When you listen to a song on the radio, you know itís been mastered in a professional studio. But because of cost, that is not a viable alternative for most independent musicians. Instead, many musicians try to do their own mastering but with mixed results. Thatís where a tool like Ozone from Izotope may be able to help.
Ozone is a multi-module DirectX effects plug-in specifically designed to be used for mastering audio material. It provides no less than six different mastering effects: paragraphic equalizer, multiband dynamics processor, multiband harmonic exciter, multiband stereo imager, loudness maximizer, and mastering reverb. Each effect can be enabled/disabled, and you have control over the order of the effects in the chain. For example, you could set up the EQ and dynamics processor to follow the reverb for some unique reverberation adjustments.
Regarding the effects, the paragraphic equalizer provides 6 bands of adjustable notch filters, along with one low-shelf filter and one high-shelf filter for a total of eight configurable bands. Each band has gain, frequency, and slope/Q parameters. The unique aspect of this EQ, however, is that it provides a real-time spectrum analyzer so that you can actually see changes to the audio spectrum as you make them. Next, the dynamics processor allows you to compress, expand, and limit up to four independent frequency bands. Each band has adjustable gain, threshold, ratio, attack, and release parameters. There are also level and dynamics curve meters that let you visualize your parameter settings.
To give your mix a bit more presence, Ozone provides four bands of harmonic excitement that can be applied to any part of the audio spectrum. Here, Izotope has used tube saturation modeling to provide a warmer and more natural, analog sounding excitement effect. For a mix that sounds a bit too monophonic, Ozone provides four bands of stereo imagining, which (like the harmonic exciter) can be applied to any part of the audio spectrum. Each band has adjustable amount and delay parameters, which can be grouped. There is also a phase meter that can be used to check for mono compatibility problems, and there are options that allow you to sum Ozoneís output to mono, invert the polarity of left or right channels, and swap left and right channels.
The loudness maximizer lets you limit and boost the dynamic range of your mix allowing you to create that same full sound you hear on many pop tunes. There are threshold, margin, and release parameters provided, along with options for either brickwall or soft limiting. And finally, thereís the mastering reverb, which provides high quality 64-bit reverberation processing allowing you to put that overall touch to the audio environment of your material. You have control over the amount of wet and dry signals, room size, room width, damping, as well as high and low frequency cutoffs. Thereís also a cool option allowing you to listen to only the reverb signal. And like the stereo imager, you are provided with a phase meter and adjustable phase parameters.
Some other salient points about Ozone are that all internal processing is done with 64-bit precision, analog modeling is used to give processing a more natural sound, and each of the modules is made to work together. Phase and artifact problems that can occur when chaining separate effects plug-ins together are eliminated here by matching crossovers and other internal processing. But all this power doesnít come without a price. Ozone has one weakness, which is that it consumes computer-processing power like thereís no tomorrow. If you plan to use Ozone within a multitrack sequencing application, you wonít get too far trying to apply it to individual tracks in real-time. Then again, itís not really made to be used that way. Ozone is made to be used as a mastering tool on a single stereo audio file from within an audio editing application like Sonic Foundryís Sound Forge. In that scenario, while it still consumes a lot of power, it performs quite nicely. And if you really need to, you can disable the meters and graphic animations. You can also disable any of the effects modules as well, but that kind of defeats the purpose of the product.
If you can afford it, always send your material to a professional studio for mastering. Thatís the advice youíll hear from any professional audio engineer. If you canít afford the service, then a product like Ozone is the next best thing. It provides all the tools you need to get that polished sound for your finalized audio material. And for those that need a little help, Izotope even provides a free guide that shows you how to use Ozone for do-it-yourself mastering. At such a low price, you might be thinking that Ozone is more of a toy than a serious tool. Think again. Ozone can go head-to-head with any of the other higher-priced products on the market. Its sound quality is superb, and its features provide the flexibility needed to make a final mix sound magical.