Virtual room simulation for headphone : which plugin ? Experience feedback ?

leon chevalier

Piano roll musician
Hi VIC !

As I cannot work with speakers (family sleeping!) I'm considering one of those plugins for my mixes :

I've read several reviews on the web but did not find one those that stand out from the crowd.

[List edited with all the ressources mentioned int the thread, if it can be any help to anyone]

Any feedback will be much appreciated.

--------

And in more general way, is anybody releasing mix/master with this kind of software ?

Thanks a lot for your help guys and gals !

Leon
 
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MartinH.

Senior Member
Might be worth taking a look at this: https://www.sonarworks.com/reference

I have no hands on experience with it, but they have an online preview of how much of a difference it makes. I'm wondering if it's worth it for me to get the headphone edition. I have Superlux HD 681 headphones, but spending almost 4 times their price on what looks like the audio equivalent of a "color profile", seems weird to me. And also I'm just a hobbyist, so it's not that big of a deal if stuff only sounds good to me on my own equipment.


I'm afraid I can't answer your question, but I suspect people might need to know what headphones you have to make a better recommendation.
 
OP
L

leon chevalier

Piano roll musician
Might be worth taking a look at this: https://www.sonarworks.com/reference

I have no hands on experience with it, but they have an online preview of how much of a difference it makes. I'm wondering if it's worth it for me to get the headphone edition. I have Superlux HD 681 headphones, but spending almost 4 times their price on what looks like the audio equivalent of a "color profile", seems weird to me. And also I'm just a hobbyist, so it's not that big of a deal if stuff only sounds good to me on my own equipment.


I'm afraid I can't answer your question, but I suspect people might need to know what headphones you have to make a better recommendation.
Thanks for your answer Martin, but reference is a headphone calibration soft, not a room simulation :)
 
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aaronventure

Senior Member
I don't think room simulation will really help you (since it didn't help me). If you don't have calibration, I'd rather get that.

If any of these room sim plugins have a trial version, do try it out first. If speaker simulation is to have any ground, you headphones need also be calibrated after the fact (if their frequency response is one of the parameters you're trying to simulate).

If you just want to hear how your music sounds in a space played by two almost-neutral monitors, get a convolution reverb with some professionally recorded IRs in True Stereo like Altiverb, unless you already have it. Because that's essentially what it is (I don't know what else it could be) and naming your software "speaker simulation software" doesn't mean it'll do it better. Also, a speaker's response (I mean the general response you hear) changes as you change the room), especially if it's untreated. Only difference is that Altiverb has hundreds of rooms and over a thousand total positions where you can listen to, as well as a very, very wide usage spectrum as a reverb/space design tool.

EDIT: I forgot to take delay into account, which Room Sim plugins take care of, but the IRs don't. My bad.

You don't have to actively monitor on speakers, just check every now and then and A/B to other recordings, doesn't even have to be loud. Then you just check the final mix real quick. Car also works.
 
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Bender-offender

Just an ex-con trying to get my kids back.
The best I’ve tried (and use) is Sonarworks with Goodhertz Can Opener. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve removed my headphones thinking I left my monitors unmuted.

I’ve tried the others you mentioned and it seems as if all they do is narrow the stereo image.

I think you can demo all you mentioned along with Sonarworks/Can Opener, so play around and see which you prefer. You may like a different plugin more. :)
 

Olivier1024

Member
"I've read several reviews on the web but did not find one those that stand out from the crowd."

It's because it's impossible to find environnement and loudspeakers simulation that is right for all of us. It's something very difficult to acheive and it's still work in progress. There is no definitive solution.
If a solution work for me, it won't suit for you.

This document explain how it works.

First of all, you need to calibrate your headphones and then try all the softwares you can and decide by yourself.

ToneBoosters manual indicate :
" The calibration of the HRTFs to each user’s ears can be a somewhat tedious process, but fortunately is required only once if performed correctly ..." and it's not easy to achieve a good result.
 

rrichard63

Perpetual Novice
I don't think room simulation will really help you (since it didn't help me). If you don't have calibration, I'd rather get that.

...

If you just want to hear how your music sounds in a space played by two almost-neutral monitors, get a convolution reverb with some professionally recorded IRs in True Stereo like Altiverb, unless you already have it. Because that's essentially what it is (I don't know what else it could be) and naming your software "speaker simulation software" doesn't mean it'll do it better. ...
I agree that these plugins should be used along with Sonarworks (or some other means of compensating for the frequency response of your headphones). Sonarworks comes after the room simulation plugin, not before (see this Gearslutz thread).

