An accurate monitoring environment results in a cleaner mix but also raises the cost. These top 10 room calibration, correction, and room emulation plugins will help you achieve said environment at a fraction of the cost.
The room emulation plugins are compatible with most headphones and offer a virtual environment to experience immersive spatial audio. The calibration plugins range from acoustic measurement and audio correction to headphone correction. If you’re setting up for a live show and want software that helps calculate and adjust time delays, measure acoustic response, as well as phase-align your rig, it’s covered in this article.
Perhaps you’re more interested in your room acoustics, and you need software that measures and calibrates your room to achieve a cleaner listening environment.
You might be stuck with headphones and need something that improves your listening environment so you can make better mixing decisions and be confident with your work. Whatever the case, this article will explore numerous possibilities for you to improve your listening environments.
Top 10 Room Calibration, Headphones/Monitors Correction & Virtual Room Emulation Plugins 2021
1. IK Multimedia – ARC System 3 (Room Calibration Plugin)
If you’re looking for powerful acoustic analysis and correction software, the ARC System 3 would certainly suffice.
This plugin can analyze acoustic inconsistencies and then apply the necessary corrections that will vastly improve your listening space by making highly accurate measurements. This plugin is made for acoustic purposes but has a lot of perks, such as mix referencing modes, that will aid you in your sonic endeavors.
- Microphone, Room Analysis, and Correction plugin.
With these items working together, this plugin accurately recreates the feeling of being in a well-treated room. The MEMS microphone (Micro-electromechanical Systems) included in the package is used to measure sound at different points in the room for analysis purposes. It is also possible to use 3rd party room analysis microphones. The plugin will use the data received from the analysis in conjunction with the correction algorithm to create a balanced yet natural-sounding environment.
- Frequency balance and stereo imaging
This is a challenge in any room due to many different acoustic phenomena. However, the algorithm used in processing reduces the impact of discrepancies in the room (such as phasing and reflections). Essentially, it provides a better listening environment to make good sonic decisions when mixing and recording.
You have substantial control over various elements influencing the correction. You can control how much ‘correction’ is applied with the trim control and select which frequency range will be affected by the plugin. Additionally, you can choose between 3 resolution options – ‘sharp,’ ‘default,’ and ‘broad’ – which determine how many frequency points will be affected by the correction.
- Virtual Monitoring
Allows you to choose between several popular speaker setups to reference your mix with ease. Notably, there are 2 Correction Modes – Natural and Linear. These controls give you options with the phase response and latency of your systems. 3D Room Analysis also plays a massive role in producing accurate, natural sound.
Available for Windows 7 (64 Bit) or higher with Intel Core i2 Duo or above. Plugin formats: AAX Native, VST2, VST3.
Also available for Mac 10.136 or above with Intel Core i2 Duo or above. Plugin formats: AAX Native, Audio Units, VST2, VST3.
The ARC System 3 is an excellent addition to your DAW as it will rectify any problem areas in your headphones response and your room response. IK Multimedia has done a great job providing this simplified tool for audio engineers everywhere. You can work knowing that what you’re hearing is a trustworthy sound that will translate well across multiple systems.
2. Waves – TRACT System Calibration (Room Calibration Plugin)
If you’re into live sound and want to take your shows to another level, TRACT will be of major benefit.
Tuning your rig has never been easier than it is with this plugin – no matter the venue size and setup. Account for alignment, delays, and phasing with ease to create a standardized mixing environment and get the most out of your system. Any existing FOH engineers might be glad to hear about the beneficial integration with Smaart.
- Autocorrection EQ and Time Alignment
TRACT has stellar accuracy and can be a massive time saver when you’re setting up a sound system. The measurements taken by the plugin will identify areas in the frequency range that need correcting and rectify any delays across the speakers. It helps tackle the issues of phasing, time delay, and reflections resulting in a more accurate and standardized mixing environment.
