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iZotope Alloy Review

Brandon Drury —  March 5, 2012 — Leave a comment

iZotopeAlloy

Spoiler: The iZotope Alloy gets a 5.0 out 5.0 on my non-existent star scale.

What Is It?

It’s a channel strip on steroids and brain food. I don’t waste time rehashing gear websites so go here: [url]http://www.iZotope.com/products/audio/alloy/[/url]

A Few Quick Thoughts On iZotope Alloy

 

  • I originally discounted iZotope’s products for some time because they looked too much like the boxes for really bad soundcards and video cards at Best Buy.
  • The iZotope stuff appears to be more popular in electronic music circles. It’s my view that this is due to the graphics of the plugin more than anything sonic.
  • Probably about a year ago I posted a thread stating that I hated EQs that drew the frequency response curve. I tended to mix with my eyes too much. I officially retract that statement….at least in the case of iZotope Alloy.
  • It’s fair to say that the iZotope Alloy has made my life A LOT easier. If they took my review copy away I’d buy it in 10 seconds. (Don’t tell iZotope that.)
  • Extremely low CPU usage….crazy low. I have no idea how they do it. No one else in this ballpark seems to.

Extremely low CPU usage….crazy low. I have no idea how they do it. No one else in this ballpark seems to.

iZotope Alloy Equalizer

The EQ is absolutely outstanding.

Hang on! I get sick of hearing people rant and rave about something like EQ UNLESS that EQ has something really special about it. A hardware API 550a is probably worth ranting about. It does SOMETHING sonically. The same for the 1073 EQ or even the Chameleon 7602 EQ. When it comes to plugins, I rarely feel like “AH HA! That EQ has personality in ways that get things done!” It does happen. The UAD Manley Massive Passive comes to mind. Some EQs are a little bit more “slick” in how they do what they do, but ultimately it’s still work using them..

I’m not sure if the Alloy EQ sounds great or not as I haven’t really used a bad EQ plugin in a while. Ruling out character issues that exist with no human intervention (great sounding hardware equalizers and such), saying an EQ sounds great is like saying a shoe runs fast. It’s the human that uses an EQ to help his mixes sound better just like a runner uses the shoe to help him/her run fast.

I have many, many EQs. Many of them are useful tools, but never in my life have I encountered an EQ that makes ME better. I’m imagining a bad romantic comedy where some hunk with a bank suit he’s worn for 4 days with the top two buttons missing says, “YOU make me a better man!” Jennifer Lopez says, “Do me!”. bla bla bla

There’s something about this EQ that feels like a scientist who understood human behavior got it right. I don’t know what else to say except this:

Yesterday I was mixing a song I didn’t track. I didn’t love the stock vocal. I ran that vocal through my Emperical Labs Lil’ Freq and Universal Audio LA3A. After 20 minutes I just couldn’t get it right. I either had too much bottom or too much top (or any of the bajillion frequencies in the middle.) I switched from the LA3A to the Distressor. Nope. That wasn’t doing it either. I switched to the Alloy. I was 98% happy in 5 minutes.

You had me at “Hello”.

I can’t say anything about what gear sounds better. All I know is I sounded better with the Alloy. No question. I’m rethinking my life just a bit, actually. ;)

iZotope Alloy GUI
Back to the GUI. I’m convinced that the GUI is where the money is on the iZotope Alloy. I’ve seen a lot of GUIs. A part of me still believes that a person should use their ears and not their eyes. That’s a given. It’s another thing entirely to see where that one stupid little spike is and nuke him. I appreciated these visual clues and it made doing not-so-fun surgery a lot more pleasant.

It’s clear to me that the iZotope guys sat down and said, “I mix in the box, how can I do this better? What needs improvement?” . It’s probably not far off from the guy riding the horse asked the day before he built the steam engine.

One thing they immediately did to the EQ was use 7 bands. Why not?

Compare that to the very, very useful UAD Cambridge (a clone of the Sonnox Oxford), each of the Cambridge’s bands physically stop at certain frequencies. If you decide you need to make a thin cut at 420Hz, you can’t do it with all the bands. Why?

