Speaker Calibration for Recording and Mixing Music and Other Audio Projects

This article contains Amazon affiliate links which help support the DGTRS web site.

If ever there was a topic that I’ve been redundant about in Real Home Recording videos it’s speaker calibration. It is the process in which a measurement microphone is used then software magic happens to provide a reference frequency balance.

Speaker calibration systems also take into account the room that your speakers are in. Even if you have flat frequency speakers (typically they are measured in an anechoic chamber which no normal human being records/mixes in) their frequency balance will change depending on your room acoustics. This is a topic that I’ve talked about in numerous RHR videos:

Back in 2008 is when I became aware of what I call the “chase your tail” problem. The studio I recorded/mixed out had very nice speakers (also called monitors) but when I would listen to mixes on other speaker systems/headphones my music would change. Sometimes quite drastically! At some point I became made aware of software from IK Multmedia called Advanced Room Correction or ARC for short. ARC is something I very much wanted to use but it had a high price tag of $600!

At the time, IK offered software crossgrade discounts so when they sold a plugin for $50 I had “Studio B’s” owner jump on it. ARC was discounted to I believe $350-400 but it was well worth it. Remixes still had to be made but it enabled me to get mixes a lot closer to where they needed to be.

ARC 2 was eventually released and I upgraded to that as well. But there was still the nagging issue of having to bypass it in order to mix the high end. So, in 2015 I became aware of a new company on the block (to me, anyway) called Sonarworks. They were releasing version 3 of their Reference speaker calibration software and it was finally going to be available on Windows operating systems!

Reference 3 not only can calibrate speaker systems but headphones as well. Technically headphones are speakers you where on your head but whatever. Unfortunately, just like ARC back in 2009 there is no way to demo the speaker system without buying the microphone but the headphone side of things you can. So I did and made a review:

The mixes I did with Reference 3 and a pair of Audio-Technica ATH-50 headphones were the best I had done. Since that review I have wanted to buy it and the speaker software as well but have not had a big enough audio project to justify the purchase. I’m still making do with ARC 2 but recommend Reference over it these days based on my experience with the headphone plugin.

Keep in mind, there is no universal standard for speakers. Frequency graph plots are all over the place with consumer playback devices. But, as world famous mastering engineering said during an interview with the Huffington Post:

Dr. Floyd Toole (of Harman International, makers of JBL speakers) showed that averaging all the different consumer speakers (some bright, some with too much bass or midrange etc.) one ends up with a very flat curve which is empirical proof that mastering with an extremely accurate and flat playback system yields a product that sounds correct on more systems. Like speakers, earbuds run the gamut from the old stock Apple earbuds that sounded tinny and lacking warmth to top-of-the-line Shure earbuds that are extremely accurate, to “hip-hop” earbuds that are overly bass heavy. One must master to sound as good as possible on all systems.

My preferred setting on Sonarworks Reference 3 is averaged speakers. Flat is OK but my mixes translated better on the averaged preset. Your experience may vary.

As far as which speakers I would recommend these days, it would be a combination of the Yamaha HS-10W or HS8S subwoofer and IK Multimedia’s iLoud Micro Monitors. Or if you can spare the expense Neumann KH 120A with a Yamaha subwoofer.

Genelec 8030b speakers often come up in conversations but I have read a lot of engineers switching from Genelecs to Neumanns but not the other way around.

If you absolutely must mix with headphones then use Waves NX software to simulate listening to speakers in an ideal mix room.

As far as which headphones to use if you absolutely must use headphones when recording or mixing? I covered this in the Mobile Recording article but it is worth repeating. Audio-Technica ATH-M70x, Sennheiser HD600/650, Philips SHP9500 or the Oppo PM-3. These recommendations come from the Sonarworks’ neutrality test not my personal experience. Believe me I would love to try out all of these headphones to hear which works best for me but money unfortunately does not appear from thin air often enough to make that happen.

Speaker calibration should come after room acoustics are taken care of. Read this article for more information.

Author: Adam

Adam is a professional photographer, videographer and audio engineer. He started Real Home Recording back in 2011 and in 2017 launched Don't Go to Recording School.