- FIR EQ
This plugin has a powerful 8 Band FIR EQ built-in for autocorrection, manual adjustments, and general sonic treatment. After the FIR EQ correction data is established, you can also manually control it by altering the reference curve, limiting frequency and levels, or by utilizing the additional 8 bands of EQ.
- Calculate Delay for Aligning Systems
By following the steps, taking various measurements, and capturing the right data, you’re able to time-align all of the speakers in the rig. It rectifies time delays, phasing, and dead-spots in the crowd, meaning a heightened listening experience is for the entire audience.
- Phase Align Subs
The low-end is the most powerful part of the frequency spectrum where a lot of energy comes from. If there are discrepancies with phasing, you know that the audience isn’t getting to experience the system at its best. By phase aligning your subs, you can rest assured that the energy flow will be powerful and translate as intended by the artists performing.
Available for Windows 10 (64 bit) running Intel Core i5 and above. Plugin formats: AAX Native, Audiosuite, VST, VST3.
Available for Mac 10.13.6 and above (Intel only). Plugin formats: AAX Native, Audiosuite, Audio Units, VST, VST3.
Waves TRACT is an astounding tool for any live mix engineers out there. It will guarantee reliable sonic performance and help you get the most out of your space and system for a great show. It is a serious plugin with enormous capabilities and would be worth it if it’s within your budget. One of the ultimate features is that it integrates with Smaart v8 and DI v2, the standardized software in the live industry for FOH engineers.
3. dSONIQ – Realphones (Headphones Correction Plugin)
dSONIC has produced an excellent frequency response correction plugin that incorporates room emulation.
Realphones is known as a ‘headphone studio’ because of the virtual professional studios that you can experience. Not only that, but the frequency response of your headphones will mimic that of the chosen mixing environments that you’ll partake in.
Hence, essentially, the plugin is as much a room emulator as it is a headphone corrector. You can set the plugin to simulate a flat frequency response or a spacious, roomy response. I think you get a lot of value money-wise in the mixing environment interpretation from Realphones.
- Monitor Banks
This feature offers an array of listening environments and setups for you to switch between. They range from professional studio setups to mono playback systems for mix referencing. It also incorporates various listening modes so you can decide between flat response, studio setup, near-field monitors, far-field monitors, and more.
This control determines how much frequency correction the plugin applies to your headphones. You can have it set from 0% to 100% to find a comfortable spot for you. Note that doing so will affect the following controls in the signal chain as it changes the tonal balance of your headphones.
This control affects the “emulation depth of the selected listening environment.” You can have it turned up to 100% or down to 0%. To enjoy a realistic recreation of the studio environment, it should be closer to 100%.
Windows 7 and newer. Plugin formats: VST, VST3, AAX, AU.
Mac 10.9 or newer. Plugin formats: VST, VST3, AAX, AU.
dSONIC has developed an extremely user-friendly plugin that recreates perfect sonic representation. The varying packages and prices allow for an array of audiophiles to find what works for them. You simply need to test it out to experience the virtual environments and amazing headphone response to establish what you’ll need to get the job done.
4. Toneboosters Morphit (Headphones Correction Plugin)
Toneboosters Morphit focuses on headphones and delivering a reliable studio reference for you to mix with.
With a comprehensive list of over 400 compatible headphones, your cans are bound to be available for correction. This plugin is definitely worth exploring if you spend a lot of time mixing in headphones because you’ll be able to do so confidently, thanks to the ‘flat’ sound.
However, you should make sure that your headphones are supported by Morphit from their official website. And I must mention that, unfortunately, I couldn’t find any way to request new models of headphones on Tonebooster’s site, which could be a letdown for some.
- Correct, Simulate or Customize
This plugin is headphone-centric and designed to help achieve a neutral studio reference environment to mix in. It has built-in presets for the most popular headphones – you simply select the pair you own. Morphit takes care of the rest by adjusting the EQ response of what you hear and levels it out into a flat, neutral sound for a more reliable studio reference. Additionally, you have control over how much this effect is applied. Adjust the level of the ‘morph’ knob to get your desired sound.
