History shows us that great achievements can manifest from determined or creative people faced with a lack of resources while undertaking a critical task. In the field of professional audio, especially mixing and mastering, subjectivity becomes the variable that can determine everything from landing a commercial spot to developing a signature sound. When your resources are slim you’re forced to improvise, which at times can be rewarding. But when trying to achieve a good sounding mix as determined by the subjective ears of the producer, songwriter, and consumer or client, you want to aim for consistency and flow. Alloy 2 from iZotope neutralizes several variables by providing six key processing tools in a plug-in that can be used to enhance mixes on individual tracks, mix buses, or overall enhancement on a master bus.
iZotope Alloy 2 - video review by Tim Carter
Alloy 2 operates in VST, VST3, AU, RTAS/Audiosuite, AAX, and DirectX plugin formats. It has improved from its predecessor by integrating progressive workflow optimization tools such as an intelligent overview screen that adapts in realtime to showcase only the modules being used. You can also save presets on each of the six modules individually. The overall interface had been made larger to make more parameter controls available on the screen. iZotope has redesigned the Exciter incorporating a X/Y grid with tube, tape, retro, and warm mix characteristics that are blended by dragging the cursor into each corner of the grid. There is also a more refined sound and feature set to the Transient Shaper which works great to tighten up drums or broaden room dynamics or bleed on an instrument track. There is now also independent left and right channel limiting capabilities and more EQ filters such as flat and brick wall filters. To help you get started there are 150 new professional engineer designed presets.
Upon firing up Alloy 2 in Sonar X1 Producer, I noticed right away that the interface was very clean and intuitive. The parameter controls for the individual modules were much easier to navigate and I was able to get right to sculpting audio. Also, the audible impact of the modules seemed to be more “noticeable” while remaining subtle. The visual frequency analysis options are extremely useful and integrate themselves as a “sixth sense”. Using the frequency analysis with the limiter and dynamics gave a sense of control and comfortable balance that kept me from over-mixing. I found myself building great reference points and vision for the entire mix as I addressed each track or instrument using these 3 tools after EQ.
A very innovative tool is the Signal Flow Graph that allows you to customize your signal chain of modules that you’re using. Press the Graph button on the touchscreen interface and simply drag each module to where you would like it to impact the signal chain.
Alloy 2 Signal Flow Graph
Adding to the versatility in which you can applicate the Dynamics, Transient Shaper, and Exciter is Multi-band Control. Alloy 2 allows you to process up to three bands at once in each of the 3 modules. There are mobile cutoff lines that you can drag to separate the bands into the frequency realms that you wish to enhance. This helped tremendously when boosting mids in hard panned guitars and as well as subtle shimmer in overheads. Using the Transient Shaper I was able to diminish room noise while using the Multi-band Control to boost thump in kicks and get a focused snap in snares. With the Exciter, an X/Y pad with the four previously mentioned saturation choices is applicated to each band.
Alloy 2 Multi-band Mode
The EQ section is very nuanced with 8 bands and 6 filters encompassing analog and vintage style dynamics such as with the Baxandall filter shape. The EQ module is one that I really had to dedicate time to familiarizing myself with before I started applicating it to a mix. It took some time to understand how each filter option colors the approach of adjusting a frequency and what was going to be appropriate for the particular track I was working on. The spectrum analysis visuals added more of a comprehensive guideline while adjusting parameters until I became comfortable with some of the lesser known filters. An option I found to be very helpful, especially with high gain guitars, was the Alt-Solo feature. Holding down the Alt key allows you to only hear the frequency under the mouse cursor without adjusting the band nodes. This of course helped to pick out and reduce uncomfortable frequencies or find frequencies that brought kinder dynamics to a track.
Alloy 2 EQ
As mentioned previously, the Transient Shaper is great for making drums pop out of a mix by reducing room noise as well as having the capability of Multi-band control for added frequency expression. As mentioned in the Alloy 2 PDF instruction manual, if used carefully, it can really help certain sounds sit better in a mix. Along with the attack and sustain gain controls you have a gain meter in the center that indicates the amount of attack and sustain being used at the attack point. This information is reinforced by a scrolling Gain Trace View that shows Attack and Sustain being applicated on upcoming audio signals. The Transient shaper is a very useful tool in leveling spikes and giving subtle cohesive flow help a track sit evenly.
