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iZotope: Music Production Suite Pro Review Pt. 2

In part one of this review we took a look at what makes iZotope RX the industry standard for cleaning and repairing your audio files. This time we’re focusing on Ozone Pro, and how this rather clever plugin and its components can not only assist you in mastering your own mixes but actually help in furthering your mastering knowledge. And while there can be no substitute for using your ears, we’ll also take a look at Tonal Balance Control, which can help act as your second opinion when you need it most...

One mastering engineer’s mastering chain can be very different to the next, often changing from job to job and genre to genre. Bearing that in mind, Ozone provides a very comprehensive list of modules to load up your Ozone Pro plugin with.

Let’s start with Ozone’s main plugin interface, Ozone Pro, of which the Master Assistant is its key feature. The Master Assistant utilises machine learning to make informed decisions about samples depending on the specific genres of music that you play. You also have the choice of playing your preferred or favourite tracks with a view to emulating the same style or sound. By selecting a section of audio which represents your track at its loudest or most dynamic, you’re giving the Master Assistant a good place from which to start building your mastering chain.

Ozone Pro is a bit like a rack of software versions of the mastering tools that you’d find in a mastering room, but with a couple of additions that you won’t have seen before, like the Gain Match and Bypass buttons, with which you can instantly compare your original mix with your master as you go.

Ozone Pro Dynamic EQ is an incredibly flexible mastering tool. It can be used as a multiband compressor to reduce those individual elements in a mix that stand out when they shouldn’t, like an overly loud tambourine or hi-hat. Conversely, it can be used to expand a defined frequency band that meets the threshold like a snare drum or a vocal line. This is such a great plugin, and I’ve found uses for it on the likes of slap double bass and classical guitar. I also like the way iZotope cleaned up the interface with the compression and expansion arrows below and above the band marker, leaving more room to see the dynamic movement of your EQ curve as your track plays.

Next is Ozone Pro Dynamics which is a fully featured compressor/limiter. With a limiting ratio of 2.5:1 to 30:1, a compression ratio of 1:1 to 30:1 and 1: to 1:10 of expansion, there’s nothing this plugin can’t glue or tame. The Dynamics header features a view button on the left which lets you toggle through the three available views: Crossover, Gain Reduction and Detection Filter. You can also add up to four frequency bands, making this a very flexible multiband dynamics tool.

The Regular Players

Equalizer is just that; unlike the dynamic EQ which only makes its applied EQ active when a threshold is reached, this is your master buss EQ for when the mix needs more permanent EQ adjustment.

For that purpose, Ozone Pro provides you with two incidences of the same EQ for your Ozone Pro plugin. There are up to eight selectable EQ nodes, which in turn have a further option from within their Pass, Shelve and Bell menus, offering endless scope for crafting your sound. The header also has a handy scaling tool which can reduce or increase all nodes proportionally; handy for cross-referencing and checking your work.

Ozone Exciter is another useful tool for adding a variety of selectable and useful distortions across the whole or particular frequency bands within your mix. There are four available bands which you can listen to in isolation; I’d recommend trying the different flavours or link bands. There’s also an oversampling button if you wish to increase the quality of Exciter, which options like Tape and Valve really benefit from.

SPECTRAL SHAPER IS NOW OFTEN THE FIRST IN MY MASTERING CHAIN, AND HAS QUICKLY BECOME A VERY USEFUL PROBLEM SOLVER.

Ozone Low End Focus is a really neat and simple plugin which I tend to use in Mid/Side mode to keep bass right in the centre. The target area to affect is set by two range selectors in the spectral view and can be from 20Hz up to 300Hz. There are two modes to choose from: Punchy which affects the percussive transients and low end attack of say an upright bass and kick drum, or Smooth, which looks at the bass information as a whole. Contrast simply adds with a positive value or subtracts with a negative value to lose low end focus, while Gain re-adjusts the level in the target range.

The Specialists

Ozone’s Spectral Shaper was something of a mystery to me until I had some time to kill, and got to play with it as a standalone plugin on a couple of stems. I noticed how in Listen, it was picking up vocal ‘S’ sounds in a track which clearly hadn’t been de-essed at all well. It was probably the last Ozone plugin I got to grips with, but is now often the first in a mastering chain, and has quickly become a very useful problem solver.

This really is one where you need to use the Listen button to bring the threshold right down so you can hear what it’s finding, and then narrow your frequency range accordingly. Start with a fairly slow attack time and reduce as necessary, and you can set the Tone to taste depending on what it is you’re trying to control.

Ozone Master Rebalance is an insane module/plugin. If you need to use it you probably want to have a conversation with the mix engineer first, however this is one powerful plugin that simply defies logic. Imagine you have a mix on which it is frustratingly difficult to hear the lyric, simply because it’s competing with a brace of guitars. Load up Master Rebalance, hit the vocal button and push up the fader; it’ll blow your mind!

Then there’s Ozone’s four vintage plugins/modules: Vintage Compressor, Vintage EQ, Vintage Limiter and Vintage Tape, all of which have a really rich sound which draws on the warmth and soft distortions of the past.

Tonal Balance Control Pro meanwhile is a very handy tool for checking the tonal balance of your mix, no matter how good or inadequate your listening environment may be. There are 12 tonal balance target presets covering all the major genres, which give you a clear picture of how your sound compares to your target preset. The ‘Select a Source’ button at the bottom gives you direct access to other iZotope modules and plugins in your mastering chain.

Of course, all rules are made to be broken, and ultimately your own creativity and passion for your music should craft the track that you want to hear. As you can tell, there’s a huge amount to discover and master — excuse the pun — in Ozone. Head over to iZotope’s website and check out this monthly subscription package for yourself.