Review: O8N2 from iZotope (Neutron 2 Advanced + Ozone 8 Advanced + Tonal Balance Control)

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In what is almost certainly the longest review title in Audio Plugin Guy history to date… we’re gonna take a long hard look at iZotope’s latest update to their flagship mixing and mastering software. We could have just called it a review of “O8N2” but we wanna be sure those search engines know what we’re talking about, right?!

Something like that anyway… the point is; O8N2 is the nifty name for a bundle which contains iZotope’s Ozone 8 Advanced, Neutron 2 Advanced and a brand new member of the crew, Tonal Balance Control.  Together they combine, much like Megazord,  to create a formidable set of high end mixing and mastering tools.

MEGAZORD!
“I wanna sit on your mixbus!”

A True Power Combo

Now… we love collecting plugins. So we wouldn’t ever want to say that any one bundle would be all you needed to get the job done. But if we were gonna say that, then we would probably say it about O8N2 if that job is mixing and mastering (see iZotope’s other plugins for more creative effects).

If you haven’t already heard of Ozone then you’ve probably been living in the desert for the last forty years, but we’ll explain anyway. Ozone is a world class mastering suite with all the tools you need to take a mix to the final stage of perfection before you release it. (Also, we have “the internet” now and these things called “smart phones”. You’re gonna love ’em.) Ozone 8 is the latest version and includes the following processors:

Spectral Shaper, EQ, Dynamic EQ, Post EQ, Maximizer (with IRC IV and new IRC LL), Imager, Exciter, Dynamics, Vintage Limiter, Vintage Tape, Vintage EQ, Vintage Compressor. (Ozone 8 Advanced comes with each module as a component plug-in, allowing you to use any piece of Ozone independently in your session.) The Spectral Shaper is a new addition in this version.

Neutron is a newer plugin from iZotope which is a powerful mixing tool. It contains modules for EQ, compression, gating and transient shaping. One extra-special feature of Neutron is that all instances of the plugin are linked in a way that allows you to check for perceived frequency clashed between parts and fix them with EQ controls that can access all parts from one interface.

This communication between instances of Neutron enables a brand new feature, the Visual Mixer. This is a very exciting new concept for mixers as it literally allows them to visualise their soundstage and move elements around, adjusting pan, gain and width all within one window.

Listen And Learn

Another extra-super-special feature that we’ve not mentioned yet is Neutron and Ozone’s learning abilities. Both plugins are capable of analysing audio passed through it and generating their own settings as required. Neutron even knows which instrument it’s listening to! Essentially putting professional mixing engineers and mastering engineers out of work overnight…

Just kidding!

The results from this process are generally pretty good but will only ever serve as a starting point for you to work from. Nothing can ever replace the ears, heart and guts of an experienced engineer (we must keep telling ourselves this!). This isn’t quite Skynet for audio. Yet.

But wait. There’s more…

As if that wasn’t enough to get you excited about the O8N2 bundle, iZotope have also introduced an entirely new plugin to the mix (been a while since we snuck an awful pun in! Yay!).

Tonal Balance Control is designed to sit at the end of your master bus and provide an overview of your entire mix and master. If you mix and master in the same project then this is your final window into the whole shebang… but you can still use it for either a purely mixing or mastering project.

What Tonal Balance Control does is show you the tonal balance of your track, and let you control it. Funnily enough. What that means is that you can see how the levels of four different frequency ranges in your track sit within a range defined by whichever preset you use or reference track(s) you load up.

This bears a resemblance to REFERENCE from Mastering the Mix (which we reviewed previously) and shares a few functions, so it’s worth noting that REFERENCE may be a more affordable option if you want something similar but a bit more basic.

What Tonal Balance Control offers beyond simply referencing is the ability to tweak the EQ module of any linked instance of Neutron or Ozone from within one window. This is really for that last stage of perfecting your mix or master, just to get it sitting nicely in the same range as your reference. If you’re someone who likes to work this closely to a reference then you will love this new addition to the suite.

The Controversy!

This is cool. Kinda like the bit you jump to when reading about some celebrity in Wikipedia. Ooooh… the controversy! What’s that then?

Well, we imagine there are going to be plenty of people who feel somehow like all this robot-learning and inter-plugin communication is somehow cheating. That we are losing sight of the art of mixing and heading towards a dystopian future where automatons churn out ultra-bland, lowest-common-denominator, generic pop music to be consumed by the uncaring, bovine masses. Versificator style.

Some might say we’re already there…

We say. Chill with ya pessimistic oracular! For one, this doesn’t mix for you. It can help a great deal and for those who are still getting started it can teach you a great deal. But if you try and put together a mix using purely the learning abilities of these plugins, you are going to be disappointed.

And for another thing. Those ears, hearts and guts are still very much required to create music that will bring pleasurable sensations to other ears, hearts and guts. There is a lot that O8N2 will not do for you and this is the way it should be… a great mix and master should have life, energy, personality and even the occasional mistake that makes it unique. And until robots start acquiring a taste for music of their own, we hope that great music will continue to be made. With or without the aid of robots.

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