Sonarworks in Education

Sonarworks is being used as a teaching tool in the classroom for demonstrating the critical importance of frequency response and room interference.

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Educators already using Sonarworks

Find out more about educators that are using Sonarworks in their teaching.

Christoph Thompson

Co Director of the Music Media Production Program at Ball State University

Since room calibration is an essential skill we made Sonarworks part of the curriculum. From an educator’s standpoint Reference 4 is a great teaching tool because the results can be so drastic that beginning students can hear them and the visual feedback supports what is taught in acoustics and recording classes.

Christoph Thompson

Co Director of the Music Media Production Program at Ball State University

The first time I saw digital room correction yield impressive results was when hanging out with Bob Katz. Bob came to Ball State University for a weeklong workshop with our students and needed to create a mastering level listening environment in our largest studio. What I learned was that digital room correction works, and it worked exceptionally well because of Bob’s experience and ears. Bob used a custom solution that worked very well, made sense to me, but in my eyes was meant for experienced users.

Until then we swept our rooms with analyzers and made adjustments with analog filters, so when we started looking for an integrated digital solution we came across Sonarworks. When the systems engineer showed me the calibration process I couldn’t believe how much of the guess work was taken out of the equation. Sonarworks along with a solid understanding of acoustics is a very powerful combination.

All the main control rooms, including the mastering suite at the Ball State University School of Music, run Sonarworks Reference 4. As a Music Media Production undergraduate degree program there are in fact several learning outcomes that Reference 4 fills for us. First, it is our primary room calibration tool. Our rooms never sounded better and the dynamic structure of the software allows us to quickly recalibrate to respond to multiple monitor selections. The students will never properly develop critical listening skills if the room is skewing the listening environment.

Second, the ease of use and the informative interface makes it a cakewalk to explain the correction to students. Any second-year student who has taken acoustics and the first recording techniques class will understand what is going on. And this is where I would like to make an important point: Sonarworks is great, but it is much better in the hands of someone who has taken an acoustics class and knows what to listen for. Since room calibration is an essential skill we made Sonarworks part of the curriculum. In our Studio Maintenance course, our students autonomously measure and calibrate rooms: Perfectly designed rooms in our studios, as well as their personal mixing spaces. The gained results then get analyzed as a group, and solutions that would improve the listening environment acoustically are debated. From an educator’s standpoint Reference 4 is a great teaching tool because the results can be so drastic that beginning students can hear them and the visual feedback supports what is taught in acoustics and recording classes.

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Bill Crabtree

Assistant Professor, Coordinator Production & Technology at Middle Tennessee State University

Today, with most students having their own workstation at home, they do a lot of mixing and editing work in an environment that we (faculty) have no control over. Sonarworks allows us to create some consistency between our on-campus studios and the student’s home systems. Every system is different, but Sonarworks Reference 4 does allow students to trust their home systems to a much greater degree.

Bill Crabtree

Assistant Professor, Coordinator Production & Technology at Middle Tennessee State University

One of the biggest challenges I see with students is in them gaining a clear understanding of what a recording should sound like versus how their playback system is changing their impressions. Sometimes it’s hard to know what is really there! Just a few years ago, students would do the vast majority of their work in a controlled studio environment. Today, with most students having their own workstation at home, they do a lot of mixing and editing work in an environment that we (faculty) have no control over. Sonarworks allows us to create some consistency between our on-campus studios and the student’s home systems. Every system is different, but Sonarworks Reference 4 does allow students to trust their home systems to a much greater degree. 

Sonarworks is also a good teaching tool for demonstrating the issues related to system optimization. With the Reference 4 software, I can take students through the measurement process while discussing the variables involved. Students can easily compare what the software is doing to what it would be like without it; which is often a real eye-opener for them. We can set up systems in a variety of environments and shoot multiple profiles pretty quickly to see the impact of different speakers and different positions in different spaces. It definitely raises student’s awareness of system optimization and the importance of an accurate playback environment.

