FYI: You might want to check out our newest iZotope 9 review!
iZotope Ozone 7
- Ease Of Use
Ozone 7 is the best swiss-army multitool of mastering software there is, SO deep, and all SO useful.
The downside is that the sheer weight of options could be overwhelming.
Ozone has long been a staple of my plugin arsenal as a comprehensible mastering plugin, covering all the effects in the standard mastering chain to get your mix sounding polished. After seven versions, it now has serious pedigree as a powerful toolset that competes with top plugins in the mastering sphere. Not only is it host-able in every DAW, it now also comes standalone.
Ozone 7 has grown and now contains 11 modules. It’s been an evolution rather than revolution of the software from the previous version, which by all accounts was extremely popular. The modules are:
- Post EQ
- Dynamic EQ
- Vintage EQ (advanced only)
- Vintage limiter
- Vintage Compressor (advanced only)
- Vintage Tape (advanced only)
- Included with the Advanced product, you get a metering module called Insight. More on that later.
The new look mimicks the flat aspect that mobile phone platforms have adopted. I think the color scheme is very fresh – kind of washed out blacks and greys with pastel highlight colors. Easy on the eyes, yet easy to read. Much preferred to the old 80’s sci-fi neon green alien-radar-screen.
Modules can simply be dragged into a mastering project, the order changed the same way. Each module can be solo’ed and muted. There is not time in this review to go into depth on each module, but trust me, they will all get the job done well. I’m going to list the standout thoughts I had after spending time with it.
Many of the modules have been around since the initial iterations of Ozone, and Izotope have taken the ‘not broke don’t fix’ approach; instead tinkering, evolving and adding features. The sound quality is undeniable, and the feature depth of each module is unbelievable. Take the EQ as an example.
There are two overall styles – analog for warm and tonal, digital for more surgical work. You can choose different kinds of filters for each band, from up to four different filter types. There’s an excellent match EQ window, which enables you to capture the frequency spectrum of one track, and import it to another.
There’s 3 different ways of viewing the EQ, also mid-side processing, spectrum overlay, spectrum soloing, and a truck load of presets. Unbelievable! This module is a full plugin by itself, and already contains more features than many other EQs.
If you’re new to mixing and mastering – the presets are a great way to start understanding the signal processing chain, and how all the effects work. There are both signal chain presets, and presets specific to each module. The general presets contain hundreds of genre specific (island bass anyone?) instrument and artist presets.
Even though presets are not the way to master, they are an excellent place to start. Izotope thoughtfully offer an ebook guide to mastering to give you some of the techniques that help get you going.
History and comparison
Ozone keeps a track of every tweak that you make with an undo history. You can set 4 different histories as ABCD, to compare and contrast.
You can also revert to anywhere in the history if your ears took a wrong turn. I really liked this aspect to the tool – being able to experiment safely in the knowledge that you could return to safe ground.
Vintage vintage vintage
Not surprisingly, Izotope have followed in the footsteps of, oh, everyone else, and released emulating models of historical hardware. I liked these modules for the way they gave some warmth and glue to the audio.
I feel that it’s a bit of a marketing gimmick, on Izotope’s part, as some of the elements in these vintage modules were already in the old modules. Having said that, they’ve expanded the scope of the emulations, and at the end of the day, they sound great as tone shaping modules.
This is one of my favourites. It’s essentially a multi-band compressor, but more precise in shaping particular frequencies. If you’re struggling with a very particular frequency at certain points in a song, when it gets too loud, you can add a threshold to that precise range, and it will squash it without affecting the sound around it.
You can also invert the compression to expand the sound so, for example, you could lower an over-excited crash cymbal while concurrently boosting the snare. As with the other EQ modules, there are digital/analog variations, different filter types to choose from, Mid/side processing.
This has been with Ozone since the beginning, but I think it’s truly blossomed into a lovely effect. Back in the day, even slight additions of exciter would create the brightest and tinniest sounding audio.
