Product page: izotope.com/products/audio/alloy/
Price: $249 list
iZotope’s Ozone is one of the most popular mastering tools on the scene right now—we gave it a resounding KeyBuy in the June ’09 issue. Its combination of parametric EQ, intelligent limiting, and comprehensive multiband processing tools have made it a software Swiss army knife for producers across all genres. In addition to mastering, I’ve used it myself on numerous occasions for tightening the screws on mix busses ranging from drums to vocal submixes.
The caveat with this approach is that Ozone is a high-powered mastering tool, so applying it to multiple bus groups is a bit like swatting a fly with a bazooka—to say nothing of the CPU hit that accompanies that kind of power.
Fortunately for us Ozone junkies, iZotope recently delivered their latest wünderplug, Alloy. Sporting many of Ozone’s features in a lightweight, CPU-friendly package, Alloy is to mix busses and individual channels what Ozone is to master outputs.
From 20,000 feet, Alloy is a classic channel-strip processor that delivers the holy trinity of mixing essentials: parametric EQ, compression and gating. In light of Ozone’s quality, that alone would be a reason to give it a whirl, but there’s a lot more to Alloy than just the essentials. In addition to the classics, Alloy includes limiting, de-essing, transient shaping, and a saturator/exciter that’s continuously variable between various types of harmonic enhancement. Oh and did we mention that the transient, saturation, and compression tools are all multiband-capable? Yeah, it’s like that.
Obviously, this kind of flexibility can have a steep learning curve for newcomers. Especially when you throw in the ability to rearrange the order of the modules into pretty much any configuration that strikes your fancy. Fortunately, iZotope minimizes head scratching by including a sizable array of macro-enabled presets, so you can adjust the “Warmness and Umph” or “Smack” with a single slider and leave the minutiae to the geeks.
Unless, like me, you’re a geek yourself, in which case you’ll want to delve deeper into its amenities. So let’s venture inside.
Alloy offers eight bands of EQ, each of which can operate in one of seven modes – low shelf, high shelf, “bell” (parametric), lowpass, sharp lowpass, highpass, and sharp highpass. Since the exciter can emulate analog models, there’s only one mode for the overall EQ and it’s rather clean and transparent.
Alloy’s multiband saturation tools are extremely flexible with drive and mix amounts for each band, along with a really unique two-dimensional approach to adjusting the harmonic response of each band. Each corner of a square corresponds to a different type of saturation – bright, transistor, warm and tube – allowing you to precisely dial in the desired type of warmth or grit for each band. These coordinates also correspond to intensity and even/odd harmonics. This is the first time we’ve seen this approach and it’s a really neat way to get a handle on various types of distortion algorithms.
Alloy’s Dynamics tools are among the most flexible we’ve seen in a channel-strip plug. The compression tools work in both single- and multiband modes and include unusual amenities like the ability to cross-chain the behavior of one multiband range from the dynamic characteristics of a different band. As if that weren’t enough, there’s an option to add a second multiband compressor/gate in series, parallel, or anywhere else in Alloy’s chain. The compression response characteristics can be switched between digital and vintage mode, the latter having those nifty release-stage oddities that many of the most beloved compressors include. In addition, both dynamics modules also include a nice little gate/expander with variable ratio controls.
Transient shaping is an exotic type of dynamics processing that allows producers to tinker with the attack and sustain components of recorded audio. Sound cool? It is. Previously, I’d relied on a competing product for punching up drums and percussive synth parts. Alloy’s multiband implementation has made a convert of me, delivering the option of adding impact to specific areas of an instrument’s frequency spectrum. Obviously, this is incredible for drums, but it’s also quite well suited to any instrument that needs more bite and snap.
De-Essing is probably the least glamorous process in a producer’s toolkit, but if you’re working with a shrill or sibilant vocal track, it can mean the difference between merely-okay and slammin’. Alloy’s implementation delivers the goods in both classic and “multiband” mode. We put multiband in quotes here because there’s only a single band of compression, but unlike traditional methods that compress the entire de-essed track, only the selected frequencies are affected.
Ozone’s adaptive limiting tools are one of its greatest assets, so it’s easily one of the top reasons that producers slap it on their submixed groups. The caveat is that Ozone can introduce a touch of latency when used with some DAWs. Not good. Alloy dispenses with that by improving latency response dramatically, while including both brick-wall and “soft” modes for added flexibility. Granted, Alloy’s limiter isn’t nearly as deep as Ozone’s, but it’s still one of the best—and most CPU-friendly—tools of its kind in today’s market, and we’re digging it greatly.
If you think we’re jazzed about Alloy, you’re right. As channel strip plugs go, iZotope has delivered a product that runs the gamut from tight, clean precision to dirty, punchy impact. Don’t believe us? Check out the before-and-after MP3 audio examples below, and listen to what a few instances of Alloy can do to punch up a plain vanilla drum groove.
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