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What happens post mastering to the sound and why isn't there one master for all formats?

What happens post mastering to the sound and why isn't there one master for all formats?

The question came up at Rocky Mountain Audiofest...  since many artists are delivering single songs, is there still a need for mastering.

The engineers on the panel said a resounding "yes!"  First.. what is mastering?

Mastering is part of production that takes the final mixes and prepares them for the mass release stage.  In the case of CDs and vinyl, that process included adding the correct amount of time between songs, making sure the level was close song to song (so that you didn't have to get up from your chair to adjust the volume), tops and tails of the songs were edited to be clean and any last minute corrections for eq or high/low levels were made.

Over the years, CDs became "louder" overall to compete for attention.  The result was a more compressed sound that lacked dynamics.  Vinyl, on the otherhand, could not be overcompressed or the needle wouldn't stay in the grooves (simply put).  Vinyl would probably have more dynamics because a decision in mastering was made.  

Then came downloads and Mastered for iTunes.  Not every mastering engineer follows these rules but they were created (in my opinion) to reduce the amount of distortion that might occur on computer listening devices from peaks in the audio.

With streaming and smart speakers proliferating, companies like Spotify, Apple, Tidal and Qobuz (and others) each have their own "player" application to stream through.  Those software players often have algorithms that have been determined by the company.  The company decides how to most please their customers.  Spotify, for instance, likes to keep everything at the 'same' volume (or at least they claim to want that) which translates to some kind of compression.  Not unusual because anyone who has listened to the radio has experienced severe compress with the FCC regulations.  So what happens to the sound of a lower mastered recording with a lot of dynamics...  it could sound VERY over compressed.

Recent reports say that the same song played through Tidal and Qobuz sound very different.  We don't doubt that.  The philosphies of the companies dictates what that sound will be.  Let us know what your experience has been.

To be continued.....