iZotope Ozone 9 Advanced by Mercado_Negro
- Software: Ozone 7 Mastering Software
- Developer: Izotope
- Formats: AU/VST/AAX and Standalone, Win/Mac
- Price: $249 Standard, $499 Advanced
- DRM: Challenge/Response or iLok
- Demo: 10-days fully functional
Notice: I will cover here only the new features in Ozone 7. If you need more information about other modules and features you can read this comprehensive review by Diogo: iZotope Ozone 6.1
Ozone has been one of the most important Mastering softwares for over a decade. Each version has been a major step in evolution, implementing new features and enhancing the workflow. Thanks to this development and the expertise of the team behind this software Ozone has left the “Mastering-Oriented” tag behind and now it can be easily used for mixing. The availability of individual modules in the Advanced version makes this possible. The new Vintage modules are one of the most important features in Ozone 7 because they offer that analog touch so badly needed since the beginning. These 4 new modules add tone, warmth and analog flavor to a system that was primarily conceived as a purely digital environment. During the years we've been getting used to analog processing with plugins and now it's possible within Ozone 7!
In addition to the new Vintage modules Ozone 7 offers enhancements and new features to boost our productivity:
- Ozone’s acclaimed Maximizer comes with improvements and a new algorithm called IRC IV. This new mode is based on dozens of psychoacoustically spaced bands to further reduce pumping and distortion. You can achieve way more definition and clarity in your Masters with this new algorithm.
- In the past the Dynamic EQ module was only available for Advanced users. This is not the case anymore. Now the Standard users can also enjoy this great module.
- The Advanced users now have at their disposal a new feature called Codec Preview to listen, in real time, how their final Masters will sound like in industry-standard formats like MP3 and AAC.
- Both versions allow to export in several common formats like MP3, AAC, WAV and AIFF. Now you can avoid that extra step of exporting and then converting with another tool.
New Vintage Modules:
Vintage EQ (available on Advanced only)
This EQ is based on the Pultecs EQP-1A and MEQ-5. These hardware equalizers have been used in countless of records for the past 60 years and many engineers rely on them everyday. Both high and low shelves come from the EQP-1A while the mid bands were inherited from the MEQ-5. Since its birth in the 50’s, the EQP-1A has been the preferred weapon for many engineers when it comes to natural, warm and tight equalization. One of the most important features of this EQ is its boost/cut interaction in the low band. You can achieve a huge and tight low end and at the same time get rid of muddiness and lack of definition in the mid-low range. Now you can use this methodology with the new Vintage EQ. It might sound crazy for some that boosting and cutting at the same frequency might sound good but in many situations this is exactly what's needed. Since the boost and cut frequency points aren't exactly the same and also the gain range is different, you can achieve pretty interesting and musical results.
You can do the same with the high band with a minor twist in the workflow. For example, adding presence and shine to a vocal can be frustrating sometimes because it might sound harsh. The sound of both boost and attenuation filters on the Vintage EQ allows this task in a very musical way.
The mid bands inherited from the MEQ-5 despite of having fixed frequencies are very flexible. We have two bands for cuts and one band for boosting. The low-mid band has key frequencies to enhance the body of the sound while the mid band is very useful to get rid of unpleasant frequency ranges. The high-mid band despite the fact of having a narrower width adds presence and definition without bringing up nasty resonances.
As several other modules in Ozone 7 this EQ have a section (left-most panel) for Stereo, Mid-Side or separate Left/Right operation. On Mid-Side or separate Left/Right operation we can see in the graph a label that indicates the channel we're working on. We can also solo each channel or link them to make changes in both at the same time. In Mastering, it's very common to use Mid-Side processing to enhance the stereo image or fix balance problems on the song using unlinked Left/Right channels.
For those who have used plugins based on these two hardware legends the sound of the Vintage EQ will be familiar, with the warmth and smoothness they're known for.
