One of iZotope’s all-time great products is its Ozone mastering suite. The software has enjoyed great popularity among mastering engineers, and even mixers. The overall sound, power, flexibility and ease of use continually improve with each version. The last few updates have seen a substantial evolution, with Version 4 running as a DAW-hosted all-in-one plug-in, Ozone 5 adding modular component plug-ins for DAW use, and Ozone 6 adding a stand-alone version, and the ability to alter the processing signal flow.
Ozone 7 keeps the new features rolling with highlights including a new “Codec Preview” function for auditioning lossy data compression during the mastering process, and another improved version of the IRC (Intelligent Release Control) limiter. Version 7 also adds four new vintage-inspired modules, paying homage to classics like the Pultec EQ, Fairchild limiter and Studer A810 tape machine.
All of the features that have attracted users to previous versions of Ozone remain intact in 7. First and foremost is the fact that an entire processing chain can be stored as a preset and applied to different mixes on a project. Another huge draw is that any module that seems to benefit from it offers multiband and/or mid-side processing. The ability to compress or equalize the center of the mix where vocals, kick, snare, and bass live, independently of the sides where stereo guitars, synths, overheads, and time-based processors reside, is incredibly handy.
The other big draw to Ozone is the Maximizer module. This is iZotope’s answer to the end of the chain, brick-wall limiter. If you’ve been living in a world of Waves L1, treat yourself to an Ozone 7 demo and take a taste. For years, iZotope has been retooling the IRC limiter, which is the basis of the Maximizer, and the results continue to impress. This processor has always provided a simple way to smash the daylights out of a mix, providing maximum loudness while fighting to keep transients from turning to sludge. To provide big boosts in perceived loudness without introducing noticeable artifacts like pumping and distortion, the IRC continually alters the release time to adapt to each “over” and reduce it in a way that isn’t audible.
The fourth and latest incarnation, IRC IV, takes this to a whole new level. As I understand it, the new algorithm uses a complex, automatic, multiband limiter. As the overall signal breaks the limiting threshold, certain frequencies are more aggressively attenuated, while other harmonically complementary frequencies are affected less, so the audible pumping and distortion can be masked.
Three modes offer different flavors of the overall effect. The Classic mode has a bit darker sound than the other two, but on denser mixes, it has a louder-sounding midrange, more than the meters would suggest. Modern mode seems brighter, and the stereo image grows much wider. In general, the sound is a little crisper in the top end. The Transient mode seems to clean up some of the lower-midrange clutter and keep the body of drums punchy, even in a dense fog of midrange. On more open mixes, it has a brighter sound, similar to that of the Modern setting.
Any of the three processing modes can be further altered by the controls available with Ozone 6’s Maximizer. These include a “character” slider, which further tailors the attack and release times; a “transient emphasis” control that reshapes transients before the limiting process, keeping them punchy; and a “stereo unlink” control. The cleanliness of the limiting is incredible. Obviously, overdoing it can always lead to muddy, distorted garbage, but I’m always surprised by how hard I can push it, and how loud the track becomes before chaos ensues.
The standard Ozone EQ is a powerhouse, featuring eight bands, each selectable between bells, shelves, and HPF or LPF with a variety of character selections within each filter type. That said, sometimes there is nothing like a Pultec-style program EQ in your mastering chain. The new Vintage EQ offers iZotope’s renditions of both the EQP-1A (the classic high/low equalizer) and the MEQ-5 midrange EQ.
There are countless plug-in re-creations of these classic passive equalizers, and the Ozone Vintage EQ holds its own, to my ears outperforming the Waves PuigTec, particularly in the bottom end. The Vintage EQ seemed a little fuller, but also tightened up more when combining boosting and attenuating. With some tweaking, I was able to get the Vintage EQ pretty close to the UAD Pultec, though the UAD version still seemed to create some sort of harmonic content that I couldn’t pull out of the Vintage EQ.
The GUI of the Vintage EQ distinguishes it from its peers. Rather than flippers and knobs that resemble the actual hardware, there are continuously variable sliders for boost and cut, with clickable dots, arrayed in a circular fashion, for frequency selection. It also provides a visual representation of the EQ curve, which is particularly nice when using a classic Pultec trick of boosting and cutting the lows simultaneously.
