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iZotope O8N2 Review at Sound Bytes

A new best friend for every music producer – actually, for every musician. Ozone 8 and Neutron 2 can make a lot of productions work for you, making your life much easier.

I have already written about previous versions of Neutron and Ozone, mixing and mastering tools that can make your life as a musician somewhat easier. Actually, while covering the first version of Neutron, I knew that it was only a matter of time before a similar function would be implemented in Ozone. At the same time, Neutron seemed so complete that I was sure there would be no new version anytime soon. I was positively surprised with the new Neutron 2, as they have added some really cool new features while tweaking all the things users complained about in the first one. Izotope have made this “mixing engineer in a box” tool even better than it was, no matter that it seemed almost perfect in the first version.

As I pointed out in my Neutron review last year, I have never been much of a mixing engineer, struggling with my mixes for a long, long time. Neutron really helped me improve my mixing skills, not just by doing most of the job for me, but also showing me how some instruments should be improved and by comparing my previous mixing attempts with automated ones, and finally showing me where my weak points are. According to some other reviews, it is a great tool even for skilled mixing engineers, giving them an instant stating point, saving them some time that they would have otherwise needed to tweak all those compressor, equalizer and exciter parameters manually. So it proves to be a win-win situation for all of us, for pro and con musicians (at least sometimes I get that impression by doing the exact opposite of what I should do during the mixing process).

While most of us might have some mixing skills, not to mention that surprisingly impressive number of musicians who even seem to be experts in the field, we should agree in any case that this is absolutely not the case with mastering.

I have invested quite a large amount of my time obtaining a few mastering skills, becoming better and better at it, being quite satisfied with the end results – that was until I tried Ozone 8 and got better results in just ten seconds, just by pressing the Master Assistant button, than I’ve had before with years of perfecting my masters skills with eight different plug-ins. It also proved to be a relief for my processor, having just one plug-in instead of all the others.

Ozone instantly tamed some problematic areas that I had problems fixing myself, making for a more balanced master with a nice balance between low and high ends. It also offers a new tool that could be applied later, proving to be a lifesaver for situations when there is an issue with some harsh peaks that can appear in certain frequency ranges. It is a Spectral Shaper, that in solo mode allows you to spot that problematic area by playing just the selected frequency range. It offers a nice set of tools for fine tuning just that frequency range by applying spectral reducing. All you need to do is to set the threshold, telling the Spectral Shaper the level where this spectral reducing should appear, choosing between Low, Mid and High processing options. That usually does the trick, but for all “I go deep” enthusiasts there are additional controllers.

Ozone 8 actually comes with plenty of additional controllers, but most of the results can really be nailed with all the essential controllers. So, even if you are a mastering bozo, you can go really far with this one just by applying the “Master Assistant” function, telling Ozone what sort of mastering you prefer. Do you need your master for streaming purposes, or you need it for a CD, choosing between Light (which goes from around -14 to -12 dB, streaming up to -14 dB), Mid (that goes up to a maximum of -8 dB) and High (that squashes your master, “louder than loud”, as it use to be in the days of the loudness wars)? My favorite album last year was Blackstar from David Bowie, mastered at a really low level, the same way that used to be the standard in the old vinyl days, preventing the loss of dynamics that we’ve experienced since the new millennium.

Dear Izotope, as you probably noticed, vinyl is back, so I hope you could add also a Vinyl option along with those basic three. Did I say three? Yes, there is also a third one called Reference. It allows you to upload up to ten different songs for analysis and then apply similar results to your song by applying the appropriate frequency curve, compressor and limiter proportions.

The next new tool that comes with both plug-ins is Tonal Balance Control. It comes with a big, general window showing you if your low, low-mid, high-mid and high ends are well balanced relative to some standardized balance that is typical for most different genres. With Tonal Balance Control you can easily see if any part of the frequency spectrum is below the normal range, showing you if your song is too bass heavy, too aggressive on highs, or having too much or not enough mids. It happens that our mixing environment is not balanced (near-field monitors too close to the wall… etc), or we are simply a bit deaf to some frequencies, or not skilled enough to properly balance our mix, overdoing mid frequencies or any from a zillion other stupid mix deviations. Tonal Balance Control allows you to open the equalizer window for every instance of Neutron 2 that is inserted on any separate track directly from the main Tonal Balance Control window. Of course, we can also apply frequency changes generally for the whole song (if Tonal Balance Control is inserted on the master channel). That last function is common for both plug-ins, Neutron 2 and Ozone 8.

