Sponsored by dSONIQ
We all love sitting in front of speakers - for work or just listening for fun. There’s nothing quite like hearing great music with quality woofers and tweeters moving air, delivering the sonic bliss that we are so fond of. However, it’s not always something that we can rely on when making critical mix decisions everyday, especially when setting up proper listening environments can be difficult. Be it poor room acoustics, noisy neighbours, or a sleeping baby in the next room, a range of issues can deny us from enjoying our favourite speakers in their full-volume glory. dSONIQ Realphones have a bold goal: to provide a “complete mixing workspace in your headphones''. More specifically, here’s what the Realphones system does:
  • Correct the frequency response of the headphones so they can be as neutral as possible.
  • Emulate the sound of an acoustic space via simulation of a studio control room, with big far-field speakers and smaller near-field monitors available, as well as simulating consumer audio reproduction systems for realistic sound checks on headphones.
  • Offer binaural virtual positioning for ultimate immersion and realism.
Let’s firstly take a closer look at how the Realphones system works, and then we’ll move on to hands-on use.

Getting Started

If you want to start working without delving into scientific settings, Realphones provides a handful of factory snapshots that are grouped under four major categories: Mix, Mix Check, Produce and Relax. They can be highly useful to switch between speaker types and overall tone. Just specify your headphone model and browse through the snapshots to pick one that matches best your current goal and that’s it.

Snapshots in action

How the Realphones system works: advanced operation

Step one: headphone correction

Getting your headphones to sound as flat as possible is the first goal towards achieving an accurate reproduction of a real-world sound space, and that’s precisely what Realphones will do first. All we have to do is load the desired headphone model and adjust the “Correction” slider (from 0 to 100%) to taste - at 50% it’s considered “clean”, a compromise between the natural sound and the corrected sound, whilst at 100% it will fully correct the headphones’ frequency response so it’s as linear as possible. Next are the Presence and Pressure controls: the first gently controls the sharpness of the correction curve, and the latter adjusts the frequency balance simulating the change in headphone pressure

dSONIQ has compiled a big stable of compatible models, with over 90 headphones from nearly all the major brands including; AKG, Audeze, Audio-Technica, Austrian Audio, Beyerdynamic, Bose, Focal, Koss, PreSonus, Sennheiser, Steven Slate, Shure, Sony, Superlux, TASCAM, Yamaha and many more. Popular headphones amongst studio engineers such as the perennial AKG K-240, Audio-Technica’s ATH-M50x, the Audeze LCD range, Beyerdynamic’s DT line, Sony’s MDR-7506, and many of the Sennheiser HD variants (including the HD25 and HD650) are supported - click here for the full list of models.

A couple of generic closed-back and open-back headphones profiles are also available in case your headphones aren’t supported yet. Keep an eye on the dSONIQ website for updates as the list is constantly growing with each Realphones update.

Step two: acoustic environment and speaker simulation

Monitor selection: Three speaker models are provided here, with one far-field option and two near-fields, including one very famous black housed, white-coned speaker model that to this day can be found in many studios across the globe. The far-field is the “bigger” sounding option as one can expect, while the near-field options are more “forward” sounding, with a prominent mid-range.

Realphones offers three different visualization options: headphone correction, room (for speaker selection) and simulation (overall response)

Ambience: Controls the amount of room decay from 0% (dry) to 200% (wet), with the intermediary point (100%) providing the “default” response of the simulated acoustic space.

Speaker profiles and enhancements: This section further adjusts the speakers by providing a number of extra options such as subwoofer boost, different reproduction systems emulations such as Hi-Fi or Lo-Fi and even speakers with an Auratone-like sound.

Density and Warm: Two parameters that will act as extra frequency content simulation adjustments. Density is a psychoacoustic harmonic generator which replaces missing body bass vibration and Warmth will control the tonal qualities of reflections for selected speaker placement. Both parameters can be individually bypassed.

Density and Warm Parameters in action

HRTF and Angle: Realphones also offer positional adjustments through the angle and HRTF parameters. ‘Angle’ is straightforward, and determines the width or distance between left and right speakers. ‘HRTF’ is slightly more complex: it stands for “head-related transfer function”, which, roughly speaking, is how the human ear receives sounds from a source. This parameter goes from 0 to 100%, and at 50% it’s considered “clean”, and in practical terms boosting it increases the spatial perception and shifts the mid-high frequency response. There’s an accessory parameter here as well, which is the Angle control and it will widen or shorten the stereo field - like spreading monitors apart or getting them closer to each other. Both parameters are meant to enhance realism and offer more overall flexibility, but on most occasions they will be left on intermediary values (60-90 degrees for Angle and 30-75% for HRTF). They can also be bypassed if desired through a “global” bypass switch that will defeat both parameters - or the user can use just the ‘Angle’ control while bypassing the HRTF.

