iZotope: Music Production Suite Pro Review Pt. 1

For those familiar with iZotope’s vast range of mix, mastering and repair tools but have either not been sure about the investment required or the time and learning curves involved - or, if as a creator, you believed that mixing, mastering and track level audio repairs are way beyond your skill set - then read on.

iZotope has put all the latest Pro versions of its top mixing software (Neutron Pro, Ozone Pro and RX Pro For Music) in one suite. These are accompanied by an astounding set of additional software collections like Insight Pro, its award-winning metering and analysis package, Neoverb, which is simple to use and produces some of the best and instantly usable reverb effects I’ve heard, Nectar Pro, VocalSynth Pro, and Melodyne 5 Essentials - all of which are some of the best vocal production, manipulation, synthesis and time/pitch correction software plugins available.

Also included is Tonal Balance Control Pro, which is designed to learn from the music you love or the genre you’re working in to achieve better, more consistent mixing and mastering results.

What’s more, you can now get all of this and more for a yearly subscription of £176.62 VAT excluded.

RX Pro For Music

Apart from being a powerful collection of plugins, RX Pro For Music is a standalone application in its own right, providing a flexible platform for cleaning up stems before exporting them to your DAW, preparing soundtracks, podcasts, interviews etc.

The way that many work today means there’s a lot more collaboration, with files and stems being created and Dropbox’d between musicians and producers. This can throw up some interesting challenges that need to be addressed. The same is true for vocal breaths, lip and tongue clicks and fidgeting noises, footsteps and headphone click track bleed, as well as wonderful MacBook fan noise. All these eventualities are catered for.

I’ll start with something that I wanted a solution to, and what originally sparked my interest in iZotope RX - the demo that has no stems. I’ve had a few of these, mainly song ideas and writing sessions from the past. When you find something that inspires you, speed is of the essence, and the desire to lift the vocal and use it as a guide for alternative arrangements, rather than waiting for stems to ping backward and forward, is immense.

It was this that led me to RX’s ‘Music Rebalance’ and then ‘De-reverb’. With these two modules loaded into RX’s standalone app, I was able to strip out a bunch of ideas that had been originally recorded on a Boss digital 8-track and Akai DR16, as well as some that had been created in GarageBand but where the stems had since been lost or mislaid.

The Bigger Picture

The RX standalone interface includes both a waveform and spectrogram view of the audio file on the same timeline, and there’s a slider that allows you to favour one over the other. It’s advantageous to see both, as it can help you make decisions on what processing to apply. While both run from left to right - the waveform only indicating amplitude - the spectrogram shows amplitude by depth of colour from bottom to top depending on frequency. This is a great way to see, as well as hear what the tools you apply do to the audio.

The right column has a handy search feature, which narrows down the available options depending on the type of work you’re doing. If you select ‘All’ then all options available are listed. Below that is the ‘Module Chain’, in which you can customise a string of processes to achieve the result you’re after.

Next is the Repair section, which hosts 16 modules, the majority of which are also available from within your DAW as plugins. Then there are the 14 ‘Utilities’ which are exclusive to the RX app and feature a range of tools, from EQ to loudness.

If your work revolves around recurring issues, such as a guitarist’s playing style or a singer’s natural voice, consider using or creating presets as soon as possible. The module chain is a handy way to create and save a preset, while the Repair Assistant is another useful tool. A number of modules also feature a learn button, which helps you find a set of very workable parameters and save you time.

Before you start any processing in RX Pro, it’s important to give your source audio a thorough listen and make a clear plan as to what it is you want to achieve. Before you start to process anything, save it as a project in the same way you save your DAW projects. Use the Preview button and the Compare button to check your changes, and don’t lose sight of what it was that you wanted to repair the track for. And finally, make a copy of your original file or alter the copy’s name slightly, so that you don’t do what I did the first time I used RX and overwrite the original!

Different League

For those who have never used iZotope’s RX, let’s have a quick glance through the De-modules. All are optimised to recognise and remove specific types of unwanted noise, usually caused in the general process of music making and performance. These include De-bleed, which learns from the track that is the source of the bleed and uses that knowledge to remove the offending bleed. De-click and De-crackle use a number of algorithms to remove short burst amplitude irregularities and smooth them out.

De-Clip is one of my go-tos, as I find a couple of people I work with tend to underestimate how their voices improve and how much louder they can get after they’ve been recording for a while. The tendency is to be over critical of their own pitch and delivery and lose sight of the technical basics and often the performance. De-ess uses a choice of two different algorithms for identifying and reducing those annoying sibilances.

De-hum picks a frequency and its relative harmonics. In the case of mains and earth loops, it’s likely to be 50Hz and the octaves off. This can impact on your audio and make your bass and low-mids sound larger than life and incredibly muddy. De-plosive is another frequently used plugin of mine. This is also something that is more common from home studios than you might think, and is often overlooked by those who like the warm, close sound. Guitar De-noise, Mouth De-click, Spectral De-noise and Voice De-noise all learn from the audio you select in the interface and apply their magic to the track.