The idea of “staying true” to old designs makes since in terms of sounds, but who’s gonna make a van with only one door? It just doesn’t make sense. After you’ve worked with the Alloy, these kind of limitations feel like a smack in the face that waste your time.

Accepting the fact that a computer has shortcomings as well as huge benefits that Bill Putman or Alexander Grand Bell couldn’t exploit at the time is the first step in making better recordings with computers. It takes a couple of crazed, forward-thinking people to come up with this way of working.

So after seeing what iZotope can do with a GUI that makes me a better engineer, it’s really really really hard for me to utilize gear that intentionally wastes my time due to limitations that no longer exist.

iZotope Alloy Exciter

The Exciter is a game changer for me. In particular, the stereo version of the plugin is a game changer. The stereo exciter in multiband mode aggressively exciting 7k and up with the width cranked is a sound I’ve wanted for a while on individual tracks.

I had to cram more signal into the input to get the kind of “stuff” up top I wanted sometimes, but man is that thing fun. I really liked how I could set it for crazy amounts of distortion to get my settings right and then slowly move towards even harmonics and sneak in that sound just lightly. Very, very fun. I’m using it all over the place lately on vocals, acoustic guitars, synths, and ever overheads.

Compression
The compressor is very utilitarian and appears to be rather neutral. It has no obvious sound with the threshold up at 0dB. There will be times when I require my UAD 1176 or LA2A for their inherent color as I don’t hear any obvious character in the Alloy.

The compressor is fairly neutral, but it’s a great all-around tool Only a handful of compressor plugins I’ve used have significant character anyway (all of them UAD). The fact that it’s there is very helpful as it’s so fast to make one click to turn it on and tweak. I like that they included two compressors in the channel strip. That isn’t common.

Multiband Compression

The multi-band compressor is highly useful, too. Switching either compressor to multi-band takes one click and it’s done. Switching from standard compression to multi-band is one click away. This keeps your head in the game. It takes 6 seconds to load up a new compressor plugin. In the case of my UAD Multiband (my generally favorite multi-band compressor) I have to then check how much of my UAD-2 Quad I’ve chewed up. It’s distracting.

With the Alloy, it’s one click to switch from any processor within Alloy to the compressor. It’s another click to switch to multi-band mode. This is a better, more fun way of working.

The Multiband compressor works. I don’t get too wound up about these things one way or another. It does it’s job and it does it with less BS. Sold.

Gate

I didn’t play with the gate much. I don’t use them very often anyway. It seemed about like most of the other gates I’ve played with. Again, multiband was a click away and very interesting.

De-esser

The de-esser wasn’t bad. I prefer my hardware options when that’s a big problem (the LA3A is a damn good de-esser even though it’s not called that. My Lil’ Freq has an excellent de-esser. I like the UAD Precision De-esser, too, although I’m really falling in love with the UAD Fatso Sr now that I’ve taken the time to really learn it..

It never hurts to have another flavor and the Alloy allows you to get very picky with specific frequencies. Again, the GUI often helps determine where the problems rest and does so faster than any de-esser I’ve ever encountered. (I tend to suck at identifying “ess” frequencies for whatever reason and appreciate the GUI saving my butt).

For narrow, high-Q, “ringing” sibilance this de-esser is hard to beat. When the RTA thing says the sibilance is kinda even across the board, I couldn’t ever get the caliber of results I get elsewhere. It just left me wrinkling my nose when that was a problem. I blame that on user error.

Brickwall Limiter

I’m not used to using a brickwall limiter on individual tracks. When I gave it a try, it seemed to be a really bold sound. I’m not sure if that was just me hearing the track a lot louder in relation to the rest of the mix or what, but it seemed to be quite colored, which surprised me. When I did use it, I just BARELY used it. Again, that’s a technique that I’m not used to using.

Outstanding Presets

I’m usually not a preset guy. In fact, I hate presets most of the time because the creator rarely has enough information for that “Magic Sound 32” to actually sound magical on my track at hand. With the Alloy, they’ve got enough processors where some of their bold 60’s sounding vocals actually seem to work. On more than one vocal I grabbed some random preset just to see what creative road it would take me down. Every time it was something interesting. It may not have been exactly what I was looking for but all of them have real character. For less-technical dudes, the presets are AWESOME on this thing.

