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This article was originally published in issue #34
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I still remember the first time I saw iZotope’s Ozone Mastering software - way back in the R3 days. Where most plug-ins were designed to look like hardware units, or else had fairly simple interfaces, Ozone looked more like something out of The Matrix movie. The green see-though look took a bit of getting used to, but once familiar it gave a huge amount of information and allowed a similar amount of tweaking and tuning. I found it all a bit overwhelming and confusing, and after never managing to get past just selecting presets, I ran away and practised using other, individual, processors until I worked out what I was actually trying to do and what actually made all those great sounding presets work.
Fast forward to 2015 and Ozone 6 is here. The green-overlay look has been replaced with a less striking but far easier on the eye flat grey (with easier to read text) and workflow logic seems to be much more straightforward than I recall, with less hidden items and alternate click features. It comes in two versions, Advanced and Standard, and runs standalone or as a plug-in within your DAW.
The main interface screen offers six slots for modules, with a main control graphic for the one selected. Simply drag-and-drop to select or change order, click to select, and adjust to taste. As has always been the case with Ozone, you get multiple options both for the display and for actual adjustments; for example, the equaliser has analogue and digital modes, with five different filter types and multiple variations of each, along with Surgical mode which allows select filters to be precisely shaped, and infinitely varied control between linear phase and minimum phase on the digital filters; all for each of the eight bands, and it includes an EQ matching function.
Ozone has always had very good quality processors and the options here keep up the tradition. You get modules for EQ, Dynamics, Exciter, Imager, Post EQ and Maximizer. Each module can be used only once, the Post EQ appears to be identical to the EQ (and yes, you can position it before the “ordinary” EQ module), and, although the Advanced version gets the additional (very good) Dynamic EQ module for a total of seven, there are still only six slots, which seems like a bit of a needless limitation in software. Very usefully, each module slot has a level display that shows overall gain - an easy and always-on visual way to make sure that unplanned level-creep doesn’t confuse the effect of any changes you’re trying out.
What you don’t get in V6 is the Reverb module, last seen in V5, and now removed as part of streamlining exercise to focus Ozone as a Mastering tool. A few options within individual modules have been streamlined-out, a few others added-in; overall I think generally good decisions have been made, and there’s probably not too much to be missed in exchange for a far easier work experience (and, incidentally, a far lower CPU hit). Dithering is now limited to only the iZotope MBIT+, but it’s an excellent algorithm and is highly tunable, so no great loss there in exchange for less option anxiety.
Stand-alone Ozone 6 also allows you to load third party plug-ins and has individual processing chains for multiple tracks with basic fade editing. I didn’t manage to find a way to play an assembled selection of tracks together, which is a shame as sequencing and gapping are important in assembling an album collection (which a lot of people actually do still want to do). Finally, monitoring and adjustments are provided for input and output levels, effect bypass, mid-side, mono and stereo channel swap monitoring, and a very useful (and surprisingly effective) level-balanced bypass option.
In use - well, the modules sound about as good as anything else I’ve got in the software domain. Mastering processors aren’t supposed to be vibey and funky (that’s for the recording and mixing part of the process) and these offer very controllable and precise options to do just about anything you’d reasonably want to do at the Mastering stage. What Ozone doesn’t give is the easy mental catalogue of options that you get with skeumorphic interfaces - if you know that Bob Ludwig uses a particular dynamics processor, it’s very easy to load up a few square inches of screen with something that looks like it and kid ourselves that we’re doing the job; here you actually do need to think and listen, but the newly designed preset menu can help you to get a starting point, undo and history tabs make experimenting safe and painless and all that on-screen information is a great learning tool if you choose to use it.
Ozone 6 Advanced vs Standard
Ozone 6 is available in two versions at rather different prices. The Advanced version gets everything that the standard version gets plus a few extra goodies. Dynamic EQ is a useful add-on that you can think of (mostly) as being a very precise version of multi-channel dynamics (which is included in the standard versions Dynamic module). Advanced metering is also included in the form of the Insight suite (still in the old-style green interface at this time) though you may find that your DAW provides a lot of this functionality anyway, and you can load individual modules as plug-ins to save processor load. I often feel as though “standard” versions of products seem to be a bit hobbled, and that the “real” version that you need is the “Advanced “or “Special Edition” version. Not so here - Ozone 6 standard will do just about everything that most people will ever need to do, and it will do it very well indeed. The considerable price difference is reflected in our GI star ratings.
Of course, you don’t have to try to decide if Ozone 6 is right for you from a review, pop over to https://www.izotope.com/en/support/product-downloads/ozone-6 and you can grab a free 10 day trial. Oh, and if you’re new to the idea of Mastering (actually, even if you’re not), grab a copy of iZotope’s excellent (and free) “Mastering with Ozone” ebook from https://www.izotope.com/en/support/support-resources/guides/ozone-6 .
To sum-up: a fresh and much improved workflow and pristine sound quality keep Ozone 6 very high on the list of “Mastering” suite software. Recommended.