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Learn Music and Audio Production | iZotope Tips and Tutorials

10 Steps to a Quick Master in iZotope Ozone

by Jett Galindo, iZotope Contributor June 22, 2022
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It’s easy to be intimidated by the mastering process. After all, we’re talking about the final stage of the production before your music hits the marketplace. But with patience and critical listening, learning the art of mastering can be very fulfilling and empowering—whether you’re the artist, producer or engineer. iZotope has released various levels of mastering guides here on the Learn site.

However, baked into Ozone lies the power of AI and machine-learning to help you jumpstart your mastering workflow. From this optimized starting chain, you can then adjust every setting with precision to take your music to its final polished, mastered sound.

DIY mastering with Ozone is now more accessible and intuitive than ever thanks to Master Assistant and its ability to construct an optimized starting chain for your mastering session. But with this great power comes great responsibility. Here we’ll walk you through a simple 10 step-by-step process to help you achieve a great-sounding master in Ozone with the help of Master Assistant and Ozone’s built-in mastering presets.

Follow along with your copy of Ozone, iZotope’s mastering plug-in. 

1. Prep your workstation & DAW for mastering

Especially if you have a multipurpose production room where everything from songwriting, recording to mixing takes place, it’s important to prep and calibrate your workstation and DAW for mastering. Remember, one of the main goals of mastering is translatability—that your music sounds good and translates well across a wide range of playback systems, formats and environments. By optimizing your workstation for mastering, your tools and ears are able to make more accurate and reliable mastering decisions that better translate to the outside world. Here are a few key factors to consider:

Monitoring

Calibrate your playback monitoring to a fixed gain level for mastering. This is more crucial for a multipurpose studio environment, because it trains your ears to develop an internalized compass for both loudness and tonal balance that effectively translates to the outside world.

Metering

A well-rounded set of metering tools along with properly-calibrated monitoring are crucial to giving you the most accurate picture of the sound you’re aiming for while mastering. Tools such as Insight provides detailed information about levels, crest factor, loudness targets, stereo imaging, just to name a few. But another metering tool that’s worth having in your arsenal is Tonal Balance Control, which gives you a contextual picture of your master’s tonal balance in relation to a reference target (album, genre, etc.)

File & metadata check

Double check that you have the right files, and ensure that your mixes are at the optimal format/resolution for mastering. Although different mastering houses have their own set of preferred specifications, you’ll be well on your way by exporting mixes in the WAV format, keeping it at its native sample rate, and setting the bit depth to at least 24-bit or 32-bit float. Having the essential metadata on hand before mastering (artist name, song title, album title, sequence, ISRC if it’s available, etc) ensures a smooth, efficient session.

Dig deeper: Learn more about the importance of monitor gain in mastering and discover how to use metering in mastering

2. Load Ozone’s Master Assistant as a starting point

For this exercise, we’ll use Ozone’s Master Assistant to analyze your mix based on specific parameters to create your starting chain. “Starting chain” is an important detail here. Even with Master Assistant’s state-of-the-art AI and machine-learning capabilities, it’s crucial that you take this starting point and fine tune it further to the precise needs and nuance of your music. This also helps train your ears to be more attuned to a critical level of listening.

 Use Master Assistant in Ozone to analyze your mix based on specific parameters to create your starting chain.
Use Master Assistant in Ozone to analyze your mix based on specific parameters to create your starting chain

Once you’ve loaded Ozone, clear the signal chain so you’re starting off with a blank slate. Select the Master Assistant button then choose your preferred mastering parameters on the next window:

  • Modules (Modern / Vintage) - Determines which set of modules will be used by the Master Assistant in your signal chain. Vintage introduces the addition of vintage-inspired modules that emulate the warm sound of classic analog outboard gear such as the Pultecs, Fairchild 670s, and Studer A810 tape deck. 

  • Loudness & EQ (Manual / Reference) - Selecting Manual allows the Master Assistant to set a starting signal chain based on your desired intensity—low (-14 LUF), medium (-12 LUFS) , or high (-11 LUFS). Selecting Reference lets you select your reference track of choice as the target for the EQ curve and loudness.