The Alloy On 2bus

They don’t market the Alloy as a 2bus/mastering gadget. The man can’t hold me down, though. I’m out of control. ;)

Stereo Widener
I tossed the Alloy on 2bus. Never in my life have I heard a widener do THAT. I mean it sounded like my monitors were 12′ apart. I said, “Oh hell, I know how this works. Mono is trashed.” So I pushed the mono button on the console. To my eyebrow-wrinkling astonishment the mix didn’t break. It was obviously not as wide, but just to make sure I wasn’t crazy I bypassed the widener. I’d say the mono mix changed 1%. It was negligible in terms of mono compatibility. 12′ for 1%. Yeah, I’ll take it.

Usually these wideners sound 3” wider and when you listen in mono it sounds like a different song. This is the best widener on the planet. I can’t wait to get my immature little paws on the Ozone. I got a feeling it’s better. We’ll see.

Note: I actually didn’t pan my drums as wide after turning on the widener. The drum were too wide. That’s never happened to me before.

Brickwall Limiter
I turned on the brickwall limiter on the 2bus. I didn’t love it. I got the feeling that’s not what it was designed for.

Here lately I’ve been using UAD Maximizer exclusively. I want to point out that this is NOT the UAD Limiter. The UAD Maximizer is kinda sorta a mild distorter. It’s not a tube distortion or tape emulator, but it’s a nudge in that ballpark. It just so happens to have brickwall limiting options. I think it sounds awesome on rock stuff and I’ve grown to love it on other things

I tend not to love clean brickwall limiters, but instead like processors that are good at being dirty. (I heard one guy on Pensado’s Place uses Decapitator on 2bus. Another guy intentionally clips the 2bus and likes it better than brickwall limiters.) Anyway, my point is this brickwall limiting on 2bus thing is a pretty strange thing both technically and subjectively. I’ve found one I like and I tend not to love the do-nothing brickwall limiters because they ALWAYS end up doing something and that’s where the idea of being “clean” breaks down.

I’m not sure I’d consider the Alloy brickwall limiter to be a clean one as it definitely does something, but I couldn’t get what I wanted from it on 2bus. The point of this long rant is to say that I’ve only been happy with a few and those tend to bend the definition of limiter a bit. Again, I suspect Ozone is more in line for this sort of thing. It was worth a try.

Conclusion On iZotope Alloy

For a person with no after market plugins, I rate this a MUST HAVE. Get it now. Get it immediately.

There are no real down sides to it. There are just a few nicer options for very specific functions for those willing to spend the extra bucks. Most people don’t expect the can opener on their Swiss Army knife to beat the one in their kitchen, but the things I didn’t love about the Alloy maybe would give the can opener a run for its money….whatever that means.

The EQ is the kind of thing I recommend everyone trying. I don’t see everyone having a breakthrough with it, but iZotope Alloy is the kind of thing that [U]can[/U] replace expensive hardware. I’m serious. Because of it, I’ll be tossing my Lil’ Freq on Ebay. [Clint Eastwood]Dead serious.[/Clint Eastwood]

It’s not often you encounter a company that obviously uses a different philosophy to make their tools. These types of companies tend to make revolutionary products with big time benefits for those with tastes in line with those products. I have enormous respect for thinking outside of the box particularly when that point of view actually pays off.

I’m not sure how it could have paid off any more or faster than the Alloy. It’s a must have.

I don’t give stars, but this one gets 5.0 out 5.0.

I’m impressed. I can’t wait to get a hold of iZotope Ozone. ;).

Saved Comments

kakeux – 03-13-2012, 05:45 AM
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Hi Brandon,

I own Izotope Ozone 4…And I’m using it mostly on individual tracks….I’m pretty sure Alloy is based on Ozone 5, but the main difference is CPU usage and delay induced according to what you know?

I always loved Ozone multiband on drums element…So If Alloy is better and more realtime oriented, this could be a good investment..

