May 24, 2023
Eons ago now, recording wasn’t done in homes or inexpensive offices. Especially mixing and mastering were left to finely tuned rooms with the highest quality acoustic treatment. But with the advent of digital recording technology, that started to change and now some of the best records are made in bedrooms.
One of the most revolutionary technologies in recent years that’s helped people mix records that translate well across systems is room correction. In fact, some people think you can’t live without it. But do you really need room correction, or can you rely on your speakers as is? We’ll explore that question here.
Simply put, room correction software uses the measured acoustic response of a room to determine changes in speaker output. Most of those changes are EQ curves, but there could be timing or phase adjustments as well, depending on the software.
The point of room correction software is to make up for the fact that room reflections color the sound you hear from your speakers and can make accurate mixing difficult. For example, a notch at 100 Hz right where you sit means you’re not hearing some of the low-frequency data on your recording. Since you can’t hear it, you’re liable to turn it up, making your mix too bass-heavy for other playback systems.
Room correction software would take that node into account and boost 100 Hz to accommodate it, helping you hear more accurately.
No matter how well-treated a room is, there will always be reflections that cause some coloration. The point of acoustic treatment is to minimize that, but even in world-class facilities, there’s still a smidge of coloration. In a home studio, it can be difficult to treat as well as in a world-class facility because of physical limitations, so coloration is usually worse, even when it’s tamed by treatment.
So, in theory, pretty much any room can benefit from some room correction – some more than others.
Room correction comes in two phases: measurement and correction. No matter which software you use, the first step is to measure the room using a special measurement microphone (typically an omnidirectional condenser with a hyper-flat response). The software will guide you as you make measurements from several locations, usually using some kind of sine wave output.
Next, the software creates a set of compensatory EQ curves (and possibly phase shifts). You can apply these to your main output via a plugin in your DAW or systemwide. How this is done depends on the software. The idea is to hear your entire mix – post all processing – through this filter, so that your decisions are made based on more accurate listening.
Once you’ve tried a good room correction software, the results can be dramatic. Many mixers say they hear things they never heard before, feel a new sense of space and clarity, and can’t believe how much better their mixes translate. Some don’t have such an extreme experience.
The truth is, if you’ve treated your room well enough, any remaining coloration might be negligible enough that you can compensate by getting used to the sound. In fact, this process of acclimating to the sound of the monitors and the room is necessary no matter where you mix, which is why world-class mixers have traditionally either mixed in only one or two studios or sometimes have been known to carry their own monitor speakers to other studios.
When you add room correction, you’ll have to recalibrate your ears, which can take a while. If your mixes are already killing it out in the world and you already feel like you can hear well in the studio, you don’t necessarily need to use room correction.
On the other hand, if you’ve treated your room as well as you can and you can’t seem to get your mixes to translate, room correction might be the missing piece you’ve been looking for. Most packages have trial versions, so there’s no harm in trying it out! Just be prepared to spend at least an afternoon on measurements and setup.
Short answer: yes. Room correction software can do a lot, but the harder it has to work, the less accurate it becomes. If you’re in a concrete box that sounds like the inside of a jet engine every time you play a song, no amount of EQ and phase shifting from the speakers will fix that – it’ll still sound awful. So treat first and fix any problems you come across as well as you can, then use room correction to get you over the finish line.
Room correction software can be truly revolutionary in your studio – if you need it. But you probably shouldn’t get caught up in the hype if you’re already getting great mixes. Of course, there’s no harm in trying it if you’re looking for that next level of improvement. It could be exactly what you’re looking for.
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