Let me preface this discussion with something really important: you do not need to have a degree (or really any training) in acoustical engineering to get a great sounding mix environment. You don’t need thousands of dollars in expensive playback systems either.
All it takes is a basic understanding of how sound travels and a few key pieces of information about your environment that we’re going to cover today to truly achieve a great sounding room.
In a word: accuracy.
You want your mix environment to be as accurate as possible so that your mixes translate well to the real world. Mixers come up with all kinds of excuses for why their room isn’t calibrated – claiming they “know their room” or that that calibration is the thing that’s going to color their sound. Seems a bit defensive, doesn’t it?
In actuality, calibrating your room is one of the single biggest ways to clean up your mix environment. It’s a permanent solution to problems you’re facing, and it’s something that can be redone in a new mix environment in the event you relocate. Calibration means your studio is firing on all cylinders – you’re hearing things as they are, meaning more accurate mix decisions and plugins that sound exactly as they’re supposed to.
Starting With Treatment
Before you dive into calibration, you need to apply any room treatment you plan on using or you risk throwing your calibration… well, out of calibration.
Things like foam, bass traps & diffusers all change the dynamics of your room and not always in a good way. Too much treatment will overly dampen your room and potentially prevent your sound waves from developing fully. Too little, and your room could end up sounding like you’re in some warehouse.
Room treatment isn’t the focus of this conversation, but if you do plan on using it, make sure it’s all up before you perform any calibration. A few points to consider treating:
- The point of first reflection on each wall
- Corners (for bass build-up)
- Floor (a carpet is a great way to deaden a room)
- Ceiling (for flutter echoes)
Setting Up For Calibration
Using software for room calibration is a great step-by-step way to get good calibration results without much additional effort on your end. Remember: we want to keep the process simple enough so anyone can do it.
A tool like Sonarworks Reference is a great option for those looking for a guided approach. In addition to the software, a calibration will also require a microphone for measurement, the speakers themselves, and an interface with enough adjustable gain to improve your precision. Many calibration programs now offer the measurement microphone as an included item since it allows them to account for the microphone’s frequency response curve, but others will use whatever min you have available.
Another helpful tool for setup is a measuring tape, which allows you to adjust your speakers and microphone most accurately.
Running The Calibration
Once you’ve gotten everything set up physically, calibration software should be able to walk you through the rest of the process. Things like gain levels, speaker distance, and listening position will all be validated again, making the process nearly impossible to mess up if you’re following along.
The more detailed programs will move you through a series of microphone positions in the room to really fine tune your system. For a full walkthrough of calibration from start to finish, check out Nick’s video guide below:
Once the room has been captured as a “profile” the software can use that profile to make the necessary EQ adjustments to flatten out the room, giving you as close to an uncolored listening environment as possible.
Verifying Your Calibration Setting
Once your calibration profile is applied, there’s plenty you can do to test its accuracy. For me, there’s nothing better than loading up a signal generation like the one built into Sub Destroyer and testing various frequencies while toggling the profile on and off. If you find the most extreme parts of the EQ curve, you should hear the level differences with ease.
A more real-world test would be through the use of plugins you’re familiar with in the context of a session. Toneforge Misha Mansoor is another big test for me, since it’s one of our newest plugins and went through some serious testing that required super accurate monitoring. Again – use what you’re most familiar with and you cannot go wrong.
Building A Better Mix
If you’re looking on ways to improve your mixes beyond the room itself, come join the JST VIP community, where you’ll instantly have access to all kinds of guides, training sessions & more. You’ll also gain access to exclusive plugins and I’ll even personally listen to your song and provide mix notes!
See you there!