By Rob Stewart - - November 3, 2012

NOTE: For Rob's current music mastering gear information, please refer to the Gear page. 

In my view, the music mastering process is all about technique, and understanding what makes music enjoyable to listen to. I use fairly common, but musical, tools to do my work. That's not to say that high end electronics or processors aren't a good investment for a mastering engineer. High end gear allows a mastering engineer to work more efficiently, but in my view the music mastering process is more about the "process" than the tools themselves.

Here is my list of "favorite mastering tools" for 2012. Please note that this is not my "mastering chain". I don't have a standard mastering chain because I believe every project is unique, and calls for different processes. I only believe in using a processor when it's needed.

Also note that many or most of the items on this list are not current 2012 products. Some are several years old. This list is intended to show what I'm using this year. I plan to produce updated "favorites" lists every year as I invest more in my toolkit. Enjoy!

Rob's Favorite Music Mastering Tools for 2012


Powered nearfield studio monitors
It is generally considered a bad practice to use nearfield monitors for mastering work, because they tend to compress the sound (since they are designed to be used at close range).

These are not my only speakers, but the primary reason I choose to use these monitors is for their tweeters. They have exceptionally fast, detailed tweeters for their price. Their tweeters allow me to really hear what's going on in the top end of a mix. They reveal harshness and distortion very quickly which is so important in mastering. Best of all, an outstanding recording simply shines on these. I have complete trust in what I'm hearing in the upper registers on these monitors.

ADAM has recently come out with a new model, the A7X which has a new tweeter design, an additional bass port, and more powerful amplification.

More information at
Wave Arts Tube Saturator

Tube saturation and EQ
From a mastering perspective, I usually use this tool for its EQ. It features an absolutely beautiful sounding Baxandall EQ in its front end which can be just the ticket for some projects.

The tube emulation is an effective mix tool, in my opinion. I don't use it for mastering, but in a mix situation, I find it is great on vocals if used sparingly, and it's excellent on guitars (among other things of course!).

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Voxengo CurveEQ

Linear and minimum phase spline equalizer
I like this EQ because it really has no character of its own. It's very transparent. It does its job without getting in the way. You can choose between linear and minimum phase mode which is handy, too.

The visual display is excellent. You have a fully adjustable spectrum analyzer display which lets you "see" what you're doing, while you listen. The EQ also operates in various modes (eg stereo, M-S, multi-channel etc.).

Being a spline EQ, it allows you a lot of freedom. You can even "freehand" draw the curve you need.

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Voxengo Elephant

Transparent Mastering Limiter
This is a highly transparent mastering limiter. It has several modes, all of which are configurable/tweakable to your tastes. It has great built in metering (various modes, too). I use it sparingly.

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Voxengo Span

Spectrum Analyzer
This is an indispensible tool, and it's free!

This is a fully adjustable spectrum analyzer. It also has a phase display and output meter. You can configure the spectrum display in a variety of ways and even save presets for various modes/slopes etc.

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TT Dynamic Range Meter This is an excellent peak and RMS meter in one, but the number one feature I love about it is that it also shows the dynamic range in realtime. It's simply a great tool to use during mixing and mastering. It also comes with an offline tool that analyzes an audio file and provides you with an "average" dynamic range for the whole file.

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Sonitus Compressor This is an oldie but a goodie. It has been included in Cakewalk Sonar's product for many years now but you can buy it as part of the "Cakewalk Sonitus: FX Suite" through the Cakewalk store. I like it because it does what it says on the box. I get very predictable results with it, so I keep returning to it again and again!

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Sonitus Multiband Compressor Another oldie but a goodie. I don't usually like using multiband compression in mastering, but I do use this tool from time to time for de-essing (bypassing all but one band, and zeroing in on the problem frequencies). As a mix tool, it really shines when using it on bass guitar. You can use it to really bring out the articulation in a dull bass track.

This tool not only works well, but it's a great way to study and understand how multiband compression works. You have a lot of control over 5 adjustable bands. The display read out and bypass/solo features allow you to hear exactly what this tool is doing to your sound. It's well worth a look.

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