Mastering for Rock Music — Sage Audio (2023)

Mastering for Rock Music

Quick Answer

Mastering for Rock music is the process of preparing a rock song or project for distribution, all while keeping the unique sonic characteristics of the rock genre in mind. Rock has many sub-genres that will determine the type of processing used, as well as the extent to which transients are preserved.

Mastering for Rock Music in Detail

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Rock music can no doubt take many forms. Its multiple genres have led to new and innovative forms of audio engineering, as well as necessitated new ways of recording and producing music.

To hear the full scope of rock music and to understand everything the term ‘rock’ means, you would need to listen to decades upon decades of records. Rock music is needless to say, a complex web of sounds, styles, ideas, and forms of music production.

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If you were to listen to the small, controlled tones of Cake, and compare it to the massive stadium rock reverberations of U2 – or hear the stripped-down recordings of Chuck Berry, and compare it to the sonically decadent layerings of Radiohead, you’d start to come to terms with rock music’s scope.

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All this to say, that although multiple genres fall under the moniker of rock, the sounds created by these genres and their respective recordings are unique and individualistic.

When it comes to mastering rock music, these unique characteristics need to be understood, respected, and acted on in a way that produces the best sounding record possible.

Although the sub-genres of rock vary wildly in their tonality, understanding the fundamentals of the genre, as well as the processing that best accommodates it, is key to mastering for it.

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With that said, let’s look into the different ways rock music can be mastered, as well as the aspects that define both the sub-genres of rock and the mastering processes tied to them.

But first, if you’re looking to have your music mastered, and want to hear how your song would sound prior to actually committing to a studio or engineer, send us your mix here:

We’ll master it for you using only analog equipment, and send you a free mastered sample.

The Transients

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This may not be the first place you’d think to start when discussing mastering for rock, but the need for transients or lack thereof defines some of the rock sub-genres we love, and the mastering that makes them possible.

Transients are always an important part of music, regardless of genre. With that said, they can become increasingly important in some genres due to a myriad of reasons.

Let’s break this down by the rock sub-genres Metal, Indie Rock, and Pop Rock. Although this is certainly an oversimplification of rock genres, it will allow us to discuss the important parts of rock processing in a mastering sense.

(Video) Mastering for Rock Music

Just for clarification – a transient is a high amplitude, short-duration waveform. It can also be considered the attack in the Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release elements associated with the overall timbre of a sound.

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Transients in a rock production are often the snare drum, kick drum, high hat, the initial strike of a guitar or piano, or any aspect of a vocal or instrument that is loud and short.

Mastering Metal

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Typically, if a track has more instrumentation, louder instrumentation, and more distorted instrumentation, preserving transients becomes incredibly important for maintaining the intelligibility of the song.

In other words, when a track is louder than most, if the instrumentation blends too much, the entire song will sound like one big garbled mess.

That’s why Metal and other forms of hardcore rock typically value transients above all else.

So what does this mean for mastering?

In brief, it means longer attack and shorter release times when compressing, little to no added distortion or harmonic generation, and if possible, no brick wall limiting.

Now, I know that a fair amount of metal uses brick wall limiting. No one needs to be reminded of Metallica’s Death Magnetic – a compressed mess of a record, that mistook loudness for quality.

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But this truly only supports the idea that brick wall limiting is a mistake if transient retention is considered a priority.

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When transients are truncated or cut short of reaching their full amplitude, there is no doubt that an aspect of them is lost. When you couple this with increasing the volume of the surrounding instrumentation, until it’s just as loud as the transients, you lose the dynamics that make a metal song move and breathe. It will no doubt become loud and chaotic.

What about distortion? Why not include distortion when mastering metal music?

Although this may not be the case with every metal track, the odds are that the instrumentation has already been distorted a fair amount by the guitarists’ and bassists’ amplification and effects.

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Distortion is definitely desired in this genre, but too much and masking can really begin to take a toll.

