Those forward-thinking minds at iZotope have just updated Neutron: their pack of mix assist tools, to its third iteration. Neutron 3 is a combination of more traditional sound-shaping tools, with some super advanced algorithmic machine learning tech to help get the foundation of your mix set up automatically.
The main plugin for the master bus is super useful. The main elements you’d be looking for in a mix bus plugin chain are covered, with 8 plugin modules (that can be added separately to tracks if needed): an EQ, two Compressors, a transient shaper, limiter, exciter and gate. These are accompanied by a new plugin in the form of Sculptor – a sort of spectral polyfiller plugin. More on that in a bit.
By themselves these plugins are mighty impressive. But the grand trick up Neutron’s sleeve is to use machine learning algorithms to listen to your music, and then apply the plugins in custom setups for every track of your project, shaping the sound instrument by instrument. Going beyond that with this update, Neutron can now create an initial balanced mix automatically as a great foundation for getting started with your music.
Neutron’s tools are impressive in many aspects – I’m going to list and discuss the ones I found most useful.
Sculptor is a brand new plugin from iZotope that’s been integrated neatly into the mothership master bus monster plugin and is also available as a separate plugin. It’s like having thousands of compressor/expanders working on separate super-narrow frequency bands of the source material, to shape the sound of the track towards the sonic dimensions of either a different instrument, or a ‘ mastering’ type sonic tone. There are 25 different instrument presets you can choose from. So you can choose a bass preset to shape your bass sound, or you can grab a completely different instrument preset and get crazy making creative sounds. Sculptor can be used both as a subtle shaping tool, or can be used to wildly change the sonic character of the source material. Useful for both mix and creative purposes.
Intelligent EQ With Masking Meter
I liked this EQ. It’s a quality 12-band EQ that can be static or dynamic. The real strength of this EQ though is the machine learning and communication between tracks to figure out elements of sounds that might be masking each other. I feel like I’ve got a fair handle on using EQ to keep instruments out of the way of each other, but I still found this really helpful as I compared and contrasted different tracks with the EQ meter. I also really like the intelligent interest location tool – finding places in the EQ where there’s resonance or a harsh tone, so you can deal with it quickly. On top of it all, there’s a great little saturation effect to warm up the sound.
This is the huge new update to the Neutron pack. Now, the machine learning in Neutron can assist in creating a good balance in the initial mix as you start up a project, getting you off to a solid start. The AI mix assistant is fantastic in some ways, and extremely intriguing in others.
To be honest, I had a few startup issues with the tool, due to not following the instructions to the T. Once I figured it properly, it worked very smoothly, with no latency issues I could notice. Adding the relay plugin to each track, you can then open the main Neutron plugin in the mix bus, and the plugin talks to each track, categorizes the sound into 5 groups, and pre-mixes the entire track around a focus sound that you the user pick. Once the plugin has listened to the entire mix, it takes a few seconds, and it’s done. From there, you can adjust each group individually to taste, apply the mix balance, and then start adding the effects modules to the mix bus.
I think I might have to change the way I mix slightly to make it a smoother shift to using mix assistant. I tend to start mixing straight from the creation element of my project, whereas I think it would be quicker to bounce to stems, and mix from there in a new template, rather than work direct from the original project. The creative use of plugins can get in the way of the AI, so I think it’s probably best to bounce everything down, then do the automation again, or bounce the automation into the stems. That’s something I need to spend a little more time thinking about.
Overall, I was really impressed with the way the algorithm balanced out all the sounds. I’ll be honest and say I think it did a better job than me with the balance between drums and bass on rock/pop tracks. The tracks just felt more ‘settled’ when I started with the AI assistant rather than just me from scratch. That set me up nicely to get creative with the rest of my mix, knowing that the foundation was solid.
This is updated from the previous version of Neutron’s track assistant. Across the board, Izotope claims the software is lighter weight, faster, and more powerful. This is reflected in the track enhancer, as you only need to listen to a few seconds of music per track for the machine learning to get to work and add and adjust plugins to affect the sound. In this update, the machine automatically creates presets of plugin modules per track too. If you’re leaning towards a particular sound, heavier, lighter etc then that’s where you can begin. It’s super impressive how it assigns tracks into categories with excellent accuracy, and applies various treatment to fit the purpose you’re pointing at.
To me this plugin was one of the highlights of Neutron 3, and sped up my mix workflow the quickest. Using the relay plugins, you can control the mix of each track from within one visual X Y mix window. I found this to be an insanely cool way to mix – moving instruments around the sound stage much much faster than more traditional track mixing. I haven’t spent enough time with it to establish how good it will be when combined with automation along the track, but I’m assuming that it wouldn’t be a problem. Each track is represented in the window by a nodule that visually throbs as sound plays through that track.
Neutron 3 is an excellent set of plugins – the master bus chain plugins are worth the price of admission by themselves. The Mix assistant is very interesting to me. The claim Izotope makes is that the AI gets the initial mix to a good foundation, and from there you can really get creative in how you mix. I wonder how much a role the AI should play before it’s taking over some of the creative sides of the process. It’s an interesting debate going on in music production culture right now, with the introduction of AI into the mainstream mastering and mixing worlds (Landr for example). Some of the process of mixing and mastering is just technicality, but very quickly into the process it becomes such a personal and subjective art, I’m not sure how AI could move beyond the basics, and create more than a magnolia base coat. But maybe I’m just being a luddite and need to embrace it! Food for thought anyway. I do not want in any way to take away from what iZotope have done here. It’s a truly excellent product and will no doubt speed up many producers workflows immensely.
It’s on sale for $299 introductory price (up to $399 after) for the advance version, and 99 and 199 for the elements and standard versions. Comparison of the three here
As with all iZotope products they are massively impressive. In terms of the AI mix help, that’s something you’ll have to try for yourself by downloading it and demoing it here.
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About The Author
Composer/Producer, and keyboard player. He has written and recorded soundtracks for a wide variety of media and co-owns DOsounds.com with Jake Owen, a music production company that gives him an excuse to buy more analog gear.