Sonarworks in Education  /  Christoph Thompson

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.