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Will Pirkle

Assistant Professor of Music Engineering Technology at University of Miami, Frost School of Music

I can say without hesitation that this is a product worth checking out and I can not wait until I get my students up and running with it.  With Sonarworks, I believe that we may finally have a solution to get consistently even results across the spectrum of gear, from our multi-million dollar studios to the student’s dorm room setups and everything between. What a fantastic pairing of education and technology this makes!
 

Will Pirkle

Assistant Professor of Music Engineering Technology at University of Miami, Frost School of Music

Will Pirkle
Program Director: Music Engineering Technology
Frost School of Music
University of Miami

In the 1990’s I skeptically allowed a well-known acoustician and associated monitor company analyze, and then EQ our Studio A mains in the brand new Weeks Recording Center at the University of Miami. Coming from a background of “don’t do anything that will make your monitors lie to you” I didn't put much faith in the process, but to my amazement, over the next few months I found that the mixes *were* sounding better as a result, and since we could disable the EQ programmatically, we could experiment with the resulting mixes in our courses. By the mid-2000s, hand-held spectrum analyzers and even iOS applications could generate pink noise and indicate issues with modes in a room, but I was never able to get even close to the same results as that original tuning/EQ-ing in my own home studio, and that was with professional treatments, bass traps, and some expensive EQs as well.


So, when I first got my Sonarworks kit I found myself back to the same doubtful-but-hopeful frame of mind. Before using the product in my own studio with three sets of high-end monitors, I decided to try a worst-case scenario: the small, powered speakers in my computer lab at home. The room is carpeted but otherwise acoustically untreated. And the monitors are the standard “$99/pair” 2-way variety — not horrible but certainly nothing I would consider mixing a tune with. The wall behind my computer desk is only 4.5 feet back and covered in prints while the left and right sides of the room are drastically different insofar as the wall materials and bookshelves go. The calibration was simple and when I turned on the final product, there was indeed a remarkable difference in the quality of the audio; it went from crappy and low-budget to a reasonably good sounding pair of speakers.

However, creating a good EQ for a pair of speakers is not the final end-game here so I ran some more tests: I downloaded a set of stems from Mike Senior’s website of an unfamiliar tune in a genre I rarely mix for — 11 tracks of UK punk-rock goodness. I imported the stems into my DAW and set panning only and saved the raw session. Then, I added a single graphic EQ plugin to 7 of the 11 tracks. I left the two vocal tracks unprocessed as well as the two rack-tom tracks that were barely used. I then mixed the tune using only the single, identical EQ on those tracks without the Sonarworks plugin activated. After finishing a hardware project and having lunch, I came back with fresh ears and mixed the entire tune again, this time with the Sonarworks EQ active and after re-setting all the EQs to flat. I then bounced everything down to a pair 2-mix versions without touching any controls. There was no automation or other processing; in fact, I simply left the room while the 2-mixes were being generated.


I then burned the two versions to a CD and went for a drive in my pickup truck, listening to the two versions over my 2008 Panasonic automotive CD player using its internal amps. Though I did expect some difference, I was shocked by the drastic differences that appeared: the non-Sonarworks version had screaming loud vocals and a snare drum that had the “blanket thrown over it” problem — the bass guitar part, which had been well recorded with the standard DI plus mic-ed tracks, had vanished and the bottom end of the guitars was muddy; this was after rolling off most of the guitar low-end as well. Flipping to the Sonarworks version, the vocals gelled into the mix and while still out front and in your face, they weren’t overwhelming. The snare drum popped out in its own frequency band and the bass and guitars sat together nicely. I can honestly say that I was somewhat taken aback by the fact that I was listening to a reasonably good mix that had been made on speakers that most professionals would laugh at, myself included. The most recent mix from my home studio was for a commercial release of an all-acoustic bluegrass band that has been released for some time. Right now, I am trying to find the master hard drive with the raw tracks so I can go back and remix the entire product — just for my own edification.

