Review: Izotope Ozone 5
If your a master at mastering, you can probably get good results with any tool. For the rest of us, a good tool is essential. Is Izotope’s Ozone 5 that tool?
by A. Arsov, May 2013
I’ve tried them all … well, almost all. In times past I did my mastering with T-Racks, then with Maximus, and now I have switched to Ozone. Mastering is an art and if you are a mastering guru, then you can produce a good master with almost any tool; but most of the people that I know, producers, musicians and even some studio technicians, are not so good on in the field of mastering, at least without having a good “all in one” tool. The better the tool is, the better the end result will be. The main problem with all these mastering issues is that we live in a 2013 and not in the old good times described by the fertile but slightly senile old gurus. Nowadays everything should be extra wide, crisp, with sparkling open high end frequencies and a tight well defined low end, and the whole thing shouldn’t be over-compressed but still loud as hell.
Hmm … it looks like that I’ve just described Izotope Ozone in one sentence! Yes, I know, most high tech software mastering tools have similar ranks of effects, but it happens that one doesn’t have an exciter while some other doesn’t have a good stereo imager, and therefore the end result can be pretty good but still not similar to the hits which are mastered in big studios. There was a time when you would need to stick out from the crowd to succeed, but now you should fit nicely in a row with other so called “overproduced” songs that you hear on the radio. Overproduced is just a term that badly produced musicians use when they want to describe top hits. My dear fellows, pay a decent amount of cash to hire a good mastering studio and repeat that on every album, or buy Ozone and become one of the “overproduced”. Why Ozone? Because it comes closest to that “million dollar sound” compared to all its competitors. After years of using other mastering tools I watched few video tutorial clips from Izotope, tried almost all presets in Ozone. I found the one that covered all my small mixing mistakes, sounding almost perfect, made few improvements that I’ve learned from video clips, and “voila!” One setup for electro songs, another for live and tweak here and tweak there and the album is ready for print.
Let’s start with the most banal reason, but I found it very important: all top mastering tools have very similar metering tools but nevertheless I found that Ozone metering tools are very informative, with transparent color for the fast peaks and stable for the RMS, so you always know where you are regarding the compression level and how loud your song actually is. This is very important when you are mastering the whole album as this is the only tool that will help you to find some common level for all songs. Meter bridge also gives you essential information about the phase. There are also various spectrum analyzers, very tidy and well regulated.
Talking about other effects or tools that we find in Ozone, we should mention first that all effects are multi-band, at least the ones for which multi-band makes sense. I found this to be an essential feature, as I lost too much time trying to find good balance with some other mastering packages that don’t offer this capability. Secondly, the entirety of Ozone is pre-stocked with various presets, from the general ones to those that we can find in separate effect sections. Most of them are very good and it is not hard to find one which is close to that what are you looking for (even when you don’t actually know what are you looking for J ) .
First effect in the chain of effects is equalizer. It is an eight band EQ with a nice spectrum analyzer allowing you to separately tweak center or left and right side. Increase the top end on a side decreasing the low end along with increasing slightly the low end on a mid, adding smile in the middle of the both mid and side curves, and you get a well-defined mix just with the EQ.
Next is a high-quality reverb. I usually don’t use it in mastering as I prefer adding reverb on tracks, but I tested it along with my favorite ones and found that it have a nice well defined sound, so it could be more than useful to add some common reverb to your mix: room, plate, hall, theater, cathedral or arena, whatever your preference. Of course I start with presets and then fine tune the settings, getting really nice results. Not many other mastering bundles have reverb in their arsenal and this one is definitively a nice addition.
