Coast Mastering‘s Piper Payne was mentored by pros like Bob Katz, Thor Legvold, and Michael Romanowski, Payne has earned a notable reputation for superb ears, supported by her deep experience in many musical genres.
She works in a precision acoustical environment, with a meticulously selected signal chain of exotic audio gear including products from Manley Labs.
“With mastering, you cannot skimp on quality,” Payne insists. “You don’t get into this business to get rich; we’re in it to make quality music.”
Payne compares her philosophy to that of the manufacturer of some of her favorite audio gear. “It’s like the way Manley has worked for a long time to create the best quality products that they possibly can,” Payne muses. “They do it with the intention that somebody will use Manley gear to make a great record.”
Indeed, Payne has mastered many fine recordings with Manley gear, including the Madame Gandhi and Basement EPs, and the Headlander soundtrack. “The first piece of mastering outboard analog gear I ever bought was a Mini Massive stereo EQ from Manley, and it’s still the first thing in my signal chain. My new Manley SLAM! Mastering Edition limiter, which I totally love, is now the last thing in my chain.”
Coast Mastering also has a Massive Passive stereo EQ that Payne occasionally chooses instead of her beloved Mini Massive.
“I like the Massive Passive a lot,” she confirms. “It feels very flat in a good way; I know what I’m going to get out of it. It’s a very musical EQ, and I really like the shelves. The bottom end feels so accurate that I can easily figure out what’s going on, and the top end provides that ‘air.’ No other EQ does all that-except the Mini Massive.”
Payne is a confessed purist when it comes to audio quality. “I spent a lot of my early career doing classical recording,” she recalls. “My degrees are in sound, and my focus in school and right after school was entirely classical recording. I love classical but I also love Top 40 music, hip-hop, rock, jazz, and other genres. In the classical world, I loved the quality we could achieve by doing it right and not scrimping on any part of the process. I’m taking that ‘quality first’ approach with pop and rock.”
Even high-end gear sometimes falls short in Payne’s demanding environment. “I had a mastering chain that I was happy with,” she recalls. “I had a compressor/ limiter at the end of the chain and a good compressor in front of it. But when I pushed the compressor/limiter, it started breaking up; it couldn’t handle heavy guitar music and sometimes classical. I started looking for another option, and I wanted a couple of different types of limiters, so I called EveAnna Manley. She recommended the SLAM! because it gives you two different flavors of limiters. She sent me a SLAM! to check out, and it blew me away from the first second I listened to it.”
When she received the SLAM! Mastering Edition, Payne conducted two different mastering tests: one through the chain as she had it before and one with the SLAM! “It was like night and day,” she recalls. “I noticed the difference immediately in the lack of breakup or distortion. Then I A/B’d for a long time. I thought my chain was good, and my clients were happy, but there was always something I was working too hard for. In a way, I didn’t realize I had a problem until the SLAM! fixed the problem.”
The SLAM! Mastering Version also offers other advantages. “It allows me to make things sound big and impressive but without that nasty breakup you get when something is too loud,” specifies Payne. “For that, I need a versatile limiter to complement the rest of the chain, and I need something that’s going to deliver all that and make it feel big, impressive, awesome. And it has to be able to work on every kind of music. I’ve put classical records through the SLAM!, spoken word, massive pop punk, metal, jazz, solo guitar-everything works. I haven’t found anything that it doesn’t make better.”
Another consideration is predictability. “Some limiters sound cool but I have no idea what they’re really doing,” she admits. “I have to turn the knobs until it sounds good. I can’t think ahead, dial in a timing, and then replicate it; you have to be able to get back to that setting or darn close. The Manley SLAM! Mastering Edition’s stepped switches solve that. I like to get really fine but Manley makes intelligent musical decisions about what those notches are for and where they live, and the unit has been tuned properly. With a musically designed piece of gear like the SLAM! Mastering Edition, half a dB is enough of a change for me.”