There’s no question about it – iZotope has changed the game when it comes to audio production, specifically in the digital domain. From humble beginnings in the early days of digital audio, iZotope’s tools have risen to be a staple of the modern recording studio.
Flagship mastering software “Ozone” has led the charge since the beginning. It has made it easier to get great sounding records by blending an extremely powerful algorithm and back-end with an increasingly simpler user interface. It has pushed boundaries of power and flexibility for digital audio, pioneering the “all-in-one” concept for digital audio.
As with all trailblazing technology, Ozone has changed the way producers and audio engineers work. The features and advancements transformed ideas about in-the-box mastering and have leveraged the power of modern recording tools to help producers achieve absolutely stunning results.
Let’s look back at the evolution of iZotope’s Ozone from the beginning and see how it has affected workflows and shaped the sound of today.
In the Beginning…
When iZotope released the very first version of Ozone back in 2001, the following statement was published on izotope.com about the product:
“Ozone is the result of our research and development in the area of analog modeling and mastering effects. Ozone technology is available in two formats for two distinct purposes.”
Aside from a few other snippets, that was pretty much it. Analog modeling and mastering effects. While it wasn’t particularly clear what exactly that meant, it was abundantly clear that Ozone was going to dominate in a niche all its own.
The two formats available at that time were for DirectX or Winamp. DirectX was a 64-bit analog modeled mastering effects suite with a single, easy-to-use interface. Winamp was a consumer-focused product that was used to enhance the sound of early MP3s in certain digital media players.
By 2003, iZotope focused the vision for Ozone and developed it into a more powerful pro audio toolset. It was now functional in more applications such as Steinberg Cubase and Nuendo, Sonic Foundry, and more.
The new features included presets that were integrated into the interface, multi-band dynamics which allowed for more advanced processing, and metering options for additional visual feedback.
The Presets section of the interface was a big step toward making Ozone a user-friendly plugin. It made it much faster to get a great sound, and also much less intimidating to get started. While presets weren’t an entirely new concept in the world of digital audio, there was no plugin with better presets than Ozone. This focus on creating extremely high quality presets made it all the more impressive to first-time users.
The Multi-Band Dynamics feature set the stage for future advancements and modules in Ozone. This started advancing the possibilities for digital audio and provided the types of tools many mastering engineers demanded.
So what does this all mean? While Ozone was still very early in its development, it was already making it easier to get good sounding tracks. It wasn’t perfect, but the core concept for an all-in-one interface with powerful audio tools and a super high quality preset manager was underway. Now, it just needed to grow up a bit.
Getting Stronger, Faster, and Sleeker
By the time Ozone 3.0 came out, computer-based workstations were becoming more and more powerful – and prevalent. The democratization of making records was well underway, and people were turning to places like YouTube to learn about software (and just about everything else you can imagine).
Ozone 3 built on the existing preset system and provided even more robust, professionally designed presets that helped people get started with just a few clicks. iZotope’s focus on making it as easy as possible to get stellar sounding recordings was evident by their choice to focus on the usability of their software alongside its power.
More powerful modules entered the scene and continued to develop – things like the Paragraphic EQ, Multi-Band Harmonic Exciter, Multi-Band Dynamics, Multi-Band Stereo Imaging, Mastering Reverb, Dithering, and the Mastering Limiter (known as the IRC Maximizer).
Ozone 4 and Ozone 5 continued the tradition of adding helpful features for beginners and professionals alike. Advanced techniques like Mid-Side processing were now available, and new Harmonic Exciter modules expanded the sonic palate of Ozone.
One feature in particular had a profound impact on workflows across most commercial music. The new Automatic Bypass Gain control allowed users to essentially level match the pre- and post- processed signal. It was now easier than ever to hear exactly what all of that compression, limiting, EQ, and harmonic exciting were doing to your signal.
The Loudness Wars
If you paid any attention at all to the recording industry in the mid-2000s, you probably remember how the mastering engineers were seemingly given one directive – make it loud. At the request of the labels and against their best judgment, engineers smashed the recordings into highly compressed and limited files that made them appear to be “louder.” This period came to be known as the “Loudness Wars” because everyone was trying to have the loudest record out.
This spurred much discussion in the audio community. Engineers weren’t necessarily happy about having to degrade the integrity of the recordings by smashing them with mastering limiters.
