iZotope Ozone 8 Review

Does the latest update deliver on the promise of simplifying the mixing and mastering process with AI?
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iZotope Ozone 8

iZotope Ozone 8

Introduction

Over past decade, iZotope’s flagship Ozone software has firmly established itself as the go-to in the box mastering tool for countless engineers and producers. Ozone’s continual addition of new features and processing modules—including the addition of several analog-modeled processors in Ozone 7—has helped turn the Ozone plugin and native app into a one-stop-shop for just about any mixing and mastering task, whether it’s processing a full mix or a single stem or sound.

To date, Ozone’s updates have followed a fairly predictable path; add some analog modeled processing, expand the robustness of the existing modules, and keep the UI looking more modern with each iteration. Ozone 8, however, pushes iZotope’s flagship software firmly in a bold and futuristic direction, with a clear focus on leveraging the increasing power of machine learning and artificial intelligence to make the day-to-day life of both the beginner and professional engineer easier and more productive.

In this review, we’ll put Ozone 8 to the test to see if these new updates deliver on their promise of simplifying the mixing and mastering process, and take a look at what else this major update has in store for loyal Ozone users.

Setup and First Impressions

Ozone 8 comes in three editions, Elements, Standard, and Advanced; while all three mastering suites offer much of the same basic functionality, Advanced adds a host of features for the more experienced mix engineer, including seamless integration with iZotope’s Neutron 2 software, individual module VST/AU/AAX plugins, and more robust algorithms and features across Ozone’s various processing modules.

Installing and setting up Ozone 8 is about as simple as could be; download the installer from iZotope’s website, authorize the software, and you’re ready to get mixing. For users who prefer a centralized installation manager to handle installations and automatic updates, Ozone can also be installed using iZotope’s new Product Portal.

Ozone installs as both a standalone app for Mac/PC (with the exception of Elements, which does not include a standalone version) and as a plugin in all common formats including VST, AU, and AAX. In my personal experience, I tend to use the plugin versions almost exclusively, as I prefer to mix and master within my DAW; that being said, iZotope has added some really robust features for users who wish to use the Ozone 8 standalone app to mix and master, including the hosting of 3rd party VST and AU plugins.

Opening the Ozone 8 Advanced plugin interface for the first time reveals a powerful, complex, but never cluttered UI; it seems iZotope has gone to great lengths to continue to build out Ozone’s functionality without burdening the user with multiple windows and endless buttons and controls.

Ozone 8, whether used as a plugin or standalone app, essentially functions as a unified wrapper and signal path for a host of different processing modules. Users can add, reorder, solo, bypass, and remove modules in Ozone’s signal path, and I’ve always been a huge fan of this modular flexibility; if you like to compress your mix before EQ’ing it, Ozone can easily accommodate that—along with just about any other sort of signal routing you can imagine. One surprising limitation to Ozone 8’s module approach: you can only add six modules to any Ozone plugin instance, which might fall short of what some users would need for certain mix situations. Similarly, you also can’t add a single module to your signal path more than once—for example, to compress your mix twice during the mastering phase, which is quite a common practice in EDM, Pop, and Hip-Hop. This seems like a bit of an arbitrary and possibly UI-based limitation, and it’s odd for software that’s otherwise creatively limitless; we hope to see a future iteration of Ozone which allows a user to add as many modules as their computer can handle.

Ozone 8 Advanced offers 11 distinct modules; Equalizer, Vintage EQ, Vintage Tape, Exciter, Vintage Compressor, Dynamics, Dynamic EQ, Spectral Shaper, Imager, Vintage Limiter, and the famed Maximizer. We’ll dive into the specifics of each below, but suffice it to say every module in Ozone 8 sounds superb, and learning one module will have you easily using all the rest; all of Ozone’s processing modules share very similar design cues and interface elements. A number of Ozone 8’s modules also offer robust Mid & Side and Left & Right operation modes, which experienced engineers and producers will appreciate.

To the right of the module section and signal flow path lie the master input and output meters, which offer some incredibly powerful metering features, including support for all standard formats including Peak, RMS, K-System, LUFS, and more. Ozone 8’s metering panel also offers a host of useful additional features; mono/stereo solo, stereo channel swap, Codec preview, Dither (offering iZotope’s acclaimed MBIT+ dithering algorithm), Reference track matching, Global Bypass, and gain matching. Many of these features are standalone plugins for other developers, so it’s really impressive how much functionality the iZotope team has built-in to Ozone 8.

