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Using Neutron 3 to Speed Up Your Mixes

by David Bawiec, iZotope Contributor July 16, 2019
Neutron 3 is the perfect tool to help speed up your mixing workflow.

Balance your own mix:

Neutron 3

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We all need more time. More time to sleep, more time to play. So any tool that can assist you in getting work done faster means you get more of all of the above. In this article, I’ll show you how you can use Neutron’s Mix Assistant and presets to significantly speed up your workflow, all while achieving excellent sonic results in your mix.

Here’s the original audio we will be trying to mix and adjust.

Final with Neutron

Why use Neutron to save time mixing?

Whether it’s balancing the levels of various instruments to shaping the EQ’s, reining in the dynamics, adding harmonic distortion, adjusting transients, and so much more—it’s easy to see how quickly your session can get unruly, leaving you with a bunch of plug-in windows to manage. It’s definitely not pretty.

This is why I love Neutron, it solves this workflow problem by combining all of the above plug-ins (and more) into one mothership plug-in, without needing to switch between plug-in windows. It's a nice time-saver right off the bat that leads to a cleaner workflow with more control.

There are a lot of visual guides and meters in Neutron 3 to help you in the mixing process. So rather than shooting in the dark, you’re actually able to set a compressor's or noise gate’s threshold based on the dynamic levels that you’re seeing on the graph as you play the track. Plus, Neutron 3 has been rewritten to give you even faster performance, so your session never feels bloated. All you get is ease of work in a beautiful interface.

Use presets in Neutron to save time

Let’s be honest, setting each plug-in up to the correct specs takes time. Thresholds, ratios, make-up gains, EQ nodes, frequencies, etc. It all takes time. And that’s just on one track, let alone on a dozen or more tracks with varying needs.

This is where Neutron has your back—Neutron comes packed with hundreds of presets that can speed up your mixing workflow. When you create a new instance of Neutron on a track, the Global Preset Manager is automatically opened. In this window, you’ll find a multitude of presets organized by instrument type. So whether you’re trying to brighten that keyboard or shape the sound of the acoustic guitar, you’ll be sure to find a preset to get you started. Each preset includes a set of modules to help achieve that goal.

Rather than setting each module’s parameters from scratch, the majority of preset settings will already give you a good result, allowing you to focus on tweaking the final result in a way that feels right to you. Personally, presets make me happy because they mean I spend less time tinkering and more time just doing finishing touches to get me right to the sound I’m looking for.

Aside from the Global Preset Manager, Neutron 3 also features a multitude of module-specific presets. Meaning that once you find a global preset that you’re happy with, you can go into a specific module, say EQ, and alternate between presets that will only affect that module.

Take a listen to the drum set below. As much as the sound was good, I wanted it to be brighter, with a little more high-end punch. Under the Drums–>Acoustic section I found a preset called “Clean & Bright Acoustic”. Listen below:

Drums: "Clean & Bright Acoustic" preset

Nectar 3 preset, "Electric Bass Control" on a drum track

You can always further alter the modules to suit your needs. For the bass, I had a dynamics and fullness problem. To help with this, I used a preset called Electric Bass Control. From there, I altered the second compressor by adjusting the threshold and bringing up the ratio to give me even better control over the dynamics. Take a listen:

Electric Bass Control preset

Neutron 3 preset, "Electric Bass Control" with adjusted compression on a bass track

Use Mix Assistant to accelerate your workflow

One of the most magical additions to Neutron 3 is Mix Assistant. When triggered, the assistant will give you two options—Track Enhance and Balance. Balance will learn which tracks are important in your song and automatically set levels for all your individual tracks around a chosen main “focus”. It’s a great way to get a quick starting point for balancing all your individual layers.

The Track Enhance feature is where Neutron’s true power comes to play. And that’s what we’ll be looking at today.

Please Note: Track Enhance, which is part of the Mix Assistant in Neutron Advanced, is also available in Neutron Standard and Elements, where it’s known as Track Assistant. For the purpose of brevity, I will be using the term Track Enhance throughout the article, but know that the same features will be found in the other versions of the plug-in.

Use Track Enhance to save time mixing

Track Enhance uses machine learning to analyze the contents of your track, figure out what kind of sound it is before creating a custom a preset, modifying the various modules to offer you a truly unique mix for your track. It’s like having a pro mixer listening to the track and adding all the necessary touches, but it does so entirely automatically! The neat thing is you can see it adjusting all the thresholds, ratios, EQ nodes, and all other parameters automatically to suit your track. It’s seriously like magic.