- Neutral Listening Environment
This feature reproduces a faithful replication of studio reference headphones. It evens out the bass-heavy response of your cans, and the same occurs for any other problem frequencies.
- Reference Against Other Devices
Once you have selected your set of headphones from a selection of over 400, the software applies the EQ correction to give you a flatter response. You can also make it simulate numerous other headphones and listening devices to reference your mix and compare how it sounds.
Windows 7 SP1 or higher with SSE2. Plugin formats: VST, VST3, and AAX Native.
Mac X 10.9 or higher with Intel or Apple Silicon. Plugin formats: VST, VST3, AAX Native, or Audio Units.
Also available for Android and iOS devices.
Being able to have this software with you while you’re on the go is a bonus to all those who are serious about music. If you’re on the bus, train, or in a plane, you know that you can reliably reference the work you’ve done and compare it across multiple listening environments. Additionally, the simplified interface and structure make it easy to use, identify problem areas in your mixes, and deliver standardized work.
5. Sonarworks – Reference 4 (Headphones/Monitors Correction Software)
From headphone correction to room analysis and calibration, all the way to room emulation, it does it all.
If you get the premium package, you’ll have it all in one place. However, if you need the headphone-specific features alone, you can get that separately. Depending on your needs, there is something here for everyone to achieve a heightened listening environment.
Furthermore, I also like Sonarworks’ policy. You can use pre-calculated profiles from their website, or you can request an individual calibration for your existing pair of headphones. While the latter does increase the cost, you’ll get the best experience. On the other hand, if you are yet to own a pair of headphones, you can also buy individually calibrated pairs from Sonarworks themselves (brands include Beyerdynamic, Sennheiser, Audio Technica, etc.).
Calibrate both headphones and speakers with this powerful plugin. When calibrating for speakers, you begin by setting up your room evaluation and taking various measurements around the room. You’ll need an omnidirectional microphone for this – USB mics are not supported. The data collected here is used to rectify issues in your room acoustics, letting you trust what you’re hearing.
- Headphones, Studio, Premium
These are the packages that are offered, and each varies in price and capabilities. The ‘headphones’ version requires the plugin and a pair of headphones to work. You get the application and the plugin as part of the package. The ‘studio’ version requires the addition of a microphone for system measurements (you can purchase the Sound ID Reference mic with the package). The ‘premium’ edition comes with a pair of custom Seinheiser headphones, the Sound ID Reference microphone as well as lifetime updates.
You have a thorough step-by-step guide to help you get set up and acquire the correct measurements. Although this software might be a little more difficult to use, it does an astonishing job of taking accurate measurements that will rectify your headphones or studio. You can save hundreds of profiles and access them from presets. This saves a lot of time and hassle when you just want to sit down and get into the mix.
For this plugin to run, you’ll need a phantom-powered microphone and a stable internet connection. Be sure to follow the steps when calibrating your studio to assure the corrections made are the right ones for your space, as it is a lengthy process.
Windows 8(64-bit) or later. Mac 10.12 or later.
Do not be dismayed by the seemingly complicated process of getting set up. Although it might take up to 20 minutes of your time to do it, it will save you countless hours of referencing your mixes on multiple systems until you get it right. From the start, you’ll be able to mix with confidence and trust that the decisions you make are the right ones.
6. Waves – CLA Nx (Mix Room Emulation Plugin)
The CLA Nx’s design is based on 5 time Grammy Award winner Chris Lord-Alge’s studio. The distinguished acoustician Vincent van Hoff-designed room has produced a lot of hits.
Over the years, Chris has hosted an outstanding number of music stars, including Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Michael Buble, and many more. Aside from his undeniable talent as a producer, you have to consider that his acoustic environment and equipment play a vital role in the process of producing hit records. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the software that emulates it.
- Head tracking
By using either your computer’s webcam, the external Bluetooth Nx Headtracker, or both options together, the plugin will follow your head movements, delivering a realistic audio field and accurate stereo imaging. So, if you turn your head slightly to the left or right, the playback through your headphones will respond by mimicking the real experience of you doing this in the studio.