Ozone 8’s top menu bar offers a global preset system (presets are also managed and save-able on a per-module basis within the module UI), a button to launch Ozone 8’s new Master Assistant algorithm, global undo history (including a useful A/B/C/D state capture feature for comparing various processing settings to find the best for your particular mix), and a window to launch the master preferences and settings. During our testing, we did find a good bit of bugginess in Ableton Live 10 with Ozone’s presets and EQ in the Audio Unit plugin; in many cases, Ozone’s EQ preset settings seem to have been corrupted or suffering from a UI glitch, such as the mastering presets we found with -30dB cuts in the midrange or a Stereo High Pass Filter at 10,000Hz, which won’t sound good on most mixes! I was not able to reproduce these issues on the VST version of Ozone 8, so Ableton and Studio One users can simply use that version of the plugin, but Logic users should give the plugins a thorough test on their system and bear in mind there may be issues with EQ glitches.

In Use

There’s a whole lot to take in with a plugin as advanced as Ozone 8, so we’ll first take a look at each module on its own before diving into some of the more cutting-edge features, including Master Assistant and Tonal Balance Control, and Reference Matching.

Ozone 8’s 8-band parametric equalizer is one of the best we’ve heard in the box, combining the features advanced engineers and producers will expect along with superb sound and switchable analog/digital modeled filters. The iZotope team has built in just about every EQ feature you could hope for here; highpass, lowpass, high shelf, low shelf, and bell filters, with a plethora of options to customize each, including Proportional-Q bell filters and Analog, Bandaxall, Resonant, and Vintage options for the shelving filters. All filter types can be operated in Analog or Digital mode, with the latter offering an extra degree of phase integrity when using the switchable Surgical mode. Ozone 8’s EQ can be operated in Stereo, Mid Side, or Left Right mode, offering the ability to EQ just about any aspect of your mix you could need, and the ability to operate modules in different stereo modes is one of our favorite features of Ozone. Ozone 8’s EQ also offers the supremely useful Matching mode, which allows you to easily EQ one source based on the frequency balance of a guide track or mix. If there’s one shortcoming of Ozone 8’s otherwise outstanding EQ compared to other high-end options, it would have to be the metering; I didn’t find the single-color, non-customizable grey line particularly informative when compared to other options like DMG Audio’s Equilibrium or Fab Filter Pro-Q 2, and the omission of a keyboard or note guide a the bottom of the equalizer is a bit surprising—the ‘Show Musical Units’ option is sorely lacking compared to the intuitive note labels used in many other EQ plugins.

Ozone’s Vintage EQ module takes some obvious cues from famed Pultec analog EQ’s, offering the same simultaneous boost-cut circuitry that made the originals so famous. Offering Low, Low Mid, Mid, High Mid, High Boost, and High Cut bands, this just might be the most powerful Pultec clone one can find in the box, as it combines curves typically found in separate plugins. Additionally, Ozone 8’s Vintage EQ is one of the only Pultec-modeled EQ’s we know of to offer Stereo, Mid Side, or Left Right processing, which is a prime example of merging the best the analog and digital realms each have to offer. Vintage EQ is stunning and capable of serious tonal reshaping and vibe - this is one of the best, if not the best sounding Pultec-style EQ’s we’ve ever heard in the box.

Ozone’s Vintage Tape module offers relatively few options when compared to most of the other modules available in Ozone 8; there’s no stereo processing options, no parallel processing, and relatively modest controls for Tape Speed, Input Drive, Bias, Harmonics, Low Emphasis, and High Emphasis. Despite the limited controls, what is here does sound very nice—but more often than not, I found myself reverting to a more advanced third-party tape plugin during mixing and mastering sessions.

Ozone’s Exciter has long been one of my favorite aspects of the software—it’s a highly flexible and sonically stellar module that I find myself using across almost every mix, in addition to frequent use on individual sounds and stems. Exciter offers 7 different algorithms on a per-band basis with switchable oversampling; Analog, Retro, Tape, Tube, Warm, Triode, and Dual Triode—Dual Triode is almost always my pick, and it does a phenomenal job adding harmonics to otherwise lackluster sounds and mixes. The ability to combine different Exciter models on different frequency bands is a great feature, and it’s one we’ve seen an increasing number of developers try to copy in recent years. While the Exciter hasn’t changed much in Ozone 8, it still sounds really great.

