Ozone Elements Mastering Software Plug-In
We all want great-sounding masters – can a beginner-friendly plug-in do the job?
by Craig Anderton
iZotope’s Ozone integrated suite of mastering tools is a respected, comprehensive set of mastering plug-ins that provides an alternative to à la carte solutions based on using different plug-ins from multiple manufacturers. Aside from restoration (iZotope offers the RX Audio Editor restoration plug-ins for that), Ozone has what you need for mastering-oriented processing: EQ, multiband processors (dynamics, exciter, and imaging) maximizer, analytics, and more.
Ozone Elements occupies the space between something like LANDR’s online mastering (push button, listen, if you like the results buy the master) and Ozone. It aims to simplify the mastering process, but whether it’s right for you or not depends on whether you can accept the tradeoffs involved in the simplification process.
What You Need to Know
- Ozone Elements is a plug-in for VST2, VST3, AU, RTAS, and AAX.
- Although it doesn’t contain editable modules, Elements incorporates technology from Ozone’s Maximizer, Equalizer, Dynamic EQ, Dynamics, Harmonic Exciter, Stereo Imager, and Vintage Limiter modules.
- Ozone wraps a preset-based “shell” around the Ozone-based processors. The over 70 presets are designed with specific goals in mind, as indicated by the preset names (Enhance Dynamics, Emphasize Bass, Remove Mud, Tight Midrange, etc.). When you select a preset, there’s also a one-line description (e.g., Remove Mud’s description is “Saturated presence and modern limiting”).
- You can tweak a preset with three controls. An EQ slider goes from no applied EQ, to the preset amount at the midpoint, to more aggressive EQ and shaping when maxed. The Dynamics slider is a compression wet/dry control. The Maximizer is your basic “squash” control.
- The metering options are surprisingly sophisticated for a simplified program, and includes metering for inter-sample distortion (what iZotope calls “True Peaks”).
- Thankfully, iZotope avoids “caricatures” of mastering. Most of the presets are subtle “out of the box,” although you can make them less subtle with the sliders.
- A standout feature is a button that enables level-balancing between the bypassed and mastered versions so you can compare what’s really happening, independent of level changes that can fool your ears. This is a crucial feature, and its inclusion is very welcome.
- Elements does has no stand-alone mode. It drains a fair amount of CPU power and has quite a bit of lookahead (as it should), so the optimum use case is probably importing a mixed stereo master into your host, and working on that file alone. You could also insert it in the master bus and render a mix.
- Everything depends on the preset you choose, so at least when first working with Elements you’ll be spending a lot of time auditioning presets to find what works.
- There’s no way to create a “favorites” folder with the presets most applicable to what you do.
- You may not find a preset that does what you want, particularly because you have so little control over EQ.
- Good practice for pre-masters going to a mastering engineer is to leave at least 6 dB of headroom, and more like 12 db. Several of the presets mention recommended input levels, however most don’t. It seems that an RMS value around -12 dB lands the audio in the “sweet spot” for the presets that don’t specify level, although of course you can adjust the input level and alter the amount of Maximization if it’s too little or too much.
- Ozone Elements can’t compensate for a mix where you’ve already used compression, limiting, etc. on the master bus. It wants a clean mix.
Ozone Elements surprised me in two ways. First, the presets aren’t over the top; they’re designed to master material, not impress you with how much difference they make to the sound. Kudos to iZotope for presets that “keep it real.” Second, as someone who knows the full version of Ozone very well, I can hear how iZotope has adapted the technology from a more expensive and far more versatile program in service of something simple, yet effective.
If you don’t have a clue about mastering, find something like LANDR too limiting, and want to make your mixes sound better, Ozone Elements is a practical, sensible, and well-thought-out solution. However, note that it won’t teach you about mastering, because everything is under the hood; you won’t know what made your music sound better, just that it does. Also, it’s no substitute for a professional mastering job. I realize that sounds almost like an obligatory disclaimer, but while going through several presets I thought “yes that’s close, but…” because I wanted to add some EQ notches, or make the image just a tiny bit wider, or whatever. If you want to learn about mastering, get under the hood, and have more flexibility, Wavelab Elements costs about the same—but remember you’re also buying a significant learning curve. The learning curve for Elements is a short, straight, painless line.
So is Ozone Elements for you? Fortunately, you can download a trial version and find out. iZotope has identified a target audience—people who want a better-sounding two-track mix, but don’t know how to do mastering and can’t afford a pro—and come up with a plug-in that addresses those needs simply and effectively.
Video: Getting Started with iZotope Ozone Elements
Ozone Elements is available as a download from:
Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.