Duo Mastering Interview Teil 1: Hybrides Mastering & die Zukunft von analogem Audio Gear

Duo Mastering Interview Part 1: Hybrid Mastering & the Future of Analog Audio Gear

It's been almost three years since we last interviewed Duo Mastering (Cro, Shindy, Mike Singer, Morgen, DXVE, and many more). A lot has happened in the meantime, so in this two-part interview we'll talk about analog outboard gear, AI in music production, and songwriting with a production budget, among other things.
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It's been almost three years since we last interviewed Duo Mastering (Cro, Shindy, Mike Singer, Morgen, DXVE, and many more) in Hamburg for MPW . A lot has happened in the meantime, so in this two-part interview with the founders we talk about, among other things, analog outboard gear, AI in music production and songwriting with a production budget.

Today we meet Farzad Rahnavard in Hamburg, Rahlstedt. It is not only the magical place where most of the mastering for Cro's album Trip and the Spacejam EP was done, but also the place where Farzad lives with his loving family. The Duo Mastering Studio is located on the top floor, covering around 20 m2. A mastering studio that, despite the unusual room structure reminiscent of a pyramid, impresses with optimized room acoustics and high-quality analog outboard gear.

How did Farzad manage to transform this room into a state-of-the-art mastering studio? You'll find out about this and many other exciting stories in today's interview.

Q: Hey Farzi, great that it worked today! Tell our readers what happened and what new equipment is now in the studio.

Hey Beshi, thanks for coming today! As you know, we mastered a bunch of songs last year, spoke with Audiowerk and Elysia at beatcon 2023 , and were also able to establish numerous new partnerships.

Three out of four Duo Mastering studios are now equipped with new gear from our partners Elysia , SPL and WES Audio . In my studio I now have an Elysia Alpha Compressor , an Elysia Museq and two Elysia Skulpter Preamps . The devices are really excellent and in my opinion mastermind Ruben Tilgner from Elysia is a genius of our time because the devices he develops simply sound incredible.

In addition, I now have the WES Audio 500 series of modules in my studio, which I can control completely digitally using the Titan .

I have been using the SPL PQ Mastering Equalizer and the SPL Iron Variable Mu Compressor for a while now. Oh yes, my studio is adorned with now also a Prism Sound Dream ADA-128. The converter now runs via Dante and even has the protective film still stuck to it. *laughs*

Q: Why did you choose these devices?

As an engineer, you're always looking for the next device that will get the last few percent out of a mix or master, so every now and then we take a look at what's on the market and what could help us get to our mastering goals faster. Our latest finds are from Elysia , SPL and WES Audio.

We have used some of these devices for years and believe that a healthy mix of digital and analogue tools can produce the best results. You can tell that these manufacturers strive for perfection in their gear, design and sound and since our customers and labels have high standards, we only consider the best.

The fact that I can control the WES Audio 500 series modules digitally and thus have a quick recall function is brilliant. In combination with my other devices and high-quality digital audio tools, I have simply found a chain for my studio that perfectly combines efficiency and sound.

Q: Please tell us more about it.

I have fallen in love with the Elysia Alpha Compressor in particular. It is the holy grail of compressors, especially when it comes to discrete Class-A hardware compressors based on VCAs. In my opinion, there is currently nothing better.

I've heard all sorts of things, but if you want to buy a device and never sell it again, it's the Alpha Compressor. What it can do is not normal.

The Elysia Museq is the perfect counterpart to the Alpha Compressor and the cherry on top. It colors the material in a pleasant musical way, making the music immediately livelier and deeper.

We have been using the SPL gear for a long time and it was used for the final mastering of Trip. The entire mastering suite is in my studio and the PQ is an absolute miracle. Especially when you want to remove interference frequencies. I have never heard anything better in the analogue area.

