iZotope Ozone 10 Advanced by Diogo C
Ozone needs no introduction as it arrives at its tenth iteration and for nearly two decades it has proven itself to be an extremely valuable and highly popular asset for those working with mastering in the box, and over the years iZotope has added many features to keep up with the times. So how does it fare in 2022?
For this review we’ll cover the Ozone Advanced version, which is the one that encompasses exclusive features and also everything available in the Elements and Standard versions, with a total of sixteen distinct processors that are available both as modules to be used inside the Ozone “mothership” plug-in and as Audio Unit, AAX or VST plug-ins for Mac and Windows. First let’s have a quick look at the Ozone Advanced plug-in itself and the Mastering Assistant, then I'll give you a brief rundown for each module before proceeding to the scores.
The Ozone plug-in: The “mothership” plug-in with a modular design that firmly established iZotope in the game many years ago. Nowadays it houses up to seventeen sound processing modules that can be freely arranged in series to build a mastering chain, and it also offers RMS/Peak level metering for input and output, dither for bit-depth conversion, codec preview for checking how it will sound on MP3 and AAC formats. The mothership also allows users to load a reference track for quick comparisons and it offers a handy loudness-compensated bypass function, so you don’t let louder levels make you look like a fool when evaluating what Ozone is doing to the program material. Besides the new processors, improved mastering assistant and reworked interface, the v10 mothership is largely the same as v8 and v9 versions except for the module for hosting external plug-ins inside Ozone, which is now gone as it was offered mostly because of the now-discontinued Ozone 10 standalone app.
The mastering assistant: Available exclusively on the mothership plug-in, the assistant is powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning and received a significant upgrade on v10. It works by scanning a portion of the incoming audio to measures its tonal balance, width, dynamics and loudness in order to build a mastering chain comprising of several Ozone modules. The user can then select a music genre that fits the program material and adjust a handful of settings on the "Assistant View", such as the EQ, stabilizer, width and overall dynamics, with the option to optimize for streaming services or DJs. Users can switch to the "Detailed View" to access each module and adjust them individually as they would on a non-assisted mastering session.
Dynamics: This is the Ozone module for compression and limiting, and can be used both as a wide-band or as a multi-band processor, with up to four bands with fully independent controls and action. Both the compressor and limited features the usual variable attack, release, ratio and knee controls and for the compressor three are detector modes available (RMS, Peak and Envelope). The detector can also be tweaked by a high-pass or a tilt sidechain filter. A dry/wet balance slider is available for each band for parallel processing. Although iZotope says in the documentation that the compressor is analog-modeled, to my ears it’s a regular digital compressor that sounds quite transparent - not that there’s anything wrong with that. Unchanged for v10.
Dynamic EQ: A six-band dynamic equalizer where each frequency band can act as a regular downwards compressor or as an upwards expander. There five filter shapes available per band, including three parametric options (Proportional-Q, Bell and Band-Shelf) and two shelves types (Baxandall Bass and Treble) and full controls over dynamics, with the usual threshold, attack and release controls, along with an offset button to set a static gain trim to each band. Linked stereo, mid/side and dual-mono operating modes are available for this module, along with linear phase (digital) and minimum phase (analog) processing options. No changes were made for v10 and in my opinion little is needed as I think this is one of Ozone’s best sounding modules but the workflow could be improved by adding a “Global” control mode like the one the regular Ozone EQ.
Equalizer: One of Ozone’s staples, the Equalizer hasn’t seen any changes in a while and also remains the same for v10, with eight fully-parametric bands with many options for low/high pass filters, shelves or peaks, linear or minimum phase modes, a nice real-time frequency analyzer in the background and a scale slider that allows for attenuating or increasing the EQ curve as a whole. It also features stereo, mid/side or dual-mono operation modes and it is the only module in Ozone that can be inserted twice in the processing chain, allowing for pre/post equalization, which is quite handy.
Exciter: Ozone’s main saturation module, offering many styles such as tubes, transformers tape and other analog-style saturation options on up to four independent bands with variable amounts of processing. It also features a high-shelf for taming the top end after processing, mid/side or stereo operation modes, and an oversampling option for increased accuracy. Unchanged for v10.
Imager: This is where we take care of the stereo imaging on up to four bands that can either increase or decrease the stereo field and also alter it entirely through the “Stereoize” function. A new “Recover Sides” feature was introduced on v10, allowing the users to inject a portion of the sides to mid, increasing the mono compatibility, and a “Amount” slider is provided to allow users to decrease the strength of the Imager’s processing. The Imager also provides a way to check the stereo image through its Vectorscope visualizer, making it a highly useful module.
