Mastering is crucial to the commercial success of the track, no matter whether you’re planning to publish the music online or release a physical album.
In case you’re not familiar with the term, the mastering process is the final stage of any music production. During mastering, special effects are applied to ensure the song is suitable to all audio formats and is playable on all audio systems. It’s the process of polishing a track that has been composed, recorded, and mixed before it can be released to the public.
The history of music mastering started in 1948 when Ampex produced the first model of magnetic tape recorder and revolutionized audio recording. Recorded audio had to be processed before being transferred into a vinyl, as the record had different frequencies and dynamic ranges. It was then that the role of a mastering engineer was born.
Mastering techniques have evolved dramatically over the years, adjusting to the new technological innovations – from the stereo vinyl record through the Compact Disc – CD to the first DAW (digital audio workstation) created in 1989. Introducing DAWs and mastering software was a mind-boggling alternative at the time. The goal of mastering service shifted from increasing loudness to balancing equalization, reducing clicks and noises, compressions, and stereo enhancement.
The next milestone was when, in the 2010s, automated, cloud-based mastering services appeared and started replacing work offered by mastering engineers. Today, anyone can master their music from home, using one of many available online, AI-based, automated mastering services.
AI-based mastering is a process that uses algorithm software to detect and alter digital audio. It works based on a set of rules that follow an “if,” “then” logic: the software recognizes incoming information and then makes a series of decisions based on that information. These include applying compression, adjusting equalization (EQ), and using various signal-processing techniques.
The number of mastering services available is growing every year, and there are a plethora of options to choose from, with some of them also available for free. If you’re curious about this new world of automated mastering, check out my review of the 12 best free online mastering platforms.
Should you choose an automated mastering service over an engineer?
It depends on what your objective is and how much you’re planning to spend. While many musicians still choose to work with an engineer, automated service made mastering faster, cheaper, and more accessible, still offering good quality results. There are many situations when using AI-powered digital mastering will suit your needs, such as when you want to release a few tracks digitally or simply don’t have a hefty budget.
In this article, I‘ll compare two of the leaders on the market, LANDR and eMastered, analyze their main features, cons, pros, and provide a fair comparison of which of the two you should use and why.
LANDR: An Overview
LANDR has been developed by MixGenius, a Canadian AI company from Montreal. A dedicated team of producers, music engineers, tech lovers, and artists worked on perfecting the algorithm for over eight years, and the result was an automated mastering service that was released to the public in 2014. Since then, LANDR has been used to master over 20 million tracks.
LANDR started exclusively as an online music and mastering service, but soon they started including additional features like distribution services, promotional services, networking tools, plugins, and sample packs. Today, LANDR is an all-round, versatile platform supporting every step of producing and publishing music online.
Initially, LANDR was supported by substantial funding from investors, who included Nas, Plus Eight Equity Fund, the founders of Cirque Du Soleil, and others. Many established artists, DJs, and music professionals claim by it, and even record labels such as Atlantic Records, Def Jam Recordings, and Warner Music Group used the platform.
I wrote an in-depth LANDR review, focused on mastering but also describing its full range of services, earlier this year, so if you’re considering subscribing, check it out.
eMastered: An Overview.
eMastered, another pioneer in automated mastering, was released in 2016 by engineer Smith Carlson and electronic music producer Collin McLoughlin. Carlson won a Grammy award for “1989” by Taylor Swift and worked with artists like Maroon 5 and Seal.
Unlike LANDR, eMastered offers exclusively mastering services (hence the name).
eMastered is also the company behind the Atom Synt plugin, a tool created by Dan Wilson, Smith Carlson, and CID.
What do these platforms offer in terms of service, and which of them does it better?
Both platforms have a pretty intuitive and easy-to-navigate dashboard.
LANDR is known for its user-friendly drag-and-drop interface. After uploading a track, the powerful algorithm analyzes your tracks and makes mastering decisions based on that analysis. The software will automatically identify the genre and apply appropriate audio processing tools to enhance the track.
Once the track is ready, after about 2-3 minutes, you get a preview of your master and a download link to your track.
There are a couple of features that make LANDR stand out amongst other platforms. It offers the possibility to master unlimited MP3s with unlimited revisions, which can be very handy when you notice an issue and want to go back and fix it.
LANDR offers a DAW integration, either with the Studio PRO plan or through purchasing a perpetual license for their mastering plugin.
Unlike eMastered, it has a desktop app version, which makes the navigation process even easier and includes personalized options to choose from when making mastering decisions.
You can select one of the master styles:
Warm – provides a rich and smooth listing experience, uses gentle compression, and ultimately gives a track more mature, “vintage” warmth.
Balanced – results in more refined sound with a greater emphasis on harmony and depth.
Open – creates a more active and punchy sound, giving it a modern vibe.
And pick between three intensity levels:
Low – it preserves dynamic range and is recommended for singer-songwriters, acoustic, and orchestral compositions.
Medium – you get more impact without sacrificing dynamic range.
High – it emphasizes strength and volume; it’s a good choice for any EDM producer when dynamics are not as important as the track’s energy.
