Headphone mixing: Reference 4 Headphone Edition (Sonarworks, Plug-in Collective)

For the Focusrite users out there, this months freeby offering in their Plug-in Collective is a seven-month license to Sonarworks Reference 4 Headphone Edition. I guess it’s about recalibrating your cans to remove unwanted coloration to get a flatter, more accurate, generalizable mix when mixing thru headphones. From their description:

" Sonarworks’ Reference 4 Headphone Edition is simple but impactful, aiming to flatten the response of your headphones. Why is that important? Most headphones “colour” the sound you hear, which means they can mask or exaggerate certain frequencies which could negatively impact how you decide to mix your track. Reference 4 HE removes unwanted colouration meaning you can focus on your music instead of worrying about your set-up, and work on the go with your laptop, confident in the accuracy of your mix."

I would love to know if anyone has used this or recommends it? Cristina, I know you mix thru your headphones: Have you used anything like this? It “seems” like it would make sense. I read rave reviews but don’t trust the hype. I trust you guys and would love to know what you think.

It’s free. I’m gonna download and try. Will also post my impressions.

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Well, I downloaded the Reference 4 app. It’s a very different sound. Without the plug, my headphones in their “natural state” are much, much brighter. It really shows how much different my headphones are, uncorrected. Very bright up top: a good 6-8 dB bunch of boosts around 7-9.5 K, and about 3 dB around, say, 1.5 or maybe 2 K. My mids are low and my bottom end is off-the-charts low.

I’m quite curious, now. If this is accurate, it would have huge repercussions on my mixes and why they don’t transfer well.

When I mix, I mix in headphones, stereo and mono (Grado phones), I check in cheapo earbuds, stereo and mono, I listen on my KRK VXT4 monitors, stereo and mono, and low and medium volumes, and I listen thru my VXT4s also with an Auratone impulse plugin on the mixbuss, both mono and stereo. I also compare with a small handful of reference files (Mastering the Mix Reference plugin). All helpful, but there’s no question, I have to keep tweaking, tweaking, tweaking, tweaking, cuz I’m finding I can get a great mix, but it doesn’t transfer well.

So, “when I have the time” I’ll try to mix using this plug and will post my mix, alongside another mix of the same song w/o the plug. Not sure when I will get to it. Won’t be today.

While I get what this does, if you religiously reference other mixes, I wonder if it’s just a matter of having to re-learn your headphones after they are “corrected” for a flatter frequency response. (??)

Yep, I use Sonarworks! I bought my Sennheiser HD600s from them with the custom calibration. I don’t have a strong opinion of it, other than that I use it. (Which is perhaps the a good endorsement.) It seemed like a good idea to me as well. I use those headphones when I want a neutral representation of my mix, and I’ll test on other devices like earbuds and 2.1 speakers.

The annoying thing about it is that it greatly reduces the volume of your mix, so you either have to turn up the master fader or crank up the volume on your headphone output in order to listen at a reasonable level. And then you have to remember to bypass the plugin before rendering the track, or else you may be scratching your head later as to why it sounds a bit off.

But yeah, like you’ve pointed out it does make a noticeable difference. Everyone says that mixing on headphones is not ideal so I just wanted to have the best shot possible and thought this plugin would help.

If you had to do it over again, would you purchase again? Did you find it improved your mixes? I’ve listened to several of your mixes, Cristina, and they are quite nice; but IDK which would have been done with Sonarworks. So, have you found it to make your mixing process any easier? Improve your mixes?


I use AKG K240’s and Adam A7 monitors, there is definitely no massive bass (or indeed treble) response in either of those either… so the last thing you want is the bottom end to get overhyped like that in your software.

You already know how I hear your stuff as I’ve mixed it for you, and the bottom end is apparently just fine .

You maybe just need to listen to a mix you trust on some speakers you like. The Grado’s will probably also be fine for you when you learn them, as well as some decent quality monitors with ‘just enough’ low end.

This is a tough concept to learn: flat monitoring with completely exposed midrange, without any flattering high end or anything like an extended bass response.

… but don’t feel short changed or hard done by as (I promise you) the ubiquitous Yamaha NS10’s that the pro’s use are even more unforgiving and brutal. :slight_smile:

This is just real life in the ‘nearfield’ monitoring world.

My mixes get better all the time because I still have a lot to learn. How much of it is the headphones? No idea. :woman_shrugging: As for buying it again… hmm. I think that I would. I love the headphones. They’re really comfortable and sound awesome. And the price of the software was relatively small compared to the cost of the headphones… I think I would buy it again. It gives me some peace of mind about what I’m hearing.

Oh I should also mention, I use it along with Waves NX. My master bus always has Waves NX -> Sonarworks on it. I turn NX on and off sometimes. My opinion about NX is the same as it is with Sonarworks: I use it, but I don’t know if it helps my mixes. I do know that sometimes when I turn it on I get the strange feeling that the sound is coming out of speakers, which to me speaks to its effectiveness. It’s easy to switch between the simulated speakers and headphones. In theory, I love this approach because it takes the room completely out of the equation. I would rather learn to mix this way than with speakers, if at all possible. To me it’s just more practical. So that’s why I went for it.

Ah! You’ll be happy to know that you can override that! Turn off the Safe Headroom button near the bottom-right of the plug-in, then push the slider on the rght all the way to the top. It should be pretty close to volume-matched for your original signal with the plug-in bypassed.

Interesting. Do you have that bluetooth sensor thing that recognizes head movement and how far you are from the speakers? If so, I’d be curious as to how well it works and whether it’s helpful?

Well if you do that, it does clip sometimes. I prefer to leave it on and just turn my volume up. But yeah it is a good option to have.

No I don’t use it with the sensor. To me that’s rather gimmicky and not useful for mixing.