Impact: A new module for v10 that allows adjustments on the “microdynamics” of the program material by increasing or decreasing the dynamic range of the incoming signal, which is split into four processing bands that can be freely adjusted. This module works as an envelope that acts on the signal over time, so it can be set to stay in-sync with the DAW (through musical subdivisions such as quarter notes, eighth notes and so forth) or a “free running” envelope measured in milliseconds. It also offers stereo or mid/side operation.
Low End Focus: A specialized module to deal with low-end, with a blend of dynamics and frequency response manipulation to help on taming or boosting the lows and low mids between 20 and 300 Hz in its own special way. This is one of Ozone’s more unconventional modules, with a minimalistic control set based on two characters (“Smooth” or “Punchy”), a “Contrast” slider that acts as a sort of balance control and a corresponding gain control for the frequency area where the processing is taking place. It’s certainly worth a shot, but results may vary. Unchanged for v10.
Master Rebalance: A sort of “magic” processor that allows us to alter something we usually associate with mixing and not mastering, which is the balance between instruments on a song. According to iZotope the module is based on a “machine learning algorithm trained to identify different instrument types in a track”, and enables users to adjust to some extent the levels for bass, vocals and drums parts. As those seasoned in the game might expect, there’s no free lunch and artifacts or side-effects are quite obvious, but don’t rule out this one just yet, it might come in handy when those problematic mixes arrive. Unchanged for v10.
Match EQ: A popular trend over the past few years, the EQ-matching technique gets its own Ozone module, which works by dividing a reference signal into 8,000 bands that are then applied to the desired program material through a linear-phase EQ. Stereo, mid/side and dual-mono operating modes are available. I think this technique is very useful on mixing, especially for guitar amps and speakers in general, but never got it to work for me when mastering - but you might think otherwise. Worth trying, nonetheless. Unchanged for v10.
Maximizer: Arguably Ozone’s most revered processor, the Maximizer is a very flexible limiter with ten different flavors that can get extremely loud with little distortion. For v10 iZotope has included two new features - Soft Clip and Transient Emphasis - which further adds to its premise of getting things as loud as it gets with minimum side effects. The limiter also features a handy target-LUFS learn function, variable stereo independence for transient and sustain, and a “True Peak” protection is available to ensure things won’t ever hit the reds. Still one of the very best limiters out there, and it’s hard to go wrong with it!
Spectral Shaper: This module takes a page from its sister app RX, and according to iZotope its goal is to “apply high-resolution attenuation to problematic frequencies”. In practice, it acts as a sort of “de-harsher” that works on a certain frequency area determined by the user, changing its tone and overall dynamics. As with other “magical” Ozone processors, it may or may not work on the program material but it’s worth reaching out to it on those gruesome mixes that couldn’t be saved by regular means. Unchanged for v10.
Stabilizer: One of the new modules for v10. It is somewhat reminiscent of Soundtheory’s Gullfoss plug-in, acting as an adaptive EQ that analyzes the incoming signal and dynamically reacts to it, with two main operating modes that makes it lean more towards shaping/boosting or towards cutting. Stabilizer offers variable amounts of processing on three frequency regions (lows, mids and highs) along with “Speed” and “Smoothing” controls in order to help avoid abrupt dynamic transitions.
Vintage Compressor: Loosely based on analog compressors such as the UREI 1176, and although it is not a direct emulation of any particular hardware unit, it is a nice sounding module with some good amounts of color. As such, I find myself using it more on mixing and couldn’t get it to work for me on mastering. Works particularly well on ambient/room drum mics, acoustic guitars and vocals. Unchanged for v10.
Vintage EQ: A blend of two Pultec equalizers, namely the coveted EQP-1A and the MEQ-5, with a total of six bands combining the “push-pull” (or boost and cut) technique that made the hardware Pultecs so famous. An interesting alternative to the Ozone Equalizer when a “less visual” approach is desired. Unchanged for v10.
Vintage Limiter: According to iZotope, this module is based on the famed Fairchild 670, but the sound and control set are leaning more towards a LA-2A than anything else, at least to my ears. As with the Vintage Compressor, I don’t find it particularly useful for mastering, but it is a great compressor for mixing vocals and electric bass. Unchanged for v10.
Vintage Tape: Based on the Studer A810 two-track tape machine from the early 1980s, a machine known for its low noise, linearity and overall transparent character. This module features the usual speed options (7.5, 15 and 30 IPS), variable drive, bias, harmonics and low/high frequency emphasis. Unlike real tape, there’s no “wow and flutter” and it’s totally noise-free, so crank it at will. Very useful as a coloring tool for both mixing and mastering and easily my favorite module of this Vintage line. Unchanged for v10.
