With the rise of home based studios, independent musicians of today are often handling multiple tasks that would normally be handled by a larger number of individuals. One of these tasks is mixing, another one is mastering. iZotope’s Ozone has always catered well to mastering, but it is now evolving into a tool that is also suitable for mixing.
The name is probably not new to anyone, considering that the first version of Ozone came out sometime around 2002. The somewhat recent release of Ozone 6 introduced a more modern interface and some fantastic new processing modules. Ozone 6 also pioneered a standalone version of the software, allowing the users to import multiple songs into one project, apply fades, dithering and sample-rate conversions and even load third party plugins into the mastering chain.
Ozone 7 Standard brings all of the old modules from version 6 (Dynamics, Equalizer, the Dynamic EQ that was previously only included in the Advanced edition, Exciter, Maximizer, and the rather impressive Ditherer) and also adds a brand new module called Vintage Limiter (loosely modeled on the FC 670). Version 7 also includes a new Maximizer algorithm IRC IV, as well as the possibility to export your work in MP3 and AAC formats from the standalone app.
Ozone 7 Advanced allows you to preview the compression codecs and offers three additional modules: a Vintage compressor, a Pultec style EQ and the Vintage Tape Emulation. Aside from these extra modules, the advanced version also gives you access to all the processors as separate plugins, as well as iZotope’s Insight plugin.
For the users of the Standard edition, however, there is nothing stopping them from using Ozone 7 as a channel strip, providing of course that they do have the CPU cycles to spare. iZotope make no bones about choosing sound quality at the expense of a higher CPU hit, and some of the processing can indeed get heavy, especially in the Maximizer module.
Once loaded into the chain, each module can be bypassed, or soloed. The latter control bypasses all of the other active modules. In addition to the global Ozone presets, each module also has its own selection of presets and of course you can save your own. Presets can offer a pretty solid starting point for beginners. I was quite happy to find presets for the multi-band compressor in particular, as that’s one process that I find somewhat difficult to get right.
The modules can be chained in any order you like, but you can only have one instance of each module in the chain, with the exception of the Parametric EQ which supports two instances running simultaneously.
We’ll start with the new processors in Ozone 7; The vintage versions of Compressor, Limiter, EQ and Tape. I don’t think these are attempts at 1:1 emulations of particular analog hardware. Instead, the aim was probably to provide an authentic analog behavior and sound with a broader palette of possible flavors.
Vintage Compressor is a single band compressor that offers three processing modes: Sharp, Balanced and Smooth. Sharp is the more aggressive setting, Smooth is quite a bit more transparent (even at higher gain reduction settings), and Balanced is somewhere between the two. The Vintage Compressor has flexible internal side-chain filters, but unlike the standard dynamics module, it does not have a dry/wet control. Under the hood, Vintage Compressor’s auto-release function is always on. There is no way to turn it off, as the adaptive release characteristic is an important part of the behavior of the different Vintage Compressor modes. The compressor itself is very easy to use and it simply oozes character.
Vintage Limiter is loosely based on the Fairchild 670 with an IRC I limiter applied after the processing to prevent clipping. It is also the new home of the tube mode from the Maximizer in Ozone 6. There are three modes here in total: Analog, Tube and Modern. These modes differ from each other both in their sonic imprint and their attack and release time variables (which are given adjustable ranges in the character control section).
I’ve never personally used this kind of hardware, but from listening tests of real world gear, I think that these modes do live up to their names. There is a definite valve sound in the Tube mode, the Analog mode is thick, a little darker and a little warmer (but not muddy) and the Modern mode is clean and punchy just as you’d expect, but not at all sterile.
Vintage EQ emulates the Pultec EQP-1A and MEQ-5 designs, with the EQP-1A taking care of the high and low end while the MEQ-5 deals with the midrange.
This design has selectable frequency bands and variable Q. The Pultec is famous for its low end push/pull design, which allows you to boost and cut the same frequency range. Since the boost and cut are not perfectly symmetrical, they don’t completely cancel each other out, which results in some very useful curves.
The Pultec has been a mainstay of mixing for decades. I find that it allows you to quickly carve out a unique space for each instrument, as it’s fairly easy to create pleasant sounding broad spectrum changes using this particular EQ design.
The Vintage Tape module is inspired by a well maintained Studer A810 two track. It offers control over tape bias, tape speed, harmonics, low/high emphasis and drive. It’s free of wow and flutter, cross-talk and hiss, and I think that this totally makes sense for the module’s intended use.
