XARC Mastering - The Online Mastering Studio
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Frequently Asked Questions

Q&A

All About XARC

Working With Us

Other Questions


All About XARC

Q: Why shouldn't I just master on my own?

A: Some have said that doing your own mastering is like doing your own dental work. Although that example may be a bit "graphic", it does speak to a truth: Most complicated things are best left to the experts. Mastering is no different; doing one's own mastering is almost always something that is typically disappointing at best, and even disastrous at worst.

Really, it should be noted that even the best mastering engineers usually don't master their own musical creations. The reason for this, although seemingly too often ignored, is quite simple: it's nearly impossible to be objective about one's own work. By the time you have finished your tracks, you and the recording/mixing engineers will have become so used to the material that it is extremely difficult to accurately judge and master it. Using an independent, experienced mastering studio and engineer ensures that your material can be successfully brought to the highest quality possible, using a pair of completely fresh and objective ears.

Moreover, the unique and accurate room/monitoring combination of a dedicated mastering studio prevents significant mistakes that occur when trying to master on a monitoring system that does not translate well to the "real world". It also helps to ensure that all errors and flaws that may have occurred during the recording/mixing will be revealed, and won´t pass through to the final product.

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Q: What do your mastering packages consist of?

A: Succinctly, we offer a complete set of services to finalize your tracks/albums, thus preparing them for manufacture (i.e. for burning/recording to CD) and distribution on the internet (e.g. via MP3s). All of this is conducted by a professional mastering engineer, in a mastering studio. Because the full scope of XARC's services is very wide, (and of course varies depending on the specific requirements of each project), you should take a look at our services page to learn more about what we offer, and our demos to hear actual final products. Moreover, all services are offered, in one complete package, at a fixed price.

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Q: Is on-line mastering actually "real" mastering?

A: Absolutely (at least in the case of XARC!). Many hold a misconception that on-line mastering is somehow of inferior quality, and only good for a "quick shot." In reality, quite the opposite is the case (as clearly demonstrated by our before-after demos). You are definitely welcome to read more about this topic on Lorenz Vauck's blog.

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Q: What is the typical cost-per-track?

We have always tried to be very flexible with our pricing model. What we have found works best for our clients is an optimized formula. You can have a look at our fee calculator here - please feel free to run some examples if you wish, to get a better idea of our mastering fees.

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Q: Why are you so inexpensive/expensive?

A: Although we actually hear both of these questions quite often, the answer is the same. Our enduring commitment is to provide the highest quality audio mastering available, at the lowest price we can achieve within the parameters of that goal. This continues to make XARC the best value in on-line mastering, by an extremely wide margin; based on our research, we believe our prices are extremely competitive for the quality we deliver. Although some studios may offer lower-priced mastering, in all of the cases we have seen, it is with the caveat of a much inferior final product.

To take another view, consider the words of British social philosopher Prof. John Ruskin (1819 - 1900):

"There is hardly anything in the world that someone cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price alone are that person's lawful prey. It is unwise to pay too much, but it is also unwise to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money, that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything because the thing you bought is incapable of doing the thing you bought it to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot... It can't be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder it is well to add something for the risk you run. And if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better."

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Q: Who is your Chief Mastering Engineer?

A: Our CME is Lorenz Vauck, an extremely experienced and dedicated mastering engineer. You can read more about him here, and read his blog here.

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Q: Can you tell me more about turnaround time?

A: Absolutely! Project turnaround time fluctuates, but tends to average somewhere around 1 to 2 weeks from final mix delivery and date of payment to delivery of the approval master, based entirely on the number of pre-booked mastering projects we have on our slate at any given time. Although we can sometimes offer "Rush" delivery with one to two days turnaround time (at an additional fee), depending on our schedule, we recommend against a hurried approach, as it often doesn't allow for every last bit of quality to be put into the finished master.

Although we are of course capable of meeting client deadlines, we don't have a constant "guaranteed turnaround time." If we did have that, there would be no way of ensuring that every track and album gets the amount of time it needs to reach perfection; there would be a constant rush and tons of pressure to have every project done in a ridiculously short time frame, and as a result, we would have an intolerable sacrifice of quality and attention. Such a situation isn't compatible with XARC's work ethic.

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Q: Do you offer a free trial or "basic mastering" option?

