphasis or suppression of all 26 critical bands with just 4 controls. This makes for an incredibly powerful, but very easy to use transient modulator.
This one comes with a bit of a disclaimer: BE CAREFUL. This is a great tool for mixes that are lacking impact, and has really saved the day for me on a couple of projects. It's certainly not a go-to processor that lives in my chain, and it's important to remember that tools like these are problem solvers that should be used only when they're needed.
Punctuate comes in a mastering bundle offered by Newfangled Audio (Eventide) which includes Elevate, Saturate, and EQuivocate. All great tools that do see some use here, but this one really stands out to me as a winner.
Leapwing Audio DynOne
DynOne is a multiband parallel processor that lifts up low level detail. Multiband parallel processing is ideal for classical music, acoustic music, voice, film, broadcast and other situations where low-level subtleties tend to get lost.
DynOne is one of my favourite plugins, and if you're serious about mastering (or mixing), it should definitely be in your arsenal. It does a great job of tightening things up, and allows you to raise the average level of your material in a very transparent way.
Bob Katz has been pretty outspoken about his love for this plugin, and has shared a "start here" preset which works well.
"Take the current factory default. Drop all the wet faders to negative infinity (off), which is equivalent to bypass. Change the ratio from 4:1 over to 3:1 on all the bands. Save it to the default and load that default each time you want to start with parallel compression. Then to operate, just raise one of the “wet” faders. Since they are linked by default, they’ll all come up together. Raise them until the sound gets louder. Listen…. evaluate…. Done!" -Bob Katz
Nugen Audio MasterCheck Pro
MasterCheck is the complete solution for optimizing your mixes for today’s music delivery services. Streaming apps, download stores, websites and podcasts all use data compression, loudness matching, or both. These processes can affect your mixes in various undesirable ways: your loud punchy mix could end up quiet and flat, or suffer clipping or distortion.
The major online music services and stores encode your music in various formats, often using different bit-rates depending on your device or account type. Encoding “hot” mixes can often introduce True Peak overs that will clip on playback. MasterCheck will detect these errors, allowing you to stay within a safe limit. You’ll also be able to hear any obvious frequency masking or other artifacts, and try to mitigate these effects at the mixing and mastering stages.
MasterCheck is one of two plugins that live in my mastering session template. I have MasteCheck on my print track to perform it's regular duties, and the Nugen Send plugin on the track(s) containing the source files that are being output to my analog chain. This allows me to utilize the external ref and offset to match features to instantly level match my processed master against the original source file!
Izotope RX 7
Designed specifically for the demanding needs of music and post professionals, RX 7 continues to be the industry standard audio repair tool used on movies and TV shows to restore damaged, noisy audio to pristine condition.
This one pretty much speaks for itself. Great for removing clicks, pops, crackles, and everything else you don't want in your master. The SRC in RX is as good as it gets, and the batch processing is quick and easy.
Goodhertz Good Dither
Good Dither is a very good dither that’s very easy to work with. Set it on “Optimal,” and it will optimize the dither and noise shaping for any combination of bit depth and sample rate.
I get it; dither is boring. But you should use this plugin. And if you're using hardware in mastering, this plugin should sit on your source track that is outputting to your analog chain.
FabFilter Pro-Q 2
Pro-Q 2 offers everything that a demanding engineer could wish for: top quality linear phase operation in addition to the zero latency and unique Natural Phase modes, Mid/Side processing, variable stereo placement of EQ bands, an intelligent solo feature, optional Auto Gain and a built-in, fully customizable spectrum analyzer.
This thing is all about workflow. I can't pinpoint exactly what it is, but it sounds great, and it's so easy and fast to use. Definitely my desert island ITB EQ.
Shoutout to the George Massenburg MDWEQ5, and DMG Audio EQuilibrium for both being ridiculously great plugins. Both worth owning and using, but start your collection with Pro-Q 2.
Flux Pure Analyzer Essential w/ Metering Option
Pure Analyzer Essential is a comprehensive range of analyzer options for any imaginable audio analysis and measurement, which can be expanded for more specific utilization with up to three add-on modules; Live, Metering/Loudness and Multichannel/Surround.
A bit spendy, but clients think it's cool. And it is. It's also a CPU hog, so make sure your machine is up to snuff. Pure Analyzer runs outside of your DAW, via the Sample Grabber Plugin, and you can also run it on a separate computer via ethernet. You'll need to purchase the metering bundle to go with the software for ITU-R BS.1770 and EBU R128 compliant meters. I have a dedicated monitor for this software, and would highly recommend doing the same.
FabFilter Pro-L 2
The limiter is an indispensable tool in modern mastering and mixing, and there are a lot of different flavours available on the market today. Some limiters try to be as transparent and 'safe' as possible, while others are designed to just go loud. One limiter may work best on rock music, while another performs best on electronic dance music.
FabFilter Pro-L 2 is a professional true peak limiter, that combines all these flavours and qualities in one plug-in, making it suitable for any type of music/audio. It can be as transparent as needed, and can go as loud as you want it to go. Equipped with metering, true peak limiting, surround support, oversampling and dithering,
I have quite a few limiters in my tool box, and a fairly involved process I go through when choosing which limiter I'm going to use on a project. DMG Audio Limitless gets an honourable mention here, because it's an amazing limiter, and it does beat Pro-L on a fairly regular basis. If I could only have one though, Pro-L 2 would be it.
The "modern" setting (which is the default), is usually the most appropriate, and gets used 90% of the time when I'm using this plugin. The oversampling is a great feature, and the extra time it takes to render at 32x is often worth it, particularly if you're pushing the limiter reasonably hard, or using shorter lookahead times.
Steven Slate VTM
This one can be a little heavy-handed for mastering, but for some projects that are suffering from severe digititis, it's just what the doctor ordered. You'll probably want to go in to the settings, and disable noise, as well as the wow & flutter. It can add a significant amount of bottom end, so do be aware of that.
TDR Nova - Gentleman's Edition
NOVA GE is a parallel dynamic equalizer. Appearing in the familiar layout of a parametric equalizer, the plugin also includes a full featured dynamics section enabling NOVA to cover an impressively wide range of applications. Be it a master lacking density, the drum bus asking for more crispiness, or a sibilance problem in your perfect take: NOVA has an elegant answer.
A user friendly WYSIWYG drag and drop display paired with a classic “knob” interface gives quick and smooth access to the various parameters driving NOVA’s powerful signal processing. Elaborate equal loudness functions help finding the optimal setting without getting distracted by loudness differences. An extensive set of “Smart Actions” automatically generate sensible starting points according to the input; and further allow matching the spectra and dynamics matching of two different songs, approximating a pink noise distribution, or automatically finding and taming excessive resonances in recordings.
NOVA GE includes a total of six dynamic EQ bands, each featuring high grade filters and independent dynamics processors being able to operate in linked, split, or various other configurations.
That's all for now! I hope that was helpful, and as always, feel free to email me at email@example.com if you have any questions.
PS. I highly recommend reading plugin manuals from cover to cover when you purchase them. There's a lot of cool features in a lot of these tools that are very easy to miss!