When you run Track Enhance, you’ll be asked about the instrument you’re running the assistant on. It will do a pretty good job of trying to figure it out and auto-detect the instrument based on the content, but you can also give it a clue to help point the assistant in the right direction.

Secondly, you will be presented with three options for Style:

  • Balanced: Provides general-purpose processing for a well-rounded sound.
  • Warm (open): Slightly emphasizes the bass in the instrument for a more pleasant sound.
  • Upfront (midrange): Emphasizes the midrange frequencies of the instrument for more presence.

Finally, you will be asked to decide on the Intensity, which represents the amount of processing you would like to apply to the track:

  • Low (subtle): Not a lot of processing added. Just a hint of adjustment to meet the Style.
  • Medium: Moderate amount of processing added. A noticeable change in bringing out that instrument.
  • High (aggressive): Heavy amount of processing added to bring the instrument into focus.
The track enhance parameters menu in Neutron 3

Once you decide on your parameters, it’s time for Track Enhance to get to work. You should give it at least 10 seconds of musical material to listen to before it begins adjusting parameters. Once it’s finished, it presents a customized preset of modules for that particular track.

Take a listen to the electric piano track below. It’s simple, but with some problems. There’s an errant frequency that stands out in the mix, making everything sound dull and muddy. So I decided to run Mix Assistant in Track Enhance mode to help. I set the track to a Balanced style with Medium processing.

The next part was my favorite⁠—I got to sit back and relax while Neutron got to work on analyzing my track for its content. Making all the adjustments necessary to reach my goals.

While the assistant is working, each adjustment it makes is listed on the loading screen

Let’s see what was added—Sculptor, EQ, Compressor, and Exciter. Sculptor is a spectral shaping tool that brings clarity and polish to your audio tracks. It’s like a compressor on steroids. This translates to removing muddiness, reducing harshness, and helping shape your tracks into better versions of themselves. That, along with the specifically adjusted EQ nodes took out all the muddiness. Next the compressor took care of gentle dynamic processing, and finally, an exciter brought out some of the dynamic moments via harmonic distortion (which you can hear on the high arpeggio at 0:37).


Take a listen to the before, after, and final polished version with a bit of reverb and panning.

Piano Neutron+Reverb

The result of the assistant’s processing on an electric keyboard track

Let’s try Track Enhance on a guitar track. Guitars are a beautiful instrument, but with at least six strings, they can be a nightmare to mix. Each string vibrates, causing sympathetic vibrations and the reinforcing of various frequencies. My guitar was getting buried in the mix, but I wanted to make sure it would stand out. So this time I decided to go for an Upfront style and High processing setting.

Neutron got to work, analyzing, adjusting, setting, learning, setting more, adjusting more, and finally came back with what I can only describe as my dream come true. The guitar’s clarity was suddenly back! It sounded front and center! Which was exactly what I wanted.

The result of the assistant’s processing on a guitar track

Take a listen to the original untouched guitar, then the mixed version that Neutron’s Mix Assistant created for me. Finally, you will hear the finished track, with reverb and also a little more low frequencies cut. I like to carve those low-end frequencies out as that leaves more space for the kick and the bass to shine in.

Guitar Neutron+Reverb

Adjusting the assistant’s custom preset to better fit the track

Let me be perfectly clear, setting up all the proper EQ and compressor settings to get a satisfactory result would have taken a really long time. Instead, using Mix Assistant’s Track Enhance feature meant that I had it done in 10 seconds! A MASSIVE time-saver.

Here’s the final mix with all the tracks combined. First, you’ll hear the original untouched raw version, followed by the same piece enhanced using Neutron’s Mix Assistant. The sonic results speak for themselves. Super impressive and all achieved in a few minutes time!

Before and After Neutron

Conclusion

What used to take me an hour on a large session, I can now get done in minutes thanks to Neutron. It’s a speedy and intuitive way to work, with all the features you would need to achieve exceptional results in no time. The bottom line is: the less you need to fiddle, the more time you have to actually play and create. So whether you’re working under a super tight deadline, or just need help in making your mixes sound better, give Neutron 3 a try.

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