iZotope - Nectar 2

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  • No matter how much time, effort and skill you put into synth drops, beat patterns or whatever else, if your productions feature vocals they will command the majority of your listeners' attention. Singing resonates with us emotionally and can accordingly cover a multitude of production sins. Conversely, the sound of your vocals can make or break your track. Usually, vocal processing is carried out via an effects chain, which probably includes pitch correction, EQ, compression, de-essing and specialist reverb and delay. Recently, a number of tools have appeared on the market designed to put all of these under one roof. One of these, iZotope's original Nectar plug-in, proved popular. It offered much of the control listed above, with a limited but concentrated parameter set designed specifically for vocal processing. Nectar now returns with the kind of overhaul iZotope has carried out with other processing plug-ins such as Ozone and Trash, with a larger, redesigned interface, a wider range of modules and a greater level of control over each stage of the vocal production process. Upon opening Nectar 2, you're greeted with a list of genre-specific presets; you select an appropriate-sounding one from within a number of style folders. This window gives way to Nectar's main panel, which lists the whole collection of Nectar's modules down the left side. An LED-style indicator shows which of these are active within your chosen starting-point. The full list of modules is: pitch, gate, harmony, saturation, EQ, compressors, de-esser, reverb, delay, limiter and effects. Each module can be activated or deactivated. The original Nectar had basic pitch correction, but Nectar 2 expands on it, with key detection offered in the bottom-right corner. Activating it and pressing play on your track applies an algorithm, which then produces a short-list of detected key signatures for your track. Once selected, you can choose the speed for pitch correction (allowing for hyper-tuned corrective treatments or slower, more natural ones), create a transposition offset for easy pitch-shifting or manipulate formants. The gate module helps remove the noise floor from vocals recorded in compromised sonic conditions or helps alleviate headphone spill between phrases. Like many of the modules to follow, it offers an extremely intuitive interface that scrolls the incoming waveform at the top, providing meter ladders below to show you the threshold level and the subsequent impact on your processed audio. Harmony-generation is also on board, and again, Nectar 2's interface makes complex processing appear simple. Up to four additional voices can be added to the input signal with up or down pitch offsets of up to seven semitones or an octave (nothing in between) selectable for each voice individually. Then, to the right, an X-Y square lets you set the pan position for each voice and the volume of each. You can apply pitch correction and/or pitch variation globally for these voices, so if you want to keep the original voice un-tuned but to pitch-correct your harmonies, you can. Whether you want special effects or more natural-sounding harmonies, Nectar 2 covers harmony generation well. The tone-shaping modules, saturation and EQ, come next. The first allows you to bring warmth and colour to your vocalist's tone with algorithms titled Analog, Retro, Tape, Tube and Warm. There are also sliders for amount and mix. The EQ module offers up to eight bands of tone-shaping, which should be ample for most applications. Once a band is activated, its shape can be chosen (bells, shelves and filters etc.), alongside frequency, bandwidth and cut/boost, and you can either drag the numbered dots around on the graphical display at the top or get into focused detail below. Nectar 2's compression module offers access to two dynamics processors, so parallel compression treatments are possible right out of the box. As you'd expect, Compressor 1 has parameters for a single treatment, with the Mix slider on the far right usually providing a 100% setting, meaning only this first processor is involved. But if you activate the second of the two parallel modes on the left-hand side, you can then create a compression treatment for Compressor 2, before setting a blend between the compressors using the Mix slider. As a result, a wide range of dynamic treatments is possible, from subtle to heavily-processed. De-essing can be fiddly, but Nectar 2 makes things very simple. By default, the display provides a frequency cutoff/bandwidth control at the top, within which you can select the active area for de-essing. Then threshold lets you decide how hard to hit those frequencies with gain reduction. You can also toggle the upper display to show how much your vocal's waveform is affected by dynamic drops. The final four modules cover effects. First is a reverb option that provides a modeled recreation of EMT's 140, an enduringly popular plate reverb. At the top, you can limit the frequency response of this reverb tail. It features the parameters you'd expect from a reverb: decay time, pre-delay and, if you're working in stereo, width. The delay module provides digital, tape and analog algorithms before delay time (synced or unsynced to tempo) and feedback controls cover your initial bases. There's an option called Trash that brings a little grit to delay taps, and wet and dry sliders let you balance the effected and dry signals easily. The limiter module provides a ready-made option if you're keen to dispense with dynamic range (though usually you should find that the compressors cover this job capably). If you prefer your vocals on the more wild side, then you'll find the final effects module appealing. Here, Nectar 2 offers a dedicated distortion module, modulation options (with your choice of phaser, flanger or chorus modules) and a module called Repeat, which provides two variations on delay effects. Echo has more regular repeats but with an LFO controlling volume, so that rather than a fixed delay, the level of repeated phrases is constantly changing. The second option, labeled Shred, provides rapid beat repeats that sound busy and energetic. All of the above covers the main Nectar 2 processor, sold as the Standard Edition of the software. The Nectar 2 Production Suite adds two additional modules. The first is the Pitch Editor, which offers Melodyne-style real-time pitch capture and per-note processing of key pitching parameters, including the amount of pitch correction and vibrato control. This is a more involved process than using the pitch module within Nectar 2, allowing for microscopic editing with all of the benefits you'd expect as a result. The second additional module in the Production Suite is Breath Control. Particularly after EQ has been employed to brighten a vocal and a compressor to narrow its dynamic range, a vocalist's breaths can become hyper-real and more audible than you'd like. Breath Control's sole purpose is to detect breaths and reduce their level, with a simple control set to make this process painless. It saves you from having to adjusting breath volumes with automation ramps. Whether you select the Standard Edition or the Production Suite, you'll be rewarded with a collection of tools that inject intuition into the process of crafting a great-sounding vocal. Ratings: Cost: 4/5 Versatility: 4.5/5 Sound: 4.5/5 Ease of use: 4/5