Similarly, to master a track on eMastered, all you need to do is drag and drop it on the website. The mastering process starts instantly, and the algorithm starts working on analyzing and processing your music. The downside is that you cannot master the whole album or bulk tracks on their website, as with LANDR.
After the track is ready, you can listen to it straight away. You can also go back and forth between mastered and original versions to hear the difference. Artists who used eMastered generally say the song “has more life to it” after the process; it sounded brighter and clearer, as well as louder. Overall, it made the track sound better without distorting the balance between the instruments and vocals.
After uploading a track, you can customize it and adjust some settings, like compression, volume, EQ, EQ intensity, and stereo width. However, you need to be familiar with these concepts to be able to use them appropriately.
Once you’re happy with the master, you can go ahead and download it, as long as you purchased one of the subscription plans.
Both LANDR and eMastered give you the option to upload a reference track for the algorithm to use as an “inspiration” when working on your tracks. With eMastered, you can also create a preset, which enables you “to save your favorite mastering options and reference tracks for later.”
In short, both LANDR and eMastered provide quality service and deliver what you expect them to – ready-to-be-published music. LANDR has some fantastic options like mastering a whole album in one go, DAW integration, unlimited revisions, and a distribution service that make it a more sustainable choice, in my opinion. However, eMastered gives you greater control over your master, which can be crucial for some.
While there are free mastering platforms available, LANDR and eMastered don’t fall into this category. That said, it’s worth mentioning that they both have an option to upload and master a track without creating an account. To download your master, you will have to choose one of the available plans.
LANDR mastering service is available with both Studio and Studio PRO plans, but you cannot purchase a separate mastering plan.
Studio Plan is available for $143.88/year ($11.99/month), and it includes unlimited MP3 masters plus 36 WAV masters per year. On top of that, you get access to their distribution service, plugin library, samples, courses, and collaboration tools.
Studio PRO for $299.88 on a yearly plan ($24.99/month) includes unlimited WAV masters and a new LANDR Mastering plugin. At the time of writing, the Studio PRO plan is available on offer for $15.99/month (billed $191.92 upfront).
The subscription plans cost $19.99 and $39.99, respectively, when paying monthly.
LANDR offers access to the Mastering plugin on a perpetual license for $299 (also included with Studio PRO), which allows unlimited in-DAW AI mastering, revisions, and extra personalizations.
LANDR has an option that enables purchasing a single mastered WAV for $9.99.
eMastered has recently updated its prices, making its services seriously competitive. Currently, it offers one type of subscription with three payment plans available:
Yearly (billed yearly at $144 upfront) – $12/month
Yearly (billed monthly)- $19/month
Monthly (billed monthly)- $29/month
All plans include unlimited masters and Hi-Res MP3, WAVs, and HD WAVs downloads. They also offer a 14-day money guarantee if you are not happy with the service (available only up to 4 downloaded masters).
Overall, if you’re interested in mastering only, the prices of the two platforms are aligned. However, eMastered offers unlimited WAVs and HD WAVs downloads, while LANDR, for the same price, includes only 36 WAVs. LANDR Studio PRO with unlimited WAVs costs more than double the price, which is a significant difference, but you get a lot more than just the mastering service.
Competitive subscription plans, especially with the Studio Plan.
Integrated distribution service.
Plugins, sample packs, and networking tools are included with the Studio Plan.
Possibility to master a single track ($9.99 for a WAV).
You can upload and master a whole album (up to 20 tracks) at a time.
Offers unlimited revisions with a subscription plan.
Less control over your master and limited mastering options are available (no EQ dials, etc.).
Unlimited WAVs and HDWAVs are only available with the Studio PRO plan.
More in-depth master control with a few more features
Unlimited WAVs with all payment plans
You can upload and master only one file at a time
No single-track purchase is available.
The payment plans include only mastering service.
In terms of quality, both LANDR and eMastered offer a high-level mastering service, and no matter which one you will go for, you’ll get a good-quality master in no time.
If you’re looking for a more versatile, straightforward, and easy-to-use but still high-quality service, then LANDR is your best call. It offers a better deal for the money than eMastered if we consider that many additional options such as distribution, access to samples, and plugins are also included, and the mastering process they provide couldn’t possibly be simpler.
Still, if you want to have a bit more control over the mastering process and aren’t put off by the number of settings, you‘ll be better off with eMastered. Mastering your files with eMastered is essentially more cost-effective, but you won’t get any extra features.
If your objective is to release music regularly online, choosing one of the online mastering services can be a great option – it can help you get good results faster and cheaper than working with a mastering engineer.
However, let me point out that when publishing full albums or physical releases, the personalization and feedback you get from a mastering engineer are priceless, something automated AI-powered services can’t provide.
If you decide to use LANDR, eMastered, or any other mastering service, it’s always a good idea to take advantage of the free preview option and listen to the results before investing in a subscription plan.
When used correctly, these platforms can be the perfect tools to bring your music to life by providing polished tracks ready to be shared with your audience.
Thanks for reading, and be creative!