Consistency of sound over different sound systems
You've likely noticed that while listening to different headphones, and in fact, different audio systems, they likely sound different. With some you can hear more bass, some sound sharper than other, some are more muddy, which means that the same song sounds different on 2 separate headphones, thus, resulting in inconsistent results when both producing and listening to music between different headphone models. Luckily, there's a way out.
As headphones are produced on a production line, their build quality and drivers tend to be the same time. This means that headphones of the same model most of the time will sound the same or with barely noticeable differences.
It turns out that when you measure the sound frequencies of the full range of a human being, you get a frequency response curve representing the specific audio device/system. By keeping this in mind, we have created a solution.
We've measured the said frequency response curves on thousands of headphones of varying models and different companies and created headphone calibration profiles that our software uses to create consistent sound anywhere and everywhere so that when listening to music, you can be confident in what you hear.
Reference 4 software calibrates the sound by applying an inverse EQ curve on top of the measurement we've done for the particular headphones to balance out the curve and make it sound flat, creating the default flat frequency response reference target to match the frequency response of flat sounding speakers, ensuring smooth translation between working on studio monitors and headphones.
When producing music it’s vital that you can trust in what you hear and with Reference 4 software you can achieve just that, hence it’s important to set everything up properly as described below. If you’re setting up on speakers, please follow this article instead.
In this article we'll look at setting up calibration on headphones with Reference 4 software to produce the professional Reference sound that's equivalent to a flat studio environment.
Otherwise, let’s move on. Regardless of whether you’ve purchased Headphone Edition or are just trying out Reference 4 Headphone Edition with trial period, all of the features described further are accessible and available to you. So let’s dive in.
Requirements of setting up calibration
First of all, to experience what Reference sound is all about, what you’ll need is a pair of headphones that are supported by Reference 4 software. You can find the full list here.
Another requirement of setting up is to install Reference 4 software. You can get the installer of the latest version here. The installer will guide you through the process and be sure to install Headphone Edition if you are trying to set up headphones.
Next, you’ll have to either initiate the trial period or activate the software with a license key. In the case that you have a computer that's not connected to the internet please refer to this article, and remember to, when applying calibration profiles, instead of choosing Add Headphones, use the Open Profile option which we'll refer to a bit later.
It's important to mention that you don't need an interface or DAC in most cases to set up calibration on your headphones.
Reference 4 - Systemwide or Plugin
Now we move on to the setup phase and where you’ll finally apply calibration to the audio stream to make it sound flat. This is where we'll learn the magic of sound calibration.
Reference 4 offers you 2 ways of setting up calibration for your headphones with a standalone app (Systemwide) and through DAW with the plugin. By default, the Reference 4 installer will install Reference 4 Systemwide and plugin on your system, so regardless of our use case, you should be all set there as we support most of the widely used plugin formats (VST, AAX, AU, RTAS).
Briefly mentioning, Systemwide will let you calibrate all audio coming from the system to your headphones. It does this by creating a virtual audio device that catches the audio stream, does its magic, and then passes it on to the headphones or audio interface/DAC depending on what you have set as the actual output device. If set up properly, it does this automatically and you can experience a truly flat sound without having to think twice if the sound you hear is calibrated or not. For more information on what Systemwide has to offer you, please follow this article here.
Using the plugin format can also have its advantages as the plugin doesn't use a virtual audio device and instead basically just works like a filter. This means that when processing the audio, it introduces no additional latency for the audio stream. The calibration profile is set in the plugin in a slightly different way than in Systemwide, so let's get to it. If you would like to learn more about the possibilities when it comes to using the plugin, follow this article here.
Applying calibration on Systemwide
Now we can get down to business, first, you’ll have to open Reference 4 Systemwide or place a plugin instance in DAW on your master bus. Keep in mind if using the plugin, that there are some DAW's that let you use the plugin in a monitoring state, meaning that it doesn't actually affect the audio when you export it.
When you’ve done that, this is where the paths divide for a bit. When using Systemwide, calibration is applied to a specific audio device through presets. For more information and an in-depth guide to presets follow the link here.
In short, setting up a preset goes as follows. Use the option to Add Preset at the bottom right of the Systemwide window as per the screenshot below:
Next, you'll have to choose a calibration profile from a list of supported headphones. When using Systemwide in online mode, you'll have access to all of the profiles right from our database. In order to access them, use the option Add Headphones from the Calibration profile drop-down menu.
Now browse through the list, select your headphones and select it. This will throw you back to the "Add Preset" menu. Now, with the calibration profile loaded, your current audio device will be loaded and default output channels will be selected for it. If you're new to all of this, don't worry, you don't need to change anything, but for those more advanced, you have a ton of customization available with presets. More on that here.
When you've named your preset, you can Add Preset, and Systemwide by default will apply the calibration. Systemwide has much more to offer you than just applying correction - for a more in-depth guide on using Systemwide, follow the link here.
Applying calibration on Plugin
If you want to use Reference 4 Headphone Edition Plugin in a DAW, you’ll have to put it on the channel, which you want to calibrate (we strongly advise the main bus/track), and then open it up. For additional details on how to do this and an in-depth guide on using our plugin in DAW, follow this link here.
After you’ve opened it up, you’ll notice that there’s a little headphone icon, click on it and it will give you the option to Add Headphones or Open Profile.
To get the apply correction in a plugin, you have to use Add Headphones option. When choosing this, it will ask you to open Systemwide to load the profile. The reason you have to do it is that sometimes DAW blocks plugins from accessing network resources, hence a re-route through Systemwide is necessary.
If allowed, this will open the list of available headphone profiles. Select the profile for your headphones and it will be loaded into the plugin. Now, just make sure you’ve switched it on with the big blue button and you have successfully set up your headphone calibration.
If you want to be using Reference 4 in offline mode, you have the option to download all of the profiles available at that moment. They will automatically be downloaded with the license file by following this set of instructions here. As mentioned above, when selecting headphones, you won't be able to fetch any profile from the server, so you'll have to use the option to Open Profile instead of Add Profile.
That wraps up the basic setup on headphones with average profiles. If you have individually calibrated headphones, for loading them in Reference 4 software, please use this option: