Sonarworks Reference 3 Headphone by Rao
From the Sonarworks website:
'Headphone calibration is the process of measuring and adjusting the frequency response of headphones in order to precisely match flat sounding studio monitors in a well treated studio. Standard studio headphones are transformed into perfectly-engineered precision devices. By giving yourself the gift of accurate sound, you can mix and engineer with total confidence.'
I bought this software to accompany my new Focal Spirit Pro headphones and Audient iD14 audio interface. I had previously used AiAiAi TMA-1 DJ headphones with an Allen & Heath Zed-10FX mixer and was looking for an upgrade that would help me to better train my ears and do some mixing whilst I finish my studio build.
To put this review in context (aimed at people in similar situations/stages of their journey), I produce and DJ electronic music as a hobby and have had 4 different home studio set ups in the past, also working out of 2 low budget (but well put together) facilities when available/needed. I've worked on JBL and PMC monitors and currently use Neumann KH120's with an EVE subwoofer so have experienced different quality set ups in varied spaces and am now building a studio in my garage based on a reasonable working knowledge of acoustics/speaker v. room interaction gained over several years.
I've built my own basstraps and had some success sorting frequency dips, also played with Dirac demo and just purchased Sonarworks studio calibration for when the studio is ready as I was immediately impressed with the mix improvements (on big club systems) just from using the Dirac demo so am a convert to calibration improving a space that already has some treatment.
What I was looking for with the Headphone calibration software was a similar 'eureka' moment to my Dirac demo in terms of being able to make better/quicker mix decisions as I tend to do a lot of tweaking as I go along rather than just produce then mix - basically being able to trust a choice of EQ/compression then move on from it.
The software is incredibly easy to use, first selecting/loading the profile for your headphone model and then switching between the various tilt/curve options to find one that suits your ears and way of working - I settled on the B&K curve as it sounded most natural to me and as I (ill advisedly) prefer to work at volume when working on bass elements, using the wet/dry control helped back of the bass/distortion at higher levels.
The real 'eureka' moment comes when you toggle the calibration on/off having adjusted the curve to taste - the difference is night and day to ears that have some experience of mixing. Bass is much tighter (in the same way I experienced room calibration software for the first time) and the mids clearer, highs cut through without being too sharp.
The Focal Spirit's were already a big improvement (can also highly recommend at their price point and well above), but Sonarworks felt like it gave me another 10% boost in terms of hearing what I needed to. It's worth taking some time to break your headphones in before setting the software up - I also chose not to send mine off to get an individual calibration file as I'm already happy with the translation I'm getting.
Definitely a worthwhile investment for anyone looking to step up their mixing/translation/listening ability, as alluded to above unless you've some prior knowledge/experience of improvements in sound/room you may not hear (big) benefits immediately but your mixes/decision making will improve.
Thank you Sonarworks :-)