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Review: iZotope Nectar

Audio people are inherently different from other folk. We’re enthralled in a separate sub-cultural free of cute kitten YouTube videos, Farmville, and Darren Criss melting hearts on Glee. Instead you’re probably more likely to find us geeking out over new audio products or arguing– errr, discussing in online forums.

iZotope is one of those companies that repeatedly leads the industry in innovative products and algorithms and cause a healthy amount of discussion. They even license their technologies to other companies who are making applications. I know my audio friends and I cannot avoid feeling giddy with excitement to try their latest and greatest plug-ins.

This past November iZotope unveiled Nectar at AES in San Francisco and almost immediately the excited chatter (and arguments) began.

iZotope Nectar Review

iZotope Nectar is a plug-in designed to handle all of your vocal processing needs through a collection of 11 processing modules: Pitch, Breath Control, Gate, Saturation, Doubler, EQ, De-Esser, Compressors, Limiter, Reverb, and Delay.

Like most iZotope products, Nectar is an incredibly deep and flexible plug-in allowing you to tweak both the algorithm and emulation properties of each processor, as well as the UI and meter displays.

Simple

The default view of Nectar is about one thing– creativity. This is the perfect interface for producers and song writers who are too busy creating to become bogged down with a lot of parameters. When inspiration strikes, brevity is of the utmost importance.

Choose a preset by genre and style (Pop -> Boy Band, Backing Vocals, Pop Princess, etc.). Quickly tweak the de-esser, breath control, and gate with single fader interfaces. The pitch correction features an automatic setting (based on a scale) with one fader to adjust the correction speed. Saturation and compression are quickly adjusted via the “Levels” section, featuring the parameters Preamp and Loudness. Reverb is controlled by just three sliders: Wet/Dry, Size, and Color. A basic parametric EQ resides at the bottom of the window. Depending on the preset, the last category will be labeled an abstract name such as Shape, Poke, Process, Whisp and Evil. These parameters don’t have technical names for a reason– creativity & speed.

The default interface is designed for users who want to quickly establish a sound without getting bogged down by details.

Advanced

The Advanced View allows you to alter the signal flow between modules and tweak each to its fullest potential. This view is definitely for engineers to properly build their own vocal chains or tweak an existing preset to perfection. Below are my reactions to each module.

De-Esser: Basic threshold and frequency parameters are available, but I would love to be able to tweak the Q of the frequency. It would also be nice to solo the band of frequencies being compressed. It does a decent job but can definitely begin to dull the top end of the track if used too much.

Pitch: The pitch correction feature should be taken seriously– it is definitely more than just an FX. It has a graphical pitch editor which captures note data during a real time process and stores a reference file on your hard drive. Nectar’s pitch correction is “Timeline Sensitive”– it will respect new edits on the vocal track without recapturing data. Unlike Melodyne, this reference file is not a new pitch corrected audio file but instead is just a guide for the real time pitch correction. This is incredibly nice when vocal lines are edited or removed after pitch correction has happened. In this situation, the Melodyne Plug-In would continue to play the pitch corrected audio file regardless of a missing region or edits on the timeline.  Nectar has Correction Speed, Strength and Formant Shift settings for each note. Additionally, notes can be split or merged a la Melodyne. Unfortunately, Nectar does not play the note as you shift its pitch. I find this feature to be invaluable when using Melodyne.

Breath Control: “Breaths Only” mode makes setting the sensitivity a lot easier. I have never had great luck with any breath supressor plug-ins. I prefer to manually automate the level of my vocalist’s breaths, because each part of the performance and song is unique. In my opinion, it’s not something that should be left up to an objective machine.

Gate: It has standard controls (threshold, ratio, attack, release, gain) and worked well for me. It is also nice to have a choice between RMS and Peak detection.

Doubler: Features up to four additional voices, which can be pitched up or down an octave. The Panning & Gain and Delay & Pitch parameters for each voice are controlled by x-y plots, which can be adjusted to globally control parameters on all four voices– I really like this part of the interface. High-pass and low-pass filters with adjustable Qs are also available.  I got some decent sounds out of the doubler, but have never been a huge fan of artificial doubling. It always tends to sound fake– maybe because it is. I would much rather comp together leftover takes for alternate voices.

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EQ: Contains five bands with adjustable Q and filter types (Bell, Low-Shelf, High-Shelf, LP, Sharp LP, High-Pass, Sharp HP). The click and drag interface makes it very easy to adjust Q and gain right on the graph– nothing revolutionary but still nice. Alt/Option clicking outside of the bands will allow you to solo a band, which can be useful when sweeping frequencies.

Compressor: Features various emulation types (Digital, Vintage, Optical, Solid-State). I personally liked the Optical and Solid-State settings the best. I really liked the ability to parallel compress between two compressors within the same interface.

Saturation: Sounds good for adding a bit of grit to your signal using various emulation settings: Analog, Retro, Tape, Tube, Warm. It has a one band Hi-Shelf cut EQ, which has a minimum frequency of 1kHz. I found the EQ useful to remove the harshness that can be a byproduct of oversaturating, while leaving the newly created warmth in the signal.

Limiter: Standard limiter, which seemed to work well on the test vocals. The margin control boosts the signal to reach the prescribed gain setting, which is essentially an auto-gain.

Delay: It has standard controls (Mix, Delay Time, Feedback, Low & High Cutoff, Modulation, and sync to host) and features three emulation modes: Digital, Tape, and Analog. The Tape and Analog emulation modes saturate the delay adding extra grit to the signal controlled by the “Trash” parameter.

Reverb: Customizable digital reverb that features a number of modes– Modern Plate, Vintage Plage, Echo Plate, Damaged Plate, Rounded Hall, Thin Hall, and Cathedral. The color parameter changes the spectral balance as the reverb is being processed instead of after the reverb– I really like the idea of this but would also like to see an EQ post reverb. I often depend on EQing the reverb separately from the vocal, but, unfortunately, couldn’t think of a way to accomplish this within Nectar. The reverb is useful, but I’m honestly a sucker for convolution reverbs. Regardless, kudos to iZotope for providing such a flexible reverb.

Latency

Processing all eleven of these modules is bound to create latency. Luckily, iZotope includes both a Tracking mode and Mixing mode. Tracking mode turns Nectar into a near zero latency plug-in. It reduces the latency by switching to slightly lower quality, but efficient algorithms and disabling processor intensive modules (Breath Control). Mixing mode processes all audio at the highest quality possible.

The most processor hungry module is by far the Breath Control. It creates a whopping 26,623 samples of delay! This is a major problem for Pro Tools users who have a maximum of 4,000 samples of Automatic Delay Compensation. Fortunately, users of Logic Pro have no limit for Automatic Delay Compensation and can handle the Breath Control latency with ease.

Conclusion

iZotope has yet again created a great plug-in that provides both simple and advanced controls to allow both novice and professional users to make the most out of the deep feature set. I’ve heard a lot of claims on various forums that this is the best/worst plug-in iZotope has ever made. I’m sure both of these claims are correct, depending on each individual’s workflow and personal style, but I have to say that this plug-in does not lack options. If you can’t make a vocal sound decent using Nectar, the plug-in is not the problem.

It’s impossible for me to tell you whether Nectar will be the right plug-in for you, but I can confidently recommend checking it out for yourself. Nectar is one of the most fully featured vocal plug-ins on the market today. Try out a free, 10-day trial here.

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Chris Conover

Chris Conover

I'm one half of remix production duo EarthMoonEarth, do sound design for Google, and have a lot of talented friends who trust me to mix their tracks. Follow me @chris_conover

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