- Studio Speakers
Switch between all three of the monitoring options to get different perspectives on your mix.
Monitors: Avantone CLA 10s and a 12” Harman Infinity subwoofer (used most frequently).
Mains: Custom-built Oceanway Audio large speakers that each have two 15” cones plus a horn (used for reference and ‘big picture’ listening).
Boombox: Sony ZSM1 (used to reference playback on ordinary speakers).
Even when it seems completely silent, there is still some noise that exists in every room and space. It’s part of what adds to its unique character. This control ranges from 60% to 100%. 60% is considered ‘dry,’ and 100% is considered wet. By increasing the ambiance, you’ll have more sonic character from his control room. This feature provides a prudent emulation of the studio.
This control doesn’t affect the final outcome of your mix. It’s there to help you avoid clipping and distortion through the plugin. If you have a loud mix coming through your DAW, turn down the setting to avoid clipping and mix at a comfortable level. It’s recommended to mix at lower levels but the perceived loudness at higher levels brings out elements in your mix that can otherwise be missed. Increase and decrease the level at regular intervals to hear how your mix sounds when it’s both louder and softer.
This should be the final plugin on your master bus or master channel – there shouldn’t be anything after it in the chain. Listen to a track that you know well to familiarize yourself with the environment.
Pro tip: Deactivate the plugin when you’re bouncing or exporting.
You can use any headphones with the CLA Nx plugin.
Available for Windows 10 64 bit as long as you’re running ‘Intel Core i5’ or above. It comes in AAX, AU, and VST.
Available for macOS 10.13.6 or above – as long as you’re running ‘Intel Core i5’ or above. It comes in AAX, AU, and VST.
This is a V12 plugin so a graphics card that supports ‘Metal’ is also necessary. Metal is a framework that uses advanced functions to optimize various graphic and video processes.
Waves have delivered an outstanding product for anybody who can afford it. In collaboration with Chris Lord-Alge, they have very accurately recreated his top-of-the-range studio environment for all to use. With it, you can mix your own work in a virtual, multi-million dollar studio space. Fortunately, you can use any headphones with this software. There’s no need to upgrade your cans because the best bet is to use a pair that you know well and trust.
7. Waves – Nx Ocean Way Nashville (Mix Room Emulation Plugin)
Waves teamed up with the acoustic legend and certified audiophile, Allen Sides, to recreate his world-renowned Ocean Way Nashville studios.
If you doubt the accuracy of this, you might be persuaded knowing that it has the studio designer’s support. When Allen signs off on an emulation plugin reproducing his infamous studios, you know it’s good. With that said, if you want to get into one of the most incredible studio control rooms ever constructed, you should look no further than this edition of the Waves Nx series.
- Dependable Sonic Representation
This plugin was designed in close collaboration with the admirable acoustician and audiophile Allen Sides. He is the designer and founder of the Ocean Way Nashville studio complex. The custom HR1/HR5 monitors were built specifically for this room and are arguably some of the best studio speakers in existence. You can experience it through your headphones and know that it’s a very dependable representation of the chosen control room.
The controls you’ll find here are very similar to those previously discussed in the ‘Waves CLA’ review. You have control over the ambiance, mixing level, head direction, and monitor setup.
- Depth, space & low-end response
Achieving accurate depth and space in the mix is hard to do with headphones. It’s also tricky to pan everything into the right space when you do not hear an accurate representation of the sound. Adding to it is the unrealistic bass response of most headphones which causes many issues in the mixdown. This plugin renders these issues obsolete and offers users a realistic listening environment. Furthermore, this specific sweet spot happens to be in an Ocean Way Nashville studio.
- Nx and Head Tracking
“Waves Nx uses channel crosstalk, inter-aural delays (ITD), filters (ILD), early reflections, and head motion tracking to replicate the immersive experience of hearing audio in the real world.” This makes the experience very realistic and worth exploring if you’re stuck with headphones.