But I don't quite agree that room simulation is effectively the same thing as reverb, although a convolution reverb might be an okay substitute. All of the room simulation plugins are based on well-established facts about human hearing and how we know which direction sounds are coming from. Look up "binaural crossfeed" and "Head Related Transfer Function" for specifics on this. There's a relationship to reverb, but that doesn't make it the same thing.

When I looked at the four plugins in Leon's list, there was no clear winner for me. They all "work" in the sense of creating an illusion that the sound is coming from speakers rather inside your head.

  • Nx is designed to work with a Bluetooth head tracking device, and is annoying to use without one. (I've read that it is even more annoying to use with a webcam because of latency issues.) If you like the head tracking (which attempts to mimic subtle variations in the sound as your head moves in relation to a pair of monitor speakers), then Nx is a good choice.
  • TB Isone includes a collection of EQ curves emulating number of generic speaker types. This feature can be turned off, and when it is the plugin is very similar to Redline Monitor.
  • HEar includes, in addition to speaker simulation, a simulation of surround sound on headphones, when processing a surround mix. Since I don't have a surround monitoring setup, that feature appeals to me.

At least three of the four offer free trials (not sure about Toneboosters). For many of us, the package that includes TB Isone is well worth the money for other reasons. Try them all.

I haven't tried the Beyerdynamics or Goodhertz products mentioned while I was drafting this post. They've been added to my list -- thanks!
 
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aaronventure

Senior Member
I agree that these plugins should be used along with Sonarworks (or some other means of compensating for the frequency response of your headphones). Sonarworks comes after the room simulation plugin, not before (see this Gearslutz thread).
Thanks for providing the source that has the official Sonarworks response. I edited my post to be more clear.

But I don't quite agree that room simulation is effectively the same thing as reverb, although a convolution reverb might be an okay substitute. All of the room simulation plugins are based on well-established facts about human hearing and how we know which direction sounds are coming from. Look up "binaural crossfeed" and "Head Related Transfer Function" for specifics on this. There's a relationship to reverb, but that doesn't make it the same thing.
Ah, fair points. I went experimenting and it seems I forgot about the delay that crossfeed plugins also appropriately introduce. Thanks, my bad.

To contribute more, my experiences with such plugins aren't that rich, but Goodhertz sounds pretty natural, while HEar really changes the sound based on "speaker angle".

I personally don't use any Speaker Sim plugins when working with headphones. However getting Sonarworks was some of the best money I spent.
 
OP
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leon chevalier

Piano roll musician
Thanks all for your advices and feedback ! A lot of things to think about. Yes I have to try each soft but I was hoping to save that times :)

I will definitely consider sonarworks reference.

I will update my list with the softs mentioned if it can be any help for others.

Thanks again !
 

pmcrockett

Senior Member
I've used both Nx and HEar (both in conjunction with Sonarworks) and I prefer Nx. It sounds a little less cramped than HEar. I typically do headphone mixes on Nx. I find that it's easier to judge stereo image with a room sim than it is without.
 

jcrosby

Senior Member
I've been interested and experimenting with this for a number of years now... Started with a VRM box and moved through or tried various other products... Redline Monitor, Isone, CanOpener, NX, (even tried the Beyerdynamic thing)...

My thoughts are this...
(This is totally opinion-based obviously... I find this is a very personal preference since it's still new territory...
I've also found a lot of people don't like room simulation... Definitely not for everyone...)

Isone: Didn't like it. Sounds completely artifical. Speaker settings sounded nothing like speakers I've heard...

CanOpener: Not bad, didn't find it to be anything like the hype/claims on the site though... (In terms of 'conjuring speakers from your cans'... ) The crossfeed thing's interesting and it does create the impression the image was slightly more forward, but at least to me my cans still sound like cans and I can't say I felt like it conjured up speakers...

Redline Monitor: Doesn't sound like speakers at all. Ironically this was one of my favorites for a while as it didn't color the sound and didn't feel like it was trying to be anything more than a utility for making the sound field a little more akin to imaging you'd get sitting in front of speakers. I also liked that it let you adjust the center level... Helped me get a vaguely better sense of a center image and boosting it a little was my preference. (It's also pretty darn similar to the SPL Phonitor which is very well regarded.)