Typically harmonic generation sounds pleasant because it creates a full sound. This full sound is the result of new harmonics filling in the gaps or frequencies that other instrumentation isn’t occupying.

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If the vast majority of the instrumentation is already distorted, and these harmonics are already present, adding a significant amount of these harmonics is overkill. This is made worse when these added harmonics begin masking or nullifying the phase of other harmonics generated by the recorded distortion. When this happens, there goes the clarity necessary for a transparent transient response.

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So when it comes to metal, sometimes less is more. Keeping things transparent, while controlling dynamics enough to avoid brick wall limiting is crucial to making a good master.

Processing that makes the drums dynamic, keeps instrumentation balanced, limits the total harmonic distortion, and avoids transient truncation is a great foundation for making a great metal mix sound even better during mastering.

(Video) Mastering for Indie Rock Music

If you’re curious how to shape transients using a compressor, check out our video “How to Use A Compressor Like an EQ” to see the link between attack and release times, and timbre.

Mastering Indie Rock

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On the opposite side of the transient spectrum, you have indie-rock. Unlike metal, Indie rock’s instrumentation is often sparse and lacks the distortion associated with harder rock.

Furthermore, although transients are of course needed, their role in the music’s timbre is valued slightly less overall and can be treated accordingly during mastering.

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This isn’t to say that their role can be disregarded during a mastering session, but other sonic characteristics are valued more and should be implemented.

In indie rock, cohesiveness amongst instrumentation and vocals is highly valued. When you hear the term “glue” in mastering, this is typically what it is associated with.

Essentially, this sound is created using quick attack and slow release times when compressing, as well as harmonic distortion and saturation.

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The goal of mastering most indie-rock projects is to level off any harshness, to create a smooth, glued sound, and to fill in the gaps with gentle distortion and harmonic generation. This means that transients can be attenuated or compressed, instruments or vocals can be distorted, and saturation can be used to both create harmonics, as well as introduce soft-knee compression.

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Furthermore, because most indie-rock projects value tone over clarity, some of the high frequencies can be attenuated slightly, to result in a warm, perhaps classic feel.

This attenuation of the high end as well as the degrees to which distortion is introduced truly varies amongst the sub-genres of indie rock, as more lo-fi projects seek to create unconventional frequency responses.

If you’re in an indie rock group, and you’re curious about everything you need to do before distribution, check out our blog post on this topic: “Everything You Need to Know About Releasing a Song.”

Mastering Pop Rock

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Pop Rock can be considered almost a blend of the two aforementioned genres – not in its actual sound, but in how the transients are processed during mastering.

In pop-rock, both transient response, and a glued sound are valued. This presents what seems like a difficulty at first.

The more you glue a mix together the fewer transients it has, the less you glue a mix together the more transients it has. The two sonic characteristics seem to contradict and counteract one another.

Fortunately, the remedy for this is setting a medium attack and release time when compressing.

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Following what was stated for the two previous rock sub-genres, find a good balance of the two types of processing to get a good pop-rock master.

That means use distortion in moderation. Harmonic generation is helpful, but don’t go overboard, as the pop-rock instrumentation is typically busier than indie rock.

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Don’t compress in a way that attenuates the transients fully. This means setting an attack and release time that will eliminate some detail but will also allow certain instrumentation like the snare and the kick to cut through without much change in timbre.

(Video) How to Master a Song Start to Finish

Pop-rock can also have a more stylized sound with its high end attenuated, or it can be more polished and detailed in the high end. It certainly depends on the project and the desired end result.

So in short, use moderate compression and distortion, all while keeping a relatively balanced frequency response.

For some techniques on how to mix pop-rock music, check out our other blogs here:

Now that we’ve covered how transients affect how a rock mastering session is approached, let’s look into some other aspects that play a role.


10 years ago, this post would have detailed how loud you should make the masters for each subgenre of rock. You would have seen metrics like “0VU using a -8VU scale”, or “-10 LUFS.” I’m sure there would have been compelling arguments why a song should be made so loud (whether these arguments would have held up is another story).

