Audeze speaks to mastering engineer Steve Kitch

Steve Kitch is a mastering engineer based in the UK with over 25 years working in the business. Operating from his facility in deepest, darkest Devon.

 Steve Kitch in his studio with Audeze LCD-5 headphones

"I’ve recently upgraded to the Audeze LCD-5 having owned the LCD-X for the past 8 years... The LCD-5s are so much lighter and... the overall character is very similar but everything is just that little bit better."  - Steve Kitch
Here's our chat with Steve:
How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on these days?

As a mastering engineer, I am typically the last person involved in a project. Recording, production and mixing has been completed so it’s the last stage where tweaks and changes can be made before people get to hear the final product. It’s my job to collate/check mixes, make sure everything is sounding the very best it possibly can, then create the final masters which go to digital distributors and physical manufacturers. I can enhance the music or make corrections if necessary using high-end analogue gear and digital tools whilst ensuring that mixes will translate well on all playback systems. At this stage, there is no room for compromise. With the finished master my aim is to create a cohesive and satisfying listening experience which brings out the very best of everything. Most importantly, I am hearing mixes for the first time so I can offer a fresh and objective perspective. This means I can provide a supportive role to musicians and mixers who have been working on a project over long periods.

I keep a Spotify playlist updated with examples of projects I’ve mastered...

They are all mastering credits. Cattle & Cain - Navigator is a good example of pop album mastering. The Pineapple Thief - Versions of the Truth is a great rock album with hifi dynamic rock mastering.

How did you get started in mastering?

I started out running a basic studio from my parent’s house back in the mid-90s. I was very young, self-taught and didn’t know what I was doing. I was the only person in town who had a CD burner, back in the day when they were really expensive and blank CDs cost a fortune. Everyone came to get their mixes put on a CD. It was like I had access to some magic machine that no one knew about. At the time I didn’t know what mastering was. However, I noticed that there were improvements I could make to the mixes to make them sound better. I started to get more and more work “improving mixes” and thus my career as a mastering engineer had begun.

Can you name any factors that influenced the course of your musical life? Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc?

When I was very young I grew up with a piano in the house. No one else in the family played it or was even that musical. However, I developed a desire to bash at the keys, creating what I thought was music at the time. I begged my parents for piano lessons and eventually got up to a reasonable standard before I was introduced to beer and girls. At the same time, computer technology was taking huge steps forward and I developed a passion for technology. The two interests fused and it was then that I knew that I had to work in a studio for a living.

Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?

My Audeze LCD-X headphones have saved me numerous times. I’ve recently moved into a new purpose-built facility and whilst it was being built I had to work in a temporary studio without ideal acoustics. I was able to carry on working with confidence thanks to the amazing accuracy and translation of the Audeze headphones.

I also do a lot of travelling and often have to check mixes, do tweaks and even master last-minute projects for clients. Even when out on the road, I can carry on working on the Audeze whilst keeping my clients happy.  

Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?

I have a “hybrid” set up where I use a selection of analogue and digital gear. I love the sound of today’s modern plugins but I would never replace my prized analogue gear collection. Digital just can’t replace the depth and “3D-ness” that you get with high-end analogue gear…although it’s getting close!

On every project, I’ll always check on the Audeze for a second opinion. They are also perfect for QCing final masters.

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own careers?

Talent, patience and hard work. Not necessarily in that order! At the beginning of my career, I tried my hand in loads of things. Production, remixing, keyboard playing, mixing, mastering etc. It wasn’t until I decided to specialise in mastering that I started to be successful. However, I feel that when you’re young, it’s important to try lots of things to see what sticks and what you’re good at.

Also, don’t get into too much debt and be nice to people!

How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?

I’ve always had a pair of headphones since the very beginning. I have an incredibly great sounding room with a pair of full-range custom Tyler Acoustic speakers. However, every day I use a pair of headphones for edits, QC and as a secondary source for checking masters. I also use my Audeze headphones if I’m traveling. I’ve ended up doing masters on headphones in hotel rooms and tour buses and I don’t feel using these headphones is a compromise.

How have your Audeze headphones affected your work?

I’ve recently upgraded to the Audeze LCD-5 having owned the LCD-X for the past 8 years. I was excited to hear how my trusty Xs could possibly be improved. Firstly, the weight! The LCD-5s are so much lighter and more comfortable to wear on long sessions. Sonically, the overall character is very similar but everything is just that little bit better. The lows, mids, highs and resolution are all fantastic. I’m very happy.

I’m just about to depart to the USA on a 6-week tour so I won’t have access to my mastering studio back home. However, I'm very confident that I’ll be able to carry on working on the road with my new LCD-5s.

Steve Kitch's Audeze LCD-5 headphones on his workstation