Waves NX: Didn't like it. Just doesn't sound natural to me. I didn't like the artifical ambiance, (which was way too bright compared to natural ambiance. Also sounded very 'digital'; like gated-reverb digital...) I know people like it but it was my least favorite (paid plugin that is.)

Beyerdynamic Virtual Studio: Hated it. I've never heard a car stereo that sounds anything like that. Everything was way too hyped and the highs were harsh. This was all-around least favorite. (But agin, YMMV!!)

The two I like are:

New Audio Technology Spatial Soundcard: As far as I can tell these are actual binaural room impulses of the listening positions from a bunch of recording studios, post facilities, and a mastering room. There is some ambiance, but it's the natural ambiance captured in the impulses...

The other thing I noticed is this actually sounds very close to what speakers sound like when they move air... kicks 'knock' and have thump, and the low end sounds deep and rings out a little longer like it would in a room. It can be used to mix 5.1 in phones (as again, the recordings are binaural...) If anything came close to tricking me I was in a room it's this... I still use this partially, I find it's pretty great for getting a sense of how the tonality of drums or percussion will translate on speakers.

Sennheisser Ambeo Orbit: I'll start by saying this doesn't sound as realistic as Spatial Sound Card, but with the right settings it does give me a decent impression of the sound field and is less colored and ambient as SSC. It does have some artifical ambiance but you have control over it, and can turn it off completely... Takes a little playing with and YMMV...

My overall preferece is... Sonarworks + a few of their speaker EQs... After lots of messing around my all-around preference is correcting my phones and then applying one of the speaker curves... (Optimum Hifi, and Home Large are my preferences...) Is it like listening to speakers? Not at all... But to my ears it makes headphones a lot less fatiguing... (There's also been interesting research on this by Harman. The 1974 B&K Optimum Hifi is based on this curve...Personally like it...)

I keep Ambeo on my output as well and check my impression of the image occasionally, and as mentioned use SSC every once in a while to get an idea of how things might sound moving air.. Overall I generally prefer the headphone EQ but find the other two useful as a change of perspective...

Again, YMMV and you may well wind up hating what I like... That's not a bad thing though AFAIC. I see it the same as a monitor preference... The only right choice is the one you prefer..

Interesting video below where Bob Katz talks about EQing his cans using the Harman curve, and an interesting article on its history... Explore them all and have fun with it...

https://www.innerfidelity.com/content/acoustic-basis-harman-listener-target-curve

 

gtrwll

Active Member
I've only used the Waves NX and at least I believe it has helped me to mix better. It has a headphone calibration unit as well for select headphones (mine are AKG K702's) which I use as well.

It does sound a bit...wonky? But my mixes seem to translate better to other systems than before.
 
OP
L

leon chevalier

Piano roll musician
I've been interested and experimenting with this for a number of years now... Started with a VRM box and moved through or tried various other products... Redline Monitor, Isone, CanOpener, NX, (even tried the Beyerdynamic thing)...

My thoughts are this...
(This is totally opinion-based obviously... I find this is a very personal preference since it's still new territory...
I've also found a lot of people don't like room simulation... Definitely not for everyone...)

Isone: Didn't like it. Sounds completely artifical. Speaker settings sounded nothing like speakers I've heard...

CanOpener: Not bad, didn't find it to be anything like the hype/claims on the site though... (In terms of 'conjuring speakers from your cans'... ) The crossfeed thing's interesting and it does create the impression the image was slightly more forward, but at least to me my cans still sound like cans and I can't say I felt like it conjured up speakers...

Redline Monitor: Doesn't sound like speakers at all. Ironically this was one of my favorites for a while as it didn't color the sound and didn't feel like it was trying to be anything more than a utility for making the sound field a little more akin to imaging you'd get sitting in front of speakers. I also liked that it let you adjust the center level... Helped me get a vaguely better sense of a center image and boosting it a little was my preference. (It's also pretty darn similar to the SPL Phonitor which is very well regarded.)

Waves NX: Didn't like it. Just doesn't sound natural to me. I didn't like the artifical ambiance, (which was way too bright compared to natural ambiance. Also sounded very 'digital'; like gated-reverb digital...) I know people like it but it was my least favorite (paid plugin that is.)

Beyerdynamic Virtual Studio: Hated it. I've never heard a car stereo that sounds anything like that. Everything was way too hyped and the highs were harsh. This was all-around least favorite. (But agin, YMMV!!)