Ozone’s Vintage Compressor is one of my favorite modules on offer in Ozone 8, with 3 distinct feedback compression modes (Sharp, Smooth, and Balanced), variable-release, auto gain, and stereo or mid-side processing. The vintage compressor sounds great on just about everything, and the Smooth algorithm is a real standout here—it’s just hard to make this thing sound bad.

Ozone’s Dynamics module remains one of the most robust dynamics processors on the market today; it’s capable of everything from basic single-band processing to advanced parallel multiband compression and limiting all within one straightforward interface. One of Dynamics’ most powerful features is the different detection circuitry on offer - the compressor can be switched between Peak, RMS, and Envelope detection modes, each of which can offer substantially different compression characteristics even with the same compression settings; Envelope mode offers many of the advantages of RMS compression without the aliasing and downsides that often accompany it in digital plugins. Dynamics also offers a superb Adaptive Release mode, which causes the compressor to behave much more like an analog processor would, with variable release timing depending on the amount of input signal and compression occurring.

Ozone’s Dynamic EQ feature is without a doubt one of it’s most powerful; it’s a cross between an EQ and a multiband compressor, and it’s incredibly useful in mastering and mixdown situations where certain elements of a track need to be controlled but you may not have access to the entire session or mix stems. Let’s say, for example, that the ride cymbal during the hook of your song is coming across a bit too hot and harsh in the mix once master processing is applied; using Ozone’s Dynamic EQ, it’s easy to set a threshold for corrective subtractive EQ that will only trigger when the cymbals enter the mix. Many of the same advanced features found in Ozone’s standard EQ—including switchable Analog/Digital modes and Proportional Q curves are available in Dynamic EQ, which makes this an incredibly powerful processor for mastering engineers.

Without question, Ozone 8’s biggest addition as far as modules are concerned is the new Spectral Shaper, which offers engineers and producers a streamlined way to balance and remove problematic or harsh frequencies across an entire mix or within a defined frequency range, as well as to experiment with more out-there effects and timbral manipulation of source material. OekSound Soothe was one of the biggest plugin hits of 2017 within professional production and engineering circles, so it’s not surprising to see Ozone 8 take a similar approach to controlling problematic areas of the mix. In our testing, Special Shaper is a solid addition to Ozone’s lineup of processing modules, and it is more than capable of smoothing out harsh percussion, guitars, or vocals within the context of a crowded mix.

Ozone’s Imager has long been one of my favorite stereo manipulation tools, and I was happy to see that little has changed with its implementation in Ozone 8. With the relatively minor addition of frequency band linking in Imager, everything is as it was here in Ozone 7, and Imager remains one of the most powerful and flexible stereo tools around; it also sounds absolutely superb, and it’s capable of creating anything from subtle upper-frequency stereo enhancement to dramatic Haas-style widening effects with just a few clicks.

Ozone’s Vintage Limiter, which aims to marry the thick, vibey Tube sound of the famed Fairchild 670 Compressor/Limiter with some modern touches, is one of the real standouts in Ozone’s module arsenal. In particular, the Modern setting sounds outstanding, and it’s capable of drastically enhancing source material with just a few button clicks. Given the number of modules Ozone 8 provides, I think many users may overlook this one, but it’s a hidden gem - part saturator, part tube preamp, and part limiter, Ozone’s Vintage Limiter is one of the best dynamics tools we’ve heard in the box to date.

And finally there’s Ozone’s famed Maximizer—easily regarded as one of the best, if not the outright best, in-the-box limiters available. Ozone 8’s Maximizer will get your mix as loud as any limiter we’ve heard using it’s superb IRC IV algorithm, and it does so by using a minimal and uncluttered control set, which is a huge leg up over other limiting options, which seem to be growing rapidly in complexity. In addition to maximizing volume with minimal side effects, Ozone 8’s Maximizer offers a host of advanced features that professional engineers and producers will appreciate, including True Peak Limiting, Variable Stereo Independence (separately controllable for both Attack and Release), Transient Emphasis, and Intelligent, Adaptive Threshold Automation, which lets you specify a target LUFS level for the limiter module. Ozone’s Maximizer is my go-to choice for ITB limiting, and after a few uses, I’m confident it will be yours as well.

So, after running through that exhaustive list of processing modules we must be done, right? Nope. Ozone 8’s biggest new feature is the new Master Assistant mode, which is powered by iZotope’s research and development into Artificial Intelligence and how it can assist engineers in their everyday work. While I don’t have personal insight into why and how Master Assistant was developed, I’d venture to guess that the rapid growth of online mastering services like LANDR, which are powered by similar artificial intelligence, might have played a role here.

