Peering behind the curtain of the dark art of mastering, Slate Digital has just released FG-X 2: a mastering suite with the tools you need to get your music ready for release.
Setting the opinions of boffins and naysayers aside, you might be able to master your own music — or start your career in music mastering. Mastering is the final step in music, the Photoshop polish to a well-composed photo, or the presentation of a Michelin-star restaurant meal. Without these things, the product feels sub-par.
Slate Digital has been in the audio game for quite some time with their game-changing plugins like Trigger (you can use an audio source to trigger one or several samples) and their emulations of the studio icons from Neve, SSL, Empirical Labs, and many more. Steven Slate and expert algorithm engineer Fabrice Gabriel have just given their original FG-X mastering plugin a much-needed update: the FG-X 2 mastering suite. We tested it out in the studio.
The FG-X 2 is made up of 3 parts, a compressor, metering, and a limiter, all packed into a fresh new interface. I’m not going to lie, the old FG-X had a pretty archaic look, not to mention that the new FG-X 2 has metering presets to show targets of various streaming services.
The FG-X 2 seems to be angled at the musician who is already involved in every step of their music, from the writing to the recording to the production to the mixing. It has genre presets as well as the aforementioned metering presets for every streaming service out there. Might be wise to find a place in your LUFS (Loudness to Full Scale) that would suit all of the services.
On the Compression section of the FG-X 2, with the Advanced view open, there’s low and high-frequency sidechain — so the compressor won’t process those frequencies, a Mid/Side link and a GR Width — which adjusts the compression balance between Mid and side. This works like this: to right is more compression on the mids, therefore gives a wider sound and to the left is more compression on the sides and therefore gives a more narrow sound.
The compressor’s controls are Ratio, Attack, Release, Threshold and down the bottom there’s a Gain Reduction meter. The metering can be opened up to Indicators, Needle Meters and Horizontal Meters as well as options to switch between LUFS and RMS, Peak and True Peak, and Dynamic and Crest Factor.
On the Limiter section, with the Advanced view open, there’s LoPunch and Detail (High Frequency) and a slider above to chose the frequency. There’s Gain, Transient shaper (to the left smooths, to the right increases the punch), Drive, Balance, (left for the lows, right for the highs), a Ceiling threshold and the 4 different mastering modes — Clear, Tight, Punchy and Loud.
On the right hand side bar there’s listening options: Difference in level (hear what’s being removed by the limiter), M for Mid, S for Side, L for Left, R for Right and you can listen to the gain monitoring with Constant Gain Monitoring. You can also adjust the ceiling with a slider here too, as well as the control in the limiter.
Using a beat we made while reviewing the brand new Avid MBOX Studio, we tested out the FG-X 2 over the mix to get it up to a commercial level. The foundation of the beat was made with one of our Somewhere Sounds Sample Packs, from Jonti.
Trying to keep it simple and not squash or over compress, the things that made the mix shine with the FG-X 2 was gentle compression with the use of sidechain, the drive and the LoPunch and Detail. Using the Punch mode, the beat became a lot more aggressive in a good way.
With a little bit of help from the Transients Shaper and the Balance, I was able to focus the track and strengthen it.
I’ll be humble, I’m new to mastering with only about 8 years experience of sending many of my productions and mixes to professional mastering engineers, so using the FG-X 2 and trying to give my beat a final polish was an interesting process and I felt more and more confident as I used it.
I do wish there was an EQ in there — especially since it’s called a mastering suite. Maybe something for the FG-X 3. I’d urge people use the advanced view to dig in and tweak those controls to suit the song. If you’ve come this far, you might as well dig deeper.
I also don’t think this plugin should be limited to just a mix (pun intended). You could use it on a drum bus or drum group, or other instrument groups.
You can get the FG-X 2 as part of the all-access pass — that’s about 149 US dollars a year — or as a standalone plugin for 199 us dollars. For more info head over to Slatedigital.com