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Fortunately for music and music lovers alike, these days are done. If our frustration with squashed dynamics was the catalyst for some change in mastering, then streaming platform’s normalization process is the final nail in the coffin for the Loudness Wars.

It seems almost oxymoronic but yes, normalization is restoring dynamics in music.

How so?

Popular streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music are changing how songs need to be mastered, regardless of genre.

For example, Spotify automatically normalizes all audio during playback to -14LUFS. This means that any master made louder than -14LUFS will be turned down. Furthermore, that master will be attenuated the number of LUFS it goes over the -14LUFS normalization benchmark.

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Of course, listeners have the ability to turn this off or alter their normalization settings, but many don’t. The option to do so is hidden deep within the settings of the user’s account.

This means that records don’t need to be mastered loudly to “compete” with other records and that if they are mastered louder, there is no benefit. In fact, if these records are mastered louder and put onto Spotify or Apple Music, odds are they’ll sound significantly worse than other records.

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Of course, if mastering for a different medium such as cassette or vinyl, different specifications will be followed – regardless, the era of exhaustingly loud recordings is coming to an end.

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If you want more information on how Spotify normalizes music, check out our post here:

If you’re curious about how loudness relates to other mediums such as vinyl and cassette, here are two blogs on that topic!

What is Mastering for Vinyl?

What is Mastering for Cassette?

Analog or Digital Mastering for Rock

It’s fair to ask if there is a specific type of mastering that works better for rock music. Analog certainly has certain characteristics that digital doesn’t and vice versa. But to make a definitive statement that one type of processing is better than the other for the genre, might be an oversimplification.

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Digital mastering and processing are typically associated with a clean, transparent signal. This is of course if you don’t include analog emulators or other forms of distortion.

(Video) How to Master a Song in 11 Easy Steps

Digital processing could be useful for metal mastering, due to this cleanness. If you needed incredibly fast release times when compressing and wanted absolutely no coloration to the sound, then digital mastering would be the best bet to accomplish this.

With that said, a clean signal with transient emphasizing processing can and does occur during analog mastering as well. It truly depends on the equipment used, and the engineer.

If you’d like to learn more about digital mastering, check out our blog here:

Analog mastering may be better for both indie-rock and pop-rock. If you’re looking to create a lo-fi sound, or add a significant amount of character to your master, analog equipment offers more opportunities to create that sound.

Even if you’re looking for gentle saturation and mild coloration to your sound, like in a pop-rock mix or master, analog equipment can provide these in moderation.

Of course, digital mastering can emulate analog equipment to a certain extent and is still a good option for mastering both indie-rock and pop-rock.

If you’d like to learn more about analog mastering read here:

If you’re curious about stem mastering, a process that can be either analog or digital-based, check out our article on the topic:


Mastering for rock, or any genre, is a complex process. It takes an understanding of what people want to hear, and what they expect to hear from a particular style of music.

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It also necessitates understanding some of the fundamental aspects of the genre, as well as knowing that one approach does not work for every song.

Transients, and the desire to maintain them, or the lack of that, really determine the type of processing that occurs.

For metal and most hard rock, transients are prioritized over further distortion and compression. This results in cleaner processing, with a slow attack, quick-release compression method.

For indie rock, transients are less important than saturation, or the tone that distortion and soft-knee compression creates. Overall, the tone or timbre is more important than the clarity, or a completely accurate representation of the sound source. This makes it a perfect genre for slow release compression, harmonic generation, and slight attenuation of the high end.

And for pop-rock, a blend between the two previously mentioned processing styles is expected. Transients are important, but so is gluing the mix together and creating cohesion amongst the instrumentation. Moderation of effects is the best bet with this sub-genre of rock.

Ideally, brick-wall limiting is avoided altogether, as it only truncates the mix’s transients, and adheres to loudness standards which no longer play a role in making a song ready for distribution.

