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13 April 2015

iZOTOPE RX 4 Review £239 / $349
iZOTOPE RX 4 ADVANCED Review £815 / $1,199

It seems like only 18 months since this very organ (then MuzoBlog) sang the praises of iZotope’s audio-perfecting suite RX 3 in both its standard and Advanced versions. Since then, industry awards have sallied forth proclaiming the title’s sound-polishing modules an “Outstanding Technical Achievement” (NAMM 2015 TEC award) and a “Technical Achievement In Post Production” (Cinema Audio Society 50th annual awards).

Talking about cinema, The Hobbit audio guy Ray Beejentles has been doing just that (see interview), describing RX 3’s successor a “game changer” by which more than 80 per cent of the WingNut film’s original production recordings were saved before blending into automated dialogue replacement (ADR) - impressive. “With RX 4 Denoiser, we were able to use lines from The Hobbit that would have been thrown away during The Lord Of The Rings,” he enthuses.

However, there’s more to RX than optimising orc-tongue. Skip to 2013's FellKlang RX 3 review to discover how much of a music studio essential this software has become, from taming background uglies, thru surgically removing unwanted clanks and parps blighting individual takes, to prepping mixes for commercial release. The conclusions reached in 2013 apply just as much today, but first, a video just so we know we're all on the same webpage…

From that quick tour, and the 2013 review, you'll have a good idea of what iZotope's audio finessing suite can do to fix and enhance recorded audio. Painting out pesky artefacts - minor blips, or even entire frequency ranges - is a cinch in Spectral view. And there are few other tools that can touch it when making global changes to an audio file. All that plus extensive undo, which remains accessible even when you've saved and closed a file, makes for the kind of super-slick, non-destructive workflow that professionals demand.

Writing in Sound On Sound magazine, Eric Persing says: "I have now been using iZotope RX2 since it was released in 2010. Apart from the DAW itself, it is the one piece of software that I have found to be indispensable, and I have used it on pretty much every mastering session." But is it worth the upgrade to RX 4? iZotope's website lists and describes the new features available, many canted towards those working in post, but we want a music-producer's take on things. So cop for this lot, starting with new tools in standard RX.

The plan with the Dialogue Denoiser is to remove background rubbish automatically, minimising the amount of ADR necessary. However, project-studio pilots will likely see it as a godsend, considering the amount of almost subliminal clag a-lurk in most recording venues. The noise of the central heating, next-door's always-on washing machine, even The Hum; it all adds up when multi-tracking acoustic sources. DD and the new Adaptive Hum Removal tackling irregular electrical interference, plus its harmonics, serve to blitz background rubbish without having to mess with track-by-track noise-printing for noise removal.

Another tool aimed at managing dialog, thus avoiding the use of automated track volume, upward expansion and/or compression, is Clip Gain.

It provides a non-destructive way to fine-tune the levels of short, or long, audio elements by establishing and adjusting nodes on a horizontal line. If just one syllable or note is a tad loud or quiet, CG enables you to non-destructively tweak it, leaving surrounding audio unaltered.

Here’s a video showing the hugely useful Clip Gain in action, along with Leveler, a feature of RX 4 Advanced…

The new features in standard RX primarily focus on saving time, and perhaps the one worth making a song and dance about is RX Connect. It enables you to flip single or multiple audio clips from your DAW into the RX environment, do the necessaries and flip them back into the DAW, greatly streamlining workflow. The iZotope website has a list of which sequencers can see RX Connect as a VST/AU plug-in, while Pro Tools implementation is via the AudioSuite menu. We even have video to show how it works with PT’s hardware-hogging tendency…

Moving on, RX 4 Advanced is quite a leap in price, as Ask Audio Mag's review says: "...if you’re buying Advanced for the first time, it’s a healthy investment. But you simply cannot find a better audio repair program anywhere." The fat price ticket is somewhat mitigated by inclusion of the Insight suite of metering tools, which offers enough visual feedback to provide possible respite from even morbid monitoring OCD. But there's more to be had and iZotope’s ‘What’s New’ list highlights a couple of features that should summon the blood.

EQ Match and Ambience Match prove invaluable when aiming to homogenise acoustic recordings. The former can learn the EQ of a reference clip and apply its curve to another clip. Not only can you match up the EQ characteristics of parts recorded on different gear, you could rob another producer’s EQ. If you’re crazy about the sound of a particular recording, analyse it and drop the curve onto your own track, or entire mix. Let’s see someone try to bring a court case against that kind of copying.

Ambience Match, meanwhile, has little to do with marrying up parts recorded in multiple venues of wildly varying acoustics. Instead, it to add noise - yes, there is method in this. In movies, location recordists will capture a ‘wild track’ of such background ambient sounds as traffic rumble, wind in the trees, the howling torment of the damned... Well, it depends on the movie, but you get the idea.

If you’ve made a location recording in order to capture the feel of a particular place and do not wish to clean it up with Dialog Denoiser, then there’ll be a problem if you decide to drop in a dry re-take back at the studio. Ambience Match learns background burbling from the master take so it can be applied to the drop-in. It’s a handy facility to have if the idea is to include background ambience as part of the music.

We’ve seen Leveler, also new to RX 4 Advanced, demonstrated above in the Clip Gain video. Its potential for balancing vocals and other tracked material, without introducing noise, is impressive. In fact, RX 4 is highly impressive overall, as the music-tech media has not been shy to point out.

"Ultimately, few other tools can rescue ... damaged audio like RX 4 does, and for that alone it's a tool few professional users will want to be without," says MusicTech.

Computer Music
, meanwhile, says: "RX 4 is a significant and impressive update for existing users, and those completely new to the software will be simply blown away by its functionality and sound. Of particular note, RX 4 is much better at handling vocal recordings than its predecessors and, indeed, the competition."

After trying out the new tools on offer, FellKlang reaches the same verdict. RX has been an essential in the Fell Surgery since the product came out (2007, if memory serves). The means to edit audio in the spectral domain just by selecting anomalies and interpolating them away has been mighty in rescuing many a slightly flawed take, as well as cleaning up whole mixes captured live. There’s rarely a file that cannot benefit from RX polish and, as you’ll have gathered from the FellKlang review of RX 3, each new version brings manifold benefits. All this without bloating the application into Microsoft Word-like dysfunction.

If you’re buying in for the first time, and a non-professional, Advanced is likely to be beyond budget and rather a lot to take in, although it’s remarkable how quickly one can master its many facilities - something that speaks volumes about iZotope’s knack for elegant software design. Existing RX users have the advantage of upgrade offers and will not want to forgo the extras available in RX 4 - they're well worth the money.

Overall, a big win for iZotope. The previous RX picked up a TEC award at Winter NAMM this year - let’s see if its successor is good for an encore. And now, here’s a video playlist a-slop with what else the developer is eager for you to know...

10-day demo download from iZotope: RX 4 & RX 4 Advanced
iZotope Store & RX 4 product page
RX 4 serial download from Time+Space: £239
RX 4 Advanced serial download from Time+Space: £815

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