  • Destination (Streaming / CD) - Determines your master chain’s limiter headroom based on the final destination of the delivery. Streaming sets your output ceiling to -1.0 dB to lessen the chances of intersample peaks caused by streaming codecs. CD sets the output ceiling to -0.3 dB.

Select your preferred mastering parameters for the Master Assistant analysis.
Select your preferred mastering parameters for the Master Assistant analysis

Dig deeper: Learn more about how to use Master Assistant in Ozone. 

3. Play your audio so Ozone can begin the analysis

Once you’ve dialed in your parameters, select Next to initiate the Master Assistant analysis. Ozone will be on standby mode below as it waits for you to begin playing audio. To get the best results for your starting chain, select the fullest/most energetic portion of your music that best represents the entire production.

Ozone will be on standby mode as it waits for you to begin playing audio
Ozone will be on standby mode as it waits for you to begin playing audio. Play the fullest/most energetic portion of your music that best represents the entire production

As your music plays, you’ll notice Master Assistant begin to build your signal chain in the background as it provides updates on its progress. You’ll know that the analysis is done when all tasks have been marked checked (see screenshot below). Select Accept to reveal your starting signal chain.

Master Assistant builds your signal chain as your music plays. The analysis is done when all tasks have been marked checked.
Master Assistant builds your signal chain as your music plays. The analysis is done when all tasks have been marked checked

Dig deeper: learn more about mastering signal chains in Ozone. 

4. Take advantage of level-matched A/B listening comparisons

This is where the fun part begins. Depending on your music and your chosen parameters, your starting signal chain will vary. It might be tempting to call it a day and export your master as is. But remember that this signal chain was analyzed by AI based on just a few seconds of music.

Don’t lose sight of the essential human component in music creation. Listen to how the master sounds and take steps to explore all possible ways to fine tune your master. Start by doing A/B listening comparisons to hear how your music sounds BEFORE & AFTER mastering. You can do that effectively by enabling “Gain Match” (see screenshot) to eliminate any loudness bias.

Toggle the “Bypass” button next to “Gain Match” to hear your music BEFORE & AFTER mastering. Also listen to how every module affects your signal chain by selecting the individual “Bypass” icon on each module.

Take advantage of level-matched A/B listening comparisons to strategize what to fine tune in your mastering chain
Take advantage of level-matched A/B listening comparisons to strategize what to fine tune in your mastering chain

Dig deeper: Learn more below about 5 ear training exercises to listen like a mastering engineer. 

5. Explore Ozone’s mastering presets 

Ozone is packed with mastering presets that cater to every genre/production style. Listen to how these various presets compare against the Master Assistant’s starting chain. To access the mastering presets for each module, select the “Preset Manager” icon right under the Bypass icon (see screenshot below).

Ozone is packed with mastering presets that cater to every genre/production style
Ozone is packed with mastering presets that cater to every genre/production style

You can effectively audition and switch between different mastering settings using Ozone’s “Undo History and Compare” window at the top right corner (see screenshot below). In this window, click the “Set” button under a letter bank (A, B, C, or D), to take a snapshot of your current settings. Start by saving your Master Assistant signal chain under A then proceed with saving other settings/presets under B, C, or D. Once you’ve taken snapshots of multiple mastering settings, you can easily do your A/B listening comparisons by quickly toggling between each letter bank.

You can effectively audition and switch between different mastering settings using Ozone’s “Undo History and Compare” window (top right corner)
You can effectively audition and switch between different mastering settings using Ozone’s “Undo History and Compare” window (top right corner)

Dig deeper: Learn even more about using Ozone presets with this tutorial on using Greg Calbi presets

6. Adjust/refine your EQ settings and dynamics processing

One tool to help with refining your EQ and dynamics is Tonal Balance Control which gives a visual reading of how your master compares against a reference tonal balance curve, whether it’s for a particular genre or a specific song or album. Tonal Balance Control also allows you to get a better grasp of your low end crest factor (difference between your peak and average levels), which can significantly impact your master’s loudness potential, among other things.