A: No, we do not. Although some mastering companies do in fact offer such options, we're simply of the view that "basic mastering" and "high quality" (and "rock-bottom pricing") just can't go together. We do not want to hand out "80% quality masters," because achieving the very highest quality is and will always be our number one goal. Simply, providing anything less than "100%" would be a disservice to our clients, the industry, and ourselves. Another problem is that we would not be able to guarantee a reasonable turnaround time for already-booked projects if we offered free trials or basic mastering.

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Q: Although you work for fixed rates, doesn´t each project require different handling and time?

A: Yes, and each project is handled and worked on to its fullest extent, to ensure every last bit of quality is present in the final product. Although some songs may be mastered relatively quickly, others take upwards of several hours to perfect. Moreover, being very much addicted to our work ensures that every project bears our unique quality, and receives the full work required to make it absolutely perfect.

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Q: My original recordings were of very poor quality - can mastering fix this?

Although mastering should be seen as adding the final touch to a musical work, rather than being a repair process, we are capable of very often bringing even the worst recordings up to a quality unequalled anywhere else. Be sure to take a listen to our before and after examples to hear examples of the difference our mastering process can make in the quality of your recordings!

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Q: Do you offer any services other than mastering?

A: No -- XARC is a mastering-only studio. However, although we don't offer other services, such as mixing, we of course can refer clients or potential clients to the experts in those other realms. That said, we do offer a few sub-services, directly related to mastering. Among those, of course, is the "special" vinyl mastering we do, as well as preparation for Internet Distribution, where we assist clients' in preparing optimized MP3s of their songs. We can also ship a PMCD (along with a PQ sheet) via snail mail or FedEx, ready for duplication, or easily create PMCD images usable with common CD burning apps, if one would like to create their master CD on their own. See our services page for more details.

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Q: Can you tell me more about your equipment?

A: Sure! We can tell you some details, but really shouldn't give away too much of the "magic." (After all, good magicians never tell exactly how they do their tricks!) Nonetheless, a significant part of the "backbone" of the studio is completely custom. For example, our outboard and DSP are both custom platforms, which Lorenz Vauck co-developed along with an engineer colleague. Moreover, like most mastering studios, a lot of the individual studio components basically come down to individual taste and preference of the engineers. In the case of XARC, as just one example in the industry, that means using a fairly well-balanced mix of analog and digital hardware, to get the best results possible. Also, there's really no "pre-set" way of mastering a track or album-it's never a case of "always use this EQ," or "always run it through this piece of equipment." Here at XARC, every track gets a tailored treatment; sometimes a lot of equipment is used, sometimes less, but what's used and why all depends on the specific nature of what we wish to accomplish.

Also, because we do not name specific brands and items of our studio equipment, we have the benefit of not only focussing people on the results, but also on avoiding debates over the relative strengths and weaknesses of various platforms. Really, it seems the "correct" equipment is that which the mastering engineer feels most comfortable with, and with which they can get the best results they are capable of producing.

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Q: What about your studio?

A: The studio itself is quite a fun place, and is located in Dresden, Saxony, Germany. Appearance-wise, it's fairly typical for a mastering studio, with the exception that Lorenz Vauck's perfectionist streak results in alternating waves of total cleanliness and clutter build up (the latter occurring while working very long hours to perfect tracks!). A common companion is Charly, who although not particularly good at mastering (because he is a cat, and as we all know, they hear differently than us humans-in fact 20kHz higher than we can), is a welcome addition. And, because of Charly, we are one of the only mastering studios that can claim cross-species analysis of music! More seriously though, the entire studio is optimized for the best sound reproduction; analysis and evaluation is done using high-resolution passive monitoring.

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Working With Us

Q: How do I begin mastering with XARC?

A: It's really as simple as contacting us! If you would like to read a quick overview of the XARC Mastering process, please feel free to check out our "Quick Tour" on our Home page.

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Q: Is it true that you work until I'm absolutely happy?

A: Yes, it's totally true. We are very proud to offer an "completely zero-risk guarantee" -- we will continue to revise your masters -- at no additional charge -- until you are totally satisfied with the final result. Simply put, we want to realize your vision for how your music should sound.

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Q: Do I have to pay in advance?

A: Yes, XARC Mastering's work is a prepaid service (with the exception of past clients who have established other payment terms with us). However, all work is protected by our zero-risk guarantee -- enabling you to confidently choose XARC for your next mastering project.

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Q: How do I send my songs and how do I get them back?

A: When you contact us, we will create an account for you on our high-performance, US-based, SSL-capable server. You then can easily upload or download, via your browser, to or from your personal client area. You can also access your client area directly via our FTP Server.

