Getting the perfect vocal sound can be a tricky business. Alex Holmes finds out if iZotope’s new plug-in suite can deliver some sweet harmonies in our review of iZotope’s Nectar 2
£214 (upgrade options available)
Windows (XP, x64, 7, 8) Mac OS X 10.6.8 or later (Intel-based Macs only)
AAX (Pro Tools 11), RTAS/AudioSuite (Pro Tools 7.4-10), VST and VST3, Audio Unit
Once you have a certain range of plug-ins you can generally mix and match them to complete any task that arises, but this can sometimes be confusing, leaving you with a power hungry channel strip that’s stacked up with inserts. There is then, something to be said for all-in-one channel strip solutions, especially when they’re fine tuned and focussed on a particular instrument or task. The Nectar 2 Vocal Production Suite is one such collection, with a range of effects and processors aimed at getting the best out of your vocal tracks.
Nectar of the Gods
Although the main elements of Nectar 2 are bundled up in a single plug-in, iZotope has seen fit to put the Breath Control and Pitch Editor as separate items. This makes sense, given the complexity and required GUI space of the Pitch Editor, and the quality and usefulness of the Breath Control plug-in, which could then potentially slot in to your standard vocal channel strip without the need for inserting the full Nectar 2. These two additions aside, you’ll find the following modules inside the main plug-in; EQ, 2 compressors (working in parallel), Gate, Limiter, DeEsser, saturation, Pitch Control, Reverb, Delay, FX, and a Harmony Module .
Several of the modules remain fairly unchanged from the original Nectar, such as the compressors, gate, de-esser, breath control, pitch and saturation, although many now feature much clearer dynamic feedback, with an extremely useful gain trace graph. Although the delay also looks similar, there are now separate wet dry sliders, and the quality has been greatly improved, allowing you to do smooth real-time time changes without affecting the pitch, or massive analogue-style pitch sweeps. The enhanced EQ has been lifted from Alloy 2 and features a spectrogram and multiple curve options. Reverb was never a strong point on the original Nectar, so for Nectar 2, iZotope concentrated on modelling an EMT140 plate reverb, which gives a rich and dense sound. This faired well when compared to the UAD equivalent, but we found the decay times a little limiting as they only go down to 1.0s, and up to 5.0s, although this is due to the accurate modelling of the original unit
New to Nectar 2 is the FX module, which includes an overdrive distortion with decimate option, Modulate section with phase, flange and chorus, and an intriguing Repeat section with echo and shred modes for stuttering effects. All can be sync’d to tempo, allowing you to add subtle movement or craft more wild sounds. Another key selling point is the Harmony module, which is actually an upgraded version of Nectar 1’s Doubler. You can specify a key, or play the track and engage the useful key detection function, then add up to four harmony parts that can have their own volume, pan, pitch, and delay settings.
Although this will never sound as good as genuine backing vocals, it can be used to quickly create a thickening layer to your track. You can even play MIDI chords into the plug-in so you could generate a harmony performance of up to twelve vocals in real time, although due to the architecture of certain hosts, this isn’t possible in all DAWs. You could however, easily automate the root and scale so the harmonies follow your track. Finally, we have the Pitch Editor, which works much like the plug-in version of Melodyne where you capture the monophonic audio into the plug-in, then tweak the pitch and vibrato from the GUI. If your DAW doesn’t have a decent pitch correction tool, then this is highly usable, and a great value addition to the package. However, Cubase, Logic, Studio One and Sonar are some examples of DAWs that now have high quality integrated pitch manipulation, so you’ll probably end up sticking to those.
On the surface, some may consider Nectar 2 to be quite expensive when compared to Alloy 2 and Ozone 5. However, when you look at what you’re actually getting, it’s an impressive package. The Harmony module with MIDI control is a often something only found on expensive pedals or stand-alone software, and the FX module opens up the sound design potential, making this one of iZotope’s most versatile plug-ins to date. We were able to dial in good vocal sounds quickly using the excellent presets, but also then go in deep with further editing and fine tuning. Fundamentally though, we felt like the quality of the reverb, delay, and pitch algorithms has been greatly improved, resulting in a slick and more professional sounding plug-in.
+ Lots of effects/processors for your money
+ New FX module is great fun for sound design
+ Improved, dense sounding EMT140 modelled reverb
+ Smooth delay and high quality pitch effects
+ Well designed presets for different genres, special FX and dialogue
– Reverb decay times are a bit narrow
– Harmony module MIDI in won’t work in all DAWs
– Pitch Editor redundant when used with certain DAWs
Nectar 2 keeps the best bits form the original, but updates it’s algorithms and GUI to offer a more pro sounding plug-in. There are also a wealth of useful and unique new features to help you get the best sounding vocal track, and also to spark your creativity.
Vocal effects and processing suite with improved GUI and metering
Harmony module with MIDI input
EMT140 modelled plate reverb
Separate Pitch Editor and Breath Control plug-ins
FX module with 7 new effects
150+ Genre specific presets