Sonarworks’ SoundID has improved stereo monitoring in countless studios worldwide. The new multi‑channel version is designed to do the same for immersive audio.
My colleague John Walden reviewed the SoundID Reference version of the well established Sonarworks room, monitor and headphone optimisation app in the July 2021 issue of Sound On Sound. But since that review, Sonarworks have launched a multi‑channel add‑on to SoundID Reference that enables it to measure and optimise the response of multi‑channel immersive monitoring systems such as those found in Dolby Atmos mix rooms.
There, I’ve said it: Dolby Atmos. You’d have to be living in a windowless shed in the middle of nowhere‑town not to have picked up that Dolby Atmos has rapidly become a big deal in contemporary music production. And while there appears to me to be a significant degree of bandwagon‑jumping going on, with record labels releasing Atmos/Apple Spatial remixes faster, almost, than it is possible to utter the phrase ‘artistic integrity’, there’s no doubt that the format (and immersive audio generally) has fabulous creative potential. I am aware, however, of one major‑league UK band whose record label suggested that one day of studio time would be enough to do an Atmos remix of an entire album. They politely declined.
Along with the fabulous creative potential of immersive audio comes significant monitoring complexity. The minimum number of monitors required for an Atmos mix studio (one that’s not entirely headphone‑based) is nine plus one subwoofer (7.1.2 or 5.1.4), and, in exactly the same way as is the case with a simple stereo pair, their performance will be fundamentally influenced by the room and their location within it. So the need for a room optimisation app such as SoundID Reference to help ensure that such a complex monitoring system is behaving itself and is trustworthy isn’t easy to dispute. Towards the top end of the monitoring market, Genelec, with their proprietary GLM system, and Trinnov, with their more broadly applicable but expensive MC.PRO and D.MON hardware, can already offer multi‑channel immersive monitoring optimisation, but Sonarworks is the first of the more affordable systems to extend beyond stereo monitoring.
When I say “more affordable”, however, there’s no avoiding the fact that SoundID Reference For Multichannel is not far off twice as expensive as the standard stereo version. If you’re an existing user of the stereo version there is, of course, an upgrade deal available, but even the upgrade is almost as expensive as the initial entry price. Perhaps Sonarworks are wise to the fact that a user who’s just invested significant sums in seven or more extra monitors and all the extra cabling and mounting paraphernalia won’t be too concerned about the upgrade price.
So what do you get for the outlay? As with the stereo version, there are effectively two elements to SoundID Reference. Firstly, there’s the standalone measurement app, which takes you through the process of characterising the acoustic behaviour of the monitors and room. The first step of this is to define the monitoring channel arrangement. SoundID Reference For Multichannel supports systems from 2.0 up to 9.1.6 (left, right, centre, six surround, one subwoofer and six overhead) with all the intermediate steps. The measurement routine also requires the use of a calibrated omnidirectional measurement microphone, and although it is possible to use alternative models, the Sonarworks SoundID Reference Measuring Microphone is probably the one best suited to the job. SoundID bundles including the microphone are available.
The SoundID Reference measurement app is intuitive in use and genuinely very slick in the way it manages and prompts you to make the sine‑wave sweep measurements, but the routine requires 37 different microphone positions, so requires significantly more than a few moments’ work. This is even more the case with a multi‑channel monitoring system because, rather than measuring just a stereo pair (and possibly a subwoofer), there’s a minimum of nine monitors and a subwoofer to measure at each mic position. Once the measurement routine is complete (it took around 45 mins for my 5.1.4 system), the SoundID Reference measurement app analyses the results...
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