Insert Tonal Balance Control right after Ozone on your DAW’s master chain to get an accurate reading of your master’s tonal balance curve and low end crest factor. You can also easily access and adjust the Ozone EQ module within the Tonal Balance Control window (see screenshot).

Insert Tonal Balance Control right after Ozone on your DAW’s master chain to get an accurate reading of your master’s tonal balance curve and low end crest factor
Insert Tonal Balance Control right after Ozone on your DAW’s master chain to get an accurate reading of your master’s tonal balance curve and low end crest factor

Dig deeper: Learn more about how your mastering workflow works with Tonal Balance Control. 

7. Explore any possible additional mastering treatments & techniques

So far, we’ve only covered EQ, dynamics and limiting, and for good reason. Mastering can be fully accomplished with these fundamental processes alone, and it’s most often the case. “Less is more” is one of the essential tenets of mastering, after all. But there may be times you would want to think outside the box and explore other creative strategies. Now would be a good time to explore other possible techniques such as excitation, tape saturation, even reverb. You might even look into automation to further refine your mastering settings for specific portions of the music. As  you try out other modules, make sure that the Maximizer remains at the end of your Ozone signal chain.

Despite all the constraints in the mastering world, there’s certainly a lot of room for creativity. But it should always be rooted with intention once all the essential steps have been dialed in (EQ, compression, limiting).

Dig deeper: Learn even more about mastering techniques with a tutorial on how to use an audio exciter in mastering and learn about automation in mastering.

8. Adjust and refine the loudness/limiting with the Maximizer

When people think of mastering, the first thing that comes to mind is loudness. It’s essentially the prime directive of the mastering stage—to make your mix competitively loud in the commercial marketplace. Use metering tools such as Insight (inserted at the very end of your DAW’s master chain) to make better-informed limiting decisions with your Maximizer. Also keep in mind that all the processing in your signal chain can influence the loudness potential of your mix—tonal balance and crest factor both being significant factors—so keep a watchful eye on your EQ and dynamics modules as you adjust your limiting.

Dig deeper: Learn more about loudness in this conversation about loudness in mastering with the pros. 

9. Export your master and listen back in various commercial playback systems

Once you’re satisfied with your mastering adjustments, export your master to a lossless audio format. Avoid the mistake of exporting to lossy MP3. Different digital service providers (DSP) will have different specifications, but a common delivery spec for streaming and digital download is 44.1kHz / 24-bit WAV (a few DSPs still require 16-bit resolution so double check on your end). 

Your mastering session doesn’t end here, however. Your critical listening continues outside your workstation. Remember that one of the goals of mastering is translatability—to make sure that your master sounds good across various commercial playback systems, whether it’s a high-end speaker system, headphones, car stereo or even a bluetooth speaker. Comparing it against other commercial releases would help give you better context as well. Take note of anything that needs to be adjusted to improve your master’s translatability (e.g. low-end could sound a little less boomy, the master could sound brighter, the sibilance could be tamed a bit better, etc.)

Dig deeper: Learn more about audio sample rate and bit depth and how those factors play into audio production. 

10. Revise your masters if necessary

Finally, tweak your master accordingly. Revisions are an integral part of the mastering process, especially when mastering for a client. It’s common—and part of the collaborative process—to not get it right the first time, so embrace this opportunity to fine-tune your mastering chops. The more you exercise the revision process with every master, the quicker and more likely you are to get it right the first time.

Dig deeper: Learn more about revising masters in this interview with professional mastering engineers.

Start mastering with Ozone

Ozone packs a punch when it comes to giving you the tools you need to do a quick and effective DIY master. But like every state-of-the-art piece of technology, you should treat it as a tool, not a crutch. Take advantage of Ozone’s Audio Assistive Technology to enhance your engineering chops by using presets and Master Assistant, then take the time to understand the purpose and intent behind every process. Take what you’ve learned and explore how it can improve your own music production/engineering workflow. Not only will you level up every step of the way, you’ll find that the journey becomes more fun, fulfilling and empowering. Have fun!

Learn more about mastering

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