Greystone Zurich was conceived on a long walk. After a couple decades of songwriting, live performance, building studios, and recording I ‘checked out’. I didn’t even bring music on this journey and spent six months listening to birds, wind, and my own footsteps.
Some of the big questions out there were:
Can you effectively master music in different environments?
Was it possible to address every possible element in mastering with plugins, proper ADC, neutral monitoring, and a reliable DAW?
What compromises and adjustments would you need to compensate for these perceived limitations?
I dug deep for another year; reading and listening and testing to see if there was any context in which this wasn’t merely possible but preferable.
To be honest, the world of audio is absolutely inundated with snake oil sales pitches, high-end non-scientific quasi-religious marketing, and above all something called ‘confirmation bias’. That is, after all the A/B shootouts and monetized Youtube ‘listen to me gesticulate over gear’ accounts, and outright romanticism inherent in the process, there is very little that we can call ‘objective’ when it comes down to how the listener perceives sound. The question is still: “How does it make you feel?”
Blind test after blind test demonstrates that even the most prolific ears are often incapable of distinguishing between conditions and environments / hardware and plugins. The playback environment and format reigns supreme. The most obvious example was when a certain studio ran an online test asking various groups to distinguish between lower and higher bitrates. One of those groups were professional audio engineers. The other two were not. The results were startling: No one could tell the difference between bitrates, not even the professionals who actually fared a bit worse than the other two control groups (!?)
What does this mean? At the end of the day knowing what constitutes an exceptional master certainly has something to do with gear. We all prefer transparency and accuracy and depth. We all want a firm handle on the total scale and technical aspects of a master. We all compulsively search for ways to make it better but what does “better” mean? You could say it’s just a feeling, but there must be a certain level of objective analysis to know exactly where a track sits next to some of the best masters out there.
After this research I came to to a few solid conclusions:
1.) Throughout the modern age countless of classic albums and current hits have been produced in “compromised environments”. The end result of the mix/master has much less to do with gear than it does with the creative and technical capacity of the person behind the console. This isn’t merely speculation. This is plainly evident from the consistent quality output from specific people.
2.) The sole responsibility of that person is to communicate the desires of the artist, label, company in a superior way that transfers across any and all potential playback formats.
3.) Quality plugins are now virtually indistinguishable from any esoteric heritage analog routing matrix and can be utilized as much as the user understands their capacities and limitations. The greatest factors in terms of fidelity and “quality” in the current audio milieu are largely preference-based due the enormous capacity of the technology. (And any amount of gear in the wrong hands is useless.)
4.) That being said: Excellent ADC and transparent monitoring is still needed to analyze and understand audio in its full context.
After all the research and hand-wringing it became evident: The most powerful tool in your audio arsenal isn’t simply gear. In fact, it’s mostly the ears. The best way to maximize your effectiveness is by identifying all those impeding conditions and biases with the most reliable means of objective testing.
Yes, if it were up to engineers there’d be no limiting, no loudness wars, no 128 kbps Mp3s and listening to music wouldn’t be a passive experience that you endure on the way to “somewhere else” and Greystone Zurich knows your sound has to stand out in whichever path you’re pursuing whether its streaming, film, or restoration.
I am a lifelong musician and passionate explorer of sound who knows the Big Picture when it comes to your audio needs and I am happy to to work with you to achieve superior results.
“What would like to hear?”