The new 500 format from WES Audio is Gear, which takes my efficiency to a new level. With the help of Titan, I have connected all the modules together and can control them digitally. A parametric EQ, a passive EQ, a VCA compressor and a Vari-Mu compressor, i.e. Hyperion , Prometheus , Dione , Reha. Everything in a classy, ​​white chassis with a dedicated power supply so that the modules get the power they need.

They are purely analogue, but they can be controlled digitally. Everything is moving so fast these days and if a customer needs a new revision, it is just super useful to be able to load your settings and save presets at the touch of a button.

Q: How does Duo Mastering work in the mastering process?

We like to work in a hybrid way and I think most people do too now. That means we use both analogue outboard gear and digital tools. A healthy mix simply produces the best results.

When we receive the mix, we work as a team to see what we can control or polish and then start from there. We usually do the preparatory work in the box and then use a good D/A converter to bring the whole thing over to the analogue world. We don't distort the sound, but always focus on the music and the artist.

Q: What would you say makes good mastering for an artist?

When we get a request from a client, it's usually about stereo width and spatial depth. The frequency distribution depends heavily on the genre and the song itself. The volume and thus the translation just has to be right, so it has to be suitable for all streaming platforms and also sound great in the car and on the cell phone, regardless of whether you listen quietly or loudly. If the artist can party to his own song, then you've done everything right.

Q: Do you have any favorite digital tools?

A company that pays extremely precise attention to sound when coding and that's why I particularly like it is Pulsar Modular . I am a beta tester for the audio tools and I'm really impressed. They have a huge pool of engineers, songwriters and producers who are constantly trying out the tools and giving feedback. This means that new ideas are constantly being generated, which in turn are incorporated into the updates.

Q: What analog outboard gear is currently on your top three?

*laughs* Oh man... So on number one, the Alpha , then SPL PQ and then Reha from WES Audio . If I were to go to a desert island and could only take one device with me, I would probably take the Elysia Alpha Compressor . It is extremely versatile. It has a level filter, a soft clipper, is transformer-free, has feed-forward/feedback technology, auto-release and auto-attack. That is really crazy... Mid-side. Link. Unlink. It is very, very versatile. So, on number one I would say: Elysia Alpha Compressor.

Q: Was there a specific tool that made the difference in Cro's final productions?

Hm, I think so. Back then, at Trip, I didn't have some devices, so I think that the SPL devices that made the final difference.

They have 120 volt technology and therefore have an incredible amount of headroom. You can go into these devices with a lot of gain without them distorting. So you can be extremely loud in the digital world and still go from there into the analog world, which you can't do with many other devices. These devices also create a stereo base width and a phantom center. That's very difficult to describe, but in my opinion they make a small but significant difference.

Q: You recently held an event with Audiosteps and SPL where you demonstrated and explained use cases with the devices. How does an event like this work?

These events are pretty awesome because you can not only get information but also test and hear the devices live. The participants were really excited when we played the end result with and without analog gear because what was special about it was that we emulated the gear we used, i.e. SPL PQ and SPL Iron, using the corresponding software from Plugin Alliance.

We then deactivated the plugins in real time and ran them through the hardware with the same settings. The difference was really immense and not only audible, but also noticeable.

Q: Who makes up Duo Mastering and what does Duo Mastering do?

Until 2020 , Duo Mastering consisted of the songwriter, artist and engineer Tonee Jukeboxx and myself. Just as Beshko has become part of the team, Tayib Thomas has also recently joined us and runs Audio Engineering Coaching , or AEC for short. We are extremely happy because he is a composer, mixing and mastering engineer and really complements the team very well.

From songwriting, composing, producing, recording, to mixing & mastering - Duo Mastering can take care of your audio production from A to Z. Interested parties are welcome to submit an inquiry via our website to discuss their needs.

Q: What is Audio Engineering Coaching?