Ozone 8

There is quite a good number of various improvements and additions in the new version of Ozone. Of course you will also notice some graphical changes, both plug-ins have become more user-friendly, but the most prominent change is one that we have already mentioned, the Master Assistant. After using it for a while, I noticed that it always uses almost the same choice of processors, among others, using two different equalizers. The first one is for more general oriented settings, taming low and high ends correctly, while the second is always a dynamic equalizer, that obviously tries to control frequencies that occasionally jump out. It almost always adds a dynamic processor between equalizers and maximizer at the end. That’s all, but far away from being everything that Ozone 8 can provide. Most processors have a solo mode for every included band, so you can rarely go wrong by tweaking any of them, setting any parameter you desire.

In most cases I manually add Stereo Imager before all other processors. Any additional processor/module can easily be added to the existing mastering chain by simply pressing the “+” sign at the end of the chain. The advanced version also brings all sorts of Vintage processors/modules that all sound great and are worth the additional money. Vintage Tape, Vintage EQ, along with Vintage Limiter and Vintage Compressor. The standard version comes without these modules, the only exception is Vintage Limiter that comes integrated, but not as a separate plug-in. Don’t worry, the standard version still gives you enough toys to keep your masters at a much higher standard than you can achieve just by combining some third party plug-ins.

We already mentioned other processors that come with Ozone 8, they are: Equalizer, Dynamic Eq, Compressor, Maximizer, Master Assistant, Tonal Balance Control, Spectral Shaper and Imager. We didn’t mention Exciter and also we haven’t been through the other very handy tools inside every processor that make your musical life a little easier. In the bottom right corner under the wu-meters is also a Codec Preview window that lets you hear how your master will sound exported as an MP3 using different bit rates, or if you convert it to AAC. Regarding that final stage, we should also point out that Maximizer comes with an impressive number of different maximizing modes. Plenty of IRC modes along with Crisp, Modern, Balanced, Pumping and few others. Instead of trying to figure out what any of those marks means, I suggest you to stick with the chosen one, or try all of them to find which one suits your song best. Of course, Maximizer is not the only one that comes with all sorts of additional options, controllers and tools that can be tweaked in a various ways allowing you to go as deep as you want. I usually don’t change the settings that Master Assistant suggests, but for some experts, this could be treated as a starting point where all additional madness can be added through all the additional or existing modules.

For me, Ozone 8 is a life saver. Even if you buy it just for pressing this Master Assistant knob, it is an absolute winner. If you are even braver, trying some other modules too, then you could go way further and adapt the master to your own preferences. I spent quite some time trying to master my masters, but didn’t come as far as I did just by simply pressing this Master Assistant knob.

Neutron 2

So, let’s go back to our “Mixing engineer in a box”. This one already had Track Assistant in the first version, but now, finally, you can suggest to the assistant what sort of instrument is on the track that you want to analyze, as in the first version it happened occasionally that some basses and heavy percussions were not recognized correctly and you had to repeat the operation or even adapt some of the existing presets for that instrument instead of using automation. Now it is also a bit more simple to set style by choosing from Balanced, Warm and Upfront, also determining the intensity of processing by choosing between Low, Mid and High. These categories were also presented in the past, but not being so upfront and within the reach of a mouse click.

As we already mentioned, Neutron 2 also comes with Tonal Balance Control. Regarding the processors, there is a new three band Gate module that is now in good company with the Equalizer (where every band can also function as dynamic equalizer), Multiband Compressor, Exciter and Transient Shaper. Izotope made a few cosmetic changes to these processors, but they were – and still are – just perfect as they are, totally serving all your mixing needs. Most processors/modules provide a Side-chain option that could be applied separately to any other processor, or even band, inside the same instance of Neutron 2. At the same time we can choose any external source that we set through our DAW.

