Corporate Corner – Can LANDR Replace Your Mastering Engineer?

by Brian Hazard

Drag-and-drop online mastering is here, and it’s free to try. LANDR provides unlimited 192 kbps mp3 masters of your tracks in seconds. If you like what you hear, you can pay for uncompressed 16-bit .wav masters. Pricing is very reasonable at $9 for four or $19 for unlimited masters per month. Paid users also get to select the “intensity” of the mastering: low, medium (the default), or high.

Their algorithms were refined over eight years of university research, and they even have a resident astrophysicist. An astrophysicist!

Guess this mastering engineer is out of a job, right?

To find out, I selected tracks from three recent mastering jobs, to compare my results with LANDR’s.

LANDR

Three notes before we get our hands dirty in this mano-a-microchip match-up:

1. Am I biased? Perhaps, but who’s more qualified to evaluate a mastering service than a mastering engineer? Let your ears be the judge.

2. Louder pretty much always sounds better to the human ear. While differences in volume are important for the purposes of this evaluation, you should try to match playback levels when comparing the examples for sound quality.

3. This is an apples-to-apples comparison. I paid $9 for four uncompressed 16-bit .wav masters, to compare to my uncompressed 16-bit .wav masters. All files were encoded to mp3 at 320 kbps using LAME at the highest quality setting.

Wideband Network “Reach”

Wideband Network - Reach

I was asked to give it “the full EDM treatment,” which I interpreted as, “make it loud!” Here’s a taste of the chorus, unmastered: (Click Image to Listen)

Reach (unmastered)

 

Here’s LANDR’s master at the default (medium) intensity:

Reach (LANDR medium)

 

And here’s my master:

Wideband Network "Reach" (Resonance Mastering)

Is it just me, or does the LANDR version sound like it was mastered by an astrophysicist?

To my ears, the biggest problem is the lack of low end. The result is thin and narrow and just “off.”

Keep in mind, LANDR uses the same algorithm for all genres of music. This tonal balance might be perfect for folk or classical, but it doesn’t cut it for EDM, hip hop, or even pop.

On the plus side, I appreciate that LANDR doesn’t win the Loudness War by default. There’s plenty of dynamic range. Unfortunately, the track would be the quietest in any EDM playlist. It’s simply not club-ready.

Let’s turn it up to 11 and try again at “high” intensity (a paid option):

Louder? Check.

Better? Not to my ears. There’s more of everything I didn’t like in the previous version – the thinness is more pronounced and the lows are even more lacking.

It’s easy to trade low frequency energy for volume. The challenge is achieving both.

Worse, this version is even more compressed (as opposed to peak limited). You can see visually how little dynamic contrast there is, compared to my master at pretty much the same volume.

 

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