Thanks for your thoughts!

paintballnsk’s Avatar
paintballnsk – 03-13-2012, 08:51 AM
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I’ve used Alloy on 90% of my tracks in the last year. For the price it’s an amazing channel strip. However I find the tools very transparent. The compressors and eq’s don’t really add any character. Whether that’s good or bad, that’s up to you.
Can anyone compare it to the Waves Renaisance?

rook2c4′s Avatar
rook2c4 – 03-13-2012, 08:53 AM
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Generally I’m skeptical about plugins that “do it all” because I suspect that they do everything so-so, and I’d be better off with several specialized plugins that do one thing only and do it well.
But being familiar with the Izotope RX plugin and its versatility and effectiveness, I think I should look into Alloy and at maybe try the demo (if there’s one available).

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AndiP – 03-13-2012, 09:15 AM
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I trialled Ozone and Alloy and Nectar ( the vocal suite) and I (generally) highly rate them. Then I took them all off my system because for me they are just too beguiling. I have done mixes where I have mixed the same track with only native Cubase plugs, with the best of what I have available, and with single product presets. I found several times that just putting an Alloy or Ozone on a track and selecting a preset got me 95% of the way there with added sugar sprinkles in just minutes. My problem (and I emphasise, this is MY problem, not the products) is that I want to be learning as well as doing, and the multi-in-1 channel strip just doesn’t work well for me in that way. I also found that come the following day I’d be de-blinging everything for less exciter, less multiband, less reverb please. In general I think their plugins are sonically very good (perhaps I’m not as sure about Nectar if I’m honest and I’d personally rather see Ozone and Alloy combined with a CPU-efficient mode for multi-channel use) and their interfaces are top-of-the-podium.

If my life depended on getting a mix done in an hour I’d be happy to request 1) a gun and 2) Ozone or Alloy, but I think I’m just too feeble minded to use them everyday.

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garageband – 03-13-2012, 09:16 AM
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I think the demo runs for 10 days. It’s truly “all that”. I like how transparent and non-damaging it is. The EQ takes a minute to learn to use effectively. The RTFFT display is invaluable. Is there a reason, here in 2012, that all EQ plugs don’t have them? Nice, easy-going multiband. Really good, smooth exciter. The UAD one I have (and bought) is rubbish by comparison: all harsh and over-aggressive. The MBC presets make it super-fast to use. HOWEVER… some presets put a gate one them, easy to disable if you know it’s there. The compressor is easy to adjust and relatively colorless. It reminds me a lot of the RNC (I used to own a pair of them). I haven’t messed with widener a bunch, but the presets that use it seem nice.

I think it’s good, fast and relatively cheap.

paintballnsk’s Avatar
paintballnsk – 03-13-2012, 09:43 AM
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Great review. I’ve been using Alloy HEAVILY for over a year now. It is a very good channel strip that I put on every single one of my bus channels. It uses no resources that I can tell. I’m pretty sure I have fired it up on over 25 or 30 tracks without any issues.

The compressor unfortunately does make you lean to compressing visually. But the metering is SO GOOD that might be a good thing. Just make sure you really use your ears for the attack and release settings. But for finding the threshold so you’re hitting 0 a few times a bar, it’s golden.

As you said, it’s very transparent and doesn’t add any color. I find that a bad thing sometimes. Lately I find myself using 3rd party “vintage clones” like an L2 clone, or an emulated tape compressor for my compression.

I’d love to read a comparison against Waves Renaissance. Even with my alloy/ozone combination, I still feel a need (or just an itch) for the Waves Platinum bundle. So maybe you can talk me out of it

Brandon, make sure you poke me when you do an OZONE review. I bought Ozone 4 with Alloy and have been using them in tandem for over a dozen projects in the last year or so. I can tell you all the great things about it, but having never used much UAD or WAVES stuff, It’s really hard for me to draw any conclusions. When you do yours, please give an extensive comparison. I am “satisfied” with Izotopes stuff so far. But nothing about that has really made me go “oooo ahhhh that’s IT!” Just “well certainly better than T-Racks” haha.