The two I like are:

New Audio Technology Spatial Soundcard: As far as I can tell these are actual binaural room impulses of the listening positions from a bunch of recording studios, post facilities, and a mastering room. There is some ambiance, but it's the natural ambiance captured in the impulses...

The other thing I noticed is this actually sounds very close to what speakers sound like when they move air... kicks 'knock' and have thump, and the low end sounds deep and rings out a little longer like it would in a room. It can be used to mix 5.1 in phones (as again, the recordings are binaural...) If anything came close to tricking me I was in a room it's this... I still use this partially, I find it's pretty great for getting a sense of how the tonality of drums or percussion will translate on speakers.

Sennheisser Ambeo Orbit: I'll start by saying this doesn't sound as realistic as Spatial Sound Card, but with the right settings it does give me a decent impression of the sound field and is less colored and ambient as SSC. It does have some artifical ambiance but you have control over it, and can turn it off completely... Takes a little playing with and YMMV...

My overall preferece is... Sonarworks + a few of their speaker EQs... After lots of messing around my all-around preference is correcting my phones and then applying one of the speaker curves... (Optimum Hifi, and Home Large are my preferences...) Is it like listening to speakers? Not at all... But to my ears it makes headphones a lot less fatiguing... (There's also been interesting research on this by Harman. The 1974 B&K Optimum Hifi is based on this curve...Personally like it...)

I keep Ambeo on my output as well and check my impression of the image occasionally, and as mentioned use SSC every once in a while to get an idea of how things might sound moving air.. Overall I generally prefer the headphone EQ but find the other two useful as a change of perspective...

Again, YMMV and you may well wind up hating what I like... That's not a bad thing though AFAIC. I see it the same as a monitor preference... The only right choice is the one you prefer..

Interesting video below where Bob Katz talks about EQing his cans using the Harman curve, and an interesting article on its history... Explore them all and have fun with it...

https://www.innerfidelity.com/content/acoustic-basis-harman-listener-target-curve

Thank you so much ! Great post !
 

jcrosby

Senior Member
I've only used the Waves NX and at least I believe it has helped me to mix better. It has a headphone calibration unit as well for select headphones (mine are AKG K702's) which I use as well.

It does sound a bit...wonky? But my mixes seem to translate better to other systems than before.
As I said if it works it works! ... Glad you've got something that does work for you... Think area's a really useful arena, just hope we see more realistic sounding competitors come to the table in the next few years...

Thank you so much ! Great post !
Thanks :) Try a bunch of stuff out and see what works... As a blanket statement, the one thing I would say is at least try the speaker profiles if you use S.W.... Very useful whether you're interested in room virtualization or not...
 

rrichard63

Perpetual Novice
The two I like are:

New Audio Technology Spatial Soundcard:
Does the Spatial Soundcard process audio delivered to your audio interface by ASIO drivers If not, in most DAWs it would require using WDM on Windows with latency that would be unacceptable to many of us. The developer's website doesn't mention this issue.
 

jcrosby

Senior Member
Does the Spatial Soundcard process audio delivered to your audio interface by ASIO drivers If not, in most DAWs it would require using WDM on Windows with latency that would be unacceptable to many of us. The developer's website doesn't mention this issue.
I'm on mac so unfortunately I'm not sure. I haven't reached out to them in quite some time but they're support's always been pretty good. Pretty sure I emailed them a couple questions before I bought it so might want to drop them an email and see what they say... Best.
 

Markrs

Complete Beginner
I've been interested and experimenting with this for a number of years now... Started with a VRM box and moved through or tried various other products... Redline Monitor, Isone, CanOpener, NX, (even tried the Beyerdynamic thing)...

My thoughts are this...
(This is totally opinion-based obviously... I find this is a very personal preference since it's still new territory...
I've also found a lot of people don't like room simulation... Definitely not for everyone...)

Isone: Didn't like it. Sounds completely artifical. Speaker settings sounded nothing like speakers I've heard...

CanOpener: Not bad, didn't find it to be anything like the hype/claims on the site though... (In terms of 'conjuring speakers from your cans'... ) The crossfeed thing's interesting and it does create the impression the image was slightly more forward, but at least to me my cans still sound like cans and I can't say I felt like it conjured up speakers...

