The reason is that the world of decibels and loudness is one of false flags. Some meters cannot be trusted. Are you measuring true analogue peaks or digital sample peaks? What's the difference? Should you care? Then there's all the ways that volume can be measured and quantified into abstract sounding acronyms like LKFS and LUFS (for the record, they're the same thing). If you're an artist, it's a minefield of jargon, confusion and advanced physics that you might as well avoid altogether.
If, however, you fancy yourself as a master of sound design, accurate metering is more important. Chasing the tail of loudness and efficiency is a war of attrition in which every decimal point counts. So if your meters are deceiving you, your headroom might be compromised. Your mixdown might clip when encoded into different file formats. Your ability to accurately A/B different mixes and processing chains is hampered. Even still, working without fancy metering never stopped anyone from making a great sounding record. But as streaming comes to dominate music consumption, a new issue has emerged.
You might be making music to be pressed on to vinyl, but the odds are that many more people will hear your music via services like Spotify, Apple Music, Youtube or Beatport. The thing is, they all use different types and degrees of compression and loudness matching, each subtly affecting your mix in different ways. Before your track reaches the listener, the bit-depth and sample rate will also be changed. Almost no one will hear the original WAV or AIFF file you receive from a mastering engineer.
Nugen's Mastercheck Pro gives you the ability to preview the effect that different loudness standards and codecs have on your music before delivering your final mix or master. The idea is to avoid problems creeping into your audio further down the line by knowing in advance how streaming services and digital music marketplaces alter the dynamics of your music. You might compress and limit your tracks to make them as loud as possible, only to have them turned down by the loudness normalisation of a Spotify or Youtube. If you can identify and work to the loudness levels they actually use, theoretically, you can give your music greater dynamic range.
The plug-in provides measurements for true peak levels, short-term and integrated loudness and dynamic range (measured here in PLR). This feedback assists you in comparing the perceived volume and impact of different audio files. While these features are common to many meters, they can help in achieving a happy medium between perceived loudness and dynamic range. Testing a selection of your favourite tracks with this info in mind can be useful in providing a ballpark target for your own productions. For instance, I found the new digital Metalheadz reissues to be shockingly loud—they blast through in the mix but aren't a realistic target for a premaster. On the other hand, the last Yally record was quieter but had a greater dynamic range and transient detail. Again, it's always best to follow your ears but use tools like Mastercheck Pro for added clarity.
Next, you audition and match your mix to the differing loudness standards used across the various streaming platforms. You can also preview your music through the lossy codecs in which they encode your music. (For the record, Spotify shoot for -14 LUFS in Ogg Vorbis while Apple Music goes with -16 LUFS in AAC-LC.) Then there's a tool for A/Bing effects chains and reference mixes, which is invaluable for having an accurate idea of how your processing is shaping the sound without variable volume levels muddying your perception.
After hitting the Monitor button, simply select presets for YouTube, Spotify, Pandora or a selection of other services, and hear how your track is shaped by their algorithm. As the different filters are applied, you hear your mix being moulded in various ways. Certain elements gain prominence while others move into the background. Brittle artefacts begin infecting the mix. After hearing how the mix balance is affected by normalisation and compression, I found myself wishing I'd made different decisions in the final mix of some mastered tracks. These wishes weren't drastic by any means—it's more of a reminder that the majority of people hearing your music receive it differently than you intended.
Five boxes in the centre of the plug-in let you monitor your audio at different sample rates, from download quality down to under 40 kbps. Each setting comes with its own independent true peak meter, allowing you to avoid clipping in every codec. Mastercheck Pro provides a choice of Ogg Vorbis, AAC+, AAC-LC and DAB+. While some might wish for an mp3 option, the fact that the industry has largely left it behind makes its exclusion understandable.
No doubt, Mastercheck Pro is more relevant for professional mastering engineers and people making music for TV. The delivery standards demanded by different regions is a vital part of their job—for a producer, not so much. Coming up with a balance that works across the various platforms is a job for the mastering engineer. But Mastercheck Pro can help you make informed decisions about how things will really sound when they get to the listener on a streaming platform. It's always tempting to make tracks as loud as possible but Mastercheck Pro helps keep things in perspective.
Ease of use: 4.5