iZotope Contributor Nick Messitte explains that even before he wrote for iZotope, Insight was his go-to metering suite. He liked it so much that he didn’t think it could be improved. Now Insight 2 has dropped, and he has been using it for a few weeks he is happy to report it has easily surpassed his expectations, replacing the original Insight in my practice. Over to you Nick…
Primarily, I’d use the original Insight in post production and mastering. I might refer to it from time to time for mixing, but not as often as in other cases. This has changed with Insight 2, as the suite provides several improvements that make it a killer companion for mixing duties for me. In this article I will outline its killer features…
1. Intelligibility Meter For Vocal Presence
The Intelligibility Meter was designed primarily with post-production in mind. However, it also works within the context of music. If I put an instance of Relay (think of it as Insight 2’s “helper plug-in”) in the last slot of my vocals/vocal bus, I’m able to monitor the apparent integrity of my vocals in relation to the rest of the material. By integrity, I mean how easy it is to hear the words—the very definition of intelligibility.
I find this meter quite handy, as vocal intelligibility is tricky to get right. It can be hard to know whether to bury the vocal on a phrase for the mystery of it (the work of Tool come to mind) or to bolster the vocals above everything else. There’s also the risk of raising the vocals too high without realizing it, either due to ear-fatigue or suboptimal monitoring. This phenomenon can give the mix a sort of karaoke feel. The Intelligibility Meter, particularly when set to low-noise level environments, can aid you in making the judgment call more impartially.
All you need to do is watch the meter and, well, follow the bouncing ball: if it stays in the sweet spot, there’s your visual indication that the words will be understood. If it soars above or falls below, you have the option to tweak or leave as is. The choice is yours—and now you’re in a better place to make that choice.
2. Using Relay With The Spectrogram For EQ Balance
In the time I've spent using Insight 2, the suite demonstrates itself impeccably when paired with the Relay module. Relay can be plopped onto tracks, submixes, auxes, or anywhere else a plug-in can go. We just highlighted its helpfulness alongside the Intelligibility Meter, but you can also use Relay in conjunction with the spectrogram.
The spectrogram goes beyond your typical frequency analyzer to show you the EQ makeup of your mix across a long swath of time, and with a greater visual representation. You can really pinpoint what each element of the mix is doing, thanks to the spectrogram’s use of shade:
a growing concentration in color from a light to dark shows you how impactful things are at a given frequency; the weaker the shade of color at 200 Hz, the less pronounced the band.
This is all well and good across the whole mix, but the Relay module gives you a shortcut to any individual element you'd want, so you can spotlight the drums, or even a single drum, within the context of a mix. By default, your entire mix is in grayscale, but the elements you assign with Relay are given colors—colors that you can change, as need be.
A real world example: I had a mix nearly finished, but at a certain section of the tune, the kick drum felt like it was getting a bit lost. I had Relay going on all the submixes at the end of the chain, so I selected the drum submix, and, against the grayscale of the spectrogram, I saw the resounding yellow of my drum information.
The confluence of shade in the GUI made it plain where the kick was visibly weak. I could tell it was the kick because of the sparsity of the arrangement; you could very well put Relay on the kick track, but in this case I didn't need to. I had the visual info to make a decision, which constituted an automated boost in the weaker frequency at the part of the tune.
You should always use your ears to make decisions; no one is naysaying that! But at the end of a mix, when your ears may be tired—or at the beginning of your career, when you may not trust what your ears are telling you—the shortcut this method provides can be quite valuable indeed.
3. Sneaking Around Automation With Relay
Automation can be tricky. One obvious issue: you're a bit penned in once you've started laying down volume moves. You may forget you've got automation switched on, move a fader, and then realize that it did nothing; the channel strip only snapped back to what you had written earlier. This certainly can happen if you walk away from the mix for a day and come back without remembering all the goings-on in perfect detail. Yes, DAWs have ways of telling you there’s automation turned on. But sometimes you don’t get the visual message.