With these tests done, I can say without hesitation that this is a product worth checking out and I can not wait until I get my students up and running with it. Our main studio has a 128 channel virtual patch-bay so that our students may plug in their laptops and record through our consoles, outboard gear and preamps directly into their DAWs. Many of them will make multiple rough mixes later at home, then come back and compare with their mixes on our expensive monitors. With Sonarworks, I believe that we may finally have a solution to get consistently even results across the spectrum of gear, from our multi-million dollar studios to the student’s dorm room setups and everything between. What a fantastic pairing of education and technology this makes!


In addition, we are a technically advanced program, and we always look for ways to incorporate new advances in technology into our curriculum; these include patent studies, reverse engineering or completely re-designing our own hardware and software products and graduate case studies and thesis projects. I can see the Sonarworks products being used for active demonstrations and listening in our architectural acoustics course, while our more advanced graduate classes in psychoacoustics and audio signal processing could benefit from analyzing and modeling the Sonarworks process. Kudos to Sonarworks for producing a high-quality product at a very reasonable price point. I can’t wait to see what new products Sonarworks produces next!


Will Pirkle
11-13-19
Lighthouse Point, Florida

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Jessica Thompson

Instructor, Mastering & Media Preparation at SAE Expression, Emeryville CA

In the classroom, I had students call out their preferred brand of headphones. We pulled up the headphones’ calibration profiles on Sonarworks Reference 4 and compared them to each other. Students were honestly blown away by the vastly different equalization curves built into their favorite headphones. This was a real eye (and ear!) opening moment.
 

Jessica Thompson

Instructor, Mastering & Media Preparation at SAE Expression, Emeryville CA

I had already used Sonarworks Reference 4 in my personal digitization and restoration studio to identify and treat issues with frequency response. When teaching critical listening to a class of aspiring audio engineers and producers, I knew this software would be a fabulous tool for illustrating just how different playback systems can sound. Illustrating! I know, a visual word to understand audio concepts. But the visual mapping of headphone calibration profiles in Sonarworks Reference 4 truly helped my students comprehend how monitors and headphones are designed, as well as the impact of listener position and the value of utilizing acoustic measurements and treatment in critical listening environments.
 
In the classroom, I had students call out their preferred brand of headphones. We pulled up the headphones’ calibration profiles on Sonarworks Reference 4 and compared them to each other. Students were honestly blown away by the vastly different equalization curves built into their favorite headphones. This was a real eye (and ear!) opening moment. Visualizing the frequency response helped them better understand how their monitoring systems impact their perception of the music they are creating. Especially when it comes to low end, this tool helped my students comprehend the extent to which something as basic as their choice of headphones impacts the decisions they make as mix and mastering engineers.

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Sonarworks is invaluable to students

Sonarworks Reference 4 ensures that whatever environment students are mixing in, they all use a common flat frequency response.

Mobility

by Craig Van ReMoortel, Drexel University

At Drexel University, we have great studios that I can work in, but each of them is different, and that makes moving projects between them a bit challenging. Also, my headphones are somewhat colored, which makes it harder for me to work from home. Sonarworks makes all of these environments sound the same, and now I can move between locations with ease. I can even mix on the train.

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Learning Tool

by Fernanda Herrara Lendechy, SAE Mexico City

Sonarworks lets me visualize the frequency response of each room I work in. It really gives me a good feel of how the speaker placement affects my home studio. I’ve got a much better sense of how the room is affecting the timbre of the instruments I am mixing. I love this software.

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Improved Mixing Results

by Kaela Dunlap, Shenandoah Conservatory

When I started working on the Sonarworks monitoring target, it was much easier than I initially thought. The drums, for example, sounded much more spot-on in my latest assignment, which my professor also appreciated and complimented. I’m a lot more confident that my mixes will translate. Very happy.

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Collaboration

by Chris Mallamaci, Emerson College

I like working on music with my talented friend from high school. Even though we are thousands of miles apart, we can still find some consistency in our mixes because we both use the same flat frequency curve. This tool rocks!

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Do It All on a Student Budget

by Rory Higginson, Northeastern University

I'm still working on the same monitors I’ve had since high school. I'm used to them and I don’t really want to buy expensive monitors until I can afford something great. With Reference 4, I can get great results without trying to spend money that I don’t have. 

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