Izotope Alloy 2 Review: The Good, the Bad, And the Purely Ugly

What Is It?

It’s a channel strip on steroids and brain food.

A Few Quick Thoughts On iZotope Alloy 2

  • I originally discounted iZotope’s products for some time because they looked too much like the boxes for really bad soundcards and video cards at Best Buy.
  • The iZotope stuff appears to be more popular in electronic music circles. It’s my view that this is due to the graphics of the plugin more than anything sonic.
  • Probably about a year ago I posted a thread stating that I hated EQs that drew the frequency response curve. I tended to mix with my eyes too much. I officially retract that statement….at least in the case of iZotope Alloy 2 review.
  • It’s fair to say that the iZotope Alloy has made my life A LOT easier. If they took my review copy away I’d buy it in 10 seconds. (Don’t tell iZotope that.)
  • Extremely low CPU usage….crazy low. I have no idea how they do it. No one else in this ballpark seems to.

Extremely low CPU usage….crazy low. I have no idea how they do it. No one else in this ballpark seems to.

iZotope Alloy Equalizer

The EQ is absolutely outstanding.

Hang on! I get sick of hearing people rant and rave about something like EQ UNLESS that EQ has something really special about it.

A hardware API 550a is probably worth ranting about. It does SOMETHING sonically. The same for the 1073 EQ or even the Chameleon 7602 EQ. When it comes to plugins, I rarely feel like “AH HA! That EQ has personality in ways that get things done!” It does happen.

The UAD Manley Massive Passive comes to mind. Some EQs are a little bit more “slick” in how they do what they do, but ultimately it still works using them…

I’m not sure if the Alloy EQ sounds great or not as I haven’t really used a bad EQ plugin in a while. Ruling out character issues that exist with no human intervention (great sounding hardware equalizers and such), saying an EQ sounds great is like saying a shoe runs fast. It’s the human that uses an EQ to help his mixes sound better just like a runner uses the shoe to help him/her run fast.

I have many, many EQs. Many of them are useful tools, but never in my life have I encountered an EQ that makes ME better. I’m imagining a bad romantic comedy where some hunk with a bank suit he’s worn for 4 days with the top two buttons missing says, “YOU make me a better man!” Jennifer Lopez says, “Do me!”. blah blah blah

There’s something about this EQ that feels like a scientist who understood human behavior got it right. I don’t know what else to say except this:

Yesterday I was mixing a song I didn’t track. I didn’t love the stock vocal. I ran that vocal through my Empirical Labs Lil’ Freq and Universal Audio LA3A. After 20 minutes I just couldn’t get it right. I either had too much bottom or too much top (or any of the bajillion frequencies in the middle.) I switched from the LA3A to the Distressor. Nope. That wasn’t doing it either. I switched to the Alloy. I was 98% happy in 5 minutes.

You had me at “Hello”.

I can’t say anything about what gear sounds better. All I know is I sounded better with the Alloy. No question. I’m rethinking my life just a bit, actually.

iZotope Alloy 2 GUI

Back to the GUI. I’m convinced that the GUI is where the money is on the iZotope Alloy 2. I’ve seen a lot of GUIs. A part of me still believes that a person should use their ears and not their eyes.

That’s a given.

It’s another thing entirely to see where that one stupid little spike is and nuke him. I appreciated these visual clues and it made doing not-so-fun surgery a lot more pleasant.

It’s clear to me that the iZotope guys sat down and said, “I mix in the box, how can I do this better? What needs improvement?”

It’s probably not far off from the guy riding the horse asked the day before he built the steam engine.

One thing they immediately did to the EQ was to use 7 bands. Why not?

Compare that to the very, very useful UAD Cambridge (a clone of the Sonnox Oxford), each of the Cambridge’s bands physically stop at certain frequencies. If you decide you need to make a thin cut at 420Hz, you can’t do it with all the bands. Why?

