iZotope has been on a roll lately. Looking past the T-Pain Effect, their foray in pop culture commercialism, they have been making a name for themselves with some huge releases spanning the worlds of sound design and pro-grade audio production. Stutter Edit, Nectar, Ozone 5, RX 2, and Iris were all introduced in the past year or two, with positive reviews gracing each upon arrival. We were especially fond of Iris, with its unique visual approach to sound design. Their latest release dropped in August, when they announced the second version of Alloy, iZotope's all-in-one mixing plugin. The announcement included a new set of enhancements and another notable feature: tight integration with their flagship mastering plugin, Ozone 5.
In case you weren't familiar with the original version, Alloy came about due to the success of Ozone. Users wanted the processing power of Ozone, but altered for use in mixing individual tracks or groups. This would require lower latency operation and a lighter CPU load to allow for multiple instances to be run in a session. (Ozone was designed primarily to be used on the master bus.) So in October of 2009, iZotope released Alloy with six audio processing modules built in—Dynamics, Transient Shaper, De-Esser, Exciter, Equalizer and the zero-latency Limiter. The CPU processing was nice and light as well, with Alloy preserving power by dynamically utilizing the CPU only as needed by the modules active at the time.
So now three years later, what's new? The price, for one: iZotope has lowered it from $199 to $149, which is impressive considering that the plugin has got better. Among the new features, possibly the most important is purely aesthetic: the redesigned overview screen. Whereas the original had a "macros" screen that showed the controls most useful for the currently loaded preset, the new version provides a more universal overview that shows the most accessed controls of each active module. Any disabled modules are hidden from the overview screen, which is helpful for quickly opening and tweaking the plugin. This move towards a more generalized view makes Alloy more intuitive, but some users may mourn the loss of the preset-specific "macrofaders" from the original. The overall interface is a bit larger than the original as well, allowing for more controls to be shown in some modules.
When it comes to actually processing sound, there are a few notable updates in Alloy 2. First off, the Exciter has been substantially upgraded, with four different saturation types now assigned to the four corners of the X-Y pad controller. The new saturation algorithms include Tube, Tape, Retro, and Warm—and the X-Y pads allow you to mix between the modes for each of the frequency bands active within the Exciter. Together with the drive amount, the Exciter certainly lives up to its name, but it can also be easily bent into hardcore saturation or distortion if the spirit moves you.
The Transient Shaper and EQ modules were also enhanced, with the former being completely reworked by iZotope, yielding benefits in both sound and workflow. We were very impressed with the Transient Shaper in particular. With the multiband processing we were able to easily tighten up the individual parts of a drum loop to get it sitting more comfortably in the mix. On the flip side, it can also be used to add extra sustain to melodic material like piano or guitar. The changes to the EQ module include a bunch of new filter shapes, bringing the total up to 18. You can pick any of these filter types for each of the eight different nodes, and the frequency / gain / Q for each node can be easily adjusted by clicking and dragging the nodes.
With all of the processing power built into Alloy 2, it's understandable that newer producers might be a little overwhelmed. To help them out, iZotope provides a sophisticated preset system that categorizes over 100 different presets into categories based on the instrument / audio source—so you could browse through different presets designed specifically for synth bass, for example. In the new version, they take this to the next level and now support presets at the module level in addition to the global level. This is a great addition that should help newer users even more by providing helpfully named presets like "add edge to mids" that describe the sonic change possible from each module in real terms.
More advanced users should be pretty happy as well, as Alloy 2 provides more options and preferences than you might find in some DAWs. These let you customize both the form and the function of the plugin in some very clever ways. For example, you can switch the fader displays to show a histogram of the effect on the incoming audio over time. Another unique feature of Alloy is that it functions as an internal meter tap for Ozone. This allows you to assign different colors for each instance of the plugin within Ozone's 3D spectrogram, giving you a nice visual overview of where each part is sitting in the mix.
There is very little to criticize about Alloy 2. The new lower price and the updated feature set have raised its overall value into the "suggested buy" range. It may be a bit intimidating for some users on first glance, but the manual is really well put together. That, in combination with the helpful preset structure, should get even the newest producers up and running quickly. After running a few mixes through it, we were sold and will be using it heavily in the near future. After seeing the integration possibilities with Ozone, it also looks like we'll be saving up for that next.