Field Report: iZotope Insight

June 1, 2013

During a busy NAB Show this year, I attended a session on loudness specific to TV engineers concerned about the CALM act. So what was I, a radio engineer doing there? It's simple: I don't trust machines. In this case, machines being the needles or LED lights that bounce up and down on our audio consoles. Over the years I've learned the difference between electrical amplitude measurement and perceived loudness. Granted, the radio industry has long had a better grip on loudness control and processing than our TV counterparts. But, in the production studio, especially in critical scenarios where music mastering is of concern, are VU and PPM meters really showing us how loud our mixdowns are? You can decide for yourself, after a brief introduction to iZotope's brand new Insight plugin.

Sadly, tried-and-true metering lacks the ability to show us the nuances of audio mixing. Much more is involved in audio mastering than amplitude levels. iZotope Insight has a complete lineup of mind-blowing meters that have changed the metering game. Insight works as a Direct-X, VST or VST3 plugin on most DAWs and non-linear editing software. It has endless presets that allow the user to see metering scenarios for different environments. I'll start with a description of each meter.

Not your mother's meter bridge

Out of the box, Insight is loaded with metering settings divided into three categories: audio analysis, loudness metering and music production. Within these default settings are numerous metering layouts that display user-customizable windows for displaying each of the meters. Insight works as a real-time plugin and floats on top of current workspace. Increased multiple-screen desktop space is encouraged. Each default preset includes momentary, short term and integrated level meters that appear as garden variety LEDs. The difference, however, lies in each meter's behavior.

  Performance at a glance  
  ■ Various level stats in one view
■ Multiple metering styles in one plug-in
■ Displays potential mix problems
■ Shows loudness history
■ Customizable views

The momentary meter measures levels over a period of 400ms. The short-term meter measures over a period of three seconds and the integrated meter uses complex algorithms enforced by loudness standards (legislated by the United States, EU or Japan, depending on the setting used) to calculate loudness over and indefinite period of time. Insight provides presets for television broadcast and production found in the Loudness Metering section, and for radio, those may be somewhat irrelevant. They are, however, usable to establish a perceived loudness measurement that supersedes the measuring abilities of standard VU and PPM meters. The Audio Analysis and Music Production default settings provide the same aforementioned metering and will be more at home in a radio production environment.

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From an audio analysis perspective, Insight features a 3D Spectogram crawl or waterfall. This psychedelic display shows audio response on a colorful three-dimensional real-time plane that shows sound as it happens with what harmonics are present and their amplitude. The spectrogram essentially draws a picture between 100Hz and 20kHz, or a selectable range. As the audio file is played, the display begins to appear as a mountainous Martian landscape. Brightly colored peaks indicate a higher response than a darker, cooler color. The 3D Spectogram draws the history of frequency and amplitude response as it happens. If it looks too psychedelic, a familiar spectrum analyzer is also available that shows RMS and peak frequency response.

The Averaging Spectrum Analyzer holds the response curve over the frequency range, and shows the constant state of the audio as it is played out. In a situation where an individual track from a mixing session needs analysis, Meter Taps allow the user to route specified audio tracks to Insight. This is useful when isolating one source track for analysis is necessary instead of listening to the entire mix.

Insight also draws a Wall of Sound that looks very akin to spectrum displays found in many editing platforms. As opposed to a waveform, the Wall of Sound shows the audio response in a colorful 30Hz to 20kHz scroll. Much like the 3D Spectogram, the hotter colors represent more amplitude at a certain frequency.

Intense music production

If production suffers in any way the most, it's from inconsistency. An engineer's mood, head congestion or environment can dictate what kind of sound he or she is producing. While best efforts are made in uniform referencing standards and DAW and console presets, mixing and mastering is by nature very subjective. To ward off inconsistent production levels that may ebb and flow over time, Insight allows the user to create pre-defined parameters in which levels must remain. Alarms will alert the user when parameters have been breached.

While the integrated LUFS meter operates within confines of legislation concerning television perceived loudness, the meter is actually very helpful in music and radio production in that it shows the pattern of loudness from the start of an audio clip to the end. For example, the first few seconds of a popular music track played with Insight monitoring real-time begins with a level of -13.2 LUFS (loudness units relative to full digital scale). The waveform seemingly indicates consistent mastering all the way through. However, by the end of the song, we're seeing -8.0 LUFS. The perceived loudness of the song increased considerably over the duration of the track. Insight will bring to light this kind of information by way of using loudness targets that allow producers to achieve consistent loudness goals over the duration of one project or several.

Stereo imaging and phase control are vital aspects of audio production for radio TV production folks alike. Insight's Sound Field uses several different display schemes on a 180-degree field to show where audio is present in relation to left and right. The sound field can also be used for 5.1 surround monitoring. If audio is out of phase, too far left or too far right, Sound Field will display it by way of real-time animated lobes or a spray of pixels that dot the graph, giving a spectacular image of stereo placement.


Insight's metering can be toggled between dB and dBFS. Buffers can be set to optimize CPU usage during real-time metering. The Loudness Overflow Automation feature can be utilized with DAWs to mark on a track when loudness parameters were exceeded. This is a major time saver and indicator of where level infractions happened per the user's loudness targets. Additionally, the Preset Manager offers several starting points for Insight's metering displays and customized user presets can also be saved and recalled. iZotope's Insight is a handy tool for any production team that is concerned with creating consistency and maximizing perceived loudness. As a plug-in that hangs out nicely with software and DAWs, Insight goes the extra mile to deliver top-quality mastered audio to listeners.

Wygal is the programmer and engineer for Victory FM at Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA.

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