iZotope’s Ozone 5 mastering software is an extremely user-friendly suite of presets and controls for home mastering engineers and mix professionals alike. The available plugin formats include RTAS, AU, VST, VST3, DirectX, and MAS, allowing for use across all major digital audio workstations (and several non-audio applications). While there are some additional features in the Advanced version of Ozone 5, the bulk of functionality is available in the standard version of this plugin. With Ozone 5, you’re able to use a single plugin on your master buss to create a full, mastered track, instantly removing any session clutter.
Ozone 5 has about half a dozen features that I find myself using constantly during a mastering session. Each one brings a unique element to your sound. A good sound can be achieved fast, while a great sound comes after tweaking for a few minutes. There are even stock presets to get you close and help you learn how to master while actually doing it! We’ll take a closer look at each element of the Ozone 5 suite below:
The maximizer within Ozone is a mastering limiter capable of doing what it intends: maximizing your volume. With several modes of operation, the maximizer does a great job at remaining virtually transparent on your mixes. The simplistic operation is similar to most compressors/limiters in the sense that you set the threshold and the software does the rest. iZotope added several features helping make this a top choice for mastering by adding a waveform-reading interface to show you exactly what the maximizer is doing in a visual environment. For those who purchase the Advanced bundle, Transient Recovery is added to help maintain a more dynamic sound.
My biggest issue with EQ on a master fader is the constant worry of completely changing the balance of a mix. Mastering equalizers need to be noticeable at low levels of adjustment (we’re talking 2-3 dB max.) without being obnoxious and coloring our sound. Much like the maximizer, the Ozone EQ is able to remain pretty transparent. Most frequently I found myself leaving the EQ off, but it can in handy whenever I needed to add some air to a track or pull out excessive low end.
Another aspect of a mix that I don’t like touching during mastering is reverb. There are so many options during mixing to place sounds where you want them, I usually can’t justify adding more after. The Ozone reverb has the basics of any reverb including a plate, room, and hall setting and adjustments for each. The Ozone reverb comes in most handy on live recordings that lack a room feel, or any quick mixes where you’re looking to add some overall reverb. In finalized mixes, I couldn’t find much use for the reverb other than perhaps a subtle amount of room tone that I’m not sure I could pick out when A/B checked without it.
A necessity for mastering, dither adds some basic, very quiet distortion rounding off 1s and 0s to make your audio sound its best at different bit depths. In the case of Ozone, algorithms were created for audio being dithered down to 24, 20, 16, 12 and 8 bit formats. While you’ll still notice quality loss in your audio at lower levels, it’s much more bearable with proper dithering. The group at iZotope figured out a great system to handle dithering within Ozone, and it is a great tool for masters going into different formats for release.
The Harmonic Exciter was confusing at first, but it’s essentially analog emulation with multi-band controls. Perhaps the most unique aspect of Ozone, you’re able to define your own frequency ranges (up to 4) and assign different sonic characteristics to each. You have the options of Warm, Tube, Retro & Tape in the standard version, with the addition of Triode and Dual Triode emulation in the Advanced version. While I usually associate Warm and Tube to sound the same, there are some slightly different colorations that are noticeable. The exciter is definitely worth messing around with for a bit to try and find a sound you like. I found an especially enjoyable sound with Tube on lows and Retro on my mid-range. This feature is certainly for the trial-and-error mixers.
Dynamics (Specifically, the Multi-band Compression)
The Dynamics section includes a limiter, compressor, and gate. Each can be used as much, or as little as needed. I commonly found no need for the gate in mastering, and the use of the limiter already used in the Maximizer section. The Dynamics section was essential to my mastering though, simply for its multi-band compression feature. Without a stock multi-band compressor in Pro Tools, and the functionality of the Ozone plugin, this compressor met my needs beautifully. The multi-band compressor would be great as a standalone plugin for bass and other instruments since Ozone takes up more processing that I’d like on individual tracks. If anyone is on the fence between Standard and Advanced, the ability to use each section independently is available in the Advanced bundle.
Finally, we’ll take a look at the preset section of Ozone, the best part for beginning mastering engineers. The preset window gives several templates for every imaginable genre of work, and does a good job of describing how each effects your sound. In addition, there are a few “effect” presets, such as “AM Radio” which came in handy when doing audio post-production work and adding certain effects to songs quickly. Once users get used to how everything works within Ozone, they’re able to save their own presets. This allows sessions to easily be rebuilt if lost, and a quick reference to get an evenly mastered sound across an album.
Ozone is absolutely worth checking out for anyone looking to get into mastering and can’t afford a ton of outboard gear right off. If you choose to go the Advanced route, you even get some plug-ins that work wonders in a mix session too. iZotope offers a 10 day unlimited trial on both versions of Ozone, with silence added after that point. If you choose to buy, they’re offered at the price of $249 for Standard and $999 for Advanced. You can check out more details on iZotope’s site.