Clicking the large ‘Master Assistant’ button at the top of Ozone 8’s menu bar will launch a setup wizard which begins by asking you which format you’re aiming to deliver a master for - Streaming (conservative LUFS settings), CD, or Reference (match your track's loudness to your reference track). It then asks you to play the loudest portion of your track—Ozone will analyze the track’s characteristics, and begin running the source audio through a series of sequential mastering-specific tasks—including EQ, compression, limiting, dynamic EQ, and more - with the aim of delivering a good starting point for your final mix.

Ozone's Master Assistant in action

Ozone's Master Assistant in action

Ozone says Master Assistant was born out of analysis of a large pool of songs made up of 10 different musical genres; each genre was then analyzed for its spectral characteristics, generating 10 'target curves'. In more technical terms, training data was fed into a machine learning model, with the result being a classification of any song within three primary categories; Bass Heavy (EDM, Rap), Classical, and Modern (Pop, Rock)—these three categories essentially guide how Ozone processes your track when Master Assistant is activated, down to the attack and release settings of the Dynamics module and the type of limiting algorithm used in Maximizer.

In practice, Master Assistant is certainly innovative and on many tracks it can give you a helpful nudge in the right direction; I particularly found its use of Dynamic EQ to attenuate parts of the frequency spectrum which were hitting the limiter too hard (causing distortion) to be a useful guide in figuring out what areas of a mix might need taming to get the best possible master. That being said, we have not yet arrived at the point where Ozone can simply do your mastering for you—a human touch is most definitely still required, and many engineers will simply use their ears and bypass Master Assistant altogether. For those willing to experiment or those looking to learn, however, you just might find something useful here.

One of the other major additions in Ozone 8 is the new Track Referencing feature, which allows easy A/B of your mix against up to 10 reference files of your choosing, complete with loop points and all—it's a highly useful feature, and as someone who always relies on multiple reference tracks to guide both the production and mixing/mastering process, I got a lot of use out of this one. If you've been relying on a plugin solely for A/B'ing your mix against others, Ozone 8 can help streamline your referencing workflow within one unified interface. Additionally, beyond the convenience of referencing within your mastering workflow, Ozone's Track Referencing allows reference track comparison and metering in modules including the Maximizer, making it even easier to achieve your target loudness and tone.

Lastly, Ozone 8 adds support for Codec preview, allowing you to audition what your mix will sound like once it's compressed into common formats, including MP3 and AAC at bitrates ranging from 96-320kbps. While it may seem like a small feature in comparison to everything else Ozone 8 offers, I know mastering engineers—and savvy producers—will appreciate this one; if you've ever had a seemingly good mix ruined once it's uploaded to a low bitrate streaming platform, you'll know it's important to bear in mind the medium of consumption when doing a final mix. After all, most consumers are listening to highly compressed files on small earbuds, not to uncompressed mixes on reference monitors.

Conclusion

Ozone 8 is, without question, our recommendation if you're looking for an all-in-one mixing and mastering suite that is (for the most part) only constrained by your creativity—iZotope has set the bar extremely high over the years with previous releases, and that excellence continues here. Many of Ozone's modules sound better than individual plugins costing hundreds of dollars apiece, and the Vintage models added in Ozone 7 are for the most part superb.

As with any new endeavors, iZotope's forays into the worlds of artificial intelligence and machine learning are not without their hiccups—we found the much-hyped Tonal Balance Control to be buggy in Ableton Live 10, both as an AU and VST plugin—but we like the direction the company is heading in here, and there's no doubt we'll see increasing applications of ML and predictive mixing in the coming years. Artificial intelligence aside, Ozone 8 is a superb choice for any mix and mastering engineer, offering a host of processing, referencing, and metering options that will help you create the best mixes possible.

Score: 9.5/10

Pros

  • Exceptional value; many modules could be best-in-class standalone plugins.
  • Lives up to the hype; a one-stop-shop for mixing, mastering, and creative sound mangling.
  • Vintage models sound excellent.
  • Track Referencing is highly useful and a major timesaver.
  • Master Assistant is heading in the right direction - just don't forget to use your best judgment.

Cons

  • Somewhat buggy in Live 10.
  • Tonal Balance Control might not be quite there yet.
  • EQ metering could be improved.
  • We need more than 6 modules!

Purchase iZotope Ozone 8 via Reverb today!

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