Sonarworks SoundID Reference by Diogo C
In an effort to unify all its sound-improvement solutions from end to end, Sonarworks is now SoundID, which named the mobile app that brought their trademark headphone correction tech to the masses, or the “consumer end” if you will, whilst Sonarworks provided the “professional end” with the company-namesake headphone and room correction software. Now appropriately called Sound ID “Reference”, it’s essentially what Sonarworks 5 would be, so it not only presents the new name but also a number of new features to further enhance the user experience. Before breaking down the new features, let’s quickly recap what SoundID Reference is all about. For the purposes of this review, I’ll be covering only the SoundID Reference desktop software and DAW plug-in, not the mobile app.
SoundID Reference follows a few underlying principles and presents a method to address what it considers to be a big problem: our monitoring systems are somewhat flawed and this works against us when our purpose is to deliver content that is meant to be enjoyed on an infinite number of reproduction systems. The key premise here is that a neutral sound is something we should try to achieve in order to facilitate the translation from our professional studios to the customer listening to the final product. In order to get that flat, neutral, sound we should correct the frequency response of our monitoring systems, and for that we need to first analyze them and then apply a fix.
Addressing this issue on headphones is quite easy: they’re standardized, uniform, factory-made items, so Sonarworks can grab as many as possible and analyze them at their facilities in Latvia to provide users with the appropriate corrections. For loudspeakers or studio monitors it’s an entirely different game as the room matters as much as the monitors, and they’re both equally important parts of a shared system. In practical terms, this means users have to take care of the analysis part and measure the frequency response of their room-speaker systems. That might sound a bit daunting, but fear not, it’s nothing to be afraid of and the process requires little effort.
Measuring by the appropriately-named accompanying software SoundID Reference Measure, which will take the user through a short tutorial for setting up the audio interface, monitors and microphone, then proceed to the actual measurement process. This consists of 36 measurement points, and the user will have to move the microphone around as the speaker will play back numerous sweeping tones. The process shouldn’t take more than five minutes, and it’s quite intuitive all the way through and the app itself provides very clear guidance. As for the microphone, a measurement microphone with an individual calibration file is recommended, and although Sonarworks sells a kit with such a microphone, users can use their own mics as well. For this review I’ve used a DBA RTA-M Microphone, it doesn't have an individual calibration, but it does have a generic one, which I found suitable enough for measuring my room with other apps such REW and FuzzMeasure, so I was confident enough to use it with SoundID Reference Measure. Albeit generic, its calibration file came in handy, and it actually fixed a little deviation in the upper-highs as it did on other apps.
Three operating modes
SoundID has made a few changes on how the way the end result is presented, and replaced the old “Bass Boost”/Tilt” and “Predefined Target Curves” parameters with three operating modes:
- Flat Target: That’s the “ideal” frequency response adjustment, making the monitoring system as close to neutral as possible. There are no customization options here other than the choice of filter (linear phase, zero latency/minimum phase or mixed), listening position correction, latency and safe headroom option present on other modes.
- Custom Target: The big new feature for this version, Custom Target allows the user to shape the final frequency response through a fully-fledged parametric equalizer and also adjust the frequency and amplitude range of the correction.
- Translation Check: in this mode we can “transform” the frequency response of the monitoring system to simulate other reproduction devices such as the car audio, earbuds and even the famous NS-10 and Mixcubes studio speakers. Highly useful for having an idea how it will sound in the “real world”.
Sound quality: This is always a highly subjective score, but the discussions about SoundID’s sound quality will usually reach a far greater length than usual given all the variables in play. On the four systems I was able to test, I think that on two of them there were improvements worth keeping and that I’ll certainly incorporate, but for the two others I’m staying on the fence. The room correction sounds alright to my ears, but I’m currently in a very privileged position of working in a great sounding room that I can fully trust, so I don’t feel the need for it right now - which may change in the future if I’m faced with a working space that has problematic acoustics.
For what is worth, I’d rate my four systems as follows:
- Grado SR60e: used for leisure thanks to its extremely lightweight and comfort, sometimes used for mixing checks thanks to its NS10-esque vibe. SoundID provided a very noticeable improvement on this one as the sound character of these headphones is more on the “midrange-bright” spectrum, thus not very pleasing, but once corrected it’s far more enjoyable to use them.
- Audio Technica ATH-M50x: used mostly for tracking and location work, so I don’t rely upon them for listening or mixing, but it’s definitely the one that benefited the most from SoundID, and I’m confident that it’s now viable for mixing.
- Sennheiser/Massdrop HD6XX: used extensively for mixing, mastering and basically for checking anything I’m working with. This one already sounds “good enough” to my ears, so I don’t think I’ll be using SoundID with it.
- Room with Dynaudio DBM50 monitors: Similar observations as above, but a bit more on the fence here and wouldn’t rule it out altogether - maybe in the future.
The bottom line for me is that my “cheaper” systems benefited the most from SoundID, whilst the improvements on the more “expensive” (and in theory better) systems are debatable. Again, this is my experience with my monitoring systems, which at this point I’m very familiar with and don’t feel any urge to change them in any way, so your mileage may vary.
Ease of use: Little to complain here other than the sluggish response of the EQ on the Custom Target mode, which is likely to be fixed on a future update. Other than that, this is a rather easy app/plug-in to set up and mostly straightforward to use, so it shouldn’t require much effort in order to fully tame it as there’s no unnecessary complexity or clutter here.
Features: Taken on itself SoundID presents quite a robust feature pack, but it’s one that’s been building over the years, so this is more of an incremental improvement over Sonarworks 4 than the big overhaul that the name change may suggest. Some long time users may feel a little iffy about it, which is reasonable enough given the high expectations, but it’s a meaningful upgrade nonetheless, with the Custom Target and Translation Check functionalities providing some handy extra tweaks and end-result options, whilst the capability of using different profiles on multiple outputs substantially improves the quality of life for those using multiple monitors or headphones. Another notable new feature is the new Windows drivers - unfortunately I don’t have a Windows machine to be able to test its performance and efficiency, but seems like a nice addition that should help users of the Microsoft operating system.
Bang for buck: Closely tied with the sound quality, how much bang will SoundID delivers to your bucks is a personal evaluation entirely, but nevertheless, I’d strongly recommend checking out the 21-day trial and finding out for yourself - and as mentioned above, old users may feel less compelled than new ones.
Recommended for: any engineer or content producer working extensively with headphones and/or problematic rooms can benefit greatly from SoundID.
- Easy to set up and straightforward to use.
- Huge range of compatible headphones.
- Plentiful sound adjustment options with Custom Target mode.
- Mostly affordable, especially for new users.
- Upgrade pricing from Sonarworks 4 seems too steep.
- Not a con per se, but your mileage may vary greatly with this particular category of “monitoring sound correction” app, more so than it usually does.