With the Harmonic parameter set to its minimum value, the tape saturation produces mostly odd harmonics, allowing you to gradually introduce even harmonics. Applied to a mix, a setting just above mid-way produced that up front, “in your face” sound typical for processors that add harmonics. The Bias setting creates a dark, compressed and distorted sound at the top end of its travel, while the other extreme seems to make the high end more aggressive. The Low and High emphasis emulate the resonant peak of the tape head bump, bringing out low and high end information just as you’d expect, and they really deliver. The Low emphasis in particular is impressive in how much bass it can bring out of a track.
On single tracks, I tried driving the vintage tape module until it would break into distortion. It produced some great results. For electronic music producers like myself, it can quickly transform the clean digital sound into something much more sonically interesting. I have no doubt that people will have a lot of fun with using one on drums, synths and guitars.
The workhorse EQ on offer is an 8-band parametric equalizer that can be set to Minimum Phase or Linear (digital mode). Any of the eight available bands can be set to a filter, shelf, or a bell. Furthermore, there are a variety of EQ types/shapes on offer. The low-pass and high-pass filters feature flat, resonant or brick wall modes. The shelves can operate in analog, vintage, Baxandall or resonant modes and the bell bands can be set up in peak, proportional Q or band shelf.
The band shelf mode can be particularly transparent, especially at wider Q settings. This is a clean EQ but It’s worth noting the optional “soft limit” feature, which is modeled after hardware valve equalizers. With high amounts of gain, you can hear it go into obvious saturation. I personally love this mode, as it takes the EQ to a whole new level.
In terms of ergonomics, the EQ is well featured as well. You can select multiple bands and drag them around, or solo any of the active bands. The output is level compensated when you bypass the EQ, allowing you to accurately judge the tonal changes you are making without the change in gain throwing off your judgement.
Lastly, there’s also an EQ match feature. Simply put, Ozone can analyze the frequency spectrum of some reference material (source) and then apply that spectrum to your target audio. This new EQ curve can be adjusted, both in terms of intricacy and strength, and does not use up the eight bands of the regular EQ. EQ match is not a unique feature to Ozone, but I really like how it has been implemented here. It’s easy to use, flexible and also quite effective.
Diving into the EQ menu reveals an option to show extra visual analysis, allowing you to not only see the frequency response of the equalizer, but also the phase response, phase delay and group delay. The phase effects of EQ can occasionally catch you off-guard, especially when choosing between different high-pass filters, so I found it really helpful to be able to see the hidden hand.
In my opinion, the parametric EQ alone might be worth the asking price of the standard version. Not only is it a great sounding equalizer, but it also offers linear and minimum phase modes, with valve saturation as an option and a very effective EQ match feature.
The dynamic EQ is similarly well featured, but there are six bands on offer instead of eight and the shelves are Baxandall type only. With a dynamic EQ, you set the threshold for a band, the gain (cut or boost) and attack/release times. When the audio content crosses the threshold, you will get a boost or a cut, depending on how you set it up. It sounds a lot more “alive” than a static EQ, and can normally offer a more transparent way to fix problems, as it can apply temporary boosts and cuts that conform to the source material.
The dynamics module is very flexible and can be configured to operate as a compressor/limiter with up to four bands. The bands can be linked for easy editing of multiple corresponding parameters at once, or worked on independently, of course. The frequency splits can be moved freely and, in case you’re not sure where they should go, the auto-learn feature will find the optimal split points for you based on the audio material you’re working with. It also features automatic make-up gain, adaptive release, variable knee, a dry/wet mix control and can work in M/S mode.
A high-pass filter can be patched into the internal side-chain, with four selectable slopes ranging from 6dB to 48dB. You can also solo the side-chain to make fine tuning easier. Another option here is the adjustable Tilt setting, which is similar to the Thrust circuit on API compressors. It applies a different weight to the filter, preserving the bass and boosting the high end instead.
The Dynamics module has one additional trick up its sleeve: the detection method. It offers the usual Peak mode, along with RMS and an interesting mode called Envelope Detection, which the manual says “produces even levels across all frequencies” and does not produce the aliasing or artifacts present in RMS detection. This explanation may make sense to some reading this article, but I’m not entirely sure how it does this, and I wish the manual went into more detail here. It suggests some kind of shaping before detection.
