Despite being one of the most misunderstood parts of the audio production process, mastering is still a task that most in-the-box musicians and producers tackle on their own. But without a little direction, it’s easy to let things get out of hand. So wouldn’t it be interesting if you had the ability to channel a professional mastering engineer’s studio and settings to use on your own tracks? Lurssen Mastering Console from IK Multimedia has attempted to offer just that.
What is Lurssen Mastering Console and how is it different?
Most people are familiar with iZotope Ozone, which has become one of the standard mastering tools for the in-the-box workflow. But there hasn’t been a lot of competition in this space. And with Lurssen Mastering Console, while it does fit into the same general type of plugin, there isn’t really a direct correlation either.
Lurssen Mastering Console provides a modeled chain of gear from Lurssen Mastering, Inc, which is a pretty well decorated commercial mastering studio. You can either load your songs directly into the standalone version of Lurssen Mastering Studio, or you can load Lurssen Mastering Studio as a plugin in your DAW (AU, VST2, VST3 and AAX formats supported). Keep in mind that a 64-bit computer is required in either case. No 32-bit version is available.
The standalone version is what we’ll cover primarily, though the plugin version is virtually the same except for a couple of differences.
Once loaded, you load audio files into the application by drag and drop (not available in plugin version, where you just insert it as a plugin on your master bus). You can load a single file, or you can load multiple files and switch between them, which is helpful when mastering an entire album of recordings.
The way Lurssen Mastering Console works is that you load presets designed for a number of different genres. There aren’t nearly enough genres represented here (Americana, EDM, Hard Rock, Hip Hop and Pop Rock, with a few variations for each), which really seemed to be quite an oversight to me. But I found that in reality, the presets have such a small amount of difference from one to another. In fact, the difference between most presets is two or three knobs at most. One nice touch is that when you switch presets, the controls that have changed will glow for a second to let you know they are different.
Lurssen Mastering Console contains multiple processors that your audio runs through. You have a Tube Equalizer, Solid State Equalizer, 2 different Tube Limiters, a Solid State De-esser and a Solid State Compressor.
Each of these modules is said to be modeled after the gear used in the Lurssen Mastering studio itself. They don’t give specifics on what the gear is, and it really doesn’t matter.
Based on which preset you choose, you will get a slightly different module chain which is considered to be the “starting point” used by the Lurssen Mastering engineers. You adjust a few key parameters, add some automation, export, and then you’re done. But there is a rub. You don’t have full access to everything.
Lurssen Mastering Console- Look, but don’t touch (too much)!
Many audio plugins strive to give you access to as many buttons and knobs and sliders as possible. Flexibility is a highly desirable feature, after all. Lurssen Mastering Console makes no such appeal, and in fact, goes out of its way to hide almost all of the processing power and knobs from you. Below is an image displaying every available control in the program.
There is one more view you can’t see, the waveform view, but it doesn’t offer additional parameters you can adjust. We’ll discuss that view in a bit.
The bottom part of the interface remains the same regardless of everything else. The top part switches between an image of Lurssen Mastering, the waveform, or the signal chain view, which is shown in the above picture.
You can adjust input levels, both as a stereo pair or individually (you can also unlink right and left, adjust independently, then re-link them so you can move them relative to each other). You also get access to the gain knobs for 5 equalizer bands. These bands are the same regardless of preset or style you select. I’m a little surprised you aren’t given the ability to sweep the bands into other ranges. Though I realize these bands were carefully selected based on common frequencies needed for things like presence, muddiness, etc., not all audio is the same. While it isn’t the job of the mastering engineer to re-mix audio, it would have been nice to have adjustable bands at least.
The other primary knob you see on the right is called “Push”. This essentially boosts or cuts all EQ bands at once in equal amounts. The idea here is that once you have your ideal sound dialed in, you can use the Push knob to smash the audio against the limiter threshold that comes in the next stage of processing. This also gives you the ability to decrease or increase overall dynamic variances.
On the Input and Push knobs, you can also move the outside rings with the “chalk” and “tape” markings on them to give you a different point of reference as you adjust those parameters.
In the top half of the interface (with the chain view selected), you get three additional parameters and three gain reduction meters. You can control the threshold for the De-Esser, which at first might seem a little strange for a mastering tool. It was for me as well. But reading the manual, it all made sense. The Tube Limiter has a tendency to excite the upper-frequency ranges, which can lead to a slight bit of bite. The De-Esser, instead of taking on the traditional De-Esser role, serves the purpose of taming these excited frequencies. By adjusting the threshold, you have a little bit of control over this high-frequency content. You can allow a little more in, or tame it further.
Finally, you have the threshold control for the final compression stage. I honestly found this control almost unnecessary at times because the mastered signal being fed into the final compressor was often shorter on dynamic range. So the effect was minimal at most. But if you need a slight bit more glue for your audio, this may come in handy.
Below the threshold is a makeup gain control, which speaks for itself. This is your final tuning of the audio levels to makeup for any volume loss, or possibly, to reduce the final volume if the chain has made things a bit too hot.