Sound quality: Ozone was always known to be a very transparent plug-in, and that remains to be the case despite the inclusion of some color and saturation modules over the past few years. The new v10 modules are interesting additions and quite different from what we already had, and they are in-line with the Ai-powered tools tendency that iZotope has been following since Neutron was introduced. I must say that I’m more old-fashioned and have little interest in such things, but I must also admit that it’s definitely getting better, and v10 shows a big leap over v9 when it comes to the mastering assistant function. The older modules are pretty much the same except for the Imager and Limiter, which received new features as mentioned earlier. Although the new “recover sides” feature in the Imager didn’t do much for me at least initially, the new clipper section of the Limiter sounds really good to my ears and certainly helps to get things as loud as possible whilst minimizing the side-artifacts inherent to the process. I’d also highlight the quality of the Dynamic EQ module, which to my ears is one of the very best in the game, and even after all these years it’s my favorite by far - works great as a de-esser for mixing vocals too! As for the new modules, the Impact didn’t do much for me as I found its side effects rather unpleasant and a bit too obvious. On the other hand, the Stabilizer is pretty cool for cuts - I’m not much of a “booster” when it comes to processing, but the module worked pretty well for taming certain parts of a mix and should work nicely when making things less harsh is in need. Overall Ozone is a very well-rounded package with many qualities, and they easily go beyond mastering as I find myself using it for mixing and sound design all the time.
Ease of use: This is one of the easiest mastering-oriented processors one can find out there, and that’s not even considering the assistant feature. Of course there are the specifics of the mastering process itself, which I’m not taking into consideration here, so if you know the way around that, then you should have a calm sea ahead with Ozone. The interface is friendly and intuitive, adding or ordering modules is a breeze, the CPU load is well-optimized and overall the experience is quite smooth. One small thing I’d like to have included for greater ease of use is a better way to visualize what’s going on in terms of frequency and stereo image response, and perhaps incorporating iZotope’s own Insight plug-in to Ozone would be a good way to tackle this. As a workaround, I often use the second EQ and Imager modules for such purposes, but a proper solution would definitely be better. Speaking of workarounds, since iZotope decided to discontinue the standalone app, many will find themselves having to change their workflows and are now forced to use a DAW with Ozone if they wish to use v10. Fortunately the v9 app was recently updated to work with the latest operational systems and computers including support for M1 Macs, so I’ll be sticking to it for the time being, but in the long run that can be a problem.
Features: Despite the new modules and a better-looking GUI, in my opinion v10 is a bit of a step back feature-wise due to the fact that iZotope decided to scrap the standalone app, which I happened to use a lot, so this hurts for me personally. According to the company, the reasoning behind this decision was data-oriented, as they found out that only a minor fraction of the users were going for it instead of the plug-ins. This is somewhat problematic as many users are opting out of sending usage data statistics or simply using their computers offline. Besides that, Ozone still stands as one of the most feature-rich bundles when it comes to plug-ins for mastering, and there’s little to be desired here other than the lack of the standalone app and aforementioned visualization options.
Bang for buck: The package as a whole is not going to come cheap, but it’s certainly worth it when we consider the number of included plug-ins and most importantly, their level of quality, which is as high as it gets. Conversely, an important aspect to consider is to what extent the tools provided by Ozone Advanced are going to be actually used according to each one’s style and preferences when it comes to assembling a mastering chain - Ozone Advanced can do a lot, but for some maybe it can do too much. If you’re more a “gente compression, an EQ and some limiting” type of engineer, perhaps Ozone’s more specialized modules like Stabilizer and Spectral Shaper aren’t of much interest to you, so Ozone Standard should do just fine. Needless to say that the decision ultimately comes down to what one needs or wants from the product, and also comes down to what they already have in their plug-in folder, so think wisely before…advancing!
Recommended for: engineers and producers of any skill level looking for a set of plug-ins that can handle nearly all mastering-related tasks while still providing something that is also useful for mixing, sound design and music production in general.
For owners of previous versions, is it worth the upgrade? Price of the upgrade may vary depending on the version in hand or if you have the Music Production Suite, but this is certainly one the most feature-packed version of Ozone in a while. Despite the demise of the standalone app, it offers two totally new modules, adds new options to the existing processors and gives the interface a nice facelift. It also natively supports Apple silicon, something that users on v8 or older may find particularly appealing as the upgrade to v10 ensures Ozone will keep running smoothly on their Macs for the mid to long term - v9 works with the newer Apple silicon Macs, so those on that version do not upgrade solely for this but may want to upgrade to the new features. Ozone versions can run alongside each other, so no worries there as v10 will not replace v9 or older.
- Transparent sounding but versatile, with optional color options.
- The Limiter and Dynamic EQ are among the best in industry.
- Robust feature set with nearly all tools necessary for mastering.
- Easy and intuitive to use even without resorting to the assistant.
- CPU-friendly and low-latency for the most part.
- Reasonably priced.
- Standalone app is gone.
- Visualization options could be improved.
- Perhaps too advanced for some.