Available for Windows 10 64 bit as long as you’re running ‘Intel Core i5’ or above. It comes in AAX, AU, and VST.
Available for macOS 10.13.6 or above – as long as you’re running ‘Intel Core i5’ or above. It comes in AAX, AU, and VST.
Any one of us would be lucky to just sit in this room and listen, let alone carry out a production session. Backed by Waves and Allen Sides, you can virtually be in the control room and experience what only the best have experienced in the past. Try it out for yourself and you can determine whether or not the rooms at Ocean Way Nashville are sufficient acoustic environments for you to mix in. It’s guaranteed to elevate your abilities and save you time when second-guessing.
8. Acustica Audio – Sienna (Mix Room Emulation Plugin)
Acustica Sienna is dedicated to improving your headphone listening experience.
This is a great tool to have if you’re mixing on the go because it combines corrective algorithms and room emulations. The idea is that you’ll be confident to mix in your headphones wherever you may be.
Reference is dedicated to correcting headphones. From the extensive dropdown menu, select your pair of headphones. With simple controls, you are able to implement varying levels of correction and achieve a better listening environment. The ‘magic Q’ affects the level of correction, and there are also controls to affect the dry/wet and level of the signal.
You can choose from two different studio environments for the plugin to emulate, with extra rooms coming soon in expansion packs. As with most of these emulation plugins, you’ll be free to explore the sound of various professional studios and use these opportunities to reference your mixes and be sure they translate.
This version is more advanced than the previous two and allows extended control of various parameters. It’s slightly more complex and allows you to fine-tune specific plugin areas and, therefore, your room. If you know what you’re doing, this is a great addition to have in your studio.
Available for Windows 10 and macOS X, 10.14. Plugin Formats: VST, AU, AAX.
Sienna is a powerful plugin and mix tool that offers similar features to everything that we have already discussed. The unique virtual environments mean that you have access to a completely new set of rooms to experience as well as a unique algorithm that makes Sienna stand out. It’s straightforward and offers users multiple versions, depending on what your needs are.
9. Waves Nx Virtual Mix Room (Mix Room Emulation Plugin)
This groundbreaking plugin has taken immersive audio to the next level.
If you’re working with ambisonics or 5.1 surround sound, Nx Virtual Mix Room will be a saving grace for tight deadlines, limited studio time, or being stuck away from loudspeakers. Nx pushes the boundaries of spatial audio and unbelievably recreates 360-degree sound. This plugin will provide you with a very realistic immersive listening experience.
- Pristine Acoustic Environment
The high-quality virtual listening environment is realistic and offers users a chance to experience a professional studio environment through headphones. It’s no surprise seeing as though this is powered by the incredible Waves Nx technology.
- Head Modelling and Tracking
The software features head tracking, which measures and tracks the movements of your head accurately. It is a significant asset when experiencing spatial sound. It also aids in creating a realistic audio field within your headphones.
- Virtual Speaker Positioning
This control allows you to position each speaker in your chosen virtual system. It’s an incredible feature considering it extends beyond stereo into 360 degrees sound.
- Ambisonics B Format, 7.1, 5.1, and 5.0 surround
The ability to recreate these sound formats in a pair of stereo headphones has changed the game of spatial mixing. Having the capacity to mix in these formats outside of a professional studio will allow engineers more time to work in a reliable environment.
- Headphone Calibration EQ
The software offers a powerful correction EQ for a number of existing headphones. You can select a pair from the options available and rectify any misrepresentations of your headphone sound. This feature can be toggled on and off as you go.
Available for Windows 10 64 bit as long as you’re running ‘Intel Core i5’ or above. It comes in AAX, VST, VST3.
macOS 10.13.6 or above – as long as you’re running ‘Intel Core i5’ or above. It comes in AAX, AU, VST, VST3.