Lastly, both analog and digital processing is a good option for all the aforementioned genres. Digital may be slightly more equipped for Metal, whereas analog works well with both indie and pop-rock. It should be noted that although this may be the case in a fair amount of circumstances, don’t let this dissuade you from one type of mastering or another.

If you’d like to here analog mastering on your mix send it to us here for a free sample:

Have you ever mastered a rock song?

Get a Free Mastered Sample of Your Song →

Sage Audio Mastering

Nashville, TN


How do I master sage audio? ›

How to Master Music
  1. Use Subtractive Equalization.
  2. Determine if Compression is Needed.
  3. If Compression is Needed, use Multi-band Compression.
  4. Use Additive Equalization.
  5. Optional: Introduce Harmonic Generation and Harmonic Excitement.
  6. Optional: Widen the Stereo Image.
  7. Use a Limiter if Needed.

How many LUFS does a rock have? ›

You might prefer the kind of compression/limiting found in tracks that are mastered louder, like a rock or pop track with an integrated loudness of -10 LUFS, or a hip hop track with an integrated loudness of -8 LUFS.

How do you master rock a song? ›

Here's a summary of the steps you'll need to take when you master your mix:
  1. Optimize your listening space.
  2. Finish your mix (to sound mastered).
  3. Check the levels.
  4. Bounce down your stereo track.
  5. Take a break (of at least a day).
  6. Create a new project and import your references.
  7. Listen for the first time (and take notes).
20 Apr 2021

What is a good master mix decibel level for mastering? ›

What dB should my mix be before mastering? It's recommended to have your peaks land between -18 dB and -3dB in your mix to provide enough headspace for the mastering process.

Who has mastered sage mode? ›

Naruto Uzumaki is the only known user of the Six Paths Sage Mode. He attained this power during the Fourth Great Ninja War after meeting Hagoromo Otsutsuki. Thanks to this power, Naruto was able to fight and even overwhelm Six Paths Madara Uchiha in combat.

Does Dolby Atmos need mastering? ›

Yes, Dolby Atmos mastering is popular, but it works as a final perfecting touch to the mix. It happens quite often that musicians who create Dolby Atmos mixes don't have a 3D speaker setup and use headphones for mixing, or aren't experienced enough in working with this object-based format.

Is 12 LUFS too loud? ›

Everywhere in the web the recommendation for LUFS in mastering for streaming is about -14 LUFS (Spotify), pointing that mastering louder than that is not a good idea, because of potential limiting applied by the platforms.

Is 11 LUFS too loud? ›

The whole point of normalization is to make sure listeners don't have to constantly change their volume. It's not a magic number that will make your song sound its best. Most mastering engineers still master tracks much louder. If you want to compete with the pros, your best bet is to shoot higher than −14 LUFS.

Is 9 LUFS too loud? ›

An integrated level of roughly -12 LUFS, with peaks no higher than -1 dBTP, and a max short-term level of no more than -10 or -9 LUFS is likely to get turned down at least a little on all the major streaming platforms—at least for now. This does not mean all songs need to be exactly this loud (see next point).

How many hours does it take to master a song? ›

How long does it take to master a song? Mastering time depends greatly on the quality of the mix. Usually, it takes a professional audio engineer 30-90 minutes for an average track. However, the time can vary from 10 minutes for a perfect mix to several hours in case of stem mastering.

What techniques are used in rock music? ›

Music Technology: Stylistic Finger prints of Rock 'n' Roll
  • Instrumentation includes – male vocals, backing vocals, electric guitars, double bass, drums, piano, harmonica, saxophone and other brass.
  • Fast Tempo – 140bpm or faster.
  • Energetic delivery of vocals (screaming and shouting)
  • Often based on 12-bar chord structure.
17 Jun 2016

How many dB should you leave for mastering? ›

Headroom for Mastering is the amount of space (in dB) a mixing engineer will leave for a mastering engineer to properly process and alter an audio signal. Typically, leaving 3 – 6dB of headroom will be enough room for a mastering engineer to master a track.

