Enlarging Masters, the RETRO 2A3 and AVENSON MID / SIDE

There are both advantages and headaches when using a single hardware send for mastering. If you're in Wavelab like me you have no other options than a single run, blowing extra money on whatever necessary routing processors. I tried to convince myself of the purity of a single hardware run. After all, who likes having extra AD/DA conversion. And maybe more to the point, who likes learning a new mastering DAW.

On the topic of personal, boring production quirks- I've become obsessed with maintaining stereo imaging. I almost always refuse to compress in M/S, and after a year mastering with the Buzz SOC 1.1, I loath variable potentiometers (thought for real that compressor is amazing). But to be honest I think most mastering engineers feel similar about these ideas.

So when I started eyeing the Retro 2A3 I had all sorts of cognitive dissonance. At the time I was using the Dangerous BAX as my hardware shelving EQ which is honestly great. But very safe and boring and not entirely necessary for my hybrid analog / digital setup. They're totally different, but the Retro is fun and weird and laughably overbuilt and maybe the Pultec that I actually wanted after being tortured by the Lindell PEX-500s years ago.

I found a great deal on a used 2A3 that was recently at Vintage King. And although it honestly tracks L + R very accurately, its continuously variable pots still freaked me out. I figured it'd be nice to use it in Mid / Side, both for imaging and accuracy. Enter Avenson's Mid / Side Processor. What a cool, simple idea this guy is. I've had some mechanical issues with it, but David is super responsive and helpful. So I can fully endorse this small, nearly-affordable option for hardware MS, if you don't mind routing with 1/4" jacks.

After using the Retro for a few weeks I knew it sounded god damn phenomenal. It can really tighten the low end with the now-exhausted Pultec boost/cut trick, and you need to hear the high end on this guy to believe it. But after reading so many reviews and opinions I was shocked at its clarity. To me the box tone is not nearly as imposing as others have suggested. If anything it just makes material sound a little fuller, not ‘vintage’ or ‘oozing vibe’ or whatever other rediculous words people use on GS. I could see using it on almost every project.

The Avenson along with the Retro amazingly expands possibilities. Of course there are the typical moves like boosting Retro's killer 16kHz on the Sides, or clarifying and enhancing the bass by using the boost / cut trick on the lower frequencies of just the Mid. But unexpectedly, adding 1.5khz or 3khz on the Sides enlarges the mix and fills out even the sparsest arrangements. And since the curves are all quite gentle, using different settings for Mid and Side EQ blends very naturally. One piece of caution though is that a little goes super far- too much is a very small turn away.

If you're looking for some extra functionality with your mid/side processing, its maybe worth checking out the Avenson Mid/Side R, which offers a side shelving EQ to increase width perception, though this is less necessary if you have a cool EQ inserted like me. You can also now defeat the M / S matrix and use the unit in L / R if thats your thing. Similarly priced to the new expanded Avenson is the D.A.V. S.I.P.P. which also includes parallel processing! Lookout!