Pro - Julian
While there is a big part of me which treats developments in AI with a healthy suspicion, there is another part of me which approves of the Tonal Balance plug-in recently introduced by iZotope.
I fully understand the misgivings of mastering engineers who think that they will lose work. Personally, I don’t think it’s as much of a threat as some people seem to think. The example of drum machines comes to mind where the Musicians Union were deeply unimpressed with the potential effects on drummers but I think we can all agree that only the very worst drummer was ever going to lose work to a Korg Minipops.
One of the things I value above everything else is perspective. I wrote a piece about this two years ago with the intriguing title “Staying In The Goldilocks Mix Zone”. In this piece, I explained that inevitably, with repeated listens, our perspective on a mix diminishes. I know I suffer from this and my preferred way out is to collaborate. In the piece, I say that when I have someone whose opinion I trust to play my mix to “They usually don't have to say anything, Just by being there I can hear, with the fresh ears I couldn't find before, exactly what is wrong with my mix”
This is what I like about Tonal Balance. For “big picture” issues with a mix, it goes a little way towards helping with that finite and diminishing perspective I have on my mix.
What Tonal Balance is doing is performing a meta-analysis on a recording by statically comparing its spectral content with many, many other recordings. If your recording is unusually hot around 2kHz compared to every other record in the world, that might be fine but looking at the statistics it’s definitely worth checking, isn’t it?
Back to the role of mastering engineers in this. I think this, and the other AI-based alternatives, will affect the work of some mastering engineers, but the biggest difference it will make will be the quality of the recording put out by the people who were never going to a mastering engineer in the first place.
The people who were going to use presets on multi-band limiters, hopefully, will have a virtual second opinion whispering “Are you sure about that?”. I think that can’t be a bad thing?
Con - Dan Cooper
Tonal Balance Control is a new plug-in by iZotope. It bridges EQ workflows between iZotope's latest versions of Ozone 8 mastering & Neutron 2 mixing suites. Tonal Balance Control claims to help users produce more consistent mixes and masters - tonally.
At the core of the Tonal Balance Control plug-in is a graphical target display that can either be set from a number of included presets or determined by loading an audio file of a let's say a previous mix.
It all sounded very exciting and I was keen to try this workflow when it launched earlier this year. The problem though, upon trying the plug-in I quickly discovered that my focus and attention went from my ears to my in eyes. I persevered but I couldn't get away from the feeling that I was no longer mixing, I was painting my numbers.
Truth be told, I've never had a problem with matching the tone of one mix to another when finishing album projects or mastering. This is an EQ listening skill that I have developed over many years. I believe this skill is extremely important for mixers to develop without using trendy shortcuts or applications such as these that promise to get better mixes by using your eyes.
While I welcome new technologies that claim to help us get better mixes and masters I think the solution that Tonal Balance Control offers isn't, in reality, all that it's cracked up to be. When I did manage to visually match the tone from one song to another I found the results sounded off. The resulting curve wasn't chosen by me, it was merely suggested and inputted by me to match the target.
It's not all bad news. Tonal Balance Control has a very useful EQ view feature that enables users to view and manipulate multiple EQ modules within Ozone 8 and Neutron 2 instances used within a single project, that's a nice time-saving feature which helps me to EQ multiple tracks all in one place.
Have Your Say
We flipped the coin of opinions about iZotope's Tonal Balance Control between Julian & Dan. Do you agree with either of their views? Do you have your own opinion? Comments on a postcard in the comments section below...