PLUGIN WEEK 2023: Once considered a stage of music production that only the sage ears of a paid-up mastering engineer could be trusted to handle - and, truth be told, still considered that by some - mastering is now something that many bedroom producers choose to do themselves at home.
As with mixing, there are numerous distinct considerations to take during the mastering stage – namely how much compression and master equalisation your track needs – to prepare it for public consumption. If you’re a novice to this world and want a risk-free way of finding out what it's all about, then why not have a free dabble with some of these cost-free tools?
Even if you’re a seasoned track-polisher, you might just find a favourite new sound-shaper by sampling this open-to-all box of delights.
1. Voxengo Span Free
Any mastering engineer will tell you that it’s crucial to have a handle on your audio spectrum, and Voxengo Span Free provides a deep, visually satisfying route to detecting clipping, managing peaks and juggling stereo, mid-side and surround. Acclaimed by many in the industry, Voxengo provides some of the fastest insights in your quest to find harmonic equilibrium.
2. Tokyo Dawn Records Kotelnikov
Built on 64-bit multi-rate processing, this wideband dynamics processor combines impressive dynamic range control with a more musical sensibility. With a gamut of rotaries able to control your peaks, knees, gain and more, this compressor can massively elevate your sounds with minimal effort. We’re surprised it’s stayed free for so long.
3. Xfer Records OTT
This charming freebie intends to bottle the popular multiband upwards/downward compressor technique favoured by numerous dubstep and electro producers. Featuring a range of controls, including compressor depth, input/output gain and timing controls, this is another speedy way to brighten up and add that extra punch to your track.
4. Flux Stereo Tool v3
This is one of those all-purpose tools that could serve as a reliable assist at numerous points in the mastering process. It’s able to finely control your input gain and channel selection, with defined visual feedback that illustrates your complete stereo image impeccably. Plus one of those dazzling UIs that is just nice to look at!
5. Youlean Loudness Meter 2
While a pro version of this exceptionally useful loudness meter exists, the free version is well worth a download to keep tabs on the aggressiveness (or lack, thereof) of your track. It’s got all you really need to get a top-down view of your master buss, and zone in on those problematic sections via its loudness distribution graph.
6. Tokyo Dawn Records VladG Limiter No6
This legacy freeware legend is now unsupported by its original developer but is still downloadable from the link below. The five modules contained within VladG Limiter No6 include a tasty RMS compressor, a peak limiter, a high-frequency limiter, clipper and true-peak limiter. The UI is simple but charmingly retro and it may just be the thing to make your track bang.