Vintage Compressor (available on Advanced only)
This is a feedback compressor and it’s not really based on any specific hardware but it’s rather a mixture of the best features found in the greatest compressors. The release timings depend on the material dynamics (program-dependent) and in conjunction with the attack they both vary depending on the amount of compression applied. The release values we see in the UI are not exact and by the very nature of the envelope they’re just an approximation in relation to the chosen value. The attack range is a bit short on this one while the release range is certainly larger. We can smash the signal really hard with attack values below 40ms. There are three different modes which behave very differently due to their program-dependency and also change the internal ballistics which modifies the tone and character of the compressor:
- The Sharp mode is the most aggressive one. It tends to enhance the transients definition. It’s excellent on percussive elements like kick drums, snare drums, bongos, congas, etc.
- The Balanced mode is the most conservative. It tends to balance the relationship between the transients and the body of the signal.
- The Smooth mode is an elegant solution for a soft and smooth compression. It smooth the transients out while it fattens up the signal.
This compressor has one common feature found in many others: Auto Gain Compensation. When we adjust the threshold the output gain tends to lower and it makes it difficult to compare things before and after processing. With the Auto Gain Compensation we can avoid this because it calculates the RMS levels to keep a constant output gain.
In the Vintage EQ we can also choose to process our signal in Stereo or Mid-Side mode as well as see in a graph two different views: Detection Filter View and Gain Reduction Trace View. With the Detection Filter View we can visualize and adjust the sidechain detector filter. We have a high-pass filter to avoid low frequencies from affecting the compressor action, a mid bell to emphasize the action of the compressor on a given range and a high-shelf filter for moving in or out high frequencies of the compressor action.
Here are a few harmonic plots of the Vintage Compressor (-18dBFS sine @1kHz):
Vintage Tape (available on Advanced only)
This tape emulation module is based on a Studer A810 which has been a key piece of hardware on many Mastering studios for years. In this module we have some common tape parameters like Bias, IPS, Low and High Emphasis as well as two interesting and useful parameters called Drive and Harmonics.
- With the Bias we can adjust the frequency response on the high end range. Since tape existed engineers used a AC bias signal over the audible frequency range (around 100Hz) to improve the fidelity of recordings. Using positive Bias values we can limit the dynamic range of the signal and at the same time tame high frequencies (as consequence, this brings up some low and mid range). With negative values we can improve the fidelity of the signal and boost high frequencies. We can roughly see the Bias as way to boost or cut high frequencies.
- The IPS (or Inches Per Second) allows us to change the tape speed and as a direct consequence change the frequency response of the signal and also increase the saturation. It offers two tape speeds: 15 IPS and 30 IPS. Commonly, the 15 IPS speed is used on individual tracks while the 30 IPS speed is for Master duties.
- We can control the resonant filter of the Tape Head Bump with the Low Emphasis. The Tape Head Bump is just a boost in the low end caused by several wavelengths discrepancies. This parameter is useful to dial in more low end without making it sound too muddy or boomy.
- The High Emphasis allows us to compensate for the loss of high frequencies which occurs while recording on tape. In general, we should set this value along with the Bias to achieve a better tonal balance in the high end.
- We can add or remove even harmonics with the Harmonics parameter. These harmonics are more prominent on values below 7 with a -18dBFS signal, being 10 the most transparent value among all (it leaves only one harmonic). This is not a linear process and we should carefully set it depending on the material we’re working on.
- With the Input Drive parameter we can hit the circuit harder or softer while maintaining the overall output gain (compensated). This parameter is very important because it changes the sound dramatically so use sparingly. A good previous gain stage will offer a better perspective when using this parameter.
The tape emulations debate has been increasing year after year with each new plug-in. Today we have many options to choose from so it’s up to you to decide what suits better your workflow and taste. Having said this, the Vintage Tape is a good contender in this debate because it offers a different sound/tone which complements just fine the set of tools available in Ozone 7 Advanced.