We thought about how we could help engineers and producers to successfully complete their projects and that's how Audio Engineering Coaching , or AEC for short, was born. It's live coaching where you can learn everything you need to know. Simply enquire on our homepage and describe your challenge, for example "What's missing from my mix?" or "How do I take my mastering to the next level?". We'll then show you in your studio and with your monitoring equipment via a livestream how we would approach it. Most of the time, I'd say 99% of the time, the students are very enthusiastic because they have the option of doing the whole thing from home and not having to drive anywhere. So if you'd also like to learn how Duo Mastering works, then AEC is exactly the right thing for you.

Q: What monitors do you have in the studio and which ones do you recommend?

The listening experience depends heavily on your listening habits and, in addition, it must fit the acoustic conditions.

When Markus Bertram from mbakustik measured the room with me, three possible monitoring options came into consideration and we ultimately decided on the Barefoot MM26.

I now also have a few Auratones 5C as a reference in the studio, which Audiowerk kindly made available to me.

Even Quincy Jones listened to Michael Jackson songs on Auratones. If the music and the feeling come across in mono, then you've won.

Q: How do you think audio mastering will change in the future and what challenges do audio engineers face?

AI may be a cool buzzword right now, but we have been using artificial intelligence for our benefit for a long time. In my opinion, it is foolish and intolerant to close ourselves off to this technology. Everyone should make the most of the tools available to them in their industry.

The smartest thing would be for audio engineers to position themselves in time and take advantage of opportunities and chances and to get to grips with the new technologies, as this could give them a noticeable advantage in a few years.

Q: What AI tools does Duo Mastering use for audio mixing & mastering?

One way we use AI is when we don't know exactly where to start. The audio plugin Ozone from iZotope can provide clues to potential improvements by automatically comparing the audio material with other material. This can be particularly useful if you're working in a genre you're not used to, such as classical or Goa. This allows us to accommodate requests that are a little out of character for us.

We also like to use tools like iZotope RX for audio restoration or the Gullfoss EQ . When you use artificial intelligence, you will always get suggestions and it is up to the human to decide how to deal with them.

Q: What use cases do you see for AI-assisted audio mastering

Many providers, such as LANDR or Waves Audio, now offer AI-assisted audio mastering. However, there are interesting findings from tests in which customers were allowed to choose between different mastering methods and in most cases opted for human-made mastering.

For demanding productions where the highest quality is expected, human mastering is essential and remains the status quo. However, AI-assisted mastering can be useful, for example for amateurs who do not have the necessary budget, for home recording or when things have to be done very quickly and quality is not a priority. I believe that AI mastering is justifiable to a certain extent, but the danger is that people get too used to the artificial sound.

Q: How do you think studio outboard will evolve?

I believe that recall functions in analog outboard gear are very promising for the future. I see many manufacturers, especially WES Audio , trying to create new analog devices that can be controlled digitally.

Cranborne Audio, a manufacturer that is not well known to many, has built a hardware equalizer called the Cranborne Audio Carnaby HE2 that is based purely on saturation and can be controlled digitally. Something similar already exists in-the-box from Wavesfactory and is called Spectre. The company Bettermaker has also recently released a new device that can be controlled digitally, although it runs completely analogue. This is simply the future of analogue gear.

Q: What are the next steps for Duo Mastering and what else can we look forward to?

Working with Cro is of course our highest priority, but we continue to work with national and international artists on new productions and will also be at some trade fairs and events in 2024 to give insights into our mixing & mastering process.

Tonee Jukeboxx was recently a guest speaker at a master class run by Beatunit eV in Hamburg and we will most likely be at the beatcon in Berlin this year. Before that, in October, we will be at the Studioszene or LEaTcon 24 in Hamburg . We have also planned something very special together with Gema , where we will not only give talks as engineers, but also mix songs by Gema members live on site and give tips!

Finally, I would like to mention that none of this would be possible without the active support of our partners Audiosteps , Audiowerk , MPW , SPL , Elysia , WES Audio , o2 Music Studios by DIY , Trinnov , SessionDesk , Pulsar Modular and many others. It is only thanks to a good foundation and a positive environment that we have been able to develop and grow continuously. We are looking forward to all upcoming events, meetings, and to old and new acquaintances!

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