With this version you still have to be judicious with use, but wow does it add some beautiful sparkle to a track, and the control you have over the excitation is a lot more precise.It’s multi-band, so you have control over 4 frequency bands of the audio.
There are 6 different modes of excitation – giving different flavours of richness. The mid/side processing enables lots of sizzle and air on the sides of the stereo image, without affecting the solid centre. There’s a post exciter high shelf filter that gives even more control over the harmonics you add to the source material.
This is a great limiter, again with some excellent new additions in this version. There’s a new mode of limiting; IRC IV. Mode IV limits several frequency bands differently – allowing drum transients to be limited, while not squashing vocals as much.
Within this mode, there are different styles that will affect the outcome of the sound. Using ears here is best to do, rather than try and describe the differences in writing. Rather than attack and release, there’s a character slider, from slow to fast.
There’s also a stereo unlinking slider, and a transient emphasis. I particularly liked the transient emphasis, that kept the life in a mix when you are limiting it, and stopped it from sounding too smeared. True Peak limiting is also available – great for ensuring intersample peaks don’t clip the audio file!
Converting and codec preview
This is an important element of mastering: taking the audio and converting it to the required formats for different platforms. Bit rate, dithering, codecs are all fully covered. One element I loved was that you can preview what the audio sounds like in different codecs.
You can solo the artifacts that are created when compressing the audio. It was very curious hearing how much audio information is left out, even on large MP3 or AAC files!
Most of the presets, and the main channel have mid/side processing available. This is becoming almost standard now, and is a very useful alternative to regular stereo processing. It enables you to process the centre of the stereo image separately from the stereo sides.
If you want more energy in the centre, and more width at the sides, this is the processing technique to use.
There’s a little picture icon of an ear, by the bypass button. This is perhaps my favourite button of the entire ozone megaplex. It matches audio level, even when turning different modules on and off. I can’t emphasise how useful this button is.
So often our ears trick us, thinking the limiting we’ve put on is working magic. But it could be smearing the sound, just making it louder. This button ensures that you hear the audio with and without the limiter at the same volume, showing you more accurately what the effect is having on the sound. Brilliant.
Included with Ozone Advanced is the extremely useful insight plugin, which provides several different visual methods of measuring the audio levels. Spectrogram, Soundfield, spectrum analyser, Loudness history and level meter with a choice of industry standard level scales (EBU, BS1771 etc).
The presets are exceptionally useful here – providing average loudness ranges for all the major media requirements – music production presets, such as headroom warnings, frequency levels etc. I don’t recommend spending too much time with meters like this – it takes the weight off using your ears, which is always preferred. But as an endpoint, it’s very useful for checking you’re not overloading, or stepping out of average level range etc.
I wish the GUI had been updated with the rest of the software, but it’s stuck in Ozone 5 territory with the black and luminous green type. Yet another reason not to check it too often!
Ozone 7 is the best swiss-army multitool of mastering software there is. I feel like Ozone 7 is on the fine edge of feature bloat, without tipping over.
It’s SO deep, and all SO useful. Being a ‘complete mastering tool’, iZotope seem hell bent on cramming absolutely anything you might ever want into the GUI. As a result, the flexibility of the product is simply stunning.
The downside is that, especially for someone finding their feet – the sheer weight of options could be overwhelming. It would be great if iZotope sold each module as separate (cheaper) plugins. I reckon the new additions would sell by the bucket loads – I’m looking at you, dynamic EQ!
Ozone 7 is way too feature rich to mention all in this review. If you’re looking for an excellent and complete mastering tool, I would highly recommend the 10-day FULL version demo available on iZotope’s website, and try it out for yourself. You will not be disappointed.
There are two versions, standard and advanced. Advanced includes four more modules, gives you the ability to use each module as a separate plugin, and includes the Insight metering plugin.
More info on Ozone 7 from iZotope here.
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