Studio Callibration

Calibrating your set up in a home studio

The biggest pitfall for any project studio is the scourge of unwanted resonances. While these are present in any untreated space, help is at hand via a range of increasingly adept room calibration packages, which can automatically neutralise the effect of those pesky bouncing sound waves, we speak to a pair of companies at the vanguard…

When kitting out a home studio, it’s likely we’ll spend an inordinate amount of time selecting the best monitors (or headphones) for our listening purposes. But while we might choose a pair of speakers that deliver completely neutral, detailed sound, a bigger issue that often doesn’t get mentioned might be altering our perception of the mix without us even realising it. We’re talking about the frequency-emphasising qualities of your room itself. At worst, when sound waves (at the same frequency with each other) lock into phase they naturally bolster that specific frequency range. When this happens, every decision we make is based on false information.

While the tech in use might be top-notch, we can never be entirely confident that the sound we’re listening to isn’t being corrupted by the physics of our rooms. So, for those vital mix decisions – EQing, compression, applying dynamic effects and everything in-between, we’ll be essentially painting up an inaccurate picture. It’s an image that will change, often quite significantly, once we take it out of this space.

While physical room acoustic treatment and foam panelling can help eradicate particular problem areas in your studio, another solution is to invest in some room calibration software. Companies such as Sonarworks, IK Multimedia, DIRAC and Rode have made particular strides in this domain, establishing a thriving marketplace of intelligent solutions, which make their own determinations of problem areas, usually via a specialised omni-directional microphone. They then suggest some tailored EQ curves that will effectively compensate for these issues.

To stress, this isn’t *removing* the problem frequencies from the room itself. To do that, you’d need to install some physical absorption panels (or enlist the services of a mallet-wielding builder) those waves are still bouncing around, and that’s precisely what the room calibration software adapts to.

Room With A Skew

While the range of solutions on the marketplace might differ in terms of their feature sets, they all rely upon their tailored mic to build a 3D picture of the room. It’s this reading that feeds the sister software the foundation on which specific equalisation is applied to nullify the physical effects of our room. While perfect for smaller home studios, the flexibility of packages like IK Multimedia’s ARC system means that it’s also massively beneficial for those who travel around when producing, or need to mix in multiple studios. Depending on how bad your room might be, the results vary between slightly clearer, to a night-and-day upgrade of your mix’s presentation.

We spoke to IK Multimedia to find out more about the ARC system in particular, and why their package had the edge in this competitive landscape. “The first version of the ARC System dates back to 2007. At that time, the solution was really pioneering. Users quickly discovered and appreciated how much easier it became working when using a calibrated monitoring system.” Explains Davide Barbi, IK Multimedia’s CTO.

“Obviously, the most important function for a correction system to work properly is the measurements, and, therefore, the mic accuracy. MEMS microphone technology, which is used in combination with our ARC System software and our range of studio monitors with built-in ARC processing, has been considerably improving over the years.” Says Barbi. “We also designed a dedicated measurement mic based on a precision MEMS capsule to allow for total unit-to-unit consistency and much more stability over time, age and ambient conditions, basically making the whole system more reliable.” This evolution has lead to IK Multimedia’s latest solution, the ARC System 3. “ARC 3 combines a precision measurement process (with 21 points taken over three height levels) with a state-of-the-art correction algorithm that linearises both the amplitude and phase response, without adding pre-ringing or artefacts.” Davide details, before emphasising that the ultimate goal of the ARC System is to provide the most accurate monitoring picture possible; “The main goal of the ARC System (both the software and the embedded version in studio monitors) is to deliver accurate and reliable monitoring without sacrificing the musicality and usability of the monitors in an artistic context, as is the music creation.”


Lost In Translation

Sonarworks have been at the forefront of room calibration for years, and have now made strides to apply the same tailored sonic profiles to headphones. While most would recommend a neutral pair of cans as a starting point for home mixing, affordable studio-grade headphones are still often inconsistent from each other. SoundID Reference – Sonarworks’ multifaceted room calibration hub – contains tailored profiles of numerous industry-standard headphones, pre-tailored to compensate for their own particular impartations. While the service offers four Target Modes, the ‘Flat Target’ setting is the one that is most angled towards balanced, uncoloured mixing.

We caught up with Sonarworks, and firstly asked them if they could detail the biggest problems most often thrown up by untreated rooms. “First of all, SoundID Reference makes sure that the base response of your room is as tight and as accurate as possible.” Sonarworks co-founder and CPO Martins Popelis explains. “Wrong perception of bass response is often one of the key problems in small untreated rooms that throws producers off guard and leads to mistakes in the mix that don’t sound so good outside your room. Second SoundID Reference removes the random colouration of sound that is caused by sound reflections from various surfaces in the room like walls, tables, mixing consoles etc. Lastly SoundID Reference makes sure that the sound that you hear is neutral and balanced so that you can accurately hear all the details of your mix and are not mixing some critical aspect just because something else in the mix is too loud. All of that leads to very significant improvement in the way how mixes translate from your room to the outer world, ensuring those who listen to your mix will enjoy it.”



Sonarworks has also begun rolling out SoundID for personal audio, which follows an adjacent aim of tailoring your listening devices to the types of frequency responses that you personally like. While a different modus operandi, this development emphasises that really at the heart of ‘correction’ is simply selective EQing based on an ideal listening target. “Our big dream is to rid the world of the ‘translation problem’, as such, so that music creators have to spend exactly zero minutes of their lives worrying how their mixes will translate outside their studios. Calibrating consumer devices to the same reference sound that we bring to studios seemed like a good idea. We thought that if we could achieve that, everyone would hear the same thing and everyone would become happy.” Martins says, “No more hours spent on tweaking the mix to translate after it’s done. This hypothesis proved out to be wrong because a very small subset of the consumers actually like or prefer the studio reference sound.”

SoundID for personal audio, then, is built around the realisation that everyone’s preferred equalisation taste is actually wildly different, and not necessarily in-step with the producer’s intent. “Once we learned this through research, we built SoundID. And yes, it’s absolutely our dream to get to a world where everyone has their own sound profile based on studio reference sound. For producers it would mean that they have to spend zero minutes worrying about translation, they would just know that everyone will listen to their art in the way they enjoy it most. We’re working for this dream every day.”

With these factors in mind, it’s well-worth taking the time to dig deeper into the wider issues that can cause misaligned frequency responses in untreated rooms, and think a little bit more about the tailored types of equalisation, beyond the ultra-flat paradigm, you personally respond to. No sound exists in a vacuum, and understanding how frequencies interact in your room, within your headphones and inside your own ears, will help to refine both your critical and relaxed listening.



Welcome to issue 7 of Audio Media International