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Q: What exactly should I send?

A: Please only send us the completed stereo mixdown of each song you wish to have mastered. We will let you know if any adjustments should be made to the mix, in order to improve mastering quality. At your option, you can also upload one or several songs of your favorite artist(s) that we can use as a "reference" during the mastering.

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Q: Should I apply any effects before sending my songs?

A: We prefer to have the completed mixdown of each song, with dithering and any other effects (of course with the exception of effects on single tracks within the mix, like on vocals, drums and all other elements) turned off, and without clipping. Doing this tends to ensure a higher-quality final product.

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Q: In what resolution should I send my songs?

A: As for resolution and sampling rate, 24 bits / 44,1 kHz (or higher) in .WAV or .AIFF is preferred. That said, other formats are able to be accommodated, but we strongly recommend against mastering, for example, from a MP3 source because of the "heavily" decreased (at least for the mastering stage not high enough) quality that comes about as a result of the encoding process. Such encoding to "lossy" formats should only be done at the very end of the mastering. (The latter is, in fact, a service that we offer as part of our complete mastering package - see the Internet Distribution section on our services page.)

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Q: Do you have any other mixing tips, or an overview?

A: Yes. You can read Lorenz's Vauck's blog entry that provides more information on the topic.

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Q: How do I compress my songs?

A: We prefer songs to be compressed with WinRAR, as it not only allows for a shorter upload time without any quality loss, but also allows for checking of transfer errors via the CRCs/checksums incorporated into its archives. Nonetheless, we support many different compression tools and formats, so if you have a specific compression software preference, we can very likely accommodate it.

In addition, we suggest the following software for compression. These suggested compression utilities are all "lossless," which means that your songs aren't degraded in any way by compression, unlike "lossy" formats such as MP3 or WMA.

Win Mac
16 to 24 bit Monkeys Audio
Download
Homepage
RAR for Macintosh
OSX Download
Homepage
32 to 64 bit WinRAR
Download
Homepage

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Q: Is there any quality loss when I upload my songs to your server?

A: No, they are exact 1:1 copies, bit by bit. Transferring songs to our server is essentially the equivalent of copying data between your hard disks, or uploading something to your own website.

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Q: What if I only have a slow internet connection?

A: If you use a low-bandwidth internet connection, you can still send us your material. In that case, the mastered material can be returned to you, at your option, via standard mail or courier.

Additionally, feel free to use our Upload Calculator to estimate the time that is needed for uploading your material.

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Q: How long will it take to upload my songs?

A: The upload time depends on the size of your files, which itself depends on the resolution and bit-depth rates you use. Our Upload Calculator will help you to estimate the time that is needed for uploading.

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Q: Are my songs protected against access by third-parties?

A: Yes. Your material is stored on our encrypted storage server, and only XARC Mastering engineers will ever have access to it (unless you direct us or authorize otherwise).

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Q: Where can I find a FTP client?

A: An FTP-Client is not necessarily required, because you can easily upload and download your material via your web browser, through your personal client area. However, if you prefer to use our FTP Server, two good (and even free!) FTP clients are Smart FTP for Windows and Secure FTP for MAC OS X.

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Q: How do I upload/download with Smart FTP?

A: Please see this tutorial.

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Other Questions


Q: What payment options do you accept?

A: We are pleased to accept Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express directly. We also offer payments via your bank account (e.g. electronic check) via PayPal. If you reside in a locale that does not enable you to use PayPal, do not have a credit card, do not have a bank account, or simply prefer to pay by cash, we can accept payment via Western Union. We also accept payments via international wire transfer to our (German) bank account. Wire transfers are often available free-of-charge from European Union financial institutions.

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Q: Will I receive anything if I tell others about your services?

A: Yes, definitely! Prompted by substantial client interest, we are pleased to offer a feature to all interested in marketing XARC's services, offering resounding opportunities for financial rewards! This excellent opportunity consists of our new Affiliate Program, which offers a commission of $17 USD per qualified lead referred to us through a designated contact form. To take advantage of this program, please visit http://www.shareasale.com/shareasale.cfm?merchantID=6666, or visit our Affiliate Program Site.

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Q: Where can I download the XARC Mastering logo?

A: If you would like to use the XARC Mastering logo on your CD, to link to us, or for any other purpose, you can download a high resolution version here.

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Q: My question isn't answered here. What should I do?

A: Please contact us, and we would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

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