iZotope Releases Neutron 3, with New Mix Assistant and More

When sitting down to do a mix, one can become indecisive, passive, or overwhelmed. You can tediously tweak a track until it loses all its initial greatness. You can get levels to "just good enough." Moments later, one element is sticking out or ducking down too much. Speaking for myself, sometimes I can't tell if a particular sound is too quiet and doesn't get the point across, or is too loud and comes across as comical. That being said, I'm getting better, and Neutron has helped spotlight these flaws.

Having had the opportunity to use an advance copy of iZotope's brand-new Neutron 3, I can say, it's an absolute joy to use. I've used iZotope's VocalSynth 2 (one of my favorite plugins) for some time, so Neutron feels extremely familiar. If you've never used an iZotope product before but are familiar with something like FabFilter's Pro-Q series, you'll be comfortable with iZotope's layout as well.

Neutron 3
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Scanning the Neutron "Mothership" (the Neutron Channel Strip with all the individual effects in one) I see that, like VocalSynth, our effects chain is up top and our focal point is in the center. I have yet to use a plugin that boasts as much utility as Neutron without any semblance of stress.

This ease-of-use translates across the individual plugins, not just Mothership, and it's here that we can digest a bit of what makes Neutron such a beautiful tool.

From the Compressors to the Sculptor, Neutron is one of the best-sounding tools in my library right now. Its sonics are familiar and musical but not too derivative where I could say, "If you want a better sounding LA-2A, use X instead of Neutron's Compressor 1." Don't. Neutron's processors are, from what I can tell, their own things. They sound great, they sound fresh, and they are super easy to use. When it comes down to it, that's really everything you can ask for in a plugin in 2019.

My first love for Neutron is Mix Assistant—Neutron Advanced's new assistive feature. I'm always skeptical of a gimmick and, on the surface, Mix Assistant looks like a gimmick. What can software do that I can't? Well, as I said before, I can be very indecisive. I'm not the world's best mix engineer—I'm not even the most adequate mix engineer—so when it comes to generating even a simple balance, I can get overwhelmed.

The ability for Neutron to sort instruments, target groups, and generate a lush balance in my session is, at least in my experience, nothing short of incredible. I could see this coming in handy for, really, any mix engineer if they've hit a wall. Beyond being used as the origin of a mix, I see Mix Assistant shining as the inspiration point for how a mix could sound. I did two mixes of the track below: one started with Mix Assistant (and some tweaks) to set my balance and the other was a mix I went into completely blind. The Mix Assistant track sounds much more professional to my ears, but you feel free to decide.

It wasn't until I actually worked with Mix Assistant that I realized it was not meant to eclipse a big part of the mixing process. Instead, Mix Assistant is like having an apprentice sit with and balance your tracks so you can get right into the creative embellishments and tweaks. Now, Mix Assistant isn't perfect, and I imagine anybody buying Neutron 3 Advanced wouldn't need to use it as a crutch, but I like knowing that it's there at least as a jumping-off point.

As you perfect your Mix Assistant balance, you stumble upon my second love within Neutron 3: the width control. Now, it's not as subtle as other imaging tools such, like my personal favorite Waves S1, but I love that, from Relay to the Mothership, a width parameter is accessible across pretty much every variation of Neutron. For smaller adjustments, Neutron's width is just a mouse click away. At larger intervals, who knows? It makes for an interesting effect at higher intervals, but I didn't have much useful success with it above +30.

On the contrary, I did find success across the gamut of all things Exciter. What I love about Exciter is that, really, you could use it on anything and everything. Though it's really just four different saturation types and a mix fader, there is enough versatility and musicality within Exciter to bring just that—a little bit of excitement and grit—to just about any track.

I work a lot with stereo drum stems and, most of the time, they are all too clean. Blending in just the right amount of Tube saturation via Exciter has been my favorite tool in my quest to dirty up over-polished samples. The ability to set custom saturation across three independent frequency ranges is an absolute gift too. Additionally, I love throwing some Retro-style drive on pitched vocals and adding a bit of delay, to create some really interesting ambiances and ear-grabbing lines. I could write a whole review on just what I like to do with Exciter, but, let's just say that it's hard to make it sound bad.

Speaking of saturation, a likely overlooked feature in Neutron 3 is its Equalizer's Soft Saturation mode. In short, it's one of those things that I like to turn on across every track I EQ. It's incredibly subtle, but across a few tracks, it really starts to take on a life of its own, especially when paired with the EQ's dynamics section.

Whereas it takes a lot to excite me about an EQ—I've never owned a transient designer and didn't really know what to expect going into Neutron's—I always felt I'd get a lot of use out of it but constantly opted for something else when it came time to add to my plugin collection. That being said, I'm obsessed with Neutron's Transient Shaper.

Again, working with pre-mixed stereo files, to shape three custom frequency ranges is a huge help. Not to mention the fact that I can load up extra instances of Transient Shaper to really break down and shape my stems exactly how I want. Plus, soloing the sections I'm shaping really eliminates any anxieties I might have throughout my mix process.

Hand-in-hand with Neutron's Transient Shaper is Sculptor, which reminds me of Soundtoys' Devil-Loc or Sonnox's Oxford Inflator.

It is by no means an over-the-top distortion/compressor or loudness maximizer, but it does add an indescribable humph to certain tracks that you may not even realize is there. When you take it off, the track sounds like it shrinks. That's mostly in the case of lower frequencies, however. Sculptor is really great, in moderation, at showcasing your mid- and high-frequencies as well. There are a lot of ways to achieve similar results to Sculptor. However, it has its own sound, and to work with it within the Neutron Mothership is a big plus.

In mixing the track above, I missed some more advanced features, like controlling the ratio in the EQ's dynamic section, as well as some more extreme saturation, which I feel like could have easily been achieved via Exciter. I particularly missed that I couldn't stack two instances of Exciter within Mothership to achieve said result. I missed the time I spent having Mix Assistant listen down the entire track, but you can't cut corners everywhere.

Anyway, the short of it is that I love it. I've never really been one to buy into the "everything-in-one" package. I prefer the "please-do-just-one-thing-great" approach. However, though I knew to expect great things from iZotope in this latest Neutron update, my expectations were still shattered.

I like how you can chain everything within the Mothership and I like how you can leverage the effects individually. I like how they sound. I like how they look. I like how they aren't an outward copy of some '60s rack unit, but draw some welcome sonic familiarities. I like the thoughtfulness put into each unit's presets. I like the versatility, the ease-of-use, and the consistency across each effect. I like the visual feedback and Mix Assistant. In short, I like knowing that I have a true Swiss Army Knife of a plugin that I not only can default to, but one that I look forward to using again and again.

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