Thanks
-paintballnsk

dikh’s Avatar
dikh – 03-13-2012, 10:31 AM
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paintballnsk, as far as I know, Izotope family products (I’ve only familiar with Ozone 3, may be Ozone 5 and Alloy step forward) for beginners who want to get some results. And it provide results. But (I think) Renaissance family plugs require more knowledge and experience to deal with them and this make them more precision that Izotope family plugs.. Also, sometimes it “look that work” situation – use plugs that suitable for you – for example I do a lot with Waves SSL EQ – because it’s EQ that more suitable for me I don’t know why (may be color scheme more attractive, may be the way it works closer to my imagination, I wonder why).
But overall I can state if you can’t mix anything, and face a Ozone, it will be kick your ass very very hard)

PS: )))) review for Ozone on next week and review for other Izotope plugs in this way and Izotope have to provide new Civic for Brandon)))

garageband’s Avatar
garageband – 03-13-2012, 11:28 AM
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saying an EQ sounds great is like saying a shoe runs fast.
Best quote in quite some time.

redworks’s Avatar
redworks – 03-13-2012, 12:01 PM
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good to hear. i just wish that i had the money to invest in it right now. i love new things that work.

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MrRS – 03-13-2012, 01:03 PM
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Wow what a fantastic indetail great review. If izoptope alloy was more affordable for musicians a mean $300?? WTF! Then I’d go for it but it looks amazing..wish I could afford it

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brandondrury – 03-13-2012, 01:46 PM
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In regard to comparing the Ozone to Waves / UAD offerings, it highly depends.

Thinking in “global” terms with plugins is about like thinking in global terms with race or country or something. It’s a dated view of the world. You have to rate things on an individual basis. Specific processors do very specific things.

The problem is way too many plugins don’t do much other than what they claim to. In other words, most compressor plugins don’t do anything but limit the dynamic range. That can be good, but not necessarily.

A good example is the compressor on the UAD SSL 4k channel strip. Clamp down and the lows and low mids tighten up considerably in a way that you can’t do with EQ. The track doesn’t sound “thin”. It just sounds tightened….like a more natural multi-band. I don’t want that compressor on everything, but I’ve really starting to like it on vocals or anything else chewing up too much low end real estate.

I don’t have an opinion on the “quality” of the UAD SSL 4k. I just know it solves that problem.

With plugins, there’s no reason not to schedule a Wednesday night to try out 5 of them on kick, snare, vocal, guitar, and synth (among other things). 2 hours of homework gets you along way.

As stated, the things that make the iZotope Alloy stand out are EQ speed, overall speed in adding “stock” but good sounding tools, the exciter, and widener. They aren’t hardcore color plugins. I look at them as what Cubase should include stock as the channel strip.

I haven’t used the Waves CLA 1176, but if I was gonna forgo UAD that’s where I’d look first. I’m generaly skeptical of color in plugins because it’s rarely enough. They tend to be a bit “watered down”. One exception that I’m REALLY liking right now is the UAD dbx160.

Brandon

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gothdave1′s Avatar
gothdave1 – 03-13-2012, 02:45 PM
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Its because of this (“Alloy”) that i picked up RX2 Advanced….an amazing piece of software especially when you are stuck mixing tracks that someone else laid down. I was able to take all the extra “tape” noise and “pops” and clicks out of the guitar and vocal tracks in no time at all (e.g. under 30 minutes in studio language..lol)….it would be cool if Brandon could share his view on RX2!! Thanks for the great article on Alloy!!

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gkurtenbach – 03-13-2012, 05:46 PM
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I love Alloy and I’m pleased to see you recognizing its great workflow based interface. One great thing about it is that its great for in the box monitoring because it has zero latency. For this reason I use it basically on all tracks when I am recording.

Ironically, I also used Izotope’s Nectar for vocals. Despite repeated attempts I never really fell in love with it. I can get a good vocal sound out of it but it always seems to an effort.

On the hand Ozone 5 is simply amazing. Its the first plugin where I dropped it on the master bus, selected a preset and was completely blown away. Really, it exciter, reverb and stereo imager are super smooth.

i don’t want to over-sell but Izotope makes great products. I’m really looking forward to the next version of Alloy and Nectar.