Third step: final adjustments

dSONIQ has also included a set of tools for fine-tuning the sound. The first of them is the ‘Tone’ section, which is a 3-band equalizer with broad curves but a rather gentle amplitude range - with High, Mid and Low frequency adjustments available, ranging from -6 to +6dB - so the range is not as drastic as the ones parametric EQs tend to present us with in modern DAWs. There’s a set of utilities as well:
  • Mid/Side/L/R: Isolates mid, side, left or right portions of the signal
  • Mono: Collapses the stereo image to a mono signal, identical on both sides of the headphones, which is highly useful for mono-compatibility checks.
  • L<->R: flips left side of the panorama to the right side and vice-versa.
  • Ø: Inverts the polarity of the output - often referred to as “phase flip”.
  • HP, LP, BP filters: Applies a high-pass, low-pass or band-pass filter to the signal. The high-pass and low-pass are quite dramatic, and will only leave the extremes of the lower and upper ranges, whilst band-pass is a broader filter, covering lower-mids and lower-highs as well.
  • Solo/Mute switch: “mute” or “solo” function that determines whether the HP/LP/BP filters described above will solo or mute the corresponding frequency band.
  • Limiter: peak limiter to prevent clipping.
  • Output volume: trims the final output from -30 to +6dB, with metering and clipping indicator to help users visualize output levels. There’s also an arrow button that can be used to lower the output by the inverse amount of clipping, which is very helpful.
  • Audio settings (system-wide only): this is where users will pick which physical output will be used by Realphones, such as external or onboard audio interfaces, and the buffer size (from 16 to 2048 samples) to determine the app’s latency. There’s a handy “test” button that will send a test signal for users to check the output and a sample rate indicator.
Setting up

The process of setting up Realphones is quite straightforward: the first step is to visit the dSONIQ website, where you’ll not only download the appropriate installers for your system (Mac or Windows) but also look for your headphone model (this will be important later). A list of activated computers is also provided here so the user can keep track on which computers Realphones is activated. A file for offline registration is also provided in case that’s required i.e. when installing on a computer that’s not connected to the internet.

The key aspect here is to set up your headphone profiles, as Realphones will only load the headphones selected in the user area with their respective calibrations, making the workflow a lot easier (so don’t have to scroll through an enormous list of headphones every time!) Once this is done, install Realphones on your computer, activate it online or with the provided offline file, reboot your computer so that the newly-installed virtual audio device starts up properly and after that you’re ready to experience a real-world monitoring environment in your favourite set of headphones.

Realphones in action

There are two ways of using the Realphones system: it can work system-wide on Mac and Windows or as a plug-in inside a digital audio workstation (DAW) such as Pro Tools, Cubase, Logic, Ableton Live, and others. For the DAW option, Audio Unit (AU), VST and AAX plug-in formats are available for compatibility with all major platforms.

When deployed as a system-wide virtual audio device, Realphones will be the default audio driver for the computer - make sure this is properly set in your Control Panel (Windows) or System Preferences (Mac). With that set, all the sounds coming out of your computer (including media players and browsers etc.) will be routed via Realphones, something that is highly useful for getting acquainted with how it affects the sound - you can experience its effect on music that you usually listen on Spotify, iTunes Google Music etc or on your favourite videos, movies or podcasts. Realphones also offers an onboard media player for audio files, so you don’t have to use a third-party for quick checks. In this scenario, the audio path will go from the sound source, through Realphones and finally to your audio interface’s output, with Realphones acting as the sound driver.

When using it inside a DAW, all you have to do is to insert the Realphones plug-in as the last thing on your master output after all your other processing has been dealt with, select your headphone model and adjust to taste. Just keep a mental note or sticky next to the monitors so you don’t forget to bypass/disable the plug-in when exporting/bouncing your mixes, as the plug-in is meant for monitoring purposes only. For those using DAWs with “Control Room'' functionality such as Cubase, Realphones can be placed in that path for monitoring without affecting the master output that’s been used for audio rendering tasks.

Trial period and pricing

dSONIQ offers a fully-functional demo of Realphones that can be used during 41 days, which should be plenty of time to find out what it’s all about, and don’t fret if you get sidetracked and burn your demo time up accidentally - uniquely, a new trial period can be requested every 6 months free of any charge. For those who are looking to purchase, they offer the following options:
  • Lite pack ($69): Fully functional with all features except headphone calibration profiles - only the generic profiles are included. Useful for users who don’t own any of the supported headphones, or for those opting to bypass this stage altogether and who are just going for the acoustic simulation.
  • Professional pack ($99): A set of three headphone calibration profiles, each of them can be selected and activated separately at any time. Recommended for those with multiple compatible headphones.
  • Ultimate pack ($179): Unlimited selection of headphone calibration profiles.
A pack with three standard correction profiles is also available for $31, as with the Professional pack each profile can be selected and activated separately at any time, which is a nice add-on for the Lite and Professional packs. All packs allow for three concurrent activations and up to three computers can use Realphones simultaneously, which should be perfect for studio and mobile use with desktop computers and laptops respectively.

System requirements
  • Operating system: Mac OS X 10.9 and newer or Windows 7 and newer.
  • Plug-in formats: AAX, VST, VST3 for Windows/Mac and Audio Unit for Mac.
Moving forward

The dSONIQ team is currently working on a new additional user-friendly “Easy Mode” that will adjust the sound with just three sliders, so the tuning process is greatly simplified and operation will be as smooth as it can be. This new version is planned to be released in the spring of 2021, so keep an eye out for it!

For more information on Realphones, visit: www.dsoniq.com