Harmonic exciter is a tool that I miss on many other bundles. Three or four band, it is up to you, but it is absolutely the tool that will make a difference, especially in high registries. There are a few saturation types such as Tape, which should be used with care as adding it too much it can send your song directly to hell, but it so nicely brings up the side instruments that I have hard time to not use it. However, in busy mixes, and Tape simulation can be a bit too much, in which case I end up using Tube, constantly rumbling between Tube, Warm, Retro, Triode or Dual Triode types of saturation. Decisions, decisions, oh how hard life can be. I know that I’m a bit picky, having it all yet wanting more. But dreams would come true if there were an option to have Tape for high ends and Tube for low end. OK, I’m not sure if this is possible and whether this combination even makes any sense, but I love the high ends of Tape saturation, although it slightly overdrives my low end no matter how little I’ve added. As I already have slightly overdriven bass, Tape saturation overly enhances.
Dynamics, or let’s call it a multiband compressor, is pure poetry. Easy to navigate, already well stocked with the presets, the only thing that you should tweak is the release for low ends (to invigorate your bass in accordance with the general tempo of your song to obtain the desired result.) It does its job perfectly. Having a multiband compressor on mastering stage is a must, and having such a good one is a blessing.
Stereo imaging is a tool that can save your mix. I was advised by my friends a long time before I got Ozone that Ozone is the only package with stereo imager that really does its job. It can make your mixes wide without spoiling them. The Advanced version also has a Stereoize function that adds mono compatibility to your widening efforts. Use three or four bands depending on your music, but I would bet that you will always end up narrowing the low end and widening the top one. Along all other controllers, you can always check what you are doing with the correlation meter and vectorscope to see if you are totally out of phase or if you are still where you should be. Phase problems are something that you should fix in the mix. They can be fixed with Ozone, but there are things that sound better if you deal with them early rather than fix them later. Phase problems are definitively in that category.
Post equalizer is the second effect available for using anywhere in your signal chain. Did I mention that you could change the order of used effects? No, so this one could be useful if you need some extra correction after the dynamic processor or if you need to sort out some mid/side frequency issues. Maybe those are the mushrooms or just so-called psycho-acoustic phenomena, but I had a feeling that mix sounds a bit more defined if I just turned on this post equalizer at the end of the chain without boosting or cutting any frequency. OK, it could be a mushroom issue, but the Izotope technician will have the last word according to my presumption. One way or another, it doesn’t hurt to have it there, just in case.
The last thing in the chain is a maximizer along with dithering. There are only two kinds of maximizers in the world: the ones that sound good (pretty rare animals) and those that don’t sound so good (pretty common animals). This one sounds good. It has few different modes: three with fancy names IRC I through IRC III, an intelligent digital loudness mode as they call it, and finally the Hard and Soft mode where the “omen est nomen”. Fancy or not, I tried them all, pressed buttons like a mad monkey and found myself happy with IRC I. I can’t say why that’s my preference other than that it simply sounds good. And you know what? That’s the main point with all Ozone issues. I could spend more time describing technical data and describing this controller or that additional tool, but all in all, the end result is that songs mastered with Ozone really can sound good. If you have done your mix well, then you can easily elevate your song to a whole new level, making it sexy and exiting with a groovy bottom and sparkling high end. I’ll repeat the first sentence of this review: I’ve tried them all and what resulted is that I ended up with Ozone. This could tell you only one thing: that Ozone not only sounds good, but it sounds better than any competitor. You can get Izotope Ozone 5 for $249 USD (the approximate price that you will pay for mastering five songs) or you can choose the Advanced version for $999 USD. This one offers all 7 modules separately as a plug-ins that you can use in your mixes, along with offering some extra controls in each module, a 3D spectrogram and a few other goodies.
Izotope Ozone is a life saver for hobbyist musicians as well as pro musicians. It is definitively the best thing that could happen to your music. At the moment it is the finest mastering tool on the market. So, let use an old Ozone joke for the end of my review: what’s the difference between your song and the songs from the official charts? The answer is very simple: there is no difference – and that’s the whole point with Ozone: no difference at all. It’s a pro mastering studio for every budget. Izotope Ozone could be yours for $249 or Izotope Advanced for $999
More info on www.izotope.com