Once you get used to the flexibility of the izotope plugs using plugins that emulate vintage gears seems painful (you mention this in your review) or more like a guessing game: you try different plugins until you get lucky and find one that works. With Alloy and Ozone its different: you can adjust them until you get the sound you like.

aaron aardvark’s Avatar
aaron aardvark – 03-14-2012, 01:00 AM
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Brandon,
How would you compare the Alloy EQ with Cubase EQ? Any comments on the Cubase compressor?

wireman957′s Avatar
wireman957 – 03-14-2012, 06:46 PM
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I’m surprised nobody has mentioned the ability to quickly move modules around in the chain. I use Alloy all the time and you can really get different things by moving the modules – open up “graph” and drag the modules with the mouse. Try putting the de-esser in front of the compressor instead of near the end of the module chain, for example.

garageband’s Avatar
garageband – 03-14-2012, 09:03 PM
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I got a glimpse of that the other day but didn’t check it out. No excuse now…

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paintballnsk – 03-28-2012, 03:01 PM
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Quote Originally Posted by aaron aardvark View Post
Brandon,
How would you compare the Alloy EQ with Cubase EQ? Any comments on the Cubase compressor?
Alloy’s compressor is much more intuitive visually. The one thing it lacks (unless I’m blind) is an output for db reduction. You can kinda guess by looking at the envelope meter, but like if you want to say “I want -6db compression on my floor tom”, it’s not that obvious.

however, everything else about it is better. Every part of alloy has a parallel blend level, and the compressor has faster attack times, higher ratios, and 2 per plugin that makes it really easy to setup series compression. Also the compressors can be single band or multi band, all of which are super easy to adjust. And I didn’t even mention how it can be used as an exciter, or how the gate is just as versatile.

Before this month, I didn’t really dig into the transient and the exciter all that much. But holy crap, I just did 2 mixes where I used them all over the place. The exciter just kinda adds a little polish to everything that sounds so awesome. It’s very subtle, not over the top like a BBE plugin can be. And the transient does amazing things with the attack, sustain, and gate of the kick and snare.

LazyE’s Avatar
LazyE – 05-12-2012, 08:30 AM
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i think i need to purchase this! wonder if the wife wil miss her credit card for a while? lol

wireman957′s Avatar
wireman957 – 05-14-2012, 04:25 PM
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Quote Originally Posted by LazyE View Post
i think i need to purchase this! wonder if the wife wil miss her credit card for a while? lol
Sometimes it’s better to beg forgiveness than ask permission. I’m with you, brother!

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garageband – 05-14-2012, 08:19 PM
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Quote Originally Posted by wireman957 View Post
Sometimes it’s better to beg forgiveness than ask permission. I’m with you, brother!
If you’re going to pick one to do it with, this is a good one. If you get into the metering it has to offer, you’ll be working differently.

wireman957 – 05-14-2012, 08:55 PM
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Quote Originally Posted by garageband View Post
If you’re going to pick one to do it with, this is a good one. If you get into the metering it has to offer, you’ll be working differently.
You absolutely will. The integral RTA will show you what’s going on over selectable (is that a word?) timebases from realtime to infinite. Can drastically speed up your workflow.

Dwarfgrinder’s Avatar
Dwarfgrinder – 06-24-2012, 02:43 PM
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Ozone is tits. Just saying, i love it.

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Paulski – 06-29-2012, 12:09 PM
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I started out using Isotope Ozone for mastering, but quickly realized how the exciter, multiband compressors and EQ can add sparkle and width to individual tracks. Now I use it for all my vocal and guitar tracks – highly recommended!

moonunit7′s Avatar
moonunit7 – 06-30-2012, 05:56 AM
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did you just sell your soul to Satan?

garageband’s Avatar
garageband – 06-30-2012, 09:48 AM
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Quote Originally Posted by moonunit7 View Post
did you just sell your soul to Satan?
None of your business. Hmmm. I wonder if I got a receipt….

 

Brandon Drury

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Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of RecordingReview.com and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.
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