iZotope’s release of Ozone 5 Advanced three years ago marked the transformation of the software mastering suite from prosumer to professional product. Ozone 6 Advanced adds a new Dynamic EQ module, stand-alone application and redesigned GUI. The new version discontinues Ozone 5’s rarely used Reverb processor and gating capabilities for the Dynamics processor. A less-expensive, standard version of Ozone 6 is available. It lacks the Advanced version’s component plug-ins, Dynamic EQ and Insight (metering) plug-in. The Ozone 6.1 Advanced update is reviewed here. For a detailed look at Ozone’s legacy features, see my review of Ozone 5 Advanced in the April 2012 issue of Mix.
A Processor Module Browser situated near the bottom of the GUI for both the integrated Ozone plug-in (containing all modules) and the stand-alone application lets you easily add and delete modules, change their order in the signal chain, and access their control sets in turn. A small gain meter accompanies each module’s icon in the browser strip, allowing you to see whether any module is currently adding or subtracting gain with respect to unity. It would be far better, however, if those meters showed output levels instead, which would allow you to see at a glance whether clipping is occurring at any point in the signal chain.
Ozone 6 Advanced’s new Dynamic EQ module and plug-in apply compression or expansion independently in up to four frequency bands. (While both Dynamic EQ and the legacy Dynamics processor can apply multiband compression and expansion, Dynamic EQ offers a wider variety of filter shapes.) Select either an analog-modeled or more transparent digital equalization algorithm for all bands at once, and set the center frequency, gain and Q for each band. Each band offers bell-curve, proportional Q, band shelf, and Baxandall shelving filters. You can set the attack and release times manually for each band or automatically scale the times to the frequencies being processed.
The stand-alone application can import WAV, AIFF and MP3 files; 16-, 20 and 24-bit formats are accommodated, along with standard sampling rates from 11.25 to 192 kHz. The application accesses each audio file you import under a separate tab in the GUI and allows you to apply different audio processing to each file. The application features transport controls (including looping), a waveform display, heads and tails fading and trimming, and the ability to load and reorder third-party VST and Audio Units plug-ins (up to six plug-ins and Ozone modules in total at once). You can monitor the application’s output in mono or stereo and swap left and right channels. Intelligent dynamic and harmonic analysis automatically delimits different song sections in a track, indicated by color-coded song-segmentation bars beneath the waveform view. You can save the application’s open project (including all processing and imported files) and export one or all of the processed files with automatic MBIT+ dither and sampling rate conversion applied.
New features have been added since Version 6 launched, so be sure to update (for free) from V. 6 if you haven’t already. With V. 6.1, the Maximizer adds a Tube Limiting mode inspired in part by the Fairchild 670. The Dynamics processor’s Adaptive Release function makes release times program dependent, changing when transient signals are present. The stand-alone application applies track numbers automatically when exporting files. With V. 6.1, you can click on a song-segmentation bar to instantly loop the associated song section; you can also freely edit the start and end points for a loop.
Hands- and Ears-On
Ozone’s manual needs a major rewrite where it describes the rather unconventional operation of the new Dynamic EQ processor. The inconsistent GUI doesn’t help: With some setups, the processor’s Gain control applies gain before dynamics processing (as one would reasonably expect), while in other setups it applies no gain but acts instead like a range control.
Here’s the lowdown: In the processor’s default (compression) mode, using the Gain control to cut gain in a band doesn’t reduce gain pre-dynamics processing but instead establishes the processor’s range (determining the maximum possible in-band compression that will be implemented as you progressively lower the Threshold control). Boosting the Gain control in this mode applies commensurate pre-dynamics-processing gain that’s progressively attenuated the more you lower the Threshold control below in-band signal levels (as you would expect). In Inverse mode, using the Gain control to cut gain in a band reduces in-band gain before dynamics processing; signal in the band is upwardly expanded as you lower the threshold (as you would also expect). However, boosting the Gain control in Inverse mode applies no gain before dynamics processing; instead, Gain acts as a range control for upward expansion.
Once I got up to speed, Dynamic EQ’s Digital algorithm sounded great and handled basic multiband mastering applications such as de-booming with grace. The processor’s Analog algorithm, on the other hand, narrowed the stereo field a little and degraded the mix’s pinpoint imaging. The omission of sidechain filters also limited Dynamic EQ’s ability to execute surgical mastering techniques. A sidechain filter is eminently useful when, for example, you want a mix’s bottom octave (containing only kick and bass) to trigger the expansion of the kick drum’s transient attack in a different band (say, at 4 kHz); lacking a sidechain filter as Dynamic EQ does, loud midrange elements such as lead vocal peaks can also undesirably expand the kick’s attack. And while Ozone’s legacy Dynamics processor’s sidechain filters suggest a possible alternative solution, these apply to all bands at once and are limited to highpass and tilt filters. (You need a lowpass filter to accomplish the preceding task.) For the greatest flexibility and power, Dynamic EQ should be equipped with a wide selection of sidechain filters for each band.
I didn’t like the Maximizer’s new Tube Limiting mode. I felt it munched transients too much and diminished depth compared to Ozone’s exceptionally transparent IRC III mode (which I love!).
The stand-alone application worked extremely well for most tasks except monitoring (more about that in a bit). I could set up a different loop point for each track, delimiting its maximum RMS levels, and then switch between the tracks during playback simply by clicking on each associated tab in turn. This fantastic feature let me do instant A/B/n comparisons of relative loudness levels among all tracks far more expediently than by navigating markers in my DAW. I could also zoom in to the sample level in the waveform view to look for clipping by scrolling with my Apple Magic Mouse. I was especially happy that mid-side mode worked properly with all third-party M/S plug-ins I instantiated, but I lamented that the application lacked a CPU meter for resource management. Note that the application is not a premastering solution, as it can’t set gaps between each song or offsets for track start times. It also can’t burn a CD or render a DDP file set.
You can’t choose which output pair in your soundcard receives the application’s audio output; Ozone always uses the primary default outputs, and changing default outputs in MOTU PCI Audio Setup doesn’t change Ozone’s output routing. You also can’t solo the left, right, mid or side channel at the master outputs for the stand-alone application or the integrated plug-in. (You can only solo these channels in each module or component plug-in.) The stand-alone application and integrated plug-in’s output sections and the M/S-capable component plug-ins also each desperately need separate mid and side output-level controls or an M/S balance control, an oversight that also hindered working with Ozone 5. You can adjust the wideband mid and side levels in turn using the output-gain slider for the Dynamics processor in All-bands mode, but only if all four bands are active and processing mid and side channels.
In conclusion, there’s much to like about Ozone 6.1 Advanced but also substantial room for improvement. I look forward to seeing how this promising software suite develops over time.
Michael Cooper is a recording, mix, mastering and post-production engineer and a contributing editor for Mix magazine.
If you upgrade to Version 6.1 from Ozone 5 Advanced, you can essentially restore the discontinued Reverb module: Simply instantiate Reverb as a third-party plug-in in the stand-alone application or your DAW.
PRODUCT: Ozone 6.1 Advanced
PRICE: Ozone 6.1 Advanced: $999 (upgrade from Ozone 5 Advanced: $299; upgrade from any release of Ozone standard: $750); Ozone 6.1 standard: $249 (upgrade from earlier version: $99).
PROS: Stand-alone application makes A/B/n comparisons a snap and can use third-party plug-ins.
CONS: Dynamic EQ has no sidechain filters, degrades imaging in Analog mode. No easy M/S output-level controls. Can’t solo the L, R, M or S channel at master outputs for standalone application or integrated plug-in. Operation manual is somewhat lacking.