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Review

iZtope Neutron

Issue #48

Overall, this is a clever combination of high-quality audio processing with intelligent guidance to get a mix started.
Andi Picker

Pros:

Flexible
Good sounding processors
Very neat Track Assist feature

Cons:

Masking Meter didn’t really work for me
Feature overlap with existing iZotope products

iZotope Neutron

Need some help with your mixes? Well, you could spend a lifetime refining your technique... or maybe the latest package from Izotope could come to your aid? Andi Picker gives it a try.

 


I’m pretty sure we all have times when we simply don’t have the experience, time, energy or vision to make a mix work from scratch. The usual answer is to drink too much coffee, waste a few hours making increasingly erratic mix moves, hate ourselves, then go to bed in disgust.

What we mostly need at a time like this is an idea; something that we can take and hone and refine to an end product. We could click through a bunch of presets until something sounds kind-of-OK and then work from that, or we could try iZotope’s Neutron which offers a set of familiar mixing tools together with a rather clever feature that will listen to your tracks and suggest a starting point.

Let’s start with the fundamentals – you get an equaliser, a pair of multiband compressors, a multi-band exciter and a multi-band transient shaper along with a limiter and a thing called Neutrino that we’ll look at in a moment.

The EQ module has eight parametric bands plus high and low shelving, all with shaping options, and, very impressively, all can be switched between static and dynamic modes (complete with compression and expansion options and selectable side-chain). There are also dedicated high and low pass filters. This is a great general purpose EQ, lots of bands, plenty of range and useful dynamic option.

Compression is from a pair of three-way multi-band units with ratio, threshold, attack, release, knee, gain controls, selectable side-chain and a switchable 'vintage' mode. The range of processing here is enough to go from a bit of transparent glue to full-on waveform butchering distortion – and there are two of them.

The Exciter has three bands, each with a simple matrix of options spanning warm/retro/tape and tube options – no need to overthink this one - just grab the blob and drag it around until it sounds good.

Last of the basic modules is the Transient Shaper; again three band, and featuring shape, attack, sustain and response options.

All of the modules have their own libraries of presets, all have their own mix control and they can be dragged into different orders or bypassed as needed (the Advanced version of Neutrino has the modules available as individual plugins as well as 7.1 support).

Beyond the basic processors, there is switchable true-peak output limiting, input and output meters showing peak, RMS and gain reduction (if limiting is switched on) and that Neutrino mode!

Neutrino is a multi band (with lots of bands) spectral shaper that’s designed to level-out distracting frequencies in the source material. It’s subtle. On some tracks I simply could not hear it doing anything even when I used headphones and pulled my serious listening face, and I felt a bit as though it had a slight “Un-Exciter” effect when I put it on a whole mix, but it worked well on some individual “difficult” tracks including a female vocal track with some unpleasant mic resonance, and some slightly scratchy guitar parts. The good news is that Neutrino is available as a free plugin from https://www.izotope.com/en/products/mix/neutrino.html , so why not grab a copy and drop me a line to let me know how you used it?

OK, time for the headlines –Masking Meter and Track Assistant.

Masking is what happens when we mix different sources with frequency overlaps – let’s say kick drum and bass, or piano and vocal. Mixers will often carve-out a hole in the less important sound so that the more-important can be clearly heard. We can do this simply by listening, or by opening a real-time frequency display on each channel and making a judgement based on what we see. With Neutron on each of the channels (say the drum buss and the bass channel) the Masking Meter will visually show the masking frequencies - and if each instance has an active EQ you can access them to make adjustments. Masking varies in real time depending on what’s being played and how loud the respective parts are. A sensitivity control takes care of the levels, and a few moments watching the display will give a pretty good idea of where to strike. What I struggled with was actually deciding what to do about the overlaps. A useful Inverse Link allows paired cut/boost settings to be applied to the relevant channels, and it works well, but it wasn’t very obvious to me what I needed to see on the screen to get the sound I wanted.

The other headline feature is Track Assistant; the software version of the experienced user who can listen to your mix and say - “Try This”. Put it on an individual track, buss or main mix and hit the button and it will identify what it’s hearing and set the controls accordingly. The first few tracks I tried it on left me gobsmacked. Everything from band mixes to spoken word seems to work well. I did find that I needed to match the effect/bypass levels manually, and when I did then a bit of the initial euphoria disappeared, but in just about every case the adjustments made were in the same direction that I’d have mixed them manually. It’s hugely important to take note that iZotope positions Track Assistant as a way to get to a Starting Point; do expect to need to tune the results to what YOU want to hear, but what it does do is very effective. Oh, oddly, I don’t think I ever found a Track Assistant setting that used the Transient Shaper even though it is used in a number of global presets.

I’m still not quite sure where the boundaries between various iZotope mix/master tools lie, and I suspect that anyone who already has another all-in-one package and likes its sound should probably consider spending a bit of time with their preset manager before laying out more cash here. That said, I think Neutron is an impressive product, and for anyone who doesn’t have a set of go-to plugins, or who might occasionally benefit from a bit of In The Box mentoring, it could offer a very useful helping hand.

Overall, this is a clever combination of high-quality audio processing with intelligent guidance to get a mix started.

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Issue #50

John Petrucci

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