How To Check Your Final Masters (Like A Mastering Engineer)
It doesn't matter how great your song sounds in your studio once it's released to the public. If it doesn't sound just as great on your listeners' playback devices, you'll have them scrambling for the "skip" button.
Beyond that, you need your music to deliver the same sound quality as every other song on your listeners' playlist. And you can't do that if your track is badly EQ'd and over-compressed, or if it contains clipping and phase problems.
In this post, we'll dive into our EXPOSE 2 application, and we'll explore how it can ensure the best-sounding master possible — regardless of playback medium. EXPOSE 2 will guarantee a pleasurable listening experience for your audience, and it will enable you to release your music with assurance.
EXPOSE 2 is a standalone application that identifies technical issues with your track. It's jam-packed with useful presets, and its drag-and-drop functionality makes it a breeze to use.
Beyond that, you'll be able to tailor your results based on your distribution method. If you want your track to thump nicely on an ultra-loud club playback system, EXPOSE 2 will oblige; if you're aiming for an optimized master for streaming sites or physical media, EXPOSE 2 can handle that as well.
You'll also be able to compare your song to a reference track of your choice, or you can deploy one of our genre-specific presets, which were custom-tailored using sonic profiles from commercially released music.
Open the App and Select a Preset
The first thing you'll need to do is fire up the EXPOSE 2 application. EXPOSE 2 is a standalone app — no DAW or host required.
Track measurements will appear almost immediately, supplying you with information about your track's loudness, peak levels, stereo and phase, and dynamic range.
Next, you'll select a preset.
EXPOSE 2's presets are grouped into Mixing, Mastering, Broadcast, and User-defined categories, and are aimed at a variety of applications. You can aim for a Balanced, Loud, Dynamic, or Punchy mix; while masters are tailored to various delivery mediums, such as Apple Music, Spotify, SoundCloud, YouTube, CD, and Vinyl
You also get a sizable cache of presets that conform to a wide range of broadcast loudness standards, including AES, ATSC, Disney, HBO, and Netflix.
Each of EXPOSE 2's presets has a range of accepted readings. If your audio falls outside of this range, the section icon will turn red.
EXPOSE 2's crown jewel, however, is its analysis feedback. This section gives you specific guidance on how to adjust your audio to conform to your technical goals.
Whether you need to adjust your limiter input or output, resolve phase issues, or tweak your track's dynamics for the greatest impact, EXPOSE 2's analysis feedback will prove incredibly useful — it's like having a professional mastering engineer tap you on the shoulder and give you helpful advice!
What Do the Analysis Readouts Mean?
EXPOSE 2's Loudness section measures both the Integrated and Short-term loudness of your track.
The Integrated setting is an accumulating calculation of the overall loudness of your entire track. The closer to zero your track is, the louder it is.This reading is most relevant to streaming services, as many (including Spotify and Youtube will play your audio back at -14LUFS. Check out our guide to mastering for streaming platforms for more information on this).
The Short-term setting measures audio loudness over a moving 3-second window. This setting shows you the loudest reading within your track, and it can identify any over-compressed parts of your song.
Try to avoid going over -6LUFS short-term, as this can affect the overall punch and presence of your track.
If you try to inflate the loudness of your track with compression and limiting (at the expense of dynamic range), your track will actually sound worse than the quieter tracks when streaming services rob the extra-hot tracks of their volume advantage.
EXPOSE 2's Peak section measures both true peak, measured in dBTP (decibels true peak) and sample peak, measured in dB.
True peak displays the maximum peak of an audio’s waveform as it will be heard in the analog realm. This is important because signals close to 0dBFS can cause unpleasant digital clipping.
While high-end D/A converters have the headroom to compensate for this, most speakers won't be able to compensate for inter-sample peaks and will distort.
In other words, your song may sound fine in the studio, but will sound clipped on consumer playback devices. And clipping results in ear fatigue, which ultimately makes your music unpleasant to listen to for extended periods of time.
EXPOSE 2's analysis feedback will help you adjust your limiter's output to optimize your audio's peaks, thereby safeguarding against unpleasant clipping.
EXPOSE 2's Stereo Field section provides you with two heat maps: Left/Right Stereo Balance and Phase Correlation.
Left/Right Stereo Balance displays where your track is positioned between the left and right channel. This shows you if you have a lopsided mix — one that leans excessively to one side or the other.
Phase Correlation displays the degree of similarity between the left and right channels.
Readings near +1 indicate that your track isn't suffering from phase issues. If the map shows activity that passes the central point towards -1, your mix has phase issues.
