HOLLYWOOD: Late in 2011, Universal Mastering Studios’ production/mastering engineer Warren Sokol was approached with a daunting project. The assignment required specific mastering for AAC and MP3 files of multiple albums for a major computer company. Had they signed on for a ‘traditional’ job they estimated it would take 9 to 10 hours for each album. Sokol, however, had been looking for an opportunity to work with the recently introduced Sonnox Fraunhofer Pro-Codec. He felt this was a textbook example of the right tool for the right job.
“In the past, we would have had to listen, process, encode for AAC or MP3 and then, if we discovered a problem, start back at square one,” Sokol says. “Working almost from memory, we’d make changes and then listen to everything all over again. It can be an extremely tedious process.”
Photo: Universal Mastering production/mastering engineer Warren Sokol
Instead, the Pro-Codec enabled Sokol to complete the sessions in an economical time frame. “We turned this entire ‘Adaptive Mastering’ project around in under 4 hours, for each of the individual CDs,” he says. “The Pro-Codec enables us to simultaneously audition up to five codecs in real time within a DAW environment, and to produce an optimized mix and batch encode to multiple formats. It supports all major codecs, including MP3, MP3 Surround, AAC-LC, HE-AAC and lossless codecs like MP3 HD and HD-AAC.”
The initial assignment included a variety of source mixes which required mastering to match current CD releases. Alternately, UMS would receive a 24-bit/96 kHz master file which had already been mastered for CD but needed to be adapted. Starting with this source material Sokol and his team would run the audio through the initial processing and then through a real time sample converter down to 44.1 kHz. Using WaveLab they then ran it through the Pro-Codec, which they engaged in real time for both monitoring and metering. Anticipating potential high frequency veiling or loss of stereo width, they made changes accordingly.
“I just completed another project that was heavily limited,” Sokol says. “Putting that through the sample conversion to 44.1 and then through the Pro-Codec, I was clipping by 2dB! It’s invaluable to see how the limiting affects the artifacting that caused the clipping. The Pro-Codec clip meters enable us to see that in real time and to turn it down. That makes us confident that when it does get encoded, won’t have those problems.”
Universal Mastering operates three mastering studios and four production rooms. They currently have three Sonnox Fraunhofer Pro-Codecs, and are considering adding more. “We’re now able to accept a number of Adaptive Mastering projects that we wouldn’t consider before,” Sokol concludes. “Our independent and label artist clients are all going to be selling their music on the Internet in one form or another. We can help them preview a number of different codings in a highly efficient manner, and enable them to quickly decide which sounds best. I’ve been using Sonnox Oxford Plug-ins for years, but the Pro-Codec has literally created a new revenue stream for us.”