During this period, iZotope was continually developing better and better algorithms for Ozone’s IRC Maximizer module. One thing remained constant – iZotope cared about making the tools the industry wanted and needed.
Ozone’s Maximizer quickly became the favorite tool to use for many mastering engineers. It provided extreme transparency and an overall great sound. With multiple modes and IRC modules to choose from, it was easy to manipulate and get exactly the sound you were looking for – even at really loud levels.
The Loudness Wars eventually cooled off for a variety of reasons. While there isn’t a single event to point to as the reason why, it’d be hard to imagine Ozone not playing a big role in the improvement of the craft.
The Automatic Bypass Gain control, mentioned earlier, is one way that made it easier for engineers to hear exactly what the mastering limiter and other modules were doing to the sound. This made it easier for them to identify problems in their chain and make improvements to get a better sound.
Additionally, the improved algorithms in the new IRC Maximizer modes gave engineers the tools to make loud records that still sounded great.
Bedroom Producers, Rejoice!
During this same time period, people started making records anywhere and everywhere. With laptops and computer-based systems becoming the norm in bedrooms-gone-recording studios around the globe, this new wave of producers and engineers needed tools that made daunting tasks – like mastering – feasible.
Ozone was the first tool many producers knew they needed in order to give their recordings that final gloss. Adam Young (Owl City) was a fan of iZotope’s tools from the start. Young, who famously recorded the hit single “Fireflies” in his parents’ basement, said, “All in all, my career wouldn’t be where it is today without iZotope products.”
Ozone made it possible to get great sounds without needing quite as much experience or equipment. In no way did it replace the value of years of experience or a perfectly tuned mastering room, but it brought up the average level of quality for producers around the world.
Ozone 6 and Ozone 7 opened up new doors and possibilities with ever-improving processing, modules, and feature sets. As computers became faster and more powerful, so did Ozone. This allowed for even more detailed work to be done, giving professionals new tools to make their jobs easier.
As presets continued to improve in scope and quality, Ozone truly became a must-have plugin for anyone making music. Period.
So What’s New in Ozone 8?
The standard and advanced versions of Ozone 8 both offer some incredible new features that are revolutionizing workflows. Check out this article for a more in-depth look at the difference between Standard and Advanced, as well as what features are included.
Tonal Balance Control makes using a reference master visual – making it easier than ever to compare your master to your favorite professionally mastered track. Not only that, you can control Ozone 8 and Neutron 2’s EQs directly from Tonal Balance Control.
The Spectral Shaper is another revolutionary feature that helps to create a better master by smoothing out problem frequencies. With a simple interface and just a few clicks, it’s now possible to tame back harsh mid-range frequencies, overly bright high frequencies, or even boomy low end.
Both of these new features are extremely useful and powerful. They pair a simple and intuitive user interface with a tool that solves a problem.
The Tonal Balance Control tool solves the problem of easily identifying the spectral differences between your track and your reference track. This is particularly helpful when you’re trying to figure out why your track doesn’t sit the same as your favorite professionally mastered track. You’re now able to see which frequencies are out of whack and make the adjustments necessary.
Spectral Shaper solves the problem of being able to tuck back a problem area in the master in order to create a smoother sounding track. The intelligent algorithm does what it needs to do in order to naturally smooth out the track in the selected frequencies. Check out this article for a detailed look at all of the new features in Ozone 8 Advanced.
Ozone 8 + Splice – The Best Way to Get Into Ozone
One of the most exciting parts of Ozone is that it is now available via rent-to-own through Splice. This makes it more affordable than ever for producers of all levels to get access to these incredibly powerful tools.
What’s Next for Ozone?
As Ozone continues to improve, it is stamping its brand of high quality sound on nearly every record made today. There is something truly special about the way Ozone processes audio – it blends analog modeling and warmth with digital precision, making it an indispensable tool for every producer.
With iZotope showing absolutely no signs of slowing down, it’s clear that Ozone is here to stay. The evolution of Ozone has made an impact on the recording scene in many ways – from improving the sounds of records to bringing great quality to the masses. It’s exciting to think about the possibilities for future versions of Ozone – it seems it will only continue to have a positive impact on music and audio overall.
February 28, 2018