Sonarworks Reference 4 Review – THE 2 BIGGEST MYTHS!

Written By Kyle Mathias  |  Audio Gear, Mixing 

Sonarworks just sent me a copy of their Reference 4 software with a measurement microphone! I thought this would be a good opportunity to learn about frequency response, phase interference, and room EQ.

At the end of this video – with a better understanding of those concepts – we’ll bust the two biggest myths about Sonarworks Reference 4.

What Is Sonarworks Reference 4?

Sonarworks Reference 4 is a software that aims to optimize sound quality at the listening position by correcting the frequency response imbalances of your system.

Watch this video to learn more about frequency response, or read this article I wrote about frequency response.

Several factors, including your speakers and your room will affect the frequency response of your system as a whole.

Your speakers will have a frequency response of their own. The frequency response of your room is affected by the rooms dimensions, contents, and composition. 

Sonarworks will measure the effect that your speakers and the acoustics of your room have on the sound. With this information, the software will make corrections to your system so that the sound you hear is as close to accurate as possible.

Let’s see how well it accomplishes this goal…

Sonarworks Reference 4: How It Works

Inside the box, you’ll find your 24-digit product key and basic instructions for downloading the Reference 4 software.

The included microphone has a 6-digit serial number. The microphone has been tested and associated with a unique frequency response that you can find using that serial number.

As you can see, mine has a 6 dB boost in the high frequency range. With this information, Reference 4 can take into consideration the effect the microphone itself has on the measurements and correct accordingly.

The program walks you step-by-step through the process of calibrating your system. It’s actually kind of fun to hear all of the tests that Reference 4 runs to create a model of your system’s frequency response!

Watch this video I made to see a full step-by-step tutorial.

Once you’ve completed the calibration process, you’ll see this screen. This graph represents the frequency response of my system before Sonarworks Reference 4.

Throughout the calibration process, Sonarworks determines this by sending test signals through my speakers and into my listening space.

It compares the signal picked up by the microphone at various points in the room to the original signal within the computer. If the signals were perfectly identical, there would be a straight line through the middle of this graph.

However, as we can see, my system has some inherent frequency imbalances. The graph shows that there are peaks and dips at various frequencies.

Some of these are a result of the frequency response of my speakers, but some are caused by the acoustics of my listening space.

The sound takes various paths from the speaker to the microphone at listening position. It takes a direct path from speaker to microphone and several indirect paths from speaker to wall or ceiling or desk to microphone.

Based on the difference between the direct and indirect paths, various wavelengths will be either canceled out (which will result in a dip) or summed together (resulting in a peak).

You can learn more about phase cancelation by reading this article I wrote on comb filtering. You’ll learn what causes it and hear examples for yourself.

In theory, Sonarworks Reference 4 will apply an EQ with the opposite frequency response curve, smoothing out the imbalances of my system.

But unfortunately, it’s not that simple – and that brings us to the two biggest myths surrounding Sonarworks Reference 4.

Myth #1: “Sonarworks Reference 4 Doesn’t Work”

The first myth is something you might have already heard in your research. People like to say, “Sonarworks doesn’t work”. This just isn’t true.

When I apply Sonarworks to my system, the sound becomes much more even.

In my case, the lows are lifted and the low mids are smoothed out, preventing the masking that occured in the midrange before applying Sonarworks Reference 4. This reduction in masking, in addition to a bit of additive EQ makes my system sound a bit brighter with increased intelligibility when watching movies or listening to music.

In fact, I can prove that Sonarworks Reference 4 improves the frequency response of my system.

I’ll measure the frequency response of my system before and after applying the Sonarworks EQ curve with a free measurement software called Room EQ Wizard and an Earthworks M23 measurement microphone.

The green line is a reference of a perfect frequency response. The orange line is before Sonarworks Reference 4 and the red line is after the Sonarworks filter has been applied. You can see that the frequency response is closer to flat when Sonarworks is engaged.

But it’s not perfect – which brings us to the second myth.

Myth #2: “Sonarworks Reference 4 Makes Any Room Sound Perfect”

As many times as I’ve heard people say that Sonarworks doesn’t work at all, I’ve heard others say that Sonarworks can make any room sound perfect. This is equally untrue.

That’s because there are some acoustical problems that simply cannot be fixed with EQ.

Imagine that 1 kHz is being canceled due to a reflection off of my desk. This would result in a dip in the frequency response graph at 1 kHz. I can try to boost 1 kHz with an equalizer, but that won’t fix the problem. 

The direct sound is boosted by the EQ, but so is the reflected sound. They just end up canceling out no matter how much gain I add at 1 kHz.

Another set of problems that Sonarworks can’t fix is time problems.

Each room will have resonant frequencies that take a bit longer to decay than others. Sonarworks can boost or cut these frequencies, but it has no way of controlling the length of time it takes for the sound to decay in my room.

Is Sonarworks Reference 4 Worth the Investment?

So, is Sonarworks worth the investment? My answer is yes, but only if you understand it’s strengths and limitations.

Sonarworks will improve the frequency response of your system, but it is only a part of a more complete solution for improving the sound of your listening space.

There are several things you can do first to improve the acoustics of your room. That way, Sonarworks can focus on what it does best – correcting the frequency problems that can be solved with EQ.

It’s worth doing everything in your power to improve the accuracy of your system. That way, the mixing process will be much easier and your mixes will translate to other systems much better.

Click the button below to learn more about Sonarworks Reference 4 on Amazon.

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