Review: iZotope Nectar 2 Vocal Production Suite

iZotope’s original Nectar plug-in gained a reputation as a one-stop-shop for vocal production. But will Nectar 2 be a sweet deal? Matt Loel T Hepworth dives deep inside.  

Most modern DAWs offer a finite number of effect insert slots. By the time you’ve installed a compressor, noise gate, de-esser, and limiter, you have very few slots left for additional plug-ins. That’s why iZotope packed their original Nectar plug-in with eleven effects processors, and crafted them to work specifically with the human voice. Not only does that concept save you precious insert slots, but it also keeps all of the controls inside of one control panel, rather than a handful of individual windows that obscure your DAW workspace. I’ve used Nectar 1 for years and have found it to be an invaluable tool for vocal production.

"Part of the value iZotope products offer is the large number of factory presets to get you started, as well as get you thinking."


The Sweet Becomes a Suite

Nectar 2 is now a suite of three plug-ins: Nectar 2, Breath Control, and Pitch Editor. This allows users to select the plug-in(s) with the features he or she requires. Most of the processors (along with a few new ones) are found in the Nectar 2 plug-in. The Breath Control Plug-in is designed to reduce or remove pesky inhalations, while the Pitch Editor offers fully programmable pitch correction. It works in VST, VST3, AU, RTAS/AudioSuite, and AAX architectures for compatibility with any modern DAW or audio editor.

If you ever used Nectar 1 with its butternut squash-colored interface, the clean lines and crisp bronze-colored layout of Nectar 2 will be a welcome sight. All of the controls are larger and offer a finer degree of control. To make the interface easy to navigate, Nectar 2 has two viewing modes: Overview and Advanced view. Overview shows you the primary controls for 10 of the 11 Nectar modules (omitting the Limiter).

Figure 1. Overview mode.

Figure 1. Overview mode.


This view allows you to edit the primary controls of each module simultaneously in one window. But to really tap the power of each module, you’ll need to switch to Advanced view.

Figure 2. Advanced view, Gate module.

Figure 2. Advanced view, Gate module.


All the modules are located on the left side of the interface and the top-to-bottom orientation denotes the signal flow of the audio. All modules can be placed anywhere in the signal flow, with the exception of the Pitch module, which must always be first. Every module has an enable/bypass button.

Every module has a window at the top of the interface that offers a visual representation of the audio, as well as the action of the process(es). For example, in the Gate module shown in Figure 2, the waveform and the gain reduction trace (shown in orange) allow you to quickly see where the gate opens and closes. Other modules will offer similar visual feedback. At the right of the interface, you’ll find the input and output faders, along with very tall VU meters.

When running Nectar 2 during recording, switching it to Tracking Mode produces much lower latency. However, the trade off is that the dynamics processors won’t work at their full potential. So remember to switch back to Mixing mode when you start sweetening after the recording.


A Wealth of Presets

Part of the value iZotope products offer is the large number of factory presets to get you started, as well as get you thinking. These are accessed from the Presets Manager at the bottom of the interface.

Figure 3. Presets Manager dialog box.

Figure 3. Presets Manager dialog box.


All the presets are organized into musical genres, along with specialized categories for voice overs and special effects. There’s even a description of what the preset sounds like, and what kinds of voices it was designed for. It’s great to be able to start with a preset, then modify the settings to your taste.

Since Nectar 2 is a plug-in, your undo/redo commands usually affect your DAW. That’s why there’s a History button, the clicking of which reveals all the edits you’ve made and allow you to go back in time. There are 100 levels of undo, but if you need more, you can define that number in the Options settings.


Dynamics Modules

All of the dynamics modules in Nectar 2 do a great job. These include the De-Esser, Compressors, Gate, and Limiter. But it’s the Compressors that offer the most intriguing options, for there are two compressors, which offer some very useful parallel compression techniques.

Figure 4. The Compressors Module.

Figure 4. The Compressors Module.


"Each compressor has four different characteristics: Digital, Vintage, Optical, and Solid-State. This allows you to emulate different compressor designs for a variety of boutique responses."

Notice the tabs for Compressor 1 and Compressor 2, along with the Parallel Mode switch. In mode 1, you get a traditional parallel compression, wherein you can balance between the compressed signal and the dry signal. In mode 2, you have two identical compressors that can be programmed independently, then mixed and balanced at the output. Usually you’d set one to a subtle amount of compression, then set two to something more aggressive. Not only that, but each compressor has four different characteristics: Digital, Vintage, Optical, and Solid-State. This allows you to emulate different compressor designs for a variety of boutique responses.


EQ and Saturation Modules

The Saturation Module is easy to program and adds the harmonic content of five different emulations: Analog, Retro, Tape, Tube, and Warm. Even gentle settings can add thickness to any voice, where more intense settings can dirty-up the kindest vocal track.

The EQ Module is extremely powerful, with up to eight fully parametric bands.

Figure 5. The EQ Module.

Figure 5. The EQ Module.


This is where the spectrum view really shines. The EQ curve is overlaid against the frequency spectrum, which allows you to visually compare the original and processed signals. You can choose from fourteen different EQ curves, then enter either the frequency, gain, and Q-factor values manually, or simply drag the nodes (donuts on a rope) around the frequency spectrum to listen (and watch) the results. Q-factor is adjusted with the up/down motion of the mouse wheel.


Pitch and Harmony Modules

The Pitch Module offers quick pitch correction, without the need for note-per-note edits. It does a great job, even in chromatic mode. However, iZotope have added a key detection setting that offers a selection of key signatures and scale types for the audio Nectar is processing. You can also transpose in semitones and cents, along with altering the formants.

