There’s no question about it; iZotope has changed the game when it comes to digital audio production.
From humble beginnings in the early days of digital audio, iZotope’s tools have risen to become a staple of the modern recording workflow. Their flagship mastering software Ozone has led the charge since the beginning, making it easier to get great-sounding records by blending machine learning with an increasingly intuitive user interface.
As with all trailblazing technology, Ozone has changed the way producers and audio engineers work. Its advancements over the years have transformed in-the-box mastering and empowered creators across skill levels and backgrounds to achieve stunning results.
In this blog post, let’s explore the evolution of iZotope’s Ozone, from its initial launch to the recent release of Ozone 9 Advanced.
The first release
When iZotope released the very first version of Ozone back in 2001, the following statement was published on their website:
“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.”
The two formats available at that time were for DirectX or Winamp. DirectX was a 64-bit analog modeled mastering effects suite, and Winamp was a consumer-focused product that was used to enhance the sound of early MP3s in certain digital media players.
Some preliminary developments
By 2003, iZotope defined their vision for Ozone and developed it into a more powerful pro audio toolset. It was now able to be used in more applications such as Cubase, Nuendo, and Sonic Foundry.
New features included presets that were integrated directly into the interface, multi-band dynamics for more advanced processing, and metering options for additional visual feedback.
Presets were a big step towards making Ozone a user-friendly plugin. They made it much faster for users to achieve a great sound, and made the process of getting started much less intimidating. Multi-band dynamics set the stage for future modules, advancing the possibilities of digital audio and providing the flexibility that many mastering engineers were looking for.
While Ozone was still imperfect and early in its development, the core concept for an all-in-one interface with powerful features was already there. Now, it just needed to grow up a bit.
Getting stronger, faster, and sleeker
By the time Ozone 3 came out, computer-based workstations were becoming more powerful and prevalent. The democratization of making records was well underway, and people were turning to places like YouTube to learn about software.
Ozone 3 provided even more robust presets that helped people get started in just a few clicks. iZotope’s focus on making it as easy as possible to get professional-sounding tracks was evident in their choice to develop the usability of their software alongside its power. Additional modules such as paragraphic EQs, multi-band stereo imaging, dithering, and the mastering limiter (known as the IRC Maximizer) entered the picture.
Ozone 4 and Ozone 5 continued the tradition of adding features that were useful for beginners and professionals alike. Advanced techniques like mid-side processing became available, and a new harmonic exciter expanded the sonic capabilities of Ozone.
One feature in particular had a profound impact on workflows across commercial music. The new automatic gain bypass control allowed users to level match the pre- and post-processed signals, making it easier than ever to hear exactly what all of that compression, limiting, EQ, and harmonic exciting were doing to your audio.
The Loudness Wars
If you paid any attention to the recording industry in the mid-2000s, you probably remember how mastering engineers were seemingly given one directive: make it loud. At the demand of record labels and against their best judgment, engineers smashed records into highly-compressed and limited files that made them “louder.” This period came to be known as the Loudness Wars, because everyone was trying to have the loudest record out.
The Loudness Wars spurred much debate in the audio community. Engineers weren’t necessarily happy about having to degrade the musical integrity of mixes by squashing them with 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 a favorite tool for many mastering engineers. It provided extreme transparency and a great overall sound. With multiple IRC modes to choose from, it was easy to get the sound you were looking for, even at loud levels.
Empowering bedroom producers
During this same time period, people started making records anywhere and everywhere. With laptops and computer-based systems becoming the norm in bedroom studios around the globe, this new wave of musicians needed tools that made daunting tasks like mastering possible.
Ozone was the first tool many producers knew they needed in order to give their recordings that final touch. Adam Young of 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 as much experience or equipment as an engineer in a professional studio. 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.
In the mid-2010s, Ozone 6 and 7 continued to open up new doors with ever-improving processing, modules, and feature sets. As computers became faster and more powerful, so did Ozone.
iZotope released standard and advanced versions of Ozone 8 in 2017, which offered some incredible new features that revolutionized workflows. Tonal Balance Control made using a reference a visual experience, the Spectral Shaper helped create better masters by smoothing out problem frequencies, and inter-plugin communication allowed Ozone to seamlessly integrate with Neutron, iZotope’s mixing suite.
And finally, we arrive to the present: Ozone 9. Released in October of 2019, Ozone 9 includes all of the features developed in Ozone 8 and more. Its evolved Master Assistant gives you an intelligent starting point based on a reference or other user-defined parameters, Master Rebalance allows you to solve mix balance issues without the stems, Low End Focus defines your low end wth just a few clicks, and Match EQ creates and applies an EQ fingerprint taken from a reference track (check out our guide for a more in-depth look at each of these features).
Lastly, one of the most exciting parts of Ozone 9 is that it’s also 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.
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 sound of best-selling records to bringing great quality to the masses. It’s exciting to think about all the possibilities for future versions of Ozone; it seems the plugin will only continue to have a positive impact on music.
October 17, 2019