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gear/software

Free VST Plugins for Quick Mastering

First let me make it clear that I am not a mastering engineer. I have devoted the last decade to the pursuit of quality arrangements, recordings and mixes. I’m sure a young, budding mastering engineer out there has dedicated the last 10 years to the pursuit of loud, commercial-sounding 2-track masters that sound great on any reproduction device. With that said, every mix engineer eventually finds himself in a situation where he needs to put on the mastering hat. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Clients will be disappointed when your mix sounds soft and weak in comparison to their favorite artist’s CD
  • Portable devices (like phones and iPods) often don’t provide enough gain to let you listen to your mix at a desirable level
  • Your audio will be distributed online, where it will compete with professionally mastered audio (eg: YouTube)
There are some common plugins, like Waves L2 and Izotope Ozone. I’ve been dwelling in the analog world for a couple years now, so I’m sure there are several more which have become ubiquitous. But a Google search for “Free VST Plugins” led me to http://www.vstplanet.com, and within there, I found a couple that I really like: Endorphin and FerrisTDS.
Endorphin may not look pretty on the surface, but underneath the hood lies a powerful multi-band compressor, harmonic exciter, M-S decoder and brickwall limiter. The accompanying documentation is thorough, and leaves plenty of room for experimentation.
It took a little while to get used to the interface and understand its capabilities, but after a short time I was getting decent results. My only issue with it is it seems to generate DC at random times, and the beginning of any rendered waveform includes a symmetrical DC bias on each channel, with one channel inverted.
You can download Endorphin here.

FerricTDS is essentially an analog tape emulator, and can provide gentle (or not-so-gentle) compression, harmonic excitement and brickwall limiting. It looks and feels great. There are comparatively few controls, so getting up and running is easy.
My only issue with this one is that the limiter seems to need a few seconds of processing to actually kick in. So I’d render audio, and find the first 3 seconds clipping, while the rest was limited effectively. To compensate, just add a few seconds of silence in front of your track.
You can download FerricTDS (and a bunch of other plugins) here.
I’ll post some A/B comparisons eventually. But suffice to say that, used properly, both are great tools for the toolbox. They’re relatively easy to employ when you’d like a sample master with more character than your average hard limiter. Did I mention they’re free?
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