And that is it. You don’t get any further control over the signal. You can’t control compressor or limiter settings, or the EQ settings from the first stage of the chain.
I get the idea behind these limitations, though. What IK Multimedia is trying to accomplish by removing control is ease-of-use. Because mastering is so often an overused and misunderstood process, these limitations help to reign in the user. Many people attempt to do finish their mixing process during mastering by making drastic changes. Lurssen Mastering Console makes it very difficult to overuse the process. Even the controls that are available to you have limited ranges with which you can work.
The result of these limitations is an increased simplicity in the plugin, for better or for worse. It seems to be a popular thing to do as of late, releasing feature-limited plugins designed to do much of the work behind the scenes (Toontrack EZ Mix, the Waves Signature Series, among others).
The final touches of mastering
If you are running Lurssen Mastering Console inside your DAW, you get the full ability to automate various parameters as you would expect. In the standalone version, you can actually create automation as well using the waveform view. You can either draw in your automation or record it using Touch or Write modes.
The limitation here is that you can only automate the Input and Push parameters. So in reality, you get more automation flexibility in a DAW. But most parameters won’t likely need adjusted throughout a track, at least not for me.
Once you have all your settings correct, you can export your songs directly from the standalone application in either Wave or AIFF formats. You can export a single song or all the songs in your project if you have more than one.
I will say this. Despite the complaints I may have about the lack of control, no other application I know makes the process of mastering your tracks easier. You can literally load your song and have a mastered version done and exported in a matter of minutes if you want. And I don’t want this fact to slip by.
In addition, though I personally own a couple of other competitor products, Lurssen is by far the most enjoyable experience among them because there really is no fuss. Getting the track finished was fairly stress-free because I didn’t have to worry about as much. And in the end, I believe this is what IK Multimedia was trying to accomplish.
But does it sound good?
Regardless of flexibility, platform and other features, the thing that really matters is obviously the sound. How does Lurssen Mastering Console actually benefit your audio?
Yes. A big yes.
When listening to Lurssen Mastering Console’s results, I could notice there was definitely some work put into it. In other words, the sound is great. Of course, mastering processors are really supposed to stay out of the way, and you’ll find that here. The output of Lurssen is rounded and free from un-asked for distortion (though you can push things quite hard if you wish). I really feel like you are given parameters that already sit in the “sweet spot” of most songs, and then given a limited ability to adjust within that sweet spot.
Not only does Lurssen Mastering Console sound good, it is actually quite difficult to make it sound bad. While learning the plugin and putting together my thoughts about the limitations, I slowly came to the realization that the application was doing exactly what I needed it to and nothing more.
Lurssen Mastering Console does a great job at holding your audio together and preventing it from becoming brittle. Each component contributes to the audio, and the signal chain is locked into a configuration that works. The manual makes reference of the signal chain being a unified chain with each piece reacting to the other pieces, and this really is true. There is a certain amount of glue that comes naturally from any preset you load, and the best parts of the audio get brought to the front without destroying your balance.
Lurssen Mastering Console offers a refined sound, and it gets there quickly. The results are often subtle, but that’s kind of how mastering is supposed to be anyways. If your mix is done well, your masters will sound amazing coming out of this application.
Lurssen Mastering Console Extras
Though Lurssen Mastering Console is fairly simple in operation, it does have a couple of nice touches that you won’t want to overlook. The biggest feature is the fact that there is a fully-functional iPad version of the software. This may seem unnecessary, but it allows you to take your projects and all settings with you. I love this option because you can then use Bluetooth or an audio cable to feed the audio into your car speakers and other systems in more “real world” scenarios. Unfortunately, there is no Android version available. I know many companies ignore the Android platform, but they shouldn’t. Even though the audio engine on Android is a little behind what can be found on the iPad, the availability of Android devices is far greater. I hope this trend will change.
If you are going to be uploading your song to iTunes, you will probably want to meet the standards for earning the “Mastered for iTunes” label. Without going into detail, you have to meet a certain set of standards that includes rules for clipping and sound quality.
Lurssen Mastering Console gives you an option to master for this format, which in large part will adjust the levels to ensure your audio is not slamming the odBFS. While most people probably aren’t even aware of these standards, it is nice to see IK Multimedia include this.
Lurssen Mastering Console- Final Thoughts
There isn’t a whole lot left to say that hasn’t been said above. However, as with any tool, it should be noted that Lurssen Mastering Console may not work for everyone. Due to the limitations, you may find you can’t dial in the perfect sound if you compose music in some more off-beat genres. While it does a fairly good job with finding the most popular editing points, it just simply can’t appeal to every type of music and every track.
I found that the application works best for acoustic music with less movement. When your music gets more complex and experimental, you may need to find another solution that gives you more flexibility. Lurssen Mastering Console really shines though when you place it on more traditional acoustic music types, which made it work quite well for me.
If you need to get your mastering done fast without sacrificing quality, I can’t recommend Lurssen Mastering Console more. It gets straight to the point so you can get to making more music. And that’s really what we all want to do anyways, isn’t it?