Can a master be too loud? ›

However, it can be difficult to dial in a loud master without sacrificing sound quality. Eventually, when a mix becomes too loud, it loses dynamics and may even introduce unwanted distortion.

How much EQ do you need for mastering? ›

Roll off some 100–150 Hz. If it sounds toppy: Try an EQ cut around 3–8 kHz. Another approach is to boost the low end slightly, which has the psychoacoustic effect of blunting the high end somewhat, even though the high frequencies haven't actually been reduced.

What is the strongest type of sage mode? ›

Snake Sage Mode is the strongest of the sage modes. Senjutsu which can also be studied from the snakes of the Ryūchi Cave also gain a number of advantages while using Sage Mode in battle, these include: The user's perception abilities, reflexes, strength, speed, and stamina dramatically increase.

What is stronger than sage mode? ›

The Rinnegan is a godly eye and the strongest of the Three Great Dojutsu. It was first awakened by the Sage of Six Paths, Hagoromo Otsutsuki, and then by Madara Uchiha. During the Fourth Great Ninja War, Hagoromo Otsutsuki also gifted the Rinnegan to Sasuke Uchiha.

How do I know if I'm listening to Dolby Atmos? ›

The one surefire way to confirm Dolby Atmos is working is to check the information panel on the front of your AV receiver or your soundbar (if it has one, or perhaps an on-screen display). It should display the kind of audio signal it's currently working with.

Do you need 7 speakers for Dolby Atmos? ›

While two Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers, modules, or overhead speakers will deliver a compelling experience, we recommend using four if possible. This will deliver more precisely located and realistic overhead sounds.

How do I take full advantage to Dolby Atmos? ›

Just add a Dolby Atmos receiver. So, yes, if you want to take advantage of true Atmos surround you'll need new hardware. But Dolby Digital is still the default for everything, so this isn't a required upgrade. If you're not interested in Atmos, your gear will still work.

Should you normalize mastering? ›

Normalizing audio should be avoided on the master track or during the pre-master or master bounce down to avoid intersample peaking.

How many LUFS is normal? ›

Bearing all this in mind, depending on the purpose of the music you're making, you might still want to go above the recommended average of -14 LUFS.

How many LUFS is a dB? ›

After all, both decibels and LUFS are more or less equal as 1 LUF is roughly 1 DB. Both are used to characterize volume. Though these loudness units have a 1 to 1 ratio in audio, they are still used for different things.

How many LUFS is a master? ›

The best mastering level for streaming is an integrated -14 LUFS, as it best fits the loudness normalization settings of the majority of streaming services. Although other measurements like the true peak value and other metrics need to be considered, -14 LUFS is the best mastering level when considering loudness.

Should I use RMS or LUFS? ›

LUFS meters will show the integrated loudness of audio, similar to RMS, but more truthful in terms of our hearing. RMS measures the average power/loudness of the audio, but LUFS – I (integrated) is more accurate.

How loud is Spotify master? ›

Mastering tips
  • Target the loudness level of your master at -14dB integrated LUFS and keep it below -1dB TP (True Peak) max. ...
  • If your master's louder than -14dB integrated LUFS, make sure it stays below -2dB TP (True Peak) to avoid extra distortion.

Why are my masters so quiet? ›

Re: Master is quiet compared to commercial release.

It's normal that your master sounds lower when you master to -16LUFS, because it *is* lower. That may or may not be a problem depending on where it will be played. Depending on the situation, you may need more than one master.

What DB should my melody be at? ›

The ideal listening range for most home studios is around 73-76dB SPL. But mixers have no control over how loud people listen to music. Only how loud each element is in the track. That's why it's crucial to make sure that your mix is balanced and each instrument is at the proper level relative to the other channels.

