Platforms:Windows (XP, x64, Vista, 7), Mac OS X 10.4 or later (Universal Binary)
Formats: VST, Audio Units, DirectX, MAS PC, Pro Tools 7+ (RTAS/AudioSuite)
This is one of those products where you want to include a dozen screen shots; we’ll settle for showing
a Macro page.
iZotope’s Ozone has been a favorite among project mastering engineers, but as DAWs started using more powerful computers, people started using this suite of software processors as a channel strip. Which is cool, except that’s not what it was designed for, and it’s not exactly light on your CPU. So iZotope added some features, removed others, put it on a CPU diet, and voilà—Alloy, your new best friend channel strip.
Alloy has eight processors that connect in series: EQ, Exciter, multiband Transient Shaper, two Dynamics processing stages (which can work in parallel), De-Esser, Phase Tools, and Limiter. What’s more, you can put these in any order. It also has a bunch of presets; these include an extra, way-cool feature called “MacroFaders.” When you call up a preset and click on the Macro button, you’ll see a mini-user interface incorporating multiple modules, with controls for the most crucial parameters. Some faders even control multiple parameters to produce a particular effect.
Now let’s check out the highlights of individual modules.
This 8-band EQ has the expected features— choice of filter response, boost/cut, etc. What keeps it from being boring is the excellent spectrum analyzer display, with my favorite feature being the option to average the response from real time to infinite. This gives a really good indication if there are frequency response anomalies (e.g., room resonances) that might not be discernible with a realtime display.
It’s easy to go for fine-resolution curves, as you can change the x-axis amplitude readout from +5dB to +15dB. Furthermore, you can even throw in saturation, and “audition” part of the spectrum without actually having to change EQ settings.
Speaking of spectrum analysis, Alloy can show a “mini-spectrum” as part of every effect display (other than limiting, which has its own, more appropriate display). However, the spectrum options are global, so you can’t see a different resolution with one effect compared to another.
The meters can read the overall input and output, or the signal going into and coming out of individual modules. Meter resolution is editable, too.
MULTIBAND TRANSIENT SHAPER
This is one of those effects you didn’t realize how badly you needed it until you have it. What it can do with drums is mind-boggling: Sharpen the lowermid kick beater click, while adding body to the kick’s bass range via sustain. You can also do the reverse, and soften percussion transients on signals like synth bass if it’s too “aggressive.” You’ll love this module.
By the way, the “multiband” aspect of all multiband modules is optional—you can remove bands to have a one- or two-band processor, or go for the full three bands.
Here’s another winner. It combines parts of Ozone’s Harmonic Exciter and Multiband Stereo Imaging, but folds in a variable distortion/enhancement algorithm controlled by a virtual x-y controller, allowing you to customize the harmonic distribution. The spectrum display really comes in handy for seeing how the bands are affected; each band also has a width control, but this can narrow as well as widen. I use narrowing a lot in the bass range to pull the bass toward the center.
There are two dynamics sections, each with a Gate/Expander and Compressor, that you can place anywhere in the signal chain; this is good news for those who prefer using two gentle compressors instead of a more drastic single stage. Otherwise, the parameters are pretty much what you’d expect to find in a dynamics processor—ratio, attack, release, knee, auto gain, threshold, etc.—with the exception of “Vintage” mode, which adds character and some program-dependent characteristics compared to the “Digital” mode.
One limitation: The number of bands you choose applies to both sections, but that’s because you can put the two compressors in parallel—yes, parallel compression within a single, serial-oriented processor.
Okay, it’s a de-esser, but I’ve also used it to rid of an annoying percussion sound in an otherwise really good drum loop. It also has a multiband/broadband option, which basically means it can affect only a particular frequency range, or changes in that frequency range can apply to the entire signal.
This is like the one in Ozone, without the “intelligent” mode to eliminate inter-sample distortion. Why? Because with almost all DAWs, individual channels have gobs of headroom, whereas a master out that feeds a hardware output does not. The Phase Tools section hangs out with the Limiter section, and lets you flip phase on individual channels or both channels, as well as “rotate” phase to correct for asymmetries. This section can also filter DC offset.
There’s plenty more, like multiband sidechaining support (really) from other tracks for the Dynamics section. Or try “crosschaining,” which filters out part of the input being processed through the dynamics stage for use as the control signal. Parameter automation? Yup. And the user interface is outstanding, with clean, readable controls and readouts, as well as a sweet graphic look and superior workflow.
These days, quality plug-ins are the norm rather than the exception, so you might not think you need Alloy. But for all-around native processing, Alloy is the channel strip to beat. It does everything you want, but what makes Alloy unique is that it does a whole lot more you didn’t know you wanted. Download the demo, and you’ll be convinced.
TIP: THE MAGIC OF THE MUTE
Don’t try to mix your way out of a cluttered arrangement—enable automation for the mute button, then mute anything that doesn’t contribute to a cohesive mix.
TIP: DO YOU REALLY NEED TO WATCH?
If you have a good control surface, turn off your monitor screen, and mix with your ears. This isn’t just about “don’t mix with your eyes;” dividing your concentration between two different senses diminishes each of them.