Review: iZotope Ozone 7 - A Mastering Solution That’s Hard to Beat

Ozone 7 adds many features to iZotope’s popular audio mastering program. But are those features what you’ll need to take your audio finalizing to the next level? Matt Loel T Hepworth investigates.  

Ozone has been a perennial favorite for users who need either a ‘one stop shop’ mastering program, or high-performance mastering plug-ins to run in a host program, or both. Not wanting to rest on their laurels, iZotope has truly gone back to the future and added several vintage-style modules, yet retains all the modules found in Ozone 6.1. In this review, I’m going to concentrate on the new features and modules of Ozone 7. For more information about the Ozone standalone program and individual modules, see our reviews of Ozone 6 and Ozone 6.1.

Ironing Out Differences

Ozone 7 comes in both standard and advanced versions, and Ozone 7 Advanced is part of the new Music Production Bundle that comes with Nectar 2, Alloy 2, and Trash 2 Expanded. iZotope have a feature-by-feature comparison on their website. Basically, the standard version now comes with one new vintage module (Vintage Limiter), the Dynamic EQ module, the updated Maximizer module, and MP3/AAC exporting. The advanced version adds three new vintage modules (Vintage Tape, Vintage Compressor, Vintage EQ), Codec Preview feature, and the Insight metering plug-in. Both versions run in standalone mode or as plug-ins.

Vintage Limiter Module

While the Maximizer module is a powerful mastering limiter, the new Vintage Limiter has a distinctly analog flavor and response. Its dynamic control is based loosely on the all-tube Fairchild 670 limiter, a hardware mastering device of great renown, cost, and rarity.

Vintage Limiter control panel

Vintage Limiter control panel

The Vintage Limiter offers the same kind of gentle, transparent limiting as the hardware device after which it is modeled, but includes IRC (Intelligent Release Control) in all three of its modes: Analog, Tube, and Modern. Each mode offers subtly different types of limiting through a combination of fixed and variable attack/release times, as well as adapting those characteristics based on the source material. The Character slider allows you to further craft the attack and release. You can also enable or disable True Peak Limiting to ensure the output level never exceeds 0.0 dB

The limiting is very smooth and even, but allows the transients through to keep the sound tight and punchy. Different modes have a direct impact on the transient response. I found the Analog mode more suited for music with drums and percussion, while Tube mode sounds great on instrumental recordings. Modern mode works really well with practically any source material. The Gain Reduction Trace in the Spectrum view is very helpful for monitoring the limiting characteristics.

Vintage Compressor Module

Like the Vintage Limiter, the Vintage Compressor is a feedback-style dynamics processor. Most modern compressors are feed-forward and control the levels based on the input signal. Conversely, feedback processors base the processing on the output signal. This is very challenging thing to do in the computer domain where things don’t happen in real time. But iZotope was somehow able to make both vintage dynamics modules perform like their hardware counterparts.

Vintage Compressor control panel

Vintage Compressor control panel

The Detection Filters (hi-pass, mid-peak, hi-shelf) are part of the feedback loop and trigger the compression based on the frequencies in each range. You can also solo the Detection Filters for fine tuning the response. Like vintage hardware compressors, there aren’t a lot of controls, but you can control the attack and release times, gain (with Auto Gain Compensation option), and choose from one of three modes: Sharp, Balanced, and Smooth.

It was a lot of fun trying different settings on a variety of different source material. The Vintage Compressor does a great job of applying the dynamic ‘glue’ of which so many mastering engineers speak, and even offers Mid/Side processing. Making adjustments to the Detection Filters or Modes will not produce the overt results we’ve grown accustomed to with modern compressors. You’ll want to spend some time listening for all the nuances when crafting a dynamic control that’s ‘just right.’ 

Learn more about the Vintage Compressor in the above video tutorial (from the complete course on iZotope Ozone 7 Mastering Toolbox by Matthew Loel T Hepworth)

Vintage EQ Module

Pultec EQs are renown for their simple but powerful tonal controls. The Vintage EQ module is based on two of these great old equalizers: the EQP-1A and MEQ-5. The former is for low and high frequencies, and the latter is for midrange. Like the hardware upon which they’re based, the frequencies of each band have preset centers.

Vintage EQ control panel

Vintage EQ control panel

The control panel is divided into top and bottom halves: highs and lows on top, and midranges on bottom. You can adjust the frequency of the Low Boost, plus use the Low Cut control simultaneously for a ‘scooping’ effect. The High Boost has a Q-factor control, and the High Cut works at 5 kHz, 10 kHz, and 20 kHz frequencies. The midrange has Low-Mid Boost, Mid-Cut, and High-Mid Boost controls. You also have the choice of Stereo, Mid/Side, or individual Left/Right processing.