Another big thing that comes with new Neutron 2 is a Visual Mixer. At first I though this was just something to attract new customers, but since I’m reviewing Neutron 2 I decided at least to try it out. After the first shock, as the Visual Mixer set dots for all the instruments in the same place, forcing me to find my way out of that mess, I needed some time to separate and switch most of the instruments around. After making a few moves, finding better positions for some instruments, I actually noticed that this thing could be quite handy. The main advantage is having all instruments visually sorted inside one big window, dragging particular dots for appropriate tracks up and down for setting the gain relationships, and left or right for setting the pan position. There is also an option for setting the stereo width by stretching particular dots.

After five minutes with this Visual Mixer I was actually able to make a better mix than was the case by doing it just with the internal mixing console of my DAW. To tell the truth, it really is a nice solution, but I’m not so sure if I’ll go this route with all my mixes, as there is still one improvement that I’m waiting for. At the moment, Visual Mixer sets gain and pan positions for every track by using relative values as a starting point. It starts always with center pan position and zero gain value no matter the absolute gain and pan position that are actually used for that track. (Also, we should not forget the fact that some sound sources are already pre-panned inside the instrument and are leaning left or right, regardless that the track pan is set to center.)

No matter that all values are set relatively, mixing with Visual Mixer is still a great advantage as it can save various finished mix versions and you can try different mixes on the fly just with one mouse click.

Izotope also provides Mix Tap, a small plug-in that controls the pan, gain and width aspect of your track and can be used instead of Neutron 2 (as Mix Tap is much lighter on CPU) on all channels that you want to be controlled by Visual Mixer.

Of course Neutron 2 brings all the good things that were also present in the first version. There is Masking Meter, which allows you to find all overlapping frequencies between tracks, which can cause problems in your mix. It is a handy tool that will help you to easily solve all your masking problems.

That Is What We Get
Neutron 2 and Ozone 8 don’t just come as a bundle, offering you a lower price than buying both individually, but can also communicate with each other through Tonal Balance Control. Use Visual Mixer before using Ozone 8 as a mastering tool.

I was already a big fan of the first Neutron as it makes my mixes quite a bit better. Neutron 2 brings some really nice new features, some inside the plug-in and others in the shape of additional plug-ins. During this review I didn’t go deep into all the details and some other not so significant improvements and additions that both these new plug-ins bring. There are a zillion new and old small details that can help you tame your mix. We just sped through some new features. The story could go on forever if we could just go into detail with Masking Meter, or actually any other processor/module.

Ozone 8 with this new Master Assistant is, at least for me, an absolute must-have (except if you are a very skilled, old school mastering guru – but even in this case it could be a good tool for setting a starting point).

Neutron 2 is also a very useful tool, highly recommended if the mixing process is not your best friend (same story as with Ozone 8 for experts).

Some tools are simply the ones that you should have. No matter the price. I don’t know how deep you are into music production, but I presume you know that having a good tune is just a good start nowadays. Not only that, everyone expects that this tune will be also perfectly produced and mastered. Neutron 2 and Ozone 8 are more than fairly priced when you consider how many different tools and modules you get. Not to mention that both tools can help you lift your mix and master to a pro level, even if you are not so familiar with both tasks, leaving you enough time to be what you actually are – a musician.

Neutron 2 Standard comes without all the included modules in the standalone plug-ins. It also comes without Tonal Balance Control. Also, Visual Mixer works only with inserted instances of Neutron 2, as Mix Tap is not part of the Standard edition. Neutron 2 and Ozone 8 communicate together only if you own Advanced editions. You can’t have it all, but no matter that, for just a bit higher price than you would pay for any other third party plug-in (the magic price for many plug-ins is around $140 USD) you will get a very unique and very powerful mixing tool, even in the Standard version. Same goes for Ozone 8. Of course, the bundle contains Advanced versions.

Original Source - Sound Bytes