I got the call a couple weeks before CES. A familiar Public Relations firm wanted me to meet up with a new client. I resisted initially…too many scheduled meeting can get in the way of an efficient route traveling the acres of CES show floor. “But,” the rep said, “it’s Sonarworks, the folks that do headphone compensation, and they want to meet you.” Ahhhh, I know of them and am curious. Compensating headphones is tricky business; I would like to hear their story. I arranged a fairly early morning meeting so as not to impede my daily routine…and boy am I glad I did.

Helmut Blems, CEO, and Janis Spogis, VP Products, were engaging and competent spokesmen for the Sonarworks products, able to clearly understand and directly address my technical questions…until they wouldn’t. There’s quite a lot of proprietary technology they’ve invented to perform the difficult task of compensating headphones and as I tried to drill into the details there was only so far I could go before company secrets closed the door. None the less, it was quite obvious they knew what they were talking about, and what they knew was some pretty delicious secret sauce.

Sonarworks has a suite of tools for professional recording studios to equalize their studio monitors. Helmut went into detail about some of their measurement techniques and the data produced. They’re able to produce acoustic maps of control rooms and provide users with a powerful set of room tunings that permit the engineer to create a very tight sweet spot while working, and then switch to another room tuning to produce a sweet spot at the couch behind the engineer for producers and artists to hear the mix. Very cool stuff, you can check it out here.

No surprise, with numerous successful studio tweaks under their belt, recording professionals started asking if they could do similar things for studio headphones. They started looking into it…no surprise, they found out it was a lot harder than they expected. When I told them I felt EQing headphones was at least four times harder than EQing speakers they both nodded their heads in agreement. None the less, they persisted.

Though they wouldn’t go into detail, they’ve found a way to transfer their understanding of neutral on speakers to headphones. They do have at least four measurement systems to acquire data for over-ear, on-ear, in-ear, and intra-conchal (ear-bud) headphones. They’ve taken may thousands of headphone measurements, and currently have compensation curves for 117 headphones.

Their True-Fi headphone compensation software ($79) is available as a plug-in for a variety of digital audio workstations and full-featured music playback software, but they also have versions that get installed on MAC or PC computers that inserts itself deeply into the audio playback system to allow compensated playback from any audio source. They will also soon be shipping apps for both iOS and Android playback, which will be included with your $79 purchase when available. My understanding is that he $79 price also includes all current and future headphone compensation curves developed.

The proof is in the pudding though, so they gave me a little demo. They played the same track on a cellphone driving a Marshall Monitor headphone (an abysmal sounding headphone) and from a laptop driving a Sennheiser HD 650 through an outboard DAC. Both were compensated. I switched back and forth listening for tonal differences. It was a very weird experience. Both headphones sounded very similar tonally…but there were differences in imaging, dynamics, and resolve. Then the compensation was turned off. OMG, the Marshalls sounded bad, and while the HD 650 returned to a familiar sound signature, it was indeed less neutral to my ears.

Needless to say I didn’t leave without a request to sample the software…and have already received a promo code to download the full product. This should be fun!

Helmuts and Janis give you the full rundown in the video.

View on YouTube here.

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