What Is Mastering? | The Occasional Podcast

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Have you ever wondered what the heck Mastering is? I mean, we have tons of “Remasters” available for purchase, but what does that really mean? PTA contributor Dave McNair leads us though the maze of music production and into the final steps of music mastering in this week’s show of The Occasional Podcast.

In this episode of The Occasional Podcast we seek to answer all these burning questions and more thanks to Dave’s main gig as a mastering engineer and Grover Neville who also produces and masters. The interview touches on everything from client services to EQ to the evolution of the role over time. Like most of music production, things have really changed with the advent of digital and other advances in recording technologies. The duo also discusses some of the nuances in remastered albums, and sometimes why every remaster isn’t always better the previous version.

Our show this week also marks the end of season 3 of TOP and beginning of season 4. Season three was a memorable one, seeing interviews with such audio legends as Dan D’Agostino, Jeff Joseph, Sonus Faber and most recently Nelson Pass. We have some even bigger surprises in store for our listeners coming up, along with some pretty insightful explorations and discovery into digital, analog and the production side of music with how it relates to high fidelity. If you haven’t heard our guide to getting into reel-to-reel playback from last season, it’s definitely worth a listen.

Episode 1 of Season 4 also sees the return of co-host Bryan Beasley, who talks about his experience going viral with some of his art during the stay-at-home break. You can stream it all direct from the embed below or subscribe to The Occasional Podcast on your favorite podcast platform including iTunes, AndroidGoogle, Deezer, Spotify, iHeartRadio and more.

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About Brian Hunter 105 Articles
Brian Hunter is the host of The Occasional Podcast by Part-Time Audiophile and the founder of Audio-Head.com.


  1. This was a mighty fine episode. I’ve linked it to a couple of messages I posted on headfi dot org. Excellent content and I learned SOMETHING. NIce.

  2. Love this episode about mastering! I’ve been curious about this since seeing so-called “remastered” versions of just about every album showing up on Spotify. I suspect what they really mean by “remastering” is “converted to a format suitable for streaming” a/k/a compressed down to MP3. Your guests were great and very knowledgeable, so I hope they will be back.

    I still have a few more questions so I hope there will be additional exploration of this topic – especially since it has recently become an issue as to what a “master” is and who owns it due to the fires at Universal destroying thousands of masters by recording legends that will be lost forever. Specifically, is there a certain analog tape that is considered “the” master or are copies kept by people involved in the process that can be substituted when and if the official is lost? Also, are the original analog recording tapes the masters were made from kept and can a substitute master be made from those or is that considered something different, like a new original mix? Finally, for newer electronic music that was recorded digitally, is there such a thing as a master file or does any copy do?

    • To address your points:
      1) a remaster, usually but not always, may have a different choice of eq or other treatments. It almost certainly has a different overall signal path and whatever sound comes with that, especially as concerns different lathes and cutting techniques when doing a remaster for vinyl.
      2) the ‘master’ is usual defined as the tape or digital file that contains the final stereo (or mono) mix. Even before the Universal fire, it’s sometimes difficult or impossible to actually find the first generation master, so whatever copy that can be found is sometimes used. Frequently that copy is a tape that was made while the master was used to cut the lacquer parts used to make records. That is usually known as the ‘eq’d copy’ and was usually a 15 inch per second, 1/4″ tape with Dolby A encoding. This was commonly used to make subsequent lacquers to avoid the cost of a complete from scratch mastering session. So it’s a ‘mastered’ copy, not a straight transfer of the master tape.
      3) A new re-release version marketed as remixed has to be done from the multitack master. To my knowledge this has been only done with analog tape multitracks as opposed to a new mix using the digital multitrack files. Not be confused with the popular ‘Remix’ of a song which is a total new artistic statement.
      4) For music that was mixed to a digital format, once it’s digital, a copy is the same as the master…

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