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Digital Subscriptions > MusicTech > Sep-18 > SONIC PERFECTION


Despite advances in design, no speakers or headphones have a completely flat response. But what if we could use technology to help reduce the imperfections and colourations created by our rooms? Alex Holmes delves in to the wonderful world of calibration…

Sound is a funny thing. It leaves the speaker at different speeds across the spectrum, then bounces off every surface in sight, loosing varying amounts of energy depending on the materials it hits. It then bounces back and hits other sound waves coming the other way, either cancelling or boosting certain frequencies. When you hit play on your system, this merry dance is happening thousands of times a second. All that money you spent on fancy monitors, synths and software might mean the equipment sounds great itself, but there’s no getting around the fact that trying to EQ a bassline in an unbalanced room is a frustrating experience often based on guesswork, referencing and trial and error. Sound is such a delicate, complicated beast, that even in the best treated rooms, the frequency response is never truly flat. Likewise, if we were to take the room out of the equation and just listen through high-quality headphones, there’s still a massive variation from manufacturer to manufacturer, and headset to headset. It’s no surprise then, that we’ve turned to technology to give a helping hand. By measuring the unwanted peaks and troughs in a system, clever software can create an inverse EQ curve to compensate. Over the last 15 to 20 years, this type of room calibration has started to creep into more and more studios, as computers have become powerful enough to run our audio through high-grade correctional filters that help flatten out any audio issues cased by our speakers, room or headphones. In this feature, we’re going to take a look at the various monitoring issues often faced by producers and engineers that cause them to pull their hair out. Then we’ll look at how we can use affordable solutions to improve the situation and fine-tune your studio space to achieve sonic perfection.


Have you ever been at a really loud gig and put in your ear plugs, and thought, “Argh, I’m losing a bunch of high frequencies here and I’ll struggle to enjoy this.” Then, lo and behold, 10 minutes later you’re toe-tapping away and have nearly forgotten they’re not there? The brain is pretty spectacular at controlling our perception of sound volume and frequency distribution. What at first sounded a little quiet and muffled, is eventually flattened out by the mind as it recalibrates to the new norm.

Technically, we can do this with any situation, including our studios, and, in theory, as long as you learn your system well by listening to lots of references, you can create decent mixes. We’ve all felt slightly sickened by stories of producer “X” who made hit song “Y” on computer speakers in their bedroom. However, the reality for most of us when attempting to mix on lesser systems in untuned rooms, is an experience of frustration as we struggle to make our mixes translate. It’s a rite of passage that all producers must face, when they excitedly take their new track (on CD or USB or Soundcloud etc) to listen in a car or on a friend’s stereo, only to realise the mix sounds like a drunken drum machine wading through a swamp! But maybe it’s not totally your fault.

RØDETest’s FuzzMeasure 4.0 is Mac only… for the moment!


Specific problems in the studio can manifest themselves in very real ways in your mixes. As a case in point, I was working on a house track a couple of years ago, and was lucky enough to test out the mix on the Fabric sound system during a packed club night. Thankfully it sounded (mostly) good through the big speakers, but it was apparent that the booming kick drum was lacking in punch around the 100-200Hz region. When I checked the frequency balance of my room several months later, I could see that there was a big bump around that region, which in turn had lead me to dial down those particular frequencies to compensate. Ultimately, it’s much easier to achieve a good mix, to analyse reference material, and to trust your ears when you’re not battling against acoustic imperfections.

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About MusicTech

In our cover feature this month, Alex Holmes guides you through the science and logic behind why it’s necessary to calibrate your studio and equipment, and the steps you’ll need to take to guarantee perfect, balanced sound at all times. Also this issue, Erin Barra simplifies some vital music production concepts that may have long eluded your understanding – to hopefully increase your sonic vocabulary. We speak to Kanye West’s former controllerist and cutting-edge musician Laura Escudé, UNO synth designer Erik Norlander and Emmy-winning Guus Hoevenaars. Additionally, we present our in-depth reviews of Roland Cloud, PreSonus Studio One 4, Loopcloud 2.0, Elektron Analog Four MkII and more, as well as 5 brand new tutorials to broaden your production chops.