iZotope Neutron Elements – $129
As with all my existing and future reviews, I will only be reviewing what I use and in practice and I will keep all reviews as working reviews and not an epic encyclopedia of opinions. I will leave that to the magazines and e-zine sites.
This month I am going to go on and on and on about iZotope’s Neutron Elements, a wonderful all in one solution to all things that need clever algorithmic analysis and processing.
The key features of Neutron Elements are:
- Track Assistant – iZotope’s clever analyse and compensatory tool.
- Track identification – Neutron Elements identifies the type of ‘instrument’ being used and applies compensatory profiles at a click.
- EQ Learn – Neutron Elements listens to the incoming audio and applies, yet again, clever compensation.
- Four powerful single band processors: EQ, Compressor, Exciter and Transient Shaper – a modular approach to processing.
- Over 200 presets for you to start from or use as is.
- Linear and Minimum Phase topologies that help to further shape your sounds.
- Mode selection tools based on the type of instrument and sound.
- Choice of interesting Responses for EQs.
- Fully Configurable.
- Fully automated.
Neutron Elements (NE) is a honed down version of iZotope’s Neutron but is still an extremely powerful tool offering the user countless configurations of dynamic tools. Brimming with instrument-specific presets Neutron Elements presents the user with excellent starting templates to hone and edit to taste. Neutron Elements follows the channel-strip concept and features four modules and Track Assistant on top! But beneath the simple GUI lies a wealth of quality processors.
The beauty of the modular approach is that the order of dynamics can be changed by grabbing any module and moving it before or after another module. This means you are not restricted to using a fixed modular approach. Eq before compression? Sure, why not? Eq after compression? Sure, why not? The ability to chop and change the order of dynamics is as potent as the processors provided.
Track Assistant is an interesting tool and can be compared to all analysis and compensatory processes in that it will analyse the incoming audio and make working suggestions as to how to sonically improve the results. This is not new technology and has been in use by many companies for many years. In fact, I would go as far as saying that HarBal reigns supreme here and not only is it a better mastering and processing tool it is also far more intuitive than Neutron. Whereas Neutron Elements suggests a single solution to each profile HarBal goes further and offers a combination of suggestions all based on simple physics as opposed to subjective opinions of producers and their preset profiles. That is not to say Neutron Elements does not offer powerful ‘suggestive’ options as to what to use and how to use it. You could, in effect, just use Track Assistant and be done with your audio….but I suggest you go a little further and switch off this feature and work with the truly wonderful features that reside in this powerful software.
When dealing with audio we are invariably concerned with cleaning, shaping, and dynamic control. NE provides all the necessary tools to achieve these goals. An equaliser sits in the prime spot, and rightly so, as we need to bandpass and clean redundant frequencies at both the channel and master bus stages. However, if you don’t fancy an eq at the start of the chain, it is as easy as clicking on the module and dragging it where you do want it to sit. In the event that you only want to filter and not clean then NE gives us the very useful Vintage response, in addition to the existing Shelf and Baxandall modes (there are times when pre-ringing is exactly what we want). The eq bands are not fixed and all have Q controls. Additionally, iZotope have thrown in a Learn function. This, when selected, will analyse the incoming audio and suggest where the frequency nodes should sit. After that, it is just a matter of cut and boost. Clever and useful.
Next up, we have a very useful compressor that can be used in parallel mode and is as easy to use as possible. The compressor works using two Modes: Digital and Vintage. Think of Digital as uncoloured and Vintage as coloured.
Level Detection Mode
These three buttons, RMS, Peak, and True, allow you to adjust which level detection mode the Compressor uses, as follows:
- Peak enables Neutron’s detection circuit to look at peak levels of the incoming signal. In general, this setting is useful when you are trying to even out sudden transients in your music.
- RMS enables Neutron to look at the average level of the incoming signal. RMS detection is useful when you are trying to increase the overall volume level without changing the character of the sound.
- True mode behaves much like RMS mode, but with some key advantages. Unlike RMS, True mode produces even levels across all frequencies. Additionally, True mode will not produce the aliasing or artifacts that RMS detection can cause (a signal-dependent behavior that is true of any RMS-based compressor, not just Neutron).
In Vintage mode, the gain reduction meter uses a VU meter. The decision to use VU or standard Peak metering is down to the user. I love using VU meters at the channel stage as it allows me to visually detect how well the audio is moving along: is it dynamic or not? That needle bouncing up and down is all I need to feel good about the sound. Of course, I am simplifying this serious subject but because I have covered metering and headroom extensively in my video tutorials I feel I can make that remark without a heavy comeback. Again, and as always, determine what you need the metering for and adjust to those requirements.
