By Tim Wembly
iZotope has been doing more to elevate and simplify the workflows of this generation’s audio pros than any of its competitors. It’s a bold statement, but I stand behind it. From their range of audio restoration tools within RX to their measurement and visualization tools in Ozone to their creative approach to VST effects and instruments like Iris, Breaktweaker and DDLY… they have shown time and time again that they know what audio post pros need.
iZotope breaks their products out into categories that are aimed at different levels of professionalism by providing Essential, Standard and Advanced tiers. This lowers the barrier of entry for users who can’t rationalize the Advanced price tag but still want some of its features. In the newest edition of Neutron 3 Advanced, iZotope has added a tool that might make the extra investment a little more attractive. It’s called Mix Assistant, and for some users this feature will cut down session prep time considerably.
iZotope Neutron 3 Advanced ($279) is a collection of six modules — Sculptor, Exciter, Transient Shaper, Gate, Compressor and Equalizer — aimed at making the mix process less of a daunting technical task and making it more of a fun, creative endeavor. In addition to the modules there is the new Mix Assistant. The Mix Assistant has two modes: Track Enhance and Balance. Track Enhance will analyze a track’s audio content and based on the instrument profile you select and its modules will make your track sound like the best version of that instrument. This can be useful if you don’t want to spend time tweaking the sound of an instrument to get it to sound like itself. I believe the philosophy behind providing this feature is that the creative energy you would spend tweaking you can now reserve for other tasks to complete your sonic vision.
The Balance mode is a virtual mix prep technician, and for some engineers it will be a revolutionary tool when used in the preliminary stages of their mix. Through groundbreaking machine learning, it analyzes every track containing iZotope’s Relay plugin and sets a trim gain at the appropriate level based on what you choose as your “Focus.” For example, if you’re mixing an R&B song with a strong vocal, you would choose your main vocal track as your Focus.
Alternately, if you were mixing a virtuosic guitar song ala Al Di Meola or Santana, you might choose your guitar track as your Focus. Once Neutron analyzes your tracks, it will set the level of each track and then provide you with five groups (Focus, Voice, Bass, Percussion, Musical) that you can further adjust at a macro level. Once you’ve got everything to your preference, you simply click “Accept” and you’re left with a much more manageable session. Depending on your workflow, the drudgery associated with getting your gain staging setup correctly might be an arduous and repetitive task that is streamlined and simplified by using this tool.
As you may have noticed the categories you’re given in the penultimate step of the process are targeting engineers mixing a music session. Since this is a giant portion of the market, it makes sense that the geniuses over at iZotope give people mixing music their attention, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use Neutron for other post audio scenarios.
For example, if someone delivers a commercial with stems for music, a VO track and several sound effect tracks, you can still use the Balance feature; you’ll just have to be a little creative with how you classify each track. Perhaps you can set the VO as your focus and divide the sound effects between the other categories as you see fit considering their timbre.
Since this is a process that happens at the beginning of the mix you are provided with a session that is prepped in the gain staging department so you can start making creative decisions. You can still tweak to your heart’s content you’ll just have one of the more time intensive processes simplified considerably. Neutron 3 Advanced is available from iZotope.
Tim Wembly is an audio post pro and connoisseur of fine and obscure cheeses working at New York City’s Silver Sound Studios.