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Mastering For Djs - Dj Mastering Solutions

Posted on July 17, 2018
81 out of 100 based on 603 user ratings

../ Gear We'd Like To See: DJ Mastering Solution

Special To FutureMusic

Digital DJing has significantly opened up the performing possibilities to what can now be achieved, but it has also introduced a number of issues, which has haunted many of the mixes that I've been listening to of late. Thanks to advances in technology that has created the Post-Beatmatching Era, Live Remixing is flourishing. Adding loops, sample hits, and even live instrumentation, is now the norm. With all the sonic possibilities offered by the current crop of controller/audio interface products, such as Native Instruments' versatile S4, a large variety of sources are available to artistically manipulate into a one-of-a-kind mix.

Native Instruments' Traktor Pro provides an Auto Gain & Limiter option

While the creative potential is there for aural nirvana, the downside is that a mix usually consists of a wide variety of digital audio formats, realtime A/D conversion (if utilizing the Mic Input) and D/A conversion via the controller's output. The result is often less than stellar audio quality with the "least common denominator" taking away from the overall standard. Several well-known and up-and-coming DJs combat this dilemma by only utilizing 24bit files, but a D/A conversion still needs to take place, and even if keeping things in the digital realm, a dithering algorithm is often introduced. In addition, 24bit files are quite large have been know to "choke" computers, usually at the least favorable moment.

DJ Mastering - Software VS. Hardware Solutions

Some digital DJ solutions, such as Native Instruments' excellent Traktor Pro, contain an Auto Gain feature (as well as a Limiter), which levels the audio of the various sources to promote consistency, but that often does not "tenderize" the audio sufficiency since it does not address the no-man's land of perceived loudness vs. actual loudness. So what's the answer? I've been experimenting with several tinctures, but haven't found a magic bullet, which is why I think it's time for the industry to develop a dedicated hardware and software mastering toolset to take on this dilemma.

There are a couple of major manufacturers who can immediately address this conundrum, such as the aforementioned Native Instruments, as well as TC Electronic, but any upstart with the proper approach can occupy a sweet spot like Mixed In Key, who developed a savvy reply to the question of key matching. Native Instruments can certainly build in an end-of-signal-chain Mastering Utility into Traktor, which could not only massage the overall sonic character, but also allow a DJ to turn the output to the room. In fact, incorporating an iPhone/iPad utility app, that works directly with the mixing software, for remotely tuning the room would provide a nice competitive advantage.

TC Electronic's Finalizer Express can be implemented into a DJ rig today

Building upon their expertise with the Finalizer platform, TC Electronic would be able to deliver a DJ-specific device without much fanfare. When I was testing a variety of solutions, I borrowed a Finalizer 96K from a retailer and was quite pleased with the results. The $2500 street price is prohibitive, but TC also makes the $999 Finalizer Express, which could suffice if you're interested in investigating something that can be implemented now. A DJ-oriented model should have a full complement of Digital and Analog I/O options, as well as USB connectivity for dedicated soundcard duties. Several mastering presets adapted for electronic music, with the ability to edit all perimeters and save your own profiles are no-brainers to kickoff the feature-set. A price point under a grand also needs to be achieved if TC wants to appeal to DJs beyond full-time pros.

Mastering plug-in manufacturers such as Waves, Universal Audio and iZotope, could also address this market with DJ-oriented affairs. Although, most mixing software does not support 3rd-Party plug-ins, there are ways around this and more sophisticated users can implement plugs if they were determined. I personally feel the hardware solution is the most elegant, flexible and robust. Unless a mastering tool is natively built into the software, I would be hesitant to gang a processor-taxing utility on top of my mixing software for fear of dropouts, artifacts, freezing, or worse.

A quality DJ Mastering toolbox would certainly find a nice niche in the market for DJs who are vigilant about the overall quality of their mix, small clubs who are looking for a way to optimize the sonic signature and control levels, and live electronic music performers who want an all-in-one soundcard/mastering solution.

Hardware Option: TC Electronic's Finalizer Express sells for $999 and is available now.