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Review: Sonarworks Reference 4 Studio Edition for audio calibration

By David Hurd

What is a flat monitoring system, and how does it benefit those mixing audio? Well, this is something I’ll be addressing in this review of Sonarworks Reference 4 Studio Edition, but first some background…

Having a flat audio system simply means that whatever signal goes into the speakers comes out sonically pure, exactly as it was meant to. On a graph, it would look like a straight line from 20 cycles on the left to 20,000 cycles on the right.

A straight, flat line with no peaks or valleys would indicate unwanted boosts or cuts at certain frequencies. There is a reason that you want this for your monitoring system. If there are peaks in your speakers at the hundred-cycle mark on down you get boominess. At 250 to 350 cycles you get mud. At around a thousand cycles you get a honkiness as if you were holding your nose when you talked, and too much high-end sounds brittle. You get the idea.

Before

After

If your system is not flat, your monitors are lying to your ears and you can’t trust what you are hearing while you mix.

The problem arises when you try to play your audio on another system and hear the opposite of what you mixed. It works like this: If your speakers have too much bass then you cut some of the bass out of your mix to make it sound good to your ears. But remember, your monitors are lying, so when you play your mix on another system, the bass is missing.

To avoid this problem, professional recording studios calibrate their studio monitors so that they can mix in a flat-sounding environment. They know that what they hear is what they will get in their mixes, so they can happily mix with confidence.

Every room affects what you hear coming out of your speakers. The problem is that the studio monitors that were close to being flat at the factory are not flat once they get put into your room and start bouncing sound off of your desk and walls.

Sonarworks
This is where Sonarwork’s calibration mic and software come in. They give you a way to sonically flatten out your room by getting a speaker measurement. This gives you a response chart based upon the acoustics of your room. You apply this correction using the plugin and your favorite DAW, like Avid Pro Tools. You can also use the system-wide app to correct sound from any source on your computer.

So let’s imagine that you have installed the Sonarworks software, calibrated your speakers and mixed a music project. Since there are over 30,000 locations that use Sonarworks, you can send out your finished mix, minus the Sonarworks plugins since their room will have different acoustics, and use a different calibration setting. Now, the mastering lab you use will be hearing your mix on their Sonarworks acoustically flat system… just as you mixed it.

I use a pair of Genelec studio monitors for both audio projects and audio-for-video work. They were expensive, but I have been using them for over 15 years with great results. If you don’t have studio monitors and just choose to mix on headphones, Sonarworks has you covered.

The software will calibrate your headphones.

There is an online product demo at sonarworks.com that lets you select which headphones you use. You can switch between bypass and the Sonarworks effect. Since they have already done the calibration process for your headphones, you can get a good idea of the advantages of mixing on a flat system. The headphone option is great for those who mix on a laptop or small home studio. It’s less money as well. I used my Sennheiser HD300 Pro series headphones.

I installed Sonarworks on my “Review” system, which is what I use to review audio and video production products. I then tested Sonarworks on both Pro Tools 12 music projects and video editing work, like sound design using a sound FX library and audio from my Blackmagic Ursa 4.6K camera footage. I was impressed at the difference that the Sonarworks software made. It opened my mixes and made it easy to find any problems.

The Sonarworks Reference 4 Studio Edition takes your projects to a whole new level, and finally lets you hear your work in a sonically pure and flat listening environment.

My Review System
The Sonarworks Reference 4 Studio Edition was tested on
my Mac Pro 6-core trash can running High Sierra OSX, 64GB RAM, 12GB of RAM on the D700 video cards; a Blackmagic UltraStudio 4K box; four G-Tech G-Speed 8TB RAID boxes with HighPoint RAID controllers; Lexar SD and Cfast card readers; video output viewed a Boland 32-inch broadcast monitor; a Mackie mixer; a Complete Control S25 keyboard; and a Focusrite Clarett 4 Pre.

Software includes Apple FCPX, Blackmagic Resolve 15 and Pro Tools 12. Cameras used for testing are a Blackmagic 4K Production camera and the Ursa Mini 4.6K Pro, both powered by Blueshape batteries.


David Hurd is production and post veteran who owns David Hurd Productions in Tampa. You can reach him at david@dhpvideo.com.


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