- Publisher: iZotope
- Product: Ozone 9 Advanced
- Version: 9.1.0a
As we explore the mysterious world of mastering in greater depth, we’ll be using Ozone 9 Advanced to demonstrate key concepts along the way. Ozone 9 can be used as a standalone application or as a software plug-in for use within a DAW, encompassing several processing modules in order to provide a complete suite of audio-specific mastering tools. In addition to providing audio processing, Ozone also includes a number of visual meters, useful tools, and gauges for evaluating mixes. The tools within the Ozone plug-in can be reordered in various ways, and combined with other software and hardware tools to suit both your desires and the needs of your mixes.
Though Ozone is a software product, it combines the best of both the analog and digital domains. Which should you favor? It’s entirely subjective, but we’ll explore both approaches.
Given that the analog world is an unpredictable place, it’s nearly impossible to use digital ones and zeros to precisely model all aspects of analog equipment. However, Ozone provides the option to recreate the analog sonic behavior of dynamics processing, equalization, harmonic excitation, and limiting. Using very high precision, Ozone’s analog modeling translates into a great analog-sounding result with all the benefits of the digital world: repeatability, flexible routing, automation of controls, portability, no limits due to analog circuit designs, and freedom from servicing hardware components (take that, Mr. Analog!).
So what is this character of analog? There have been volumes written on this topic, and we are all still working to refine our understanding of it. In the most general sense, analog processing has certain nonlinear aspects (noise, phase distortions, chaotic unpredictable behavior) that a purist might consider wrong but in some cases translate to a musical sound. Any analog equalizer, for example, applies a small phase shift to the sound.
These types of “imperfections” provide the analog characteristics that some call warmth, thickness, sparkle, or simply an overall pleasing sound.
While analog modeling can provide a character or colorization of the sound, in some situations precise or transparent signal processing is desired. Well-designed, low-distortion digital processing can help you retain depth, sharpness, and detail. For example, you may wish to equalize or notch out a frequency without introducing the phase delay inherent in analog filters as mentioned above. For these applications, plug-ins sometimes provide digital or linear phase equalizer modes and low-distortion crossovers and filters. As an added bonus, using software-based tools opens up so many creative possibilities, from dreaming up new types of circuits to full automation of parameters and incredible portability.
Meters and DSP
A mastering engineer’s hearing needs to be very acute and well developed so he or she can hear a sound and know its frequency, or hear a sound and know when and how compression is working. The ears, though important, are not the only tool needed to evaluate a recording. For most, visual feedback is also very important, and thus mastering engineers also need meters. Each module within Ozone combines both audio processing controls and visual feedback in the form of various meters, traces, and spectrograms. When equalizing, you can see a spectrum. When compressing, you can see a gain reduction or gain trace (a meter highlighting the activity of the gain reduction) of the compression. When listening for the stereo image width, you can watch phase meters.
There is no substitute for using your ears, but think of it like driving a car. When you first start driving, you might spend a lot of time checking the speedometer to get a sense of what’s happening. Over time, you develop an instinct and need the speedometer less. But from time to time, we’ve all looked down and thought “Hmm, I had no idea I was driving that fast.” Whether using Ozone or not, whether you’re just starting with mastering or have been doing it for years, you can always benefit from the second opinion that a good set of visual displays can provide. These visual displays may also aid in diagnosing specific problems, saving you the precious commodity of time!