Much more than a final mix tool.
By Ron DiCesare
iZotope has expanded their successful line of RX products with their latest plug-in called RX Final Mix. But don’t let the name fool you. RX Final Mix does a lot more than just improve a final mix as a last step, like a mastering plug-in. iZotope offers the Ozone 6 mastering system for just that purpose. RX Final Mix is different. RX Final Mix can be used on a single audio track as part of a mix, on stems or sub-groups of tracks and, of course, across the master fader on the audio mix as a whole.
RX Final Mix is unlike anything I have ever used before, and from what I can tell it has carved out its own niche in the audio plug-in market. It is basically a dynamic EQ or a “smart” EQ that reacts to your program material by using intelligent DSP. It has six independent threshold settings on each of the frequency bands that can trigger at different rates — or not at all — across the entire frequency range of your program material. I think the best comparison I can make is that it is similar to a de-esser, but on steroids.
Like the RX 4 Bundles, RX Final Mix is available for Mac OS X 10.7 or later and Windows 7 or later. Plug-in formats are Audiosuite DPM and AAX; RTAS 32-bit; AAX 64-bit; AU; VST2; and VST3 32-/64-bit, and it is compatible with many popular programs, such as Pro Tools 10-12, Nuendo 6.5, Premiere Pro CC 2014 and 2015, and Logic X. The list price is $299.00.
Designed for Audio Post Work
RX Final Mix has been developed specifically for audio post production. So, one of the first things I used RX Final Mix on was troublesome production dialog for a project I was working on for Vice Media. One thing Vice is known for is their “run-and-gun” or “guerrilla-style” news reports from all corners of the world. Anyone familiar with news reporting in the field, reality shows and the like, knows how difficult the production sound is to mix. I was anxious to see how well RX Final Mix would handle the age-old problem of improving clarity on dialog tracks.
The program I was mixing was for Vice’s latest channel called Noisey, a channel dedicated to music programming. I had a hard time pulling the dialog out of a scene where there was a large party happening. The musicians were talking and their lines were buried in the background noise. However, it was the kind of background walla that is not necessarily the best candidate to use RX 4’s Dialogue Denoiser or Denoise on. By running the dialog track through RX Final Mix, I was able to dynamically EQ the dialog for clarity rather than for noise removal.
Here is the difference, and why it is so important: I have been in many situations where the dialog is difficult to hear, but if I eliminate too much (or in rare cases any amount) of the background noise it seems completely unnatural when watching the video. I sometimes have a bad habit of not looking at my video reference as I am mixing and cleaning up dialog. I get so focused on the task at hand that I can forget how important my eyes are when mixing.
The best example happened on a recent set of Health Mart Pharmacy TV commercials I was working on. All of the on-camera dialog came from the actors on the street outside of the pharmacy. During the mix, I removed all of the outdoor city and traffic noise to get the dialog nice and clear. I was so focused on getting the dialog clean that I was not paying attention to the action on the screen. When I finally watched it back, it looked so odd and unnatural that I can only describe it as an “out of body” experience for the actors talking in the scene.
When faced with a case like this where removing the background noise is odd and unnatural, RX Final Mix gives you a whole host of options and controls for achieving clarity with dialog while keeping the necessary background sounds. Starting with the presets is a good idea when first using RX Final Mix. The main presets are Dialog, Master, Music, Production Elements and Sound Effects. Within each preset is a large menu of choices or sub-presets (for lack of a better term).
For example, Dialog offers sub-presets such as Brightness, Intelligibly and Cheap Mic Removal. Master offers Crisp High End, Laptop and Cheap Nasal Removal. All of the presets can be customized and changed. They can be used as starting places to experiment with or can be used as is — you choose your preference.
How It All Works
RX Final Mix is essentially two plug-ins in one — it works as a dynamic or “reactive” EQ and as a limiter. The key to understanding it all is to explore the difference between Static Mode and Dynamic Mode. In Static Mode, RX Final Mix acts as a standard EQ offering six independent EQ frequency bands, High Pass and Low Pass. In Dynamic Mode, it opens up what is new ground for me in the world of audio plug-ins.
Let’s start with the Static Mode where the EQ acts just like a standard EQ. It offers customizable settings, such as Proportional Q and, of course, your gain control across all six frequency bands. The graphic display makes it easy to grab any of the band numbers for quick adjustments as well as the independent on/off button for each Band, the HP and the LP.
In Dynamic Mode, the possibilities grow considerably. Dynamic Mode allows the plug-in to work in tandem with the program material and the DSP Intelligence. What makes it so customizable and flexible are all the options on each of the six EQ nodes or bands. You have the ability select each of the bands to be on or off, and, more importantly, to be static or dynamic. Here you have the ability to have it acting in each mode selectively. And because the threshold is independent on each of the six bands, you can select each of the six thresholds to trigger at different rates — or not at all — to really dial in your desired result.
If you dig a little deeper here, things can really get interesting. Dynamic Mode has two independent modes to select from, Compress or Expand. By selecting Compress, you can reduce the volume of the signal when it crosses the threshold point. By selecting Expand, you can increase the volume of the signal when it crosses the threshold point. Again, this is available on each of the six frequency bands independently.
If you go even deeper, there is a kind of “smart” technology used in the EQ based on DSP intelligence. An example of how intelligent the DSP can be is if you have an audio track that is dull only in certain sections rather than dull throughout, the threshold can be set to boost the high-end during the dull points only. Because of the combination of smart technology and threshold settings, it knows to stop or back off when a section comes along that does have enough high-end.
If all of this wasn’t enough, there is a limiter built into it as well. This can be used or not used with the selection of the on/off button. The limiter is independent of the settings and functions of the Static and Dynamic Modes of the EQ. The limiter is pretty straightforward, offering True Peak and control over the gain and threshold just as you would expect.
Does It Work on Music?
When I first heard of RX Final Mix I immediately thought it was only for mastering. As I mentioned above, this is not the case. Even so, I still wanted to try it on a final music mix just as I would use a mastering plug-in. I, like many of my musician friends, can record and mix high-quality CDs at home but can’t really afford to go the extra step of mastering with a real mastering engineer.
Using this plug-in, I tried the music presets on an album I mixed for my band, which was completed at the end of last year. I was impressed. It did sound like what a mastering engineer might do to enhance a mix. I was particularly impressed with the Clarity and Impact preset, which added so much more life into my music mixes. It actually made me want to re-do my entire CD and repress all the copies!
What’s In A Name?
Don’t let the name fool you. I feel RX Final Mix could easily be overlooked as an option for your studio simply because the name does not tell the whole story. Quite frankly, I do not know what to call it because I have never seen or used a plug-in like RX Final Mix before. That’s why I can’t stress enough how it is much more than just a final mix tool and is proving to be the most versatile EQ plug-in I have ever used.
I think this plug-in can be used in so many ways that each audio engineer will find it to be helpful on something different. I found it to be extremely helpful with reducing background noise on production dialog, while iZotope suggests that it is very useful on mixing stems, particularly sound effect stems. I think each person will find his or her own favorite use for it.
iZotope refers to RX Final Mix on their website as a program-dependent EQ that provides intelligent dynamic control over EQ adjustments. I refer to it as amazing.
Ron DiCesare is a creative audio pro whose spot work includes campaigns for Tidy Cats, NJ Lotto and Beggin’ Strips. His film work — Con Artist, B.A.M. 150 and Fishing Without Nets — has been showcased at the Tribeca and Sundance Film Festivals. He also works with audio post for Vice Media on their news reports and web series. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.