This allows you to audition the filtered side-chain signal only, so that you may hear the same audio input that’s triggering the compressor. Click the icon to the right of the Side-chain filter (just below the spectrum view) to engage it. I firmly believe that almost all dynamic processors should have a side-chain function. We have moved on from exclusive amplitude detection and need to refine our triggers better and side-chaining allows for that.
The Exciter comes next and it really does make an announcement. Offering 4 modes: Retro, Tape, Warm and Tube it sounds lovely but even more interesting is the fact that these modes/topologies can be automated. Morphing the modes has never been easier than grabbing the main control node and dragging it around the modes whilst recording the automation. It doesn’t end there, the Exciter also has a parallel feature. You can blend (dry/wet mix) the dry and wet signals for further colouring.
These modes allow you to weight the saturation in or away from different areas of the frequency spectrum:
- Full offers a gentle, low-mid frequency bump.
- Defined offers a gentle, high-mid frequency bump.
- Clear offers a gentle, low-mid frequency attenuation.
The high shelf icon overlaid on the spectrum view is a gentle shelving filter capable only of attenuation, to a maximum of -12 dB within a range of 1 kHz to 20 kHz. Drag the filter node to adjust the frequency and gain of the filter, which will be applied to the entire Wet signal, allowing you to further adjust any high frequencies that have been generated by the Exciter module.
I am a fan of Exciters and use them regularly for exciting reverbs, low-end frequencies, vocals and so on. So long as filtering is applied post excitation you will never end up having a brash sound. I wish more people would explore the power of this process.
Finally, the Transient Shaper rears its head. Transient Shapers are the new craze. Whereas we used to use amplitude envelopes we now have dedicated transient shapers to further ‘shape’ the sound in a way a simple amplitude envelope cannot. However, if I had to be honest here, Transient Shapers (TS) are glorified envelopes with velocity curve functions. The TS in Neutron Elements offers 3 curve modes: Sharp, Medium and Smooth. That is more than enough to shape a whole channel and deliver the best response.
Gain Adjustment Trace
This view offers a scrolling meter that displays the incoming signal’s waveform with a superimposed curve that illustrates the amount of gain adjustment taking place in real-time.
Paying close attention to the trace juxtaposed over the waveform, and how it illustrates the effect changing envelope modes can have on allowing audio to return to 0 dB of gain before the next transient, is an important tool when seeking to achieve maximum transparency.
Note: the scale can be adjusted on the left-hand side.
The Transient Shaper is more than a glorified envelope. It is actually a potent sound design tool and can be used to create new textures as opposed to simply adjusting the ADSR elements of an envelope.
Finally, metering. I expect almost all developers nowadays to provide extensive metering options bearing in mind the mediums we have to cater for.
The following, from iZotope’s website, should help to clarify issues:
This allows you to switch Neutron Elements’ metering between a Peak+RMS combo meter and a Peak+Short-term loudness combo meter.
The combined Peak+RMS meter displays a lower bright bar representing the average level (RMS) and a higher dimmer bar representing peak level. There is also a moving line above the bar representing the most recent peak level or peak hold.
Detect True Peaks
By default, the Input/Output meters will only indicate clipping which occurs within the digital domain. To accurately measure the signal that will result from digital to analog conversion, select “Detect True Peaks.”
This feature lets you select between four types of spectrums:
- Linear: A continuous line connecting the calculated points of the spectrum.
- 1⁄3 Octave: Splits the spectrum into bars with a width of 1⁄3 of an octave. Although the spectrum is split into discrete bands, this option can provide excellent resolution at lower frequencies.
- Critical: Splits the spectrum into bands that correspond to how we hear, or more specifically how we differentiate between sounds of different frequencies. Each band represents sounds that are considered “similar” in frequency.
- Full Octave: Splits the spectrum into bars with a width of one full octave.
This feature averages the spectrum according to this setting. Higher average times can be useful for viewing the overall tonal balance of a mix, while shorter average times provide a more real-time display.
Show Peak Hold
This shows or hides the peak hold in the audio spectrum behind the EQ. Note this is different from the level meters.
Peak Hold Time
Peak hold time determines how long peaks are displayed after they are detected.
- 5 ms
- 250 ms
- 500 ms
- 1,000 ms
- 5,000 ms
Ultimately, software is defined by its price versus feature sets and in this department Neutron Elements is a winner.
The feature set is pretty complete giving the user all the necessary tools, from start to finish, to fully optimise the sound/s.
There are alternatives available on the market but none are as simple and elegant as Neutron Elements. My personal favourite for all mastering chores is HarBal but that is a far more detailed and thorough software and although user-friendly it does require a learning curve.
Neutron Elements affords a simple and detailed all-in-one processing solution and is presented with a streamlined and classy GUI that makes it a joy to use. If you can afford the upgrade to Neutron Standard then don’t blink. The extra features are easily worth the upgrade price.
To me, the best recommendation I can give to any product is as follows:
I use it!