For years I had a workaround: I used to automate volume levels on the last plug-in's output in my chain—unless that plug-in was an analog emulation, where the output would change tonal characteristics. In that case I’d slap on a utility plug for the sole purpose of automating.
This was annoying, to be sure, but because of the way my brain works, it was the workaround I've settled for.
If your brain is similarly vexed, you're in luck: Insight 2's Relay has obviated this workaround. If, after judicious mixing, a whole track is too low in level—and if automation had already been applied—I don't need to grab all the handiwork and move it up a dB or two. I also don't need to hunt around for the best plug-in to raise the level either. By having Relay as the last track in chain, I can just do it there.
Why not a regular utility plug-in for the job? Sure. You could do that. But that never sat well with me, because I don't like having a bunch of gain plug-ins sitting at the end of the chain—instances serving no other purpose than to make me feel inferior about my automation choices!
Relay, on the other hand, handles utility basics and also the aforementioned metering tasks. It's not intended for raising levels alone; it's intended to work with the metering software. I can watch the spectrogram or the Intelligibility Meter and see what raising the gain on Relay does for me, and reach my goal that much faster.
Yes, this comes down to psyching yourself into the right mindspace, but mixing works best when you are comfortable with what you're doing. Relay makes the process more comfortable.
4. Using Easy-to-read Loudness Meters Throughout The Mixing Process
Three different kinds of loudness meters are on hand in Insight 2 by default: momentary, short term, and integrated. All three have their uses when working a mix, and thanks to the new interface in Insight 2, you can resize these meters so they occupy only a corner of your screen, giving you a constant yet unassuming check if need be.
The difference in momentary, short term, and integrated has to do with how much time the meter uses to glean its reading. Momentary is the shortest (100 ms per 400 ms block of time), short term is mid-range length (1 second per 3 second block of time), and integrated lasts as long as you’ve initiated playback, updating to reflect all the changes.
Momentary metering is particularly helpful, I find, in clip-gaining a vocal (or any melodic element) to make sure it’s occupies a relatively even level. If the momentary reading drops or raises by too much of a variant during a given phrase, its possible the word or note is too far outside the range you’d want.
Sure, compression might help, but we’re talking about the subtle hand of clip-gaining before plug-ins, where you can make a big difference, smoothing out dynamics without impacting performance or causing sonic issues. Here, watching the momentary meter can be of service in helping you make the call.
You wouldn’t use the Intelligibility Meter for this purpose, because you wouldn’t be comparing the vocals to the rest of the mix in this instance. In this usage, where you’re trying to achieve vocal consistency in and of itself during an editing task, the momentary meter can be of enormous value.
Short term is helpful for keeping an eye on how loud your mix is at the present section. Mastering engineers often keep an eye on this meter when working the overall levels of a chorus, a verse, et cetera.
Integrated loudness gives you a comprehensive view of how loud your entire mix is over the whole playback. In mastering, it’s often used when determining whether an entire song is the right loudness for a streaming service.
However this measurement can also be useful in a mixing contest. if you’re working on a mix linearly, and you find the integrated loudness value has either snow-dived or skyrocketed, you know you have a problem.
To be clear: What I’m talking about here is not comparing loudness between sections, but working linearly across the whole song and finding a latter section wanting. Whereas short term loudness can help you determine that something went screwy in the last chorus (with its three-second range) integrated loudness can help you determine that something is off across the duration of the song—provided you’re working a pass from start to finish (not looped or cycled sections, and without stops and starts). As such, it is a useful check against your senses should you be experiencing ear fatigue.
Yes, there are other facets of Insight 2 we haven’t had time to cover in depth. I think the biggest one I skirted over was the music production presets in the Layout section, which allow you to instantly change the layout of the GUI to suit a given mixing task. Another is Relay’s ability to re-align stereo signals and correct phasing issues in this manner. But I think these four are quite representative of the benefits this metering plug-in gives you, not just for post, but for stereo music production. These meters have certainly made my life easier in the short time I’ve been playing with them, and I’m willing to bet you’ll have a similar insight, too.
Sorry for the pun.