Waves have taken virtual emulation to another level by incorporating immersive sound environments in this plugin. Being able to accurately and confidently mix ambisonics or 5.1 in a pair of headphones is groundbreaking. It may have been impossible to do with a pair of headphones, but now it’s a reality. There are limited studios around that offer this kind of environment in the first place, so being able to set up sessions and mix confidently without physically being in one of them opens up a lot of opportunities for future immersive audio engineers.
10. Klevgrand Rum Review (Mix Room Emulation Plugin)
The ‘Rum simulator’ by Klevgrand is a unique plugin that is bound to achieve exclusive perspectives and sounds.
‘Rum’ translated from Swedish, is ‘room,’ which is simple and fitting. It works by simulating recordings from intriguing yet unusual locations such as bedrooms, corridors, and workshops. Rum’s interface has numerous controls that you can tweak to achieve different outcomes of the simulated locations. Although it wouldn’t be used for any type of acoustic improvement, as the previous plugins did, it is a versatile multi-level effect.
Unlike the previous plugins and software in this article, the Rum simulator gives you a range of unique environments to run your music through. The results vary according to your chosen environment, but the idea is to achieve a multitude of textured outcomes. You’re given the option of rooms such as bedrooms, corridors, hallways, offices, kitchens, studios, staircases, and workshops. Let’s take a look at what you can do to affect them.
Mic, Character, and Pre Delay are the parameters that can be tweaked to achieve different outcomes within the chosen ‘rums.’ ‘Mic’ allows you to change the pick-up patterns on the microphones that are simulating the recordings. Character determines how much of the rum environment will influence the simulation. Finally, Pre-delay allows you to ‘move’ your microphone further away from the walls for a varied outcome in the chain.
There is a ‘ducking’ feature with threshold, attack, and release parameters if you feel the need to cut back some harsh transients peaking through. This might be necessary depending on what audio you’ve got coming through, especially if it’s got lots of drums or highs.
Here we have a unique set of controls: ‘fatness’ and ‘spread.’ Fatness and Spread increase ambiance, reverb, and width with a built-in ‘Modulation’ and ‘Stereo-Spreader.’ This is used to set your final touches on the chosen environment’s size and width, adding substantial character.
- Gain and EQ
Simple features at the beginning of the chain. Set the gain and filter out the unwanted highs and lows from the simulated recording.
It works with Windows 7 running SP1 or higher. Plugin formats are VST or AAX.
You can also get it on macOS 10.12 or higher, running as an AU, VST, or AAX.
It is also available for iPad AUv3 as a Plugin, Standalone.
This plugin doesn’t work like the others for acoustic correction or emulation because it is a simulator. It provides the opportunity to experience your sound in some customizable, out-of-the-box environments as if it was recorded there.
Room acoustics are very important in music production. Your room is only as good as its weakest point. The alternative is to use headphones. However, the stereo image in headphones is binaural, where the sound from each speaker enters each ear. On the flip side, speakers mix the sound in the air. You can still hear sounds from the left side in the right ear and vice versa. Therefore, listening in a room will almost always convey a more accurate image of the sound.
That said, we have three kinds of plugins on our list. First, there are plugins that correct the frequency balance of headphones. Second, there are room calibration plugins that use specialized mics to correct issues in your room. And finally, there are room emulation plugins that emulate a studio environment in your headphones.
Unlike other plugins, you need to select based on your needs and compatibility rather than preference. For instance, if you want to work on surround sound with headphones, you need Waves Nx Virtual Mix Room. Similarly, if you own, say, the Samson SR950 headphones, Tonebooster’sss Morphit would be no use for you. Instead, you should opt for Sonarworks Reference 4.
Check out the links we’ve placed under each plugin and see if your headphones are supported before you make a decision. Similarly, for room calibration, make sure you find a good calibration mic. IK Multimedia’s ARC mic is a cheap yet efficient option.
With that, we reach the end of the article. I hope the information provides you some insight into the next step of acoustic correction for your music production.
I’m an audio enthusiast, electronic music producer, label co-director, and sound engineer from Cape Town.