The actual compression strikes me as highly usable and applicable in a wide range of mixing and mastering scenarios. It is smooth, quite transparent, and has an analog-like quality to it. It is actually quite nice to use in single band mode as a conventional compressor. Much like the EQ module, it is very deep and seductively powerful.
The exciter module is where the analog color lives. It is a collection of saturation models, the by-products of analog circuitry that just seem to mesh well with our ears. There are six different modes available, ranging from transistors and tape to circuit simulations of tubes. Each mode can be split into up to four bands, and each band can have its own amount and mix control. My personal favorite mode here is the Dual Triode, especially with more emphasis in the side signal in M/S mode, as it can really add a lot of pleasing top end to a signal and widen the stereo image. It is easy to overdo this effect, but sometimes it’s just the ticket.
Exciter Tape VS Vintage Tape
With a tape mode included in the exciter module, why include a vintage tape processor? To my ears, the exciter tape behaves more like a tape effect, it breaks into distortion quite easily. On the upside, the exciter tape features a mix control and can be split across multiple bands. The Vintage Tape module does sound like a much more detailed mode. It also offers a lot more control and you can really dig into it before outright distortion occurs. And when it does start to distort, it sounds decidedly more authentic than the exciter module.
Imager is a stereo widening tool and offers up to four bands and two different modes to work in. By splitting the process into bands, you could set the bass to mono while widening the mid-range a little, and the highs a little more. It can also be useful in fixing problems when it’s too late to fix them in the mix.
Wideners usually only work on material that is already in stereo, but there is a stereoize option available here which creates stereo width from a mono signal. Although it might not be effective on all material, such as drums for example, it can be quite invisible and effective elsewhere.
I’m always concerned about stereo widening in terms of mono compatibility, because when the left and right channel are out of phase with one another, the audio material can partially or totally disappear when played on a mono speaker. Handily, there is an option in the settings window which prevents the process from producing any setting that would result in this cancellation. There is also a mono-monitor button on the plugin as well, so that you can quickly check the results.
I’d wager one of the things Ozone is most famous for is the Maximizer, a limiter based on a technology iZotope calls Intelligent Release Control, which is responsible for calculating the release time. The section is now larger than ever, with 4 IRC modes. Mode IV is the latest one and it employs a kind of spectrum shaper which is able to reduce the bands which are contributing the most to peaks, while leaving quieter content unharmed. The result sounds like a conventional limiter, but it pumps less and preserves transients very well. Furthermore, IRC III and IV offer a number modes to work in, with III offering Pumping, Balanced, Crisp and Clipping. The modes on IRC III have a lot to do with the release time, and how quickly the limiting gets out of the way, whereas the different modes on IRC IV have more to do with transient preservation.
Speaking of transients, all modes can make use of a feature called Transient Emphasis, which shapes transients before limiting, resulting in more transient detail after limiting.
Since a lot of the power of the maximizer comes from clever analysis and automatic control under the hood, you don’t get as much control as you might with some other limiters on the market, but you do get to define the overall sound with the character slider, which travels through fast, smooth, transparent and slow. Stereo unlink can be dialed in from 0% to 100%, allowing the maximizer to limit left and right channels independently. Sometimes unlinking the left and right channels can open up the stereo width a little without any negative side effects, depending on what material you’re working with.
The depth of Ozone 7 really took me by surprise. I knew it had a lot to offer but I wasn’t prepared for just how much it could do, and how versatile its processors could be.
Ozone 7 is a flexible and feature packed piece of software. There isn’t anything I know of that offers as much in one place or sounds as good. For the asking price of the Standard version, you get one heck of a lot of quality stuff for your money and I can recommend it to anyone who wants to do their own mastering, even if it’s just for demos, since it Ozone also doubles as a great mixing tool.
As for the Advanced edition, it’s going to depend largely on how much you value the Insight plugin and the extra vintage modules. In the end, I think that the advanced version is a product aimed the professional mastering engineer and priced accordingly.
More info: iZotope Ozone 7 (all versions and upgrades)
iZotope Ozone 7 Review
Ozone 7 is a flexible and feature packed piece of mixing and mastering software. There isn’t anything I know of that offers as much in one place or sounds as good. For the asking price of the Standard version, you get one heck of a lot of quality stuff for your money and I can recommend it to anyone who wants to do their own mastering.