Using A/B Referencing In Mastering

mastering Apr 15, 2016

A/B referencing in mastering is perhaps one of the most important things you can do. A/B referencing refers to the process of switching back and forth between two audio sources. This kind of referencing can be a HUGE help, but make sure what you're doing is helping, not hurting. Of course you want to help your song, right?  Here are a couple of things you can do to make sure you are using A/B to help your master.

Always Volume Match

This is probably the number one problem when people master. The deception that comes from your track and a reference track being just 0.5db off can make a huge difference. Why is this so dangerous? If one track is louder than the other, you’re going to be tricked into thinking it MUST sound better, even if that’s not the case. Because of the increase in volume, your brain tricks you into thinking it’s clearer, punchier, and wider. Louder isn’t necessarily “better.” Always make sure that in this crucial stage of mastering you are level matching all your moves to make sure everything you’re doing is adding to your music and not taking away.  

A/B With the Right Reference Tracks

Ensuring that your track competes and plays well back-to-back with “radio tracks” in the real world is the goal of mastering. Without a reference to what those real-world-radio-tracks sound like, you’re shooting in the dark. It’s important to make sure that things like the low end are on par with other tracks of the same genre. Referencing other pro tracks can help make sure your track will sound good on other systems.

Make sure to use the right reference track. Just because you like a song doesn’t mean it’s the best thing to use as a reference for everything you mix. There are some songs I don’t really care for that I use as reference tracks because they sound fantastic. Genre is also important. I love the album Hospice by The Antlers. But I’m not going to use that as a reference to mix a pop record. It just doesn’t make sense.


My Favorite Way To A/B

My favorite way to reference tracks in mastering (and mixing too!) is with Sample Magic’s Magic AB. This is one of the most solid and easy to use plugins I have ever worked with. I don’t often encourage people to buy plugins, but this is one of the few exceptions. This thing has done more for my mixes than possibly any other investment I’ve made on microphones, preamps, compressors, or plugins. It makes it easy to switch between tracks and make sure your mix is on the right track (no pun intended).  

Check out the plugin here.


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