Last updated on March 21st, 2017 at 06:33 pm
Finalizing a mix, also known as pre-mastering, is a bit of a grey area. It’s not quite mastering, but it’s isn’t mixing either. The purpose of pre-mastering is taking the finished mix to a commercial listening level, often to be used as a demo before sending the actual mix to a mastering engineer.
With this in mind, we’re taking a look at Boost, a mix-finalizing plugin by Sample Magic. The product’s intended purpose is to polish a finished mix with minimal effort. We are also giving away one Boost license, kindly provided by Sample Magic!
The interface is very attractive, giving the appearance of a retro audio hardware rack unit. There are two meters showing input and output levels, which look like vintage backlit hardware meters, with dials to adjust both levels. Below is an area with the main four knobs for this plugin, which is where most of the actual work is done.
Boost is based on a preset-driven workflow. It comes with 64 presets divided into eight categories. Each of the presets is well labelled and is devoid of some of the odd names and in-jokes you sometimes get with stock presets. For example, presets labeled “Bass Boost” and “Middle Warmth” will give you exactly what their names say.
The four main dials in the lower half of the GUI control compression, EQ (“Colour”), stereo width, and limiting. However, each knob runs a different algorithm depending on which preset you have loaded. This approach is somewhat of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, each of the presets I tested sounded musical, and increasing each of the dials gives an audible difference. On the other, each dial is controlling several parameters, and you have no way of knowing which parameters are being controlled beyond the label on the loaded patch. It is quite liberating to almost ‘fly-blind’ and use your ears rather than your eyes, but if there’s an element you don’t like, you’ll have to either dial it back or go for a different preset. In other words, you can’t really fine tune a preset “under the hood”.
For instance, there’s no way to tell what kind of ratio, attack, or release settings are on the compressor. You may only increase or decrease the amount of compression applied. Remember that each preset will have a different set of parameters attached to the compression dial, so two adjacent presets may have wildly different compressor settings. This keeps things remarkably simple, but completely rigid. The compressor is actually a multi-band compressor, but again there’s no control or monitoring over which bands are affected and by how much.
Moving on, the next dial is the “Colour’ parameter. It controls a 4-band equalizer, and dials in more or less of the effect depending on the loaded preset. It really needs to be listened to separately on each preset, as the EQ curve will change for each one. It’s actually quite gentle, and most of the settings sound pretty good up to about halfway, at which point they become a bit harsh.
Next up is stereo width. This one is simple – as you increase the value, the processed signal becomes wider. I would imagine that even a basic mix would have some nod in the direction of its stereo image prior to finalizing, so a small amount goes a long way here as well.
The last dial controls the built-in peak limiter. As with any limiter, you can really crush the audio by driving this parameter too hard. Since there is no metering within the plugin, you will have to carefully watch your meters to ensure your dynamic range is kept intact. Beneath each dial is an on/off switch for quick A/B comparison of the effect.
Located on the left of the dials is the ‘Boost’ switch. It adds a bit of extra gain by reordering the plugin components, just in case your mix isn’t loud enough already. On the opposite side of the interface, you’ll find the ‘Brick’ switch which activates the brickwall limiter. It is here that I think an opportunity has been missed by Sample Magic which would make this plugin more attractive to me. There is no option to lock the ‘brick’ switch as you cycle through presets. It’s simply a feature for different presets to be either switched on or off. This means that, as you cycle through the different presets, you get vastly different levels as the brick wall limiter goes on and off, and not only is this not ideal for my monitors, it’s also not a great way to A/B the settings because human ears have a natural preference for louder sounds. Being able to lock the “brick” switch would not result in matched-level comparison, but it would at least prevent nasty clipping incidents and volume spikes.
Boost is a difficult plugin to draw a conclusion on. It absolutely does what it says it should. It will make your mix loud, it will sound quite nice with the minimum of effort, and can add a bit of polish to a finished track. The question is, having invested such time and effort in mixing a track, should you be entrusting the final stage to a single plugin with very limited scope for control?
There’s no denying that Boost sounds great when you dial in the right preset. For me personally, I prefer having control at the end of the production process. I also tend to treat mastering as a bit of a learning process, and like to spend a bit of time on it. However, I have friends who produce tracks at an alarming rate, and no doubt the option to speed up their workflow and have a perfectly workable sound will appeal to them. Boost was definitely designed as a tool for users who want to bring their mixes to commercial listening levels as quickly as possible.
Despite the label of mix-finalising, we are really talking about doing quick master here. The word mastering is even used on Boost’s product description. There’s no denying that mastering is an art in itself. Some producers send their tracks off to be professionally mastered, which has huge benefits and often a matching price tag. Others use online auto-mastering services to get their track closer to the finished stage. Boost is somewhat comparable to auto-mastering, although with a certain amount of control over the whole process.
There are also producers who try tackling mastering themselves, which has the dual drawbacks of being incredibly difficult, and also fails to benefit from a fresh pair of ears. If you fall into the latter category, you will probably be trying to learn the art of mastering as you go. In this case, Boost is probably not for you. The lack of control, or being able to see what the controls are doing, plus the reliance on presets, will probably not further your goal for understanding how to take a track from mixed to commercially complete.
On the other hand, if you are a prolific producer, cranking out numerous tracks as quickly as you can write them, a laborious mastering process may hold up your creative flow. If the goal is not to have something commercially mastered, perhaps if you want to create a demo track that can match commercial tracks for loudness, or to preview a track either live or to collaborators, Boost can be a great way to put the track in the ballpark of where it needs to be.
In conclusion, Boost will find a home with producers whose primary concern is getting tracks out there with minimum delay. It can also be a great option for producers who can’t afford professional mastering services. Boost provides a very decent compromise between using a fully automated mastering solution and sending a track to a professional mastering engineer. Those wanting a more in-depth mastering experience will need to look elsewhere.
More info: Boost (
Sample Magic is giving away a Boost license to one lucky BPB reader! To enter the giveaway, simply submit your name and email address in the form below. You will be subscribed to BPB’s mailing lists, with the option to unsubscribe at any point. You can further increase your chances of winning by completing the bonus entries (subscribing to our YouTube account, following us on Twitter, etc.).
The winners will be announced on Friday, March 17th. Good luck everyone and thanks for reading BPB!Sample Magic Boost
Sample Magic Boost Review
Boost will find a home with producers whose primary concern is getting tracks out there with minimum delay. It provides a very decent compromise between using a fully automated mastering solution and sending a track to a professional mastering engineer.