01 November 2012

Home Studio: IK Multimedia ARC System


Note: this entry was already published during September 2009. I am just revisiting it here.

Still trying to get a good mix at home but, I am working in a very small room, with weird shape (more or less triangular) and, with both monitors heading to a square behind my head. So, you can imagine how hard is to achieve a mix that can be transported to other environments.
For sure, the best option is always to acoustically treat the room and, probably of the hand of a specialist but, this will cost me a lot of money in one side and, in the other side, the room is so small that to add any kind of isolant, bass traps or acoustic panels will reduce the room so much to be completely unusable.
I have not either knowledge enough to treat the room myself and, I don't want to do such a thing until I get some really comfortable room to record, in a future (not in this flat!).

So, the only economical and not permanent alternative that I've found has been the Advanced Room Correction system (ARC) by IK Multimedia.
Since I already had several plugins from IK Multimeda, I could benefit of the lower prices of their cross grade version.
I've read a lot of literature about this system and, that's clear, the most expert the people was in Acoustics Treatments, the more exceptic and critic they were about such a solution but, I've also read some positive articles about it.
What made me to decide for this solution (apart of what was mentioned above) where the comments of those experts that said that the system works specially well in already treated rooms. Even if the system cannot get rid of all room's problems, it can do a good job, overall.

So... can it?


The ARC System comes with the typical box of any consumer electronic device and, includes a CD with the software, documentation and a hard plastic box, with a foamed inside that holds the high quality condenser mic, used to measure the room.
The mic is of high quality and weights considerably.


Installation is really easy. You execute the installer from the CD and, you leave the installer to search for VST and DAE (Pro Tools) folders, where the plugin will be installed, in their modes VST and RTAS.
The Measurement Utility will be available in your programs list.

Measuring the Room

Very easy.
I've choosed to run the mic thru my pre amp SPL Track One, to have a better control over input and output levels, to be sure that I am getting a good signal.
I've opened the program and, followed, step by step the instructions (easy and clear).

But, be aware that you need to force your audio interface to work at 48.2 KHz, before starting your program!.
If your interface has not an ASIO driver or has no way to change the resolution level, DON'T BUY THIS SOFTWARE!. 
After setting the audio interface to 48.2 KHz, you have to calibrate the mic, setting the volume controls of your monitors to zero and, increasing step by step the mic gain until the signal that is shown in the screen reaches the are where it's read OK.
Then, it's time to start to increase the volume of your monitor (while testing the signal), until you reach the volume that you usually use to mix.

Important note: this mic needs 48V phantom power!.
After those two steps, you can start the measurement.
You will need to take between 12 to 32 measurements, starting in the sweet spot (where you sit to mix) and, taking some measurements in near and far spots from that sweet spot, to left and right hand, until you cover all the audition area (your sweet spot and, eventually, your customer's coach).
In my case, 24 takes were enough for my little room.
When you finish the takes, you press the button Next and the system starts to calculate the EQ Correction Curve, that you will have available in the plugin later.
You choose one of the pictures that more or less looks like your monitor and save the results with whatever name you liked.
Important note: after installing ARC, go immediately to the User Area of IK Multimedia and download the last version of such a software or you are in danger of not being able to save your measurements!.

My CD's version is 1.0.1 and, it was impossible to save the changes. This issue is already solved beginning with version 1.1.1 but, this version is incompatible with T-Racks 3 version 3.1.1.
Version 1.2.1 solves also the problem but requires a T-Racks 3 version 3.1.1 or higher to work so, you would potentially need to upgrade T-Racks also.

The Plugin
Well, after upgrading ARC to the last version, as well as after upgrading T-Racks 3 to the last version, I was able to save the correction curve and to use it without further issues.
Opening Pro Tools, I've inserted the ARC plugins (RTAS -> Others) in the Main bus.
Here, a picture of the pluging working on.

In Orange, there is the curve resulting of the measurements (how your room responds to each frequential range). In White, the calculated Correction Curve and, in Green, the Target Curves (usually, plain response but, there are three more options that you can select).

The first thing that is evident is that my little room has a lot of Low frequencies; the main peaks are of +6dB and +9dB but, also, the right side has this effect more noticeable than the left side.
That made really difficult to achieve good mixes, specially when working with drums and bass guitar. That was a real fight. When I brought my mix to other external players, mi drums and basses lacked punch or were excessively dark and rumble.
Other bands that seem in the bad side are, the typical band for the snare and, the typical band for vocals and guitar presence but, they are less dramatic.

Does it work?

Certainly, YES. At least in MY case. The sound enhanced a lot and, now I can see easier where to push or dim some frequencies to give more definition to the mix. The mix sounds quite well the same in the sweet spot and around all the area where the measures were taken.

Even, this system worth it just to analyze the issues inside your mixing room (even if acoustically treated). It can help you to determine what is still missing to enhance the acoustics in your room.
Finally, you have a quality condenser mic that can be used for any of your recordings.
  Therefore, in my case, it worthed every euro I spent on it!.

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