> Step by step
4. Getting to grips with Mastering The Mix’s Reference
1 Reference is another useful A/B comparison plugin. We load it on our master output, last in the plugin chain, then drag and drop a couple of reference tracks onto the main window. Click a tab to select a reference song. Switch between the currently selected reference track and your DAW audio by clicking the big Original and Reference buttons.
2 Automatically match the level of your current reference track to your project’s level by toggling Level Match (the button with two vertical lines), or all references (the button with three vertical lines). However, for more control, we’re going to leave this off and instead use each reference track’s Gain slider to balance levels manually.
3 Set to Free mode, Reference plays back independently of your DAW’s transport, and you can click on the waveform to start playback from there. Switch mode to Mirror, however, and playback stays locked to your DAW’s playhead position – useful if, say, you’re comparing your project to a bounced version of the same mix. Let’s do that…
4 We load an older version of our current mix into Reference. After activating Mirror mode, we play back from the start and wait for the two horizontal bars in the Track Align button to line up. Once they stop moving, we press the button, and the two mixes are perfectly aligned. We can now seamlessly A/B between the old and latest versions.
5 Back in Free mode, we can set up an unlimited number of loops by clicking and dragging a selection on the waveform. Ctrl-clicking inside a selection causes playback to loop in that area. Altclick inside a loop to delete it, or Alt-click outside a looped area to delete all loops.
6 Reference’s bottom Trinity Display helps you assess the frequency content, dynamics and stereo image of between one and five frequency bands. Ctrl-click to create a new band. Drag vertical crossover lines to set ranges, and Ctrl-click a line to remove a band. We set up four bands: sub, low-mid, high-mid and treble. Clicking inside a band will solo it.
7 The vertical position of a band’s white horizontal line above or below the 0dB centre point equates to perceived volume in relation to the currently selected reference. To illustrate, check out the screenshot: here, our mix has less sub bass and more midrange compared to the reference track. We can now head in and adjust the mix in the session.
8 A band’s moving purple dots represent short-term dynamics, or ‘punch’. If a band’s dots expand outwards from the white vertical line, that means your mix is less compressed than the reference track in that area. If the dots contract towards the line, it means your track is more compressed than the reference in that region.
9 A pair of horizontal ‘blobs’ sit above each band. These represent stereo width. White is your DAW output’s width in that band, and grey is the current reference. Comparing our mix to this reference song, we can see that our sub bass and low-mid is especially wide, so we’ll need to address that in the project.