Altogether, the Vintage EQ is a great incarnation of a Pultec-style EQ plug-in, providing all of the phase-coherent sculpting capabilities with smooth, musical boosts. The warm, rich character of the bottom end is top-notch. This one plug-in can take any mix born and raised in the box and impart a tonality that screams analog hardware. Everything sounds richer and fuller after passing through it. Best of all, this sound is available in a mid-side mode, which is not found on many of the competitors.
The 4-band Exciter, which can add varying amounts of harmonics to each of the four user-selectable frequency ranges, remains in Ozone 7. The different algorithms model a few different types of tubes, and less specific characters like Retro, along with a flavor based on tape saturation. While this option is still available in Ozone 7, the new Vintage Tape module expands quite a bit, providing controls like tape speed selection between 15 and 30 ips, as well as biasing controls.
In most cases the effects of the Vintage Tape module are subtler than the sounds achieved by the Exciter. However, when using the Vintage Tape module as the first processor in the chain, as iZotope recommends, its benefits become greatly pronounced by the other processors down the line. By activating the plug-in with the default settings, the track is woken up, sounding warmer, clearer and punchier. The sound is truly reminiscent of printing anything to tape and hearing playback, except, of course, devoid of the hiss.
Some really interesting sounds can be produced by slightly under-biasing the machine, brightening up the top end. Likewise, kicking up the Low Emphasis in moderation does a nice job of pronouncing the low-end thump of electric bass. This is, unfortunately, another one of the slower Ozone processors regarding sample-based delay, so be careful using it on a bass track already loaded with plug-ins. I like using it in the mastering chain, as it vitalizes the lows in a mix. Another nice touch of the Vintage Tape module is the ability to complement the tape-sounding odd-ordered harmonics with a little splash of even-order harmonics, which aids in shaping the overall sound.
The Vintage Compressor is probably the least flashy of the new processors. I first tried it as a stand-alone plug-in on vocal and bass. The sound was always very subtle, and I generally found myself switching to one of my go-to processors instead. Using it as part of a mastering chain, however, I realized how effective a tool it is. While manual attack and release times are available, the operating mode, selectable between Sharp, Balanced and Smooth, seemed to tweak the user setting and allow for incredibly smooth compression.
The processor could fatten up the body of a mix or provide a preliminary stage for controlling dynamics, but unless I deliberately overdid it, I couldn’t hear any pumping or typical compression artifacts. The Sharp setting was effective on a drum stem, or more percussive master, as it preserved the attack well. Conversely, the Smooth setting could turn a track into warm butter, removing any edgy transients without making it sound muddy or flat.
Conceptually, one of the sharpest additions to Ozone 7 is the Codec Preview tool. Especially with all of the harmonic enhancement that the Ozone modules can provide, it is important to know what these changes will sound like once the song is encoded for download or streaming. Codec Preview allows for a real-time comparison of the un-encoded PCM mix versus the AAC or MP3 codecs at varying bit rates. While these codecs are widely used in the music world—by Pandora, iTunes and others—they don’t represent the entirety of data compression widely used throughout streaming services. For example, the free Ogg Vorbis codec, which is used by services including Spotify, is not represented. That aside, the feature is a welcome addition, and the option to Solo Artifacts so that you can hear exactly what is being removed by the codec is a nice touch.
The Total Package?
In an era where updating operating systems increasingly requires updating software—where in both cases features might disappear, performance may seem to suffer, and we get a few extra gimmicks to ease the pain—I was nervous about a new version of Ozone. However, nothing seems to have been removed, nothing got worse, and the new modules sound great. The addition of codec previewing and a new feature that allows you to batch encode all of the album tracks as fully meta-tagged AAC or MP3-encoded files has only expedited workflow. I’m still waiting for the day that Ozone takes on DDP exports to truly finish a disc-based mastering job, but CDs may be dead before that happens.
If you’re not using Ozone, are still on version 5, or are light on third-party dynamics plug-ins, it would be well worth the jump to 7 for the new processors.
When stacking vocals or guitars, the sound thickens because of the subtle timing difference between the layers. This is less desirable in the consonants or picks attack than it is in vowels or sustained chords. Using Ozone’s dynamic EQ, try dipping aggressively around 5 kHz with a medium-wide Q and a fast attack and release on the background layers. Set the threshold so that only the percussive sounds trigger the attenuation, while held notes in that range are still audible.
PRODUCT: Ozone 7
PRICES: $499 Advanced, $249 Standard
PROS: Adds useful new features to an already great product.
CONS: No major fundamental changes.