Alloy 2 Transient Shaper
The Exciter adds polish and sheen by utilizing the 4 saturation emulations mentioned previously in an X/Y pad. Dragging the cursor over each of the four saturation styles adds harmonic qualities unique to that saturation structure. Again, this can be split into 3 different bands using Multi-band control and an X/Y pad will be allocated to each band.
Alloy 2 Exciter
The De-esser is of course used to reduce sibilance or harshness in vocal delivery or brittle tones common to some instruments or recording tools. There is mutli-band control along with control over attack, threshold, and release adjustment for acute management over unwanted tones. You have the ability to solo bands for a more surgical approach to dissecting unwanted characteristics.
Alloy 2 De-esser
Alloy 2 has 2 dynamics modules for compression and gating that can be used is series or parallel. While the usual compression parameters of attack, release, soft / hard knee and ratio are there, you also have a band and global mode. The band and global mode toggles between two states - whether the gain, mix and autogain parameters affect each band with individual settings, or whether they apply one setting to the overall output of the compressor. With multi-band mode you can compress individual bands as determined by your choice of band spectrums with the cutoff bars. With the auto gain feature the compressor will intelligently determine and adjust audio signals to be comparable to unprocessed audio, essentially balancing the audio signal automatically. There are also digital and Vintage modes for different compression flavors and attack and release characteristics. Digital mode uses an unfiltered input signal for a more precise form of compression. The compressor will react to the threshold in the exact amount of time set in the attack and will return the level to normal once the input signal reaches the exact time setting on the release control. Vintage mode sends the signal through an inverse equal loudness contour filter. As described in the Alloy 2 PDF manual the filter “causes the compressor's detection circuit to respond to the input signal in a way similar to how our ears perceive loudness by being more sensitive to frequencies between 1-10kHz.” The compressor reacts to the attack threshold quicker while approaching the threshold level, then eases in on an indefinite curve. This can produce a punchier sound. The compressor uses an “eased in, eased out” slope to return the level to normal once the input signal no longer reaches the release threshold. This can produce a smoother sound.
Alloy 2 Compressor
The limiter is a very straight forward and effective limiter that works keenly and critically alongside the visual analysis to determine the appropriate boost of signal. There is a Stereo Link mode that will allow you to add limiting to the left or right side separately. A Hard and Soft mode will tell the limiter to follow the exact threshold and margin setting or simply use your settings as a guide instead of a rule. Both the limiter and de-esser employ the side scrolling gain tracer to give a visual perspective on how your settings are affecting the audio.
Alloy 2 Limiter
Alloy 2 is a user friendly, customizable, and time saving plugin that produces very clean, polished, and professional sounding results. As someone that’s an intermediate in terms of mixing ability, I learned more about my mixes using Alloy 2 than almost any other recent tool. I think that’s in large part to having the most critical post production tools close at hand and having a 3 dimensional relationship with them in a comfortable space. Being able to put a visual context to my audio as I’m using these tools gave me a better understanding of how to forecast an entire mix. The quality of the modules helped realistically point me in the direction of the sounds I was trying to achieve. Sometimes this meant re-tracking a better take or attaining a better input signal, which means that Alloy 2 also has the ability to expose weaknesses in your mix to guide your future approach. There are a lot of plugin suites that perform the same relative tasks as Alloy 2. Some may be better suited to a particular mix approach, situation, or song. However, the modules inside of Alloy 2 present an undeniable sonic cohesiveness that assist in the listening and planning portion of the mix. Alloy 2 has a gift for transparently bringing out subtleties on a track that get easily lost in a mix and does so with a great amount of ease. There is no question that Alloy 2 should be a tremendous asset to amateur and professional audio engineers.
Alloy 2 can be purchased online at www.izotope.com for $199.00, or as an upgrade from Alloy 1 using the iZotope online store. For more on Alloy 2 please visit, http://www.izotope.com/products/audio/alloy/