The Harmony Module can provide up to four additional harmony parts, all of which have adjustable pan, gain, delay, and fine pitch. It, too, has the key detection feature, or you can set the key manually or play the desired harmonies in from a MIDI keyboard or track.

Figure 6. The Harmony Module.

Figure 6. The Harmony Module.


You can program anything from a light doubling to full harmonies. I’m really knocked out by how natural the harmony voices sound. Plus, you can apply pitch correction to only the harmony voices, and there are hi and low cutoff filters for crafting the harmony voice tone.


The Effects Modules

The FX module has distortion (including a lo-fi Decimate mode) and Modulation, as well as really interesting Repeat processor. The repeats can be simple echos, or you can use the Shred mode to had stutter-style effects.

"The Reverb Module is modeled after one of the most revered vocal reverbs of all time: the EMT-140 plate reverb."

The Delay Module has some nice delays. However, this is one area of Nectar 2 that I felt was lacking. While you do get different delay characteristics (like Digital, Tape, and Analog) and the ability to modulate the delay, there are no stereo delays like left-to-right, ping-pong, or multi-tap. There is a stereo width control, but that only adjusts the delay width of a track that already has a separate left and right channel. In other words, feed it a mono signal and you’ll get mono delays. Feed it a stereo signal, and you can make the delay effect wider or narrow it down to mono. Since you can sync the Delay module to the DAW tempo, it would be nice to add some stereo-synced delays.

The Reverb Module is modeled after one of the most revered vocal reverbs of all time: the EMT-140 plate reverb.

Figure 7. The Reverb Module.

Figure 7. The Reverb Module.


iZotope have done a masterful job of capturing the essence of the EMT-140, and it’s almost impossible to get a ‘too much reverb’ sound on any vocal track. Be that as it may, you only get one reverb. I can understand iZotope not wanting to have every reverb plug-in manufacturer upset with them for offering other stellar reverb models, but I do wish there were other options.


The Breath Control Plug-in

Getting rid of loud inhalations can be a challenge. Yes, there are various techniques that work, if you’re willing to put in the time. If not, you’d better get Nectar 2, for the Breath Control plug-in works...period.

Figure 8. The Breath Control Plug-in.

Figure 8. The Breath Control Plug-in.


You can select the Gain mode for eliminating the breaths, or the Target mode for a programmable amount of breath reduction. The Gain Reduction Trace in the mini-spectrum window displays where and by how much the breaths are being attenuated. There are only two caveats: First, the vocal track needs to be recorded at an appropriately high level so that things like ‘s’ and ‘th’ consonants aren’t misinterpreted as breaths. Second, remember to place the Breath Control plug-in ahead of Nectar 2 (or any other plug-in) so that it receives the most dry, unprocessed signal.


The Pitch Editor plug-in

While the Pitch Module in Nectar 2 is great for quick pitch corrections, sometimes you need more power. That’s where the Pitch Editor comes in. It’s similar to other pitch correction plug-ins, and I think it sounds very natural.

Figure 9. The Pitch Editor plug-in.

Figure 9. The Pitch Editor plug-in.


You can use the Pitch Editor either through ReWire, or as an insert effect. However, if you use the latter method, make sure to install it first in the signal flow. (If you need to incorporate the Breath Control plug-in too, make sure it comes first, followed by the Pitch Editor.)

For the Pitch Editor to function, you’ll need to ‘capture’ a track, which is why it prompts you about doing so every time you load the plug-in. To do so, click the Record button on the Pitch Editor interface, then press the play button either on your DAW or on Nectar 2. (Note: Different DAWs and the insert or ReWire configuration determine which transport controls are ‘in-charge.’ Try using various combinations of DAW and Pitch Editor transport commands to discover the method that works best for you.)

After the capture, you’ll see the notes on the display. Clicking and dragging a note will move it in semitones, then type and hold the Control key on your computer keyboard to allow a finer degree of pitch adjustment. You can also snap all the notes to a specific key signature, along with cutting and pasting notes together. There are formant and vibrato controls, as well as Correction Strength and Speed settings for anything from subtle corrections to the ‘auto-tune effect.’

"Sure, there are other ways to get some of the processors that come in the suite, but you simply cannot find a more complete solution for vocal treatments."


Conclusion

If you’re sweeting any sort of vocal track, you need Nectar 2. Sure, there are other ways to get some of the processors that come in the suite, but you simply cannot find a more complete solution for vocal treatments. But please, be cynical and download Nectar 2 as a fully-functional demo and try it for 10 days. I predict you’ll find everything (well, almost everything) you’re looking for, along with many vocal processing ideas you may not have considered before.


Pros: The most complete vocal plug-in suite on the market, reasonably priced, and the new features are a no-brainer for current Nectar users.

Cons: Albeit wonderful, there’s only one reverb option, and the delay module doesn’t offer mono-to-stereo delay options.

Price: $299.00/$99.00 upgrade. ($219.00/$79.00 upgrade pricing is available through October 30th.)

Web: http://www.izotope.com/products/audio/nectar/

Matthew Loel T. Hepworth

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MATTHEW LOEL T. HEPWORTH has been teaching music technology since 1984. The son of educators, he has the ability to thoughtfully instruct people to get the most from complicated music products and software. He authors the Cubase and WaveLab tutorials for macProVideo.com and authored several books including WaveLab 7 Power!, The Power i... Read More

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