The idea of “staying true” to old designs makes sense in terms of sounds, but who’s gonna make a van with only one door? It just doesn’t make sense. After you’ve worked with the Alloy 2, these kinds of limitations feel like a smack in the face that waste your time.

Accepting the fact that a computer has shortcomings as well as huge benefits that Bill Putman or Alexander Grand Bell couldn’t exploit at the time is the first step in making better recordings with computers. It takes a couple of crazed, forward-thinking people to come up with this way of working.

So after seeing what iZotope can do with a GUI that makes me a better engineer, it’s really really really hard for me to utilize gear that intentionally wastes my time due to limitations that no longer exist.

iZotope Alloy Exciter

The Exciter is a game changer for me. In particular, the stereo version of the plugin is a game changer. The stereo exciter in multiband mode aggressively exciting 7k and up with the width cranked is a sound I’ve wanted for a while on individual tracks.

I had to cram more signal into the input to get the kind of “stuff” up top I wanted sometimes, but man is that thing fun. I really liked how I could set it for crazy amounts of distortion to get my settings right and then slowly move towards even harmonics and sneak in that sound just lightly. Very, very fun. I’m using it all over the place lately on vocals, acoustic guitars, synths, and ever overheads.

Compression

The compressor is very utilitarian and appears to be rather neutral. It has no obvious sound with the threshold up at 0dB. There will be times when I require my UAD 1176 or LA2A for their inherent color as I don’t hear any obvious character in the Alloy.

The compressor is fairly neutral, but it’s a great all-around tool Only a handful of compressor plugins I’ve used have significant character anyway (all of them UAD). The fact that it’s there is very helpful as it’s so fast to make one click to turn it on and tweak. I like that they included two compressors in the channel strip. That isn’t common.

Multiband Compression

The multi-band compressor is highly useful, too. Switching either compressor to multi-band takes one click and it’s done. Switching from standard compression to multi-band is one click away. This keeps your head in the game. It takes 6 seconds to load up a new compressor plugin. In the case of my UAD Multiband (my generally favorite multi-band compressor) I have to then check how much of my UAD-2 Quad I’ve chewed up. It’s distracting.

With the Alloy, it’s one click to switch from any processor within Alloy to the compressor. It’s another click to switch to multi-band mode. This is a better, more fun way of working.

The Multiband compressor works. I don’t get too wound up about these things one way or another. It does it’s job and it does it with less BS. Sold.

Gate

I didn’t play with the gate much. I don’t use them very often anyway. It seemed about like most of the other gates I’ve played with. Again, multiband was a click away and very interesting.

De-esser

The de-esser wasn’t bad. I prefer my hardware options when that’s a big problem (the LA3A is a damn good de-esser even though it’s not called that. My Lil’ Freq has an excellent de-esser. I like the UAD Precision De-esser, too, although I’m really falling in love with the UAD Fatso Sr now that I’ve taken the time to really learn it..

It never hurts to have another flavor and the Alloy allows you to get very picky with specific frequencies. Again, the GUI often helps determine where the problems rest and does so faster than any de-esser I’ve ever encountered. (I tend to suck at identifying “ess” frequencies for whatever reason and appreciate the GUI saving my butt).

For narrow, high-Q, “ringing” sibilance, this de-esser is hard to beat. When the RTA thing says the sibilance is kinda even across the board, I couldn’t ever get the caliber of results I get elsewhere. It just left me wrinkling my nose when that was a problem. I blame that on user error.

Brickwall Limiter

I’m not used to using a brickwall limiter on individual tracks. When I gave it a try, it seemed to be a really bold sound. I’m not sure if that was just me hearing the track a lot louder in relation to the rest of the mix or what, but it seemed to be quite colored, which surprised me. When I did use it, I just BARELY used it. Again, that’s a technique that I’m not used to using.

Outstanding Presets

I’m usually not a preset guy. In fact, I hate presets most of the time because the creator rarely has enough information for that “Magic Sound 32” to actually sound magical on my track at hand.