Here are a few Frequency repsonse/harmonic plots of the Vintage Tape (-18dBFS sine @1kHz):
15IPS default setting
30IPS default setting
Harmonics at 0
Harmonics at 10
Vintage Limiter (available on both Advanced and Standard)
This compressor/limiter is loosely based on the famous and revered Fairchild 670 which is a feedback compressor/limiter. The Vintage Limiter exhibits certain differences in attack and release timings compared to the hardware and offers three different limiting modes:
- The Analog mode has a fast attack with a program-dependent release. This mode is excellent to add weight and body to the signal.
- The Tube mode has everything a tube compressor could offer. Attack and release timings are more precise but also exhibit some sort of program-dependency. This mode is perfect for adding presence and smoothness.
- The Modern mode is a hybrid between the real vintage compressors/limiters and the new approaches and tonalities found on modern devices. Attack and release timings are really tight. It’s great to keep the signal under control, with precision and tightness but also having that warmth and smoothness we’re used to from vintage compressors/limiters.
In this module we find certain common parameters like Threshold, Ceiling and Character. While adjusting the threshold the output gain increases so in this case it’s good to use the Auto-Match Gain feature found in the monitoring section within Ozone 7 (in my opinion, this section has a severe fail which I’ll discuss later). The ceiling allows to define a maximum output gain. For example, if we wish to control peaks in the percussion buss we can locate the highest peak and then set the ceiling a couple of dBs below that point (since this is not a brickwall limiter there’s always some room above and below the ceiling unless we use the True Peak Limiting feature). The True Peak Limiting option is another great feature in this compressor (it’s also available in the Maximizer). Sometimes during the signal reconstruction in the D/A stage some peaks generated by limiting might be greater than expected (especially when the limiting is severe). This is where the True Peak Limiting feature saves the day. You can securely limit some possible overs with this function and set a true ceiling for the signal. The Character feature changes the attack and release timings. These values are always directly proportional to the program-dependency of each limiting mode.
In the Vintage Limiter there two types of graphs: Spectrum and Gain Reduction Trace. As the name suggests, the Spectrum view shows the frequency response of the signal while the Gain Reduction Trace view shows us with an envelope where, how and when occurs the limiting/compression.
Here are a few harmonics plot of the Vintage Compressor (-18dBFS sine @1kHz):
Vintage Modules in Action:
I’d like to share with you a few audio samples of each Vintage module. The demonstration setup was pretty basic: tape on individual tracks, then EQ, then compression and finally a bit of limiting on the drum buss:
New Limiting Mode IRC IV in Maximizer (available on both Advanced and Standard)
The acclaimed IRC (Intelligent Release Control) technology in Ozone gives another step forward in the evolution of the limiting process with this new IRC IV mode. This new mode uses dozen of psychoacoustically spaced bands to shape the spectrum and reduce further the pumping and distortion. It’s a more complex process than its predecessors and exhibits itself as the most transparent of all limiting modes (and in my opinion this claim doesn’t fall short). This mode has three different styles:
- The Classic style is very similar to all previous modes in Ozone.
- The Modern style is much more stylized and detailed. It goes along with the contemporaneous and commercial sound we hear everyday on the radio and internet.
- The Transient style is a bit particular because it adds definition by enhancing the transient response, giving a more aggressive mode than the other modes.
I’ll talk about this new limiting mode later but I can say now that this sounds to me like a new benchmark in limiting.
Dynamic EQ (available on both Advanced and Standard)
The dynamic equalizers have always been of great help to balance the signal in a more natural way than static EQs because they’re a sort of hybrid between the traditional equalization and compression/expansion. Now the users of the Standard version can also enjoy this module. It has six bands (as far I can tell it used to have only 4 of them) with independent parameters: band type, Q, gain, frequency, offset, threshold, attack and release timings, auto-scale, inverse mode, dynamic curve meter and an algorithm type selector (analog and digital). It also has different types of visualization as well as channel processing (Stereo, Mid-Side, separate/linked Left/Right).
The dynamic equalization has a fundamental advantage over static EQs: movement. When we generate movement in a range of frequencies we’re achieving more natural results because the power driving this movement is the signal itself. During the performance of an instrument or vocal there are inevitable changes caused by human imperfection which actually adds life and emotiveness. A guitarist doesn’t play two chords in the same way and intensity. It’s because of this and many other factors that dynamic equalization is sometimes the perfect tool for maintain that emotiveness and life.
