Here’s my review of a crucial piece of software/hardware for your studio:
A script is below but does not include all of the information presented in the video:
In October 2017 Sonarworks released version 4 of their speaker
calibration system, called Reference. They were nice enough to send
me two calibration microphones and license to review it for you all.
If you have used IK Multimedia’s ARC System, you’ll notice right
away that the microphone looks similar and may even be the same.
The difference is, Sonarworks calibrates the microphone on their
end to combat variances between each microphone. The printed
instructions didn’t make it clear where to download the calibration
file but the Measure software did.
In case you were wondering if this is a gimmick, I received two
different mics for the review and indeed their calibrations were
The installation process was simple enough. It’s easiest with the
online installer but an offline version is available if your studio
computer isn’t hooked to the internet.
Compared to IK Multimedia ARC, Reference 4 is vastly easier to measure your control
room with. I always dreaded remeasuring ARC and in fact did not
remeasure my mix area until recently since its year 2012 calibration. I would have no problem doing a weekly recalibration with Reference 4.
You don’t even need to read the manual. It guides you along in the
process from start to finish. It even came within an inch of my
speaker distance and computer monitor to listen spot difference.
There’s some voodoo going on under the hood, that’s for sure.
It’s not perfect though. I did not like how fast the measurement
was taken after the spot was found. Sonarworks needs to add a delay
option so that we can set our mic stands down before it does its
thing. According to a Reference 4 press release, there will be a
major update to this process released by spring 2018 so hopefully the delay is implemented at that time.
The microphone itself is on the noisy side. You can record with it
but be prepared to use noise reduction if your source isn’t loud
like drums or high gain electric guitar.
Version 4’s biggest new features include a zero latency mode,
Systemwide and calibration presets for 101 headphone models.
Systemwide enables users to always have Reference on. This allows you
to get acclimated to the sound of flatter speakers. You can also
set it to other presets besides flat. An internet user who is
familiar with Yamaha NS10 speakers, a staple in most professional
studios, said that Sonarworks nailed the sound.
When the Reference 4 plugin is loaded in your DAW Systemwide will
shut off. The option to close it is in an awkward spot…a gear box menu.
There are occasional graphic glitches. After closing sometimes an after image will remain on screen. This happens with the measurement software and the plugin.
I’m not a fan of the stereo offset. Partly because my speakers are dumb and only have one knob so the stereo balance is rarely perfect. I wish a pan knob feature could be added to that users could manually set where a mono sound is panned straight up the center.
Be careful with the linear phase mode because it can introduce
pre-ringing issues. Optimum truly is the best setting for most tasks.
Does not use ASIO. If your audio interface cannot playback sound outside of your DAW like some Pro Tools systems then Reference 4 won’t work.
It does not come with a microphone clip. I’m not sure why.
Ironically, the ARC 2.5 mic clip grips it just fine. The lack of an included clip is the biggest gripe I have with the package.
There’s also the headphone side of Reference. Version 4 received an
algorithm upgrade so presets should be more accurate than in
version 3. If you don’t care about the speaker side you can save yourself $200. Although if you go that route I do recommend a custom calibration for $100 plus shipping.
I reviewed the headphone side of version 3 in another review which
I’ll link to in the video description. I really liked it and
coupled with Waves Nx it is perfect for people who must mix on
Mixing on speakers are the way to go, for long term health reasons.
The Wet/dry knob is a useful feature. Another reviewer said to try
70-80%. I usually keep it 100% wet.
Sonarworks does allow you to use different manufacturer’s
calibration mic. Accuracy is not guaranteed though. For $70, or $50
when it’s on sale, I don’t think it’s worth the savings to take a
gamble on an unknown microphone.
For this review I put Reference 4 through its paces for three music mixes and I’ve also used it for a few recent video mixes. You can hear parts of the music mixes on the RHR Soundcloud page, which I’ll link to in the video description. I recommend downloading them to avoid Soundcloud’s lossy data compression artifacts.
My conclusion? I still do not 100% trust the high end. The same problem happens
when using ARC all these years so towards the end of a mix I will
disable the plugin and reduce any harshness accordingly. Mids are fine and the low end is better than ARC but I usually will disable Reference towards the end of the mix for final tweaks. If a custom EQ like ARC has was added this would be a great help to trust the high end.
The complete microphone, speaker and headphones bundle is $300.
It’s worth every penny. It saves time and it saves frustration. What you hear is the most important part of audio engineering and like the box says you can feel more confident with your recording and mix decisions when Reference is on.