Review: iZotope Ozone 5 Advanced
Time to release the ol’ mastering (ball ’n’) chain and tap into Ozone’s all-in-one potential.
Review: Cal Orr
My typical software mastering path comprises Universal Audio, PSP, and Crysonic plug-ins, all individually inserted, and all contributing to an unwieldy clutter that slows workflow. It would be nice to close a few plug-in windows and just let them ‘do their job’, but usually they each have to be open all the time to read critical information at a glance, make adjustments to EQ, etc.
With Ozone, iZotope has provided a way around this multiple plug-in method of mastering by offering all the required EQ, compression, excitation, widening, reverb and limiting plug-ins you need in one convenient window. It’s like tabbed browsing — every module is accessed via its own button. I took Ozone 5 Advanced for a spin to see if it could give me the same result (or better) in a quicker time than my usual go-to (ball ’n’) chain.
To test the different mastering methods for fidelity, ease of use and speed of workflow I used an album recorded by Andrew Bencina in Balgo, Western Australia (see Issue 86), which I hoped would take no more than eight hours for the 13 tracks. All songs, bar one, were recorded in the same space —which would level the playing field. And to keep things reasonably fair I flip-flopped between the old process and new with each new song to ‘start afresh’ so I couldn’t get on a roll with one process or the other.
I’m on a Mac, but Ozone 5 Advanced will install on both Mac and PC and is compatible with all major plug-in formats except MAS. It’s a plug-in, not a stand-alone application, so you will need either a multitrack or stereo DAW to host it. Lastly, you need either an Intel Mac running 10.5.8 or later, or a PC running Windows 7 (32 and 64-bit), Vista 64-bit or XP 32-bit.
POLISHED METER BRIDGE
Ozone 5 Advanced’s newly polished black look is overall less glare-y and more conducive to longer sessions, though a preliminary glance revealed the main page layout to be pretty much the same as Ozone 4. All the modules are where you’d expect them — meters in the same place, etc. So aside from a facelift, the update to Ozone is primarily in a swag of new features.
Positioned under the main stereo meters is the new ‘Meter Bridge’ button. Click on it and a new window opens with a Spectrogram, Stereo Field Graph, Spectrum Analyser and a more comprehensive Stereo Level Meter than the main page.This ‘overall’ style of meter won the metering aspect of my mastering process shootout. Wavelab’s metering options all operate in their own separate windows which only adds to the aforementioned desktop clutter. Furthermore, Wavelab’s Spectrogram provides only an overall snapshot of the program material, whereas Ozone’s fab looking Spectrogram is updated in realtime so you can analyse individual sections of music. Apple’s Logic (my other mastering DAW) doesn’t even have a spectrogram.
NEED TO KNOW
iZotope Ozone 5 Advanced
TAPPING THE SOURCE
Complementary to this, iZotope has implemented the very clever Meter Tap plug-in. It basically lets you ‘tap’ into any channel or bus in your project and not only see what it looks like on a spectrograph, but check the relationship between different parts. Simply place a Tap anywhere in your project, name it and you can access it in Ozone 5’s Advanced Spectrogram via the Meter Bridge window. Eight meter taps are viewable at a time — in either overlay, tile or stack view — and you can combine tap points to see how they interact. Great for viewing combos like kick and bass together to see the low ‘push’ or making sure the voice isn’t getting swamped by guitars. With just Ozone 5 Advanced running and using Meter Tap to analyse the audio I’ve noticed huge screen real estate savings in Wavelab and Logic, and the real-time information Spectrogram provides helps you get the sound where you want it — fast! It even sped up the non-Ozone side of my mastering process shootout. It would be great if the Meter Tap section was selectable from the main Meter Bridge window not just Spectrogram but this is a request not a gripe.
And as if all these metering options weren’t enough, iZotope has thrown in a separate metering plug-in altogether, Insight. It’s great when you don’t need to Tap multiple points and/or run an instance of Ozone 5 Advanced. It also accurately relays information for various EU, American and Japanese Loudness standards. It’s light on the CPU cycles even though displaying much the same information as Meter Bridge. Meter Bridge’s Stereo Vectorscope is replaced with either a Stereo or Surround ‘Sound Field’ scope.
Insight, like Meter Bridge, can expand the individual meters to fill the whole window, however the main window is resizable to some degree, whereas Ozone’s is not. As with Meter Bridge, if you close a module it ‘hides’ itself in a selectable Tab at the bottom of the plug-in window.
I don’t tend to use much reverb in the mastering process (that’s the mixer’s job) but sometimes you have a bunch of really dry close-miked demos or field recordings that just need a few walls around them. iZotope has upgraded the reverb module and added extra room models in the Advanced version. With some old demos of mine it was easy to find a space to suit. I wouldn’t hesitate to use it as a plug-in on individual elements or on a bus. All of which is possible because Ozone 5 Advanced’s modules now come as seven individual component plug-ins. This is like getting a whole plug-in suite that potentially covers all your mix-based processing needs — the iZotope algorithms really are that good. While iZotope’s Alloy 2 is its more mix-oriented product — sticking with the same tab-based, all-in-one GUI approach as Ozone — I’ve found particularly good uses for Ozone’s EQ, Maximizer and Imaging.
CUTTING THE CHAIN
Halfway through the Balgo mastering session it was becoming evident that my standard mastering approach just wasn’t cutting it. Sonically, I felt I was achieving similar results, but my workflow was all wrong. My standard chain being any combination of the following plug-ins — Logic’s Gain; Universal Audio’s Pultec Pro, Cambridge, Neve 33609, Neve 1081 or Massive Passive; Universal Audio’s SSL G Buss Compressor, Precision Multiband, Precision Maximiser and PSP Stereo Control. After this I then move to iZotope RX 2 Advanced for dithering and sample rate conversion plus any restorative measures like click or glitch removal. It’s a long process but one that I’ve gotten used to and been able to speed up using batch processing within RX 2 Advanced. Ozone 5 Advanced’s all-in-one approach, including internal dithering, routing architecture for Left/Right, Stereo and MS just gets you there faster. Plus, if you want to change the routing of modules within Ozone 5 Advanced you simply drag ’n’ drop them in the Filter Graph view… dead easy.
iZotope has updated all the modules, with many of the new features only available to purchasers of Advanced. In particular, the Dynamics section has a new variable knee on all bands that helped achieve smoother sounding crossover points between bands than in Version 4. So too, the Stereo Imaging now includes a Stereoize Mode for adding width to mono sources — great for synths. Also worthy of a mention is the refined Maximizer features, in particular the new ‘Intelligent III’ mode — lovers of drum-heavy music are going to be in raptures with its pretty exceptional transient-handling, without pumping or other limiting side effects. I tested it extensively during the review and began to use it as my go-to when things got ‘beats-y’.
At the end of the mastering — which took two seven-hour sessions to complete — only five hours were spent inside Ozone 5 Advanced. That’s nine hours using my old method!
Of course in the end, you can combine the methods by using Ozone as part of a plug-in chain. This is probably what I’d end up doing because I love what some other third-party plug-ins do to the chain and have become a creature of habit in regard to their tone. All this makes me wonder: should Ozone become stand-alone and act as a host for third party plug-ins? Anyway, I’m going to join the Ozone 5 Advanced fray and spend a lot more time with it in 2013. Or should that be less time?