When you setup a studio, especially in your home, where rooms are not built specifically for acoustic purposes, the first problem you deal with is the neighbors.
After a cup of tea and a long negotiations to keep the vibes on your street clean and peaceful, the next step is to buy the equipment to make your studio sound good enough. You need to create an environment in which you are able to make critical aural decisions that are not filtered and influenced by layers of variables like the speakers, the audio converters, cables, and, more importantly the acoustics of the room itself.
You need to treat the acoustic, tame those frequencies that bounce around the studio, summing up and eliminating themselves, in other words, messing with the flatness you are looking for when you are working with audio.
Even with great acoustic panels, reflectors, bass traps and their perfect placement, sometimes there still is something that shapes the perception of the waveforms that hit your ears (monitor sound itself, or other infinite acoustic problems that are almost impossible to deal with).
This is where digital acoustic corrector systems come into play.
There are different brands and versions of these, and the basic idea is to place a microphone in the sweet spot facing the speakers (you should aim to create an equilateral triangle which corners are the speakers and your head), and play a default sound through them which is then captured by the microphone. With a comparison between the captured sound (altered by the passage through the monitors and the acoustics of the room), and the original signal, the software is able to generate an ideal EQ curve to plug in your master channel that should even out the acoustics variables of your room.
This is obviously not a definitive solution for acoustic treatment since you are not eliminating the source of the problems, but trying to avoid them lowering the frequencies that are too prominent and turning up the ones that are too low in your room.
This means that if your main standing wave is at 200Hz and the software lowers it coming out form your monitors, you will hear the 200Hz frequency balanced in the environment, but actually "generated" or better" amplified by the room and not the speakers, meaning that your perception of that range of frequencies is altered and your mix will sound lacking of those in every other speaker. A simple experiment to become aware of the room influence on your mixes is to plY back your music and once you stop the playback it will take the room's time to decay some frequencies' tails after the actual stop of the music.
However, these system can possibly become extremely useful within acoustically treated rooms to fine tune it to perfection, and to definitely enhance the non-treated rooms' acoustic.
The ARC System
IK Multimedia ARC system is one of these acoustic hero, and its bundle comprehends acoustic treatment software plus MEMS Michrophone.
Once you open the box, you get a download code, you need to go to the IK Multimedia website, setup your account, and download the ARC system on your computer, then authorize the software using the code provided in the box.
The process is straightforward and quite fast. and the software looks great and extremely simple: you first open the standalone app to calibrate your hardware for measurement, you measure your room, it generates the perfect EQ curve and stores it in your system, so you can recall it within your plugin in your DAW.
The MEMS microphone (Microelectromechanical systems, basically microphones built with silicon technology, insuring stability over time) is a condenser omnidirectional microphone built specifically for the ARC Software. It is extremely light and compact, made of plastic and comes with its own clip.
It is not designed for recording, as its frequency response it quite flat so it won't color your sound in anyway, but still, if you like to experiment, you can of course use it to record instruments and sounds, which is a plus.
Setup and Measurement
As expected the setup is extremely straightforward: you open the app and follow its instructions, as you can see in this video:
Yes, it is as simple as that. However, I suggest you don't move the microphone too much between the various measurements, since in every inch of the room the acoustic is different, and the software will generate an average corrective EQ curve based on an algorithm that takes all the measurements done and creates something that is good enough for all of them: the more extended is the spot you are measuring, the less accurate the correction will be. Besides, you often have one one sweet spot in standard studios, so I would probably prefer to have that single spot sounding great rather than different positions in the rooms sounding okay. On the other hand,, if you move around a lot in your studio and have different equipment al around you, you might need an environment which helps you and your creative purposes. Besides, you can store and recall different measurements and EQ curves in the plugin, so you are able to switch between all of your personal and hidden spots in your studio for a great listening everywhere.
Once you have done your measurements, and the system has generated an stored the precious EQ curve, you can open your daw and place the plugin on the master channel to balance the room acoustic.
The interface is gorgeous (personally) and it provides three different sections: preset recall, custom curve and monitor setup.
- Preset Recall: here is where the magic happens, you have a section for recalling the eq curves generated with the standalone app, plus a second menu in which you can recall preset EQ's to emulate different monitoring environment and different monitorsr system. Pretty interesting to virtually change the brand, type and model of your monitors, make it sound vintage, modern, as if it was a radio, and a bunch of other options, plus custom curves you can crate and add yourself t fine tune the measurement to your taste.
- Custon Curve: In this section you can adjust the EQ curve with the help of a parametric equaliser. This is very useful if you would like to change the sound of the monitor to a particular taste, adding a bit of spark, or emulating a different environment which you might be used to (for example if you work in a different studio and want to stop your monitors to sound similar to the ones in that studio) or whatever you might want to do with it.
- Monitor Section: Here you find some parameters to control your monitor, An input level to adjust the plugin level, a Volume knob to adjust the monitor level, and a mode knob to select the listening mode switching between stereo, mono and side. Plus a dim and mute buttons. Pretty useful to check the mix in different modes and, well, control your monitor system.
On the lower side of the plugin there is a meter (pre or post plugin) with a trim knob, and a button to bypass the plugin.
As I said, the setup is extremely easy and you can measure your room in minutes.
The plugin is user friendly as well and the level of customization makes it a useful tool not only to correct the room, but also, if you want as an alternative EQ plugin to use and setup on your single tracks or buses.
The EQ is transparent, of course and I think the MID SIDE selector is extremely useful in mastering situations: if you duplicate your track, place an arc system on the top of the insert plugin chain of both channels both in flat mode, but one in MID and the other in SIDE modes, you basically can control and manage differently the mastering of the mono instruments and the ones placed on the sides, If you then sum the two tracks again in another track, you then control the track as a whole, making this useful if you want to EQ just the sounds on your mono channel, or turn up the high end only on the stereo channel so you don't make the vocals sound too harsh but bring some brightness on the cymbals.
This is an extremely powerful system which provides you with a tool to tame the acoustics in your room. As I stated in the introduction, this is not aimed to fix everything and you will unfortunately need to work physically on the treatment of your room. Nevertheless, it will be extremely useful in treated rooms to fine tune and adjust just a little bit the speakers to balance them just in the right way.
It is a shame that IK Multimedia at the time of writing this does not provide the option of correcting the speaker outside the DAW domain, as other similar products offer (such as Reference by Sonarworks) however the ARC 2.5 does exactly what it was desinged for and it does it brilliantly and on budget, given the inclusion of a very well built microphone and clip.
Here is a link to the ARC System: