iZotope Alloy (Mac/Win) Review

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FIG. 1: Alloy''s Macro page provides live-editable access to all of the main elements of a Macro Preset from a single page, and can be customized to create your perfect mixing experience.

Alloy, the new channel strip plug-in from iZotope, makes it surprisingly easy to get from mixing problem to solution. It can do everything from simple tasks to complex channel customization, and it employs many of the technologies and interface breakthroughs from iZotope''s extremely successful Ozone mastering plug-in. Alloy delivers the highest audio fidelity, multiple analog models, tight latency control, a powerful Macro Preset system, and a ridiculously long list of usage and interface options that anticipate the kinds of problems you''ll face (see Fig. 1).

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FIG. 2: The Graph window lets you rearrange the modules however you like, including setting up the two compressors in parallel or in series.

Alloy has six modules: Equalizer, Dynamics, Exciter, De-Esser, Transient Shaper, and Limiter. Each is packed with extended options and intricately detailed possibilities that go well beyond the norm. Like Ozone, Alloy sports large and brightly colored stereo I/O meters with flexible sensitivity and zoomable range. You''ll find a meter on either side of the center window, and each has a Module button to toggle its view between the I/O levels for the currently selected module and the plug-in as a whole. This is quite helpful for detailed control of the internal gain structure. The Graph window lets you quickly customize the order of modules to create the perfect signal path (see Fig. 2 and Web Clip 1).

Several of the modules offer a Multiband mode, greatly enhancing their functionality. You set the bands by clicking and dragging the separator bars on each module''s spectrum-enabled graph. To save CPU power, right-click inside the graph and choose Remove Band from the dropdown menu for 2-band usage (alternatively, choose Insert Band to return to three bands). From this menu, you can also copy and paste settings between bands.

Equalization is perhaps the most crucial part of a channel strip, and iZotope gave its equalizer lots of attention. It offers eight bands with seven curve types and analog-modeled soft saturation. There is an overlay of a spectrum analyzer, which you can hide to save CPU. You can zoom in and out on the EQ curve independently of the spectrum by clicking the 1x button. Clicking it toggles forward to 2x, 3x, or 6x; right-clicking toggles backward. The Show/Hide Info button brings up a condensed numerical display for typing in specific values.

There are plentiful keyboard and mouse shortcuts to enhance your workflow. You adjust individual EQ bands with the arrow keys, and you adjust Q and bandwidth by dragging the small handles that appear on either side or by using the mouse wheel (or two-finger swipe on a Mac trackpad). Click and drag inside the graph to select multiple bands for quick, proportional adjustments. Hold Shift while dragging an EQ band inside the graph to lock it either vertically or horizontally. Right-click on a band to bring up the EQ Curve menu, and right-click anywhere else inside the graph to bring up the spectrum options. The useful Alt-Solo feature works like a magnifying glass; hold Alt while clicking around inside the spectrum to audition only the frequencies beneath the cursor. That''s an impressively elegant way to locate troublesome frequencies.

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FIG. 3: Alloy''s Preset Manager offers a wealth of great Macro Presets and the chance to fine-tune them to your heart''s content.

The Exciter module emulates even and odd harmonics for uses as diverse as warming, brightening, and analog distortion. At its center is a unique XY Pad that controls the balance of even and odd (horizontal) and the amount and slope of harmonics added (vertical). As you adjust the XY Pad, a bar display shows the amount of each harmonic being added. Right-clicking this box toggles between five preset excitation patterns (Transistor, Tape, Tube, Warm, and Bright). A Width slider controls a Stereo Widening circuit, sweeping from -1 (mono) to +1 (full widening). The Exciter Spectrum at the top uses a spectrum analysis with the area under the curve shaded gray: When the gray turns to red, it represents a frequency affected by the excitation. This system is easy to use, and it''s especially helpful for seeing where the spectrum is being altered when the effect is very subtle.

Alloy''s multiband-capable Transient module analyzes incoming audio in real time and splits each transient into attack and sustain components, allowing each to be massaged for detailed shaping of percussive elements. In Multiband mode, it''s a snap to fine-tune how the kick, snare, and hi-hat sit against each other in a stereo drum-kit mix, but it''s also useful in many other ways. The Attack and Sustain sliders control the amount of each effect, whereas the Time setting controls how long the effect lasts. Each slider has an Emphasis meter showing how much of each effect is being added or removed in real time (see Web Clip 2).

As with the equalizer, iZotope paid careful attention to making the Dynamics module extremely flexible. In fact, you get two identical Dynamics modules. They are placed in series by default, but you can change that to parallel in the Graph window. Each module is capable of simultaneous compression and gating/expansion, allowing dynamic range to be controlled from the top (compression) and the bottom (gating/expansion).

The Dynamics modules feature the same Emphasis meters as the exciter and many of the same helpful shortcuts as the other modules. Both Dynamics modules are multiband-capable (independently, except when in parallel), and each can choose from two distinct compression modes.Digital mode is very precise, whereas Vintage mode emulates the nonlinear characteristics of analog compression. The potential for multilayered dynamic control is staggering. Only a few tiny things are missing (sweepable knee settings instead of only hard and soft, for example).

The De-Esser is simple but capable of much more than simple vocal de-essing, and it has some time-saving interface features. You can drag, scroll with the mouse wheel, or use a two-finger swipe on a Mac trackpad to increase or decrease the bandwidth. Multiband mode operates as usual, but Broadband mode attenuates the entire track rather than just the selected frequencies when de-essing is triggered. You can solo the de-essing band to quickly zero in on the correct location.

The Limiter module offers soft and brickwall limiting, along with a helpful loudness histogram, phase rotation and inversion controls, and DC-offset filtering. Though some of these features are best left to mastering plug-ins like Ozone, there are times when individual tracks need this kind of special attention—it can really save the day in certain situations. The limiter sounds nicely transparent unless you really push it, and being able to manually find the right phase setting for each track can help everything fit together.

The Macro page displays patch-relevant information and a few MacroFaders for controlling multiple destinations within Alloy (see Fig. 3 and Web Clip 3). There are 150 included presets covering individual instruments, mixes, post-production, utility work, and more. Each preset offers slider titles, visual layouts, and text hints describing its intended use. You can use the Macro page to keep an eye on key information from several modules, and it''s really easy to create your own highly detailed patches, which is great for the hardcore mixing maestro. For more detailed work, you can separate the Presets window from the plug-in and expand it. Also, the Options window provides access to many more features such as spectrum and metering options, and delay compensation.

Alloy impressed me with its diversity of features, extremely high precision and fidelity, and myriad time-saving shortcuts. Alloy should be on the list of go-to plug-ins for any professional mixer, producer, or composer with a busy workflow. Check out the 10-day free trial available from the iZotope website.

Asher Fulero is a pianist/keyboardist and tech-savvy electronic music producer with a long résumé, endorsements from Moog and Nord, and three new releases in 2010.

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Click on the Product Summary box above to view the iZotope Alloy product page.