Either half of the Vintage EQ is powerful by itself, but having both in one control panel really offers powerful tonal crafting. Getting used to the placement of each control might take a little time, but getting great-sounding results is very easy. The frequency centers are very musical, and it’s almost impossible to make the tone harsh or overbearing.

Vintage Tape Module

Based on the classic Studer A810 mastering tape deck, the Vintage Tape module offers the saturation and rich, musical distortion of analog tape, without hiss and wow & flutter (let alone the cost of tape stock.)

Vintage Tape control panel

Vintage Tape control panel

The Input Drive controls how deeply the virtual tape will be saturated, and the Bias alters the frequency response thereof. Speeds of 15- and 30-ips (inches-per-second) offer different distortion at different frequencies based on audio wavelength. The Harmonics slider can add even harmonics to the normally odd-order saturation, and there are High and Low Emphasis controls for the EQ of the virtual tape heads.

The Vintage Tape module can sound subtle, downright rude, and any way in between. Running the ‘deck’ at 15-ips does really neat things to any music with drum and bass tracks, and you could even use this module with different settings and different tracks and groups when using it as a plug-in in your DAW. If found that extreme settings of the Bias control helped me zero in on exactly the sound that was right for the material.

Codec Preview

We all know that when you compress audio into a lossy-format, you’re going to lose some of the sound along the way. The Codec Preview allows you to hear precisely what your encoded audio will sound like, as well as what you’re going to lose when you render your audio into either MP3 or AAC formats.

*Figure 5. Codec Preview control panel

Codec Preview control panel

These controls are very simple: just select a format and a bit rate to audition the results of the data compression. Then if you want to monitor the (let’s call it what it is) degradation caused by the encoding process, just click the Solo Codec Artifacts button. Hearing the difference is a truly revelatory experience. While data-compressed audio files are a reality we all must work with, it does make me melancholy to know that the average consumer can’t hear the difference between lossy and lossless formats. Be that as it may, the Codec Preview is a fantastic tool that allows the engineer to know how the final encoded audio file will sound, and allows him/her to choose the right settings prior to rendering the audio.

Maximizer and Dynamic EQ Updates

The original Dynamic EQ that first appeared in Ozone 6 now has six bands rather than four. iZotope obviously listen to their customer feedback, for this was an often-asked feature request. The Tube mode of the Maximizer has been appropriately moved to the Vintage Limiter, but you’ll find a new IRC IV mode that offers three settings: Classic, Modern, and Transient. IRC IV is an intelligent limiter that tracks the frequency response of the audio so that strong levels in one frequency band don’t interfere with the levels of surrounding frequency ranges. The Classic mode refers to ‘classic’ versions of the Maximizer in previous versions of Ozone, and the Modern and Transient modes are self-explanatory. Unlike IRC III, this new mode won’t drive your CPU very hard at all, and sounds very contemporary.

The Best of Both Worlds?

To sum up, I won’t get into a protractive discussion of the ‘digital vs. analog’ debate. Suffice it to say that iZotope clearly wanted to offer Ozone users the benefits and sonic characteristics of analog technology, but with digital simplicity, accuracy, and affordability. I think they succeeded admirably in that challenging task. All the new vintage modules are easy to use and provide very pleasant results. However, none of the vintage modules really look vintage, save the beige color of the control panels. Some users might desire the oven-style knobs and peeling (virtual) paint seen on other competitor’s products, but audio mastering is all about the sound rather than the look. iZotope got the sound right, and the other program enhancements make upgrading a no-brainer. Ozone 7 will also provide new users with a complete mastering solution that’s hard to beat, especially when purchased as part of the Music Production Bundle. Try if for yourself by downloading a 10-day free trial at www.izotope.com

Price: Ozone 7 - $249.00, Ozone 7 Advanced - $499.00, Music Production Bundle - $599.00

Pros: Great sound quality and character, standalone and plug-in operation, Vintage modules sound very accurate, and a really complete mastering solution in one program.

Cons: Standalone version cannot burn audio-CDs or DDP images, Vintage EQ control placement is a little confusing, standalone limited to 6 modules simultaneously.

Webhttps://www.izotope.com/en/products/mixing-mastering/ozone/

Tutorial Videoshttps://ask.audio/academy?nleloc=course/1926/mastering-toolbox&sess_id=812gatan9v0c4099lh3nt3tpo4 

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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