Redline Monitor: Doesn't sound like speakers at all. Ironically this was one of my favorites for a while as it didn't color the sound and didn't feel like it was trying to be anything more than a utility for making the sound field a little more akin to imaging you'd get sitting in front of speakers. I also liked that it let you adjust the center level... Helped me get a vaguely better sense of a center image and boosting it a little was my preference. (It's also pretty darn similar to the SPL Phonitor which is very well regarded.)

Waves NX: Didn't like it. Just doesn't sound natural to me. I didn't like the artifical ambiance, (which was way too bright compared to natural ambiance. Also sounded very 'digital'; like gated-reverb digital...) I know people like it but it was my least favorite (paid plugin that is.)

Beyerdynamic Virtual Studio: Hated it. I've never heard a car stereo that sounds anything like that. Everything was way too hyped and the highs were harsh. This was all-around least favorite. (But agin, YMMV!!)

The two I like are:

New Audio Technology Spatial Soundcard: As far as I can tell these are actual binaural room impulses of the listening positions from a bunch of recording studios, post facilities, and a mastering room. There is some ambiance, but it's the natural ambiance captured in the impulses...

The other thing I noticed is this actually sounds very close to what speakers sound like when they move air... kicks 'knock' and have thump, and the low end sounds deep and rings out a little longer like it would in a room. It can be used to mix 5.1 in phones (as again, the recordings are binaural...) If anything came close to tricking me I was in a room it's this... I still use this partially, I find it's pretty great for getting a sense of how the tonality of drums or percussion will translate on speakers.

Sennheisser Ambeo Orbit: I'll start by saying this doesn't sound as realistic as Spatial Sound Card, but with the right settings it does give me a decent impression of the sound field and is less colored and ambient as SSC. It does have some artifical ambiance but you have control over it, and can turn it off completely... Takes a little playing with and YMMV...

My overall preferece is... Sonarworks + a few of their speaker EQs... After lots of messing around my all-around preference is correcting my phones and then applying one of the speaker curves... (Optimum Hifi, and Home Large are my preferences...) Is it like listening to speakers? Not at all... But to my ears it makes headphones a lot less fatiguing... (There's also been interesting research on this by Harman. The 1974 B&K Optimum Hifi is based on this curve...Personally like it...)

I keep Ambeo on my output as well and check my impression of the image occasionally, and as mentioned use SSC every once in a while to get an idea of how things might sound moving air.. Overall I generally prefer the headphone EQ but find the other two useful as a change of perspective...

Again, YMMV and you may well wind up hating what I like... That's not a bad thing though AFAIC. I see it the same as a monitor preference... The only right choice is the one you prefer..

Interesting video below where Bob Katz talks about EQing his cans using the Harman curve, and an interesting article on its history... Explore them all and have fun with it...

https://www.innerfidelity.com/content/acoustic-basis-harman-listener-target-curve

Fantastic post really useful!
 

Hans-Peter

Member
The only convincing solution is to capture (angle-specific aspects of) your individual HRTF via binaural impulse responses. This can be done easily with Impulcifer or the Smyth Realiser.

Impulcifer (free):

Smyth Realiser A16 (not free ...)

These will get you somewhere between 90% to 99% of response accuracy. I use both and would give the Realiser a slight edge in terms of performance (after all, the whole system is calibrated). However, Impulcifer is much more flexible (if you don’t know how to hack the Realiser). Also, both will compensate for your headphones’ response. The same techniques (BRIR) are also used in acoustics research, where I usually deploy my own implementation with a couple of extras (aptly named ‘Virtualizer’). The concept itself is not proprietary and was developed by Angelo Farina (University of Parma) in the beginning 90s.
 
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Markrs

Complete Beginner
The only convincing solution is to capture (angle-specific aspects of) your individual HRTF via binaural impulse responses. This can be done easily with Impulcifer or the Smyth Realiser.

Impulcifer (free):

Smyth Realiser A16 (not free ...)

These will get you somewhere between 90% to 99% of response accuracy. I use both and would give the Realiser a slight edge in terms of performance (after all, the whole system is calibrated). However, Impulcifer is much more flexible (if you don’t know how to hack the Realiser). Also, both will compensate for your headphones’ response. The same techniques (BRIR) are also used in acoustics research, where I usually deploy my own implementation with a couple of extras (aptly named ‘Virtualizer’). The concept itself is not proprietary and was developed by Angelo Farina (University of Parma) in the beginning 90s.
Thanks for this info! I will have a look into it 🙂