Phase problems yield you a weak, thin-sounding result. To resolve these issues, you may need to remove a microphone track from a multi-mic'd source, eliminate near-identical sources, alter synth patches, nudge a track a few milliseconds, or deploy a phase-alignment plug-in.
EXPOSE 2's Dynamics section supplies insight into the short-term dynamics of your tracks, displayed as DR (Dynamic Range). It also provides your track's Loudness Range, measured in LU (Loudness Units).
The DR reading reveals the short-term punchiness of your song. The lower the number, the less dynamic range your track has.
The Loudness Range reading gives you a statistical measure of your entire track's loudness variation. This long-term reading exposes the difference in volume between the verse, chorus, and other sections of your song.
Like the DR reading, the lower the number, the less loudness range your track has.
If you're trying to create a song with lots of tension, you'll want a Loudness Range above 5LU. If you're aiming for a consistent energy throughout, a lower number is fine.
Understanding the Loudness Range reading will help you achieve your musical goals.
If you want your song's chorus to provide an emotional lift, you'll want a higher Loudness Range, above 6LU. If you're going to a relentless, pummeling-type vibe, you'll want a lower value.
Fix Your Tonal Balance with Compare EQ
Few things wreck a master worse than badly applied EQ. Poor EQ choices are the number one reason why your music doesn't translate well to other playback systems.
That's where EXPOSE 2's Compare EQ function comes in. Compare EQ compares your track to a genre-specific preset, which is based on sonic profiles from commercial tracks.
If your music is muddy, dull, thin, or harsh, Compare EQ will give you the cold, hard truth. Few things are more useful in audio production than a second set of well-trained ears and EXPOSE 2 gives you just that.
For even better results, you can compare your song to your reference track of choice. If there's a professionally produced song that you'd like to emulate, EXPOSE 2 will help you get solidly into that ballpark.
To use Compare EQ, start by selecting a preset or importing your reference track. The presets are all-encompassing, ranging from straight-up classic rock, alternative rock, and metal to niche genres like reggaeton, grime, K-pop, moombahton, and a whole lot more.
Again, for best results import a commercially released track, within the same genre, instrumentation and vibe as your song, that you'd like to emulate.
Once you've selected a preset or loaded a reference track, EXPOSE 2's cutting-edge algorithm automatically analyzes the tonal balance of the loudest sections of the track to get the truest representation of its frequency spectrum.
EXPOSE 2 will then show you how to match your track's EQ curve with the preset or reference track.
Positive readings mean that your track has more perceived volume in specified frequencies; negative readings show that your track has less perceived volume in those frequencies.
If your track is within ±3dB across the whole frequency spectrum, then your tonal balance is very comparable. Anything outside of that range will require EQ tweaking to obtain a similar sound to the preset or reference track.
Best of all, EXPOSE 2 enables you to compare the EQ balance or stereo, mid, or side channels. This will help you ensure a wide mix with a rock-solid center — the hallmarks of a pro-level mix or master.
Level the Playing Field with Loudness Match
Friends, the loudness war is over. Thanks to the normalization algorithms employed by streaming services, there is no longer any reason to pump up the volume with a brickwall limiter in a vain attempt to make your song louder than everybody else's.
No matter how loud you make your master, the streaming service will just turn it down via normalization.
EXPOSE 2's Loudness Match compensates for this by normalizing the playback of all tracks via a LUFS algorithm. LUFS (Loudness Units Full Scale) is a set of values developed by the International Telecommunications Union to create standardized loudness measurements.
It's vital that you match playback levels whenever you're comparing two different tracks. This is because the human ear fools you into thinking louder tracks sound better; louder tracks are perceived as having fuller low frequencies and clearer high frequencies.
Loudness matching removes this bias; it literally levels the playing field. This will empower you to make better informed mixing and mastering decisions.
EXPOSE 2's Loudness Match includes two settings: Integrated and Short-term. Loudness Match's default playback target is -14LUFS, which is what most pro engineers — and what most streaming services — adhere to.
That said, if you hover your mouse over the Loudness Match button, you can adjust the playback loudness to a different level.
Integrated will adjust the overall gain of an entire track to the specified level. This setting works well if you’re working with different versions of the same song, or if you want to hear how your music will sound after a streaming service normalizes it.
Short-term constantly adjusts the gain of the playback to the specified level. This setting is ideal for comparing two different songs, or different sections of different songs.
If you're having issues achieving pro-level mixes and masters, or if your music sounds worse on streaming platforms than in your studio, you owe it to yourself to take EXPOSE 2 for a test drive. It's guaranteed to give you better results, and in less time.
With EXPOSE 2 in your arsenal, you'll be able to release your music — in any format — with the utmost confidence.