In the Dynamic EQ module there are two different types of equalization curves: Analog (minimum-phase) and Digital (linear-phase). The use of one or the other depends on the actual material that’s being processed and of course, the sound preference of the engineer/musician. The workflow within the Dynamic EQ is pretty simple: we choose a specific frequency, set the gain and Q and once we have our preliminary adjustment we move on to the dynamic section where we can manipulate the amount of compression/expansion (movement) desired. Let’s imagine a strings section where violins only appear at some point of the performance. With the Dynamic EQ we can enhance their appearance without affecting the rest of the section.
Codec Preview (available on Advanced only)
This new feature in Ozone 7 allows us to preview our Masters in real time using industry-standard codecs. By their nature, these formats degrade the signal because they apply psychoacoustic filters to reduce the size of the final media for better distribution or streaming. A typical case is the MP3 format. As you lower the bitrate the amount of detail in the high end range is severely lost.
To make use of the Codec Preview we have to enable it by hitting the “codec” button found to the right of the Ozone 7 UI. This will show us a set of options to preview our Masters in MP3 or AAC formats. To toggle between our original Master and the preview we have to click on the speaker button next to the codec button. We can go trying all different bitrates to hear the differences between them and with the Solo Codec Artifacts option we can also hear only what’s being lost during the conversion stage (this is really nice).
We can make decisions based on these previews and modify our Masters accordingly. For example, we can add more high end content to compensate for the loss of this range during the conversion. We can also leave a headroom of a couple of dBs to avoid clipping generated during this conversion (lossy formats tend to create errors which generate peaks that might exceed 0dBFS).
The Good, the bad and the ugly
First of all, it’s been years since I tried Ozone. Maybe it was version 2 or 3. When I launched Ozone 7 for the first time I was seriously impressed with the evolution of this concept and how intuitive it is now. It’s much easier to work with it than I remember and the quality of processing is definitely better (that was one of the main reasons why I didn’t like it in the past). Each module has essential features that sometimes we can’t find in other similar processors like dry/wet, individual channel processing, monitoring, good visuals, sidechain filtering, etc. Another fabulous feature that immediately caught my eye was the ability of using 3rd party plug-ins in the processing chain. This is invaluable, in my opinion. We can use our favorite tools within Ozone 7 and also take advantage of all the goodies it offers. The Insight add-on was another pleasant surprise because it covers most parts of monitoring, visualization and metering needs. It’s simple but it does the job. The new Vintage modules were another pleasant surprise, especially the LImiter. The Vintage Limiter left me speechless when I tried it, it sounds really good in my opinion. You can expect tons of character with it. I tried it on individual tracks as well as busses and the Master Track and it always did a beautiful job when used sparingly. Next to the new limiting mode IRC IV in the Maximizer it is one of the crown jewels in Ozone 7. Speaking of the devil, the new IRC IV mode is jaw-dropping. A new benchmark in limiting, in my opinion. I tried it on several mixes and compared the results with my previous limiters: it can do loud and transparent hands down! You have to be really sloppy to get it to pump or distort (or maybe you’re just pushing it to insane levels). By the way, I think the development team behind Ozone made an awful decision in the bypass section. Instead of leveling the Master loudness with the original mix it did the opposite. In my opinion, it should lower the final output so we can enable it at the beginning of our Mastering process and keep the loudness in place during all this time. I didn’t like the fact we can only use up to 6 modules in our Mastering chain, that’s another point I’m against with because it limits the amount of 3rd party plug-ins we can load (between the Ozone modules and our preferred plug-ins we can run out of slots pretty fast).
In general, I think Ozone 7 is one of the most complete and complex products I’ve come to see lately with an exceptional sound quality and good performance (I must admit I was expecting a much higher use of resources). If you’re in the market for a one-stop solution for mixing and mastering duties then this is your ticket.
Last edited by Mercado_Negro; 10th November 2015 at 01:06 AM..