IZOTOPE NECTAR REVIEW
Izotope’s Nectar and Nectar Elements vocal plug-ins are designed to be a one-stop-shop for all your vocal processing needs. That’s a pretty tall order, but regardless Izotope insist you don’t need anything else. Hmm… most of us have favourite plug-ins, effects chains and – dare I say it – even presets that we automatically dial in for any vocal tracks as a starting point, so straight away it feels a bit odd to ignore these and see just a single plug-in sitting in the Insert rack. Still, since they insist, I’ll give it a whirl.
Open up the box of Nectar tricks and no surprise it’s far from a single insert effect. Inside you get 11 different modules to play with, most of them being the usual suspects such as compression, delay, EQ and the rest – anything you might possibly want to apply to a vocal recording is available in Nectar including a real-time Pitch Correction feature. Its inclusion alone could make Nectar appealing for some.
Most of Nectar’s internal plug-ins have detailed variations built in, such as a choice of an analogue, tape or digital delay effect. The compressor can operate as a digital, vintage, optical or solid-state device… options abound everywhere.
So despite being that single inserted effect, now you’ve got quite a complex plug-in that almost defies knowing where to begin. Don’t panic, Izotope has that problem covered.
NECTAR – ANY FLAVOUR YOU LIKE?
Nectar is based around a collection of genres and sub-menu styles – okay, it’s a fancy name for factory presets – that get you started with a desired overall vocal effect. A few examples will explain this best, like “Jazz – Slow and Smokey”, “Hip Hop and Rap – Indie Rap” and “Folk – Greenwich Dry”. Most make sense, while some are a bit… say what? The different genres, of course, determine which effects are in use and the individual settings, but they also affect the assignment and appearance of the generic slider controls in the GUI’s main display. One of these sliders changes a lot, for instance with the Rock – Demon’s Realm preset it offers an “Evil” control containing Heat and Ghoul settings which are, in fact, parameters of the underlying Doubler plug-in. Other controllers remain constantly in the GUI, except what they do can change. The Space controller usually ties in with the reverb or delay plug-ins – and sometimes both – and the Level controls are associated with compressor and limiter settings… or not.
Think of these main GUI sliders as kind of grouped controls linked to the appropriate plug-ins, depending on the genre, that give you global tweaks. After a while you learn to read between the lines – or the labels – better and a bit of swotting-up with the User Manual will no doubt explain more clearly how these controls are assigned. Until then, as you explore Nectar you’ll find yourself frequently switching in and out of the Advanced view trying to pin down what’s changing what.
UNDER THE HOOD
The Advanced window takes you to heart of the plug-in modules and the more traditional parameters for each. Remember, the genres are only suggested presets and you can make as many adjustments as you like and save the results as true Presets under a different dialogue box. Aside from giving you full control of the individual plug-ins, the Advanced mode allows you to re-order the signal chain apart from the Breath Control and Pitch modules, which are always first and second.
This is an Izotope plug-in and it goes without saying – but I’ll say it anyway – that the quality of each plug-in is high and those aforementioned options within each can significantly widen your choices. In a few other areas Izotope has kept things simpler, probably to reduce the potential CPU load, such as only providing reverb in a small, medium and large plate type. And maybe I didn’t look hard enough, but I couldn’t find a Tap button for the delay.
The Pitch Correction module is similar to the Auto-tune or V-Vocal (Sonar) GUI, rather than Melodyne’s “blob” approach. Nectar’s pitch correction on-the-fly is impressive, particularly if you make the effort to set the proper scale (a Chromatic setting seemed to struggle with minor scales). There is the option to capture a wave file inside the module’s pop-out editor, then select errant notes and manually correct them. A Split tool lets you narrow things down. Otherwise the tool box is quite bare – you can’t straighten out excessive vibrato, for instance or draw in your desired pitch. The only choice is pitch-shifting existing data. Maybe Izotope is trying to re-enforce the message that if you find yourself trying to fix every tortured syllable of a performance, then the answer is to send the singer back to the vocal booth? So sue ‘em – Nectar isn’t designed for people who can’t sing? Good call.
I’m going to admit that I’m not a fan of Nectar’s rather utilitarian GUI, which is typical of Izotope. Call me easily entertained by flashing lights and things, but beyond the front panel I find the bland plug-in interfaces within the Advanced section a little uninspiring. Again, maybe it’s in the interests of keeping system resources focused on the important stuff – talking of which, Nectar isn’t too demanding until you kick in the Doubler plug-in, which can be CPU-hungry. A choice of Tracking or Mixing modes internally reconfigures latency and CPU usage to allow for vocalists who like some effects in their headphones. By the way, you get a frequency analyser running inside the EQ window, a handy bonus.
BACK TO BASICS
Take away the Tracking/Mixing mode and the Advanced window – and you’ve got Nectar Elements. While you’re still getting all 11 modules to use, Elements restricts you to choosing them by using the genre and style menu, and you lose a huge amount of flexibility and the ability to dive deep into the separate plug-in module settings. It’s a bit of a mystery with some genres exactly what modules are being used and what parameters the GUI sliders are accessing. You’ve still got Pitch Correction, but only in real-time with no manual editing. You could say Nectar Elements is aimed at people who want quick results without necessarily caring or knowing how they’re being achieved. It certainly delivers that.
The full version of Nectar delivers even more. In many ways Elements rivals some plug-in suites that can cost five times as much. You have to get your head around the unfamiliar workflow of doing everything inside one plug-in, then ignore having just the one Insert slotted filled over your vocal channel, which just looks plain weird. The verdict is, Izotope is right in saying you don’t need anything else. If Nectar doesn’t do the vocal trickery for you, something is seriously wrong.
We know who to blame for that, but make sure you turn off the Talkback microphone before you say it out loud.
PRICE AND AVAILABILITY: You can try Nectar for yourself first at www.izotope.com and download prices are US$129 (Elements) and US$299 (Full version).