The Sonarworks Reference plug-in makes a difference that is out of all proportion to its modest price, and is capable of turning an unremarkable pair of headphones into a serious mix tool.
The Reference 3 plug-in provides many useful features, like graphs of the before and after frequency responses, the correction curve, as well as more esoteric information like dynamic range limits and phase-response graphs for those who desire to view such information. This effective plug-in may be used in a very simple plug-and-play way, or you can delve under the hood for finer tweaking, experimentation, and useful feedback about your system.
My room already has a decent amount of acoustic treatment in it to begin with: I have panel absorbers above, behind, and on both sides of me, as well as floor-to-ceiling bass traps in the front corners of the room. Still, the Reference 3 App and plugin greatly improved all aspects of my monitor environment and, the difference was not subtle. Even laptop warriors who only work on headphones or with small speakers will find Reference 3 to be highly useful.
I personally feel Sonarworks Reference 3 is the better of the two for a couple of reasons.
1. The ability to trial Reference 3 for a very small price without having to buy the full bundle.
2. The easy step-by-step setup of the software. The experience of the setup really gave me confidence in the software’s ability as the measurement process was very intuitive and also displayed the correct measurements between my monitors and listening position.
It felt like the plugin peeled away the nonsense in the headphone response, delivering a much flatter and, arguably, less engaging sound. That's what we need for proper monitoring, though, so job done.
Overall, both plugins do great work, but the speaker option is definitely the most impressive of the two, going some way towards resolving room problems in a simple and transparent way.
Now that I have measured my project studio room and calibrated it with this software, I can’t imagine ever working without it. An incredibly vivid, detailed soundstage is now present, stereo imaging is excellent, and every aspect of the sound is delivered with wonderful focus and clarity.