How do I practice sage mode? ›

In order to enter Sage Mode, the gatherer must remain absolutely still in order to be one with nature and balance the natural energy with their own physical and spiritual energies. If the user puts too little natural energy into using senjutsu, the technique will not work.

Is Sage Mode hard to learn? ›

Updated on February 23, 2022, by Suzail Ahmad:Sage Mode is by no means an easy power to acquire, it takes years of hard training to be able to learn it. Even after learning to use the Sage Mode, it requires a lot of time to perfect it.

How do you master audio vinyl? ›

How to Master for Vinyl
  1. Using a mid-side equalizer, attenuate the side image up to 150Hz.
  2. Using this same equalizer, subtly attenuate sibilance-based frequencies.
  3. Use compression to control any excessive dynamics.
  4. Gently introduce low-level compression.
  5. Avoid any psychoacoustic stereo-imaging.

Why is Sage Mode so strong? ›

In the Naruto world, Sage Mode is a rare power that only a select few can utilize. By mixing it with their own chakra, and becoming one with nature, the user can access a heightened state. This allows the user to get much stronger as well as become far more efficient.

Can someone learn all Sage modes? ›

According to all the evidence given so far, no.

How long does it take to learn Sage Mode? ›

It took him about a week to learn the Sage Mode. He was faster than Jiraiya to learn it. He also has better control of the natural energy, so he doesn't have much physical change in him like Jiraiya. Jiraiya's face changes a bit when he goes to Sage Mode.

What are the drawbacks of sage mode? ›

Disadvantages. There are a few disadvantages while using this mode as well, these include: If the user draws in too much natural energy, they run the risk of transforming into a toad, then into stone. If the petrification is completed, it cannot be reversed.

What can beat sage mode? ›

Here are five powers stronger than Sage Mode and five that are weaker.
  • 10/10 Stronger: Eternal Mangekyo Sharingan.
  • 9/10 Weaker: Sharingan.
  • 8/10 Stronger: Rinnegan.
  • 7/10 Weaker: Byakugan.
  • 6/10 Stronger: Nine Tails Chakra Mode.
  • 5/10 Weaker: Byakugou.
  • 4/10 Stronger: Tenseigan Chakra Mode.
13 Feb 2020

Is Toad Sage the strongest sage mode? ›

4/6 Perfect Toad Sage Mode — It's Stronger Than Imperfect Sage Mode. Mastered first by Naruto by training under Fukasaku at Mount Myoboku, the perfect Toad Sage Mode sees the user unleash the full power of this ability as a perfect balance between the natural chakra and the chakra of the user is finally attained.

Does mastering improve sound quality? ›

Mastering is the final stage of audio production—the process of putting the finishing touches on a song by enhancing the overall sound, creating consistency across the album, and preparing it for distribution.

Is audio mastering necessary? ›

Mastering is one of the most important steps in the production process, as it ensures that your music will sound its best on different streaming platforms, media formats and devices.

Does mastering sound good? ›

Simply put, mixing makes instruments sound good together; mastering makes songs sound good together. Mixing sessions can be huge. A simple rock or pop arrangement can easily contain 32+ tracks, while complex projects can have track counts in the hundreds.

Do audiophiles listen to vinyl? ›

It's about listening to music for the sake of listening to it, and about enjoying the ritual of playing records. Despite the conflicting opinions, many audiophiles say that both mediums are generally good sources.

What makes a good audio master? ›

The main goal of mastering is to make sure the material sounds as good as possible in all listening situations, but “good” is subjective. You should be able to listen to it start to finish without the urge to adjust your playback level or EQ as you listen. The songs should have the proper spacing and flow between them.

Do you master a WAV or MP3? ›

There are many reasons to choose WAV over MP3 for your Master, these are the top 4: WAV is versatile as it provides an uncompressed audio file that can be converted into other lossy formats if needed. MP3 is already a lossy format and converting it to WAV will result in a quality loss.


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