With the Alloy, they’ve got enough processors where some of their bold 60’s sounding vocals actually seem to work. On more than one vocal I grabbed some random preset just to see what creative road it would take me down.

Every time it was something interesting. It may not have been exactly what I was looking for but all of them have real character. For less-technical dudes, the presets are AWESOME on this thing.

The Alloy On 2bus

They don’t market the Alloy as a 2bus/mastering gadget. The man can’t hold me down, though. I’m out of control.

Stereo Widener

I tossed the Alloy on 2bus. Never in my life have I heard a widener do THAT. I mean it sounded like my monitors were 12′ apart. I said, “Oh hell, I know how this works. Mono is trashed.” So I pushed the mono button on the console. To my eyebrow-wrinkling astonishment, the mix didn’t break.

It was obviously not as wide, but just to make sure I wasn’t crazy I bypassed the widener. I’d say the mono mix changed 1%. It was negligible in terms of mono compatibility. 12′ for 1%. Yeah, I’ll take it.

Usually, these wideners sound 3” wider and when you listen in mono it sounds like a different song. This is the best widener on the planet. I can’t wait to get my immature little paws on the Ozone. I got a feeling it’s better. We’ll see.

Note: I actually didn’t pan my drums as wide after turning on the widener. The drum were too wide. That’s never happened to me before.

Brickwall Limiter

I turned on the brickwall limiter on the 2bus. I didn’t love it. I got the feeling that’s not what it was designed for.

Here lately I’ve been using UAD Maximizer exclusively. I want to point out that this is NOT the UAD Limiter. The UAD Maximizer is kinda sorta a mild distorter. It’s not a tube distortion or tape emulator, but it’s a nudge in that ballpark. It just so happens to have brickwall limiting options. I think it sounds awesome on rock stuff and I’ve grown to love it on other things

I tend not to love clean brickwall limiters, but instead like processors that are good at being dirty. (I heard one guy on Pensado’s Place uses Decapitator on 2bus. Another guy intentionally clips the 2bus and likes it better than brickwall limiters.) Anyway, my point is this brickwall limiting on 2bus thing is a pretty strange thing both technically and subjectively. I’ve found one I like and I tend not to love the do-nothing brickwall limiters because they ALWAYS end up doing something and that’s where the idea of being “clean” breaks down.

I’m not sure I’d consider the Alloy brickwall limiter to be a clean one as it definitely does something, but I couldn’t get what I wanted from it on 2bus. The point of this long rant is to say that I’ve only been happy with a few and those tend to bend the definition of limiter a bit. Again, I suspect Ozone is more in line for this sort of thing. It was worth a try.

Conclusion On iZotope Alloy

For a person with no after market plugins, I rate this a MUST HAVE. Get it now. Get it immediately.

There are no real down sides to it. There are just a few nicer options for very specific functions for those willing to spend the extra bucks. Most people don’t expect the can opener on their Swiss Army knife to beat the one in their kitchen, but the things I didn’t love about the Alloy maybe would give the can opener a run for its money….whatever that means.

The EQ is the kind of thing I recommend everyone trying. I don’t see everyone having a breakthrough with it, but iZotope Alloy is the kind of thing that [U]can[/U] replace expensive hardware. I’m serious. Because of it, I’ll be tossing my Lil’ Freq on Ebay. [Clint Eastwood]Dead serious.[/Clint Eastwood]

It’s not often you encounter a company that obviously uses a different philosophy to make their tools. These types of companies tend to make revolutionary products with big time benefits for those with tastes in line with those products. I have enormous respect for thinking outside of the box particularly when that point of view actually pays off.

I’m not sure how it could have paid off any more or faster than the Alloy. It’s a must have.

I don’t give stars, but this one gets 5.0 out 5.0.

I’m impressed. I can’t wait to get a hold of iZotope Ozone. ;).

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