iZotope - Ozone 6

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  • iZotope's Ozone mastering software has long engendered a mixed reaction from the pro audio community. Devotees to its feature set love the idea that all the tools they might need for mastering can be found in one place, while critics argue that an all-in-one will always have limitations. Constructive criticism of Ozone 5 did share some common ground: many users never got beyond loading presets, which were almost too numerous to mention. For those brave enough to experiment with parameter tweaking, many found Ozone 5's workflow lacking intuition and, for an application offering so many choices, too restricted in some ways as well. Rather than simply issuing an upgrade to address these common concerns, iZotope have been right back to the drawing board for Ozone 6. The plug-in is available in both regular and advanced forms, with a sizeable price difference between both. As you can see from the grabs, Ozone 6 has a new look. Gone is the lime green of Ozone 5, replaced by a darker, more sophisticated design and colour scheme. Ozone 6's modular approach is more intuitive, too, as it's now much easier to drag modules left and right to create a desired effects chain. It's rare for a software developer to decrease the number of options it provides with each iteration of a product, but Ozone 6 dispenses with its predecessor's reverb module. This was greeted with some disappointment upon Ozone 6's arrival, but for me, it won't be greatly missed—reverb isn't often added at the mastering stage, and when spatial treatments are required, better reverbs are available. So that leaves a total of six modules in both Ozone 6 and Ozone 6 Advanced: equalizer, exciter, imager, dynamics, post equalizer and maximize. Advanced also has a dynamic EQ, and we'll start there. It's helpful to think of the concept of compression applied to tone change. Compressors respond to an input signal by reducing the level of any signals which breach a threshold, while leaving alone the volume of quieter signals which don't. Apply this theory to tone, and what you get is an EQ which does nothing to attenuate the volume of specific frequency bands until they exceed a certain volume level. One practical example of this would be de-essing, whereby the frequency build-up of a concentrated harmonic group can cause unpleasant peaking in the treble bands. De-essers target that band and dynamically reduce the volume of offending frequencies, but they're usually employed on a single sound (e.g. the lead vocal). Ozone 6 provides this capability at the mastering stage, allowing you to target offending frequency groups when they exceed a certain level across a whole mix. Add in the fact that the Dynamic EQ module can work in stereo, via independent left/right processing or a mid/side matrix, and things get better still. Plus, there are both modelled analog and digital circuits to modify the timbral response to input signals, plus a control set which uses compressor-like parameters, including attack and release times, to set each band as required. It's intuitive and sounds great. Such is the power of the dynamic EQ that it accounts for the vast majority of the price difference between the standard and advanced versions of the program. The equalizer and post equalizer also both provide modelled digital and analogue filter shapes, including cloned Baxandall and API algorithms. Mid/side and left/right processing is available here, too, across eight separate bands. As you'd expect from the names, the equalizer forms an early part of the chain, and the post equivalent can compensate for unwanted tone change incurred by dynamic processing in particular. The dynamics module now makes the concept of multiband compression much more straightforward, with Ozone 6's redesigned interface coming to the fore. You can either click on a single band to expand the control set for that one individually, or click the global All icon in the top-right corner to display settings for all bands at once. Doing this gives you access to ratio, attack and release times for both the limiter and compressor algorithms for each band, with the lower of the two lines on the level meters easily adjusted to set a threshold point for each band. At the top, you can click buttons to see a frequency display for all bands at once, or switch to the gain reduction trace or detection filter views. Each band can be individually adjusted to slide between wet and dry extremes, meaning that parallel treatments on a per-band basis are simple to set up. It's extremely easy to solo or bypass each band, too, so you can intuitively keep tabs on how each layer of compression is working. The exciter module allows you to artificially boost harmonic content across four bands, with amount and mix sliders available from bass to treble. However, separate algorithms provide six modelled approaches to this concept, with warm, retro, tape, tube, triode and dual triode modes. Again, both stereo and mid/side modes are provided, allowing you to achieve anything from subtle colouration to more extreme, synthetic harmonic enhancement. Meanwhile, the imager module allows for stereo spreading across four bands, with width sliders available to each. Metering is enhanced here, too, with frequency crossover, stereo width spectrum and correlation trace views available at the top. Again, it's possible to radically enhance a sound here, make up for sonic deficiencies or gently expand (or pull back) nearly perfect stereo imaging. Which leads to the maximize—a module type that springs readily to mind when considering mastering solutions. Three IRC approaches to level maximizing can be selected, with algorithms optimised for rich, clear and sharp, and bespoke settings, respectively. As in Ozone 5, you can also select between fast, smooth, transparent and slow character settings, but these are now assigned to a slider, so intermediate positions are possible. Separately, the transient emphasis slider prioritises attack characteristics of source audio depending on the slider position. If you opt for Ozone 6 Advanced, further enhancements include Insight, iZotope's comprehensive metering software, which provides visual feedback relating to your mastering choices. Dithering options are now offered via a simple window, too, producing more seamless conversion of audio from 24- to 16-bit for CD, for example. Meanwhile, Ozone is now available as a standalone application (as well as a DAW-hosted plug-in), and, as with later versions of Ozone 5, its component modules can be independently added as plug-ins, without needing to load the entire Ozone 6 host if you don't want to. There are almost too many enhancements to list, so I'd recommend downloading the trial version and having a play yourself. This is particularly important as, with the redesign, some features have been removed, while others previously available only to advanced users of Ozone 5 are now available within the standard version of Ozone 6. Without question, this is the most intuitive version of Ozone to date, which is testimony to iZotope's decision to take the software back to the drawing board. More importantly, it also sounds better. Dynamic EQ is the standout module here, though it's certainly possible to make great-sounding masters without it. If you're looking for a one-stop solution, Ozone 6 is certainly among the best options available. Ratings: Cost: 4/5 Versatility: 5/5 Sound: 4.5/5 Ease of use: 3.5/5