Dirac Live For Studio: A New Phase
Dirac’s reference room correction solution is well known in the home theatre world, so stepping into the recording studio market was a natural progression for the Swedish company. Headliner talks to Dirac to get to the heart of the company’s new phase.
Dirac recently stepped into the recording studio arena with the launch of Dirac Live for Studio. Having built a solid reputation over the last 10 years in the home theatre and hi-fi markets with its reference room correction solution (used by brands such as Arcam, Datasat, JBL Synthesis, NAD and StormAudio), the Swedish audio pioneer is expanding the application to include studio environments that, according to Dirac’s director of product management, Jakob Ågren, have long been plagued by the acoustical challenges Dirac Live corrects.
“Since 2010, Dirac Live has enabled the world’s finest hi-fi and home theatre systems to achieve their full potential,” Ågren begins. “However, as Dirac Live increased in popularity and critical-acclaim, we repeatedly heard from the pro audio community that such a solution was needed in the studio.”
Studio engineers and producers are well aware that the physical space in which speakers are placed affects the final sound; the walls, ceiling, furniture and more interact with sound waves causing various acoustic issues – regardless of the equipment that’s used. For instance, certain frequencies can be amplified while others are weakened, and the sound stage can deteriorate.
Traditionally, acoustic room treatments have been used to address these issues; however, Dirac has found that this method takes substantial resources and time, and still fails to resolve some of the key acoustical challenges.
To combat this, this new studio-specific technology tackles both the frequency and time domain problems to significantly reduce the room’s impact on studio sound – thereby improving the accuracy of sound reproduction in studio environments.
This is particularly important during the editing process, as it ensures that producers are faithfully experiencing the complete recording – unaffected by the room itself – so they can most effectively mix and master it.
“The rise of room correction solutions in the studio industry has been a result of people producing music in spaces that are not expensive; they are not highly treated rooms dedicated for making music,” Ågren tells Headliner.
“Many recording or mastering studios today are set up in people's homes, and they don't really want to have a hardware box at all. In which case, a fully software-based room correction system makes more sense.”
Available for Windows and macOS, the computer software features an audio plugin that can be installed in some of the most popular digital audio workstations (currently Logic Pro X, Cubase 10, Studio One 4, Reaper, JRiver Media Center 25, Ableton Live 10, and Pro Tools, although Ågren assures Headliner that more will be added in the months to come.)
When comparing a home theatre scenario with a recording studio, Ågren acknowledges that the main challenges are the same, but highlights that the different ways these rooms are set up make a huge difference:
“For instance, you are more likely to do near field listening in a studio, meaning you sit closer to your studio monitors than you would in a home theatre setup,” he says. “And in most homes, the listening space is going to be up against the wall, whereas in the studio, you're much more likely to sit at a desk in the middle of the room. In recording studios, you have early reflections inside the mixing console where the song from the speaker is going to bounce off hard surfaces that are close to both the speaker and the listener.
“The main new constraint, if you want to call it that, in the studio space is really the latency. When recording, latency is critical, and should be kept as low as possible. So we have tried to make this implementation as low latency as possible, and we will continuously work to improve that even more.”
How Does It Work?
The software measures and corrects the studio’s acoustics, while its audio plugin then stores the correction filters. The audio plugin itself can be installed in most host applications that support VST, VST3, AAX and AU formats, such as digital audio workstations and certain media players.
“At the core of it, a room correction system is a curious solution,” he admits. “You put the microphone in the room to measure the speakers, and hopefully you measure multiple points. Then you try to draw some kind of conclusion from these measurements as to how you can make the song better. That's a pretty tall order.
"And if you have seen a speaker review, for instance, you will see that you have frequency on the x axis and magnitude on the y axis, so you can see if it has too much bass, for example. But it doesn't actually say anything about what the system is going to sound like at the end – those types of measurements do not include the timing information or the phase (a frequency dependent delay).”
Ågren says that all the user needs to do is use the audio plugin at the appropriate place in their workflow, whereby Dirac Live for Studio applies room correction in the appropriate place in the playback chain.
“You connect that software using the calibration tool, as we call it, and that will then pay back some test signals through your speakers,” he explains. “It’s very easy to follow and will prompt you to move the measurement microphone to a few different positions. Once the measurement data is acquired, it presents you with the measurement result that suggests the target curve that is neutral.”
Ågren points out that if you don't like that particular coloration of your system, you can change it:
“It's similar to using an EQ – all of these timing issues are dealt with in the background for you; it doesn't have any user controls at all. When you're happy with the end result, you export the filter. Then the calibration tool sends the resulting filter coefficients to the plugin that sits in your digital audio workstation – and your system is now calibrated! It’s also possible to have multiple different profiles if you have more than one set of speakers, or if you want to have different sounds for different types of music that you create. Then you can easily switch this plugin for the context that is appropriate.”
Not Just A Phase
Ågren says that what makes Dirac Live for Studio stand out when compared to other available solutions is its mixed phase controller.
“The main benefit over other solutions is the combination of phase correction with ease of use, because correcting for both the magnitude and the phase is really, really tricky,” he asserts. Dirac Live for Studio allows you to do so without adding any significant hurdles to jump over in order to successfully calibrate your system. Professional home theatre installers inform us that setting up a system using Dirac Live is much quicker and easier than using competing systems that also correct the phase.”
Ågren adds that the new software can also address more types of acoustical problems, such as early reflections and some compromises in the passive crossovers and driver alignment.
“That’s very important for stereo imaging,” he stresses. “An extreme case would be if you compare a perfect system to the same system where you only switch the polarity of one speaker: that speaker is out of phase, yet both speakers still measure identically. The stereo image is now completely ruined. And that's one of the biggest value adds for the studio space that Dirac Live for Studio provides; the user feedback tells us that the staging is just right.”
Ågren says that Dirac Live for Studio is so intuitive, that no training is required, and that professionals and amateurs alike can both benefit from using it:
“You can always improve the sound quality in your studio using this, even if you have a multimillion dollar studio,” he says. “Using it will be particularly noticeable for people that don't have access to those types of professional rooms.
"It's an affordable upgrade to the acoustical space where they sit and produce music. It’s important for all scenarios because the room is a huge factor in terms of what you hear; a room that significantly alters what you hear will ultimately affect what goes into your recording. You want a studio to be as natural-sounding as possible so that you have a high degree of control of your product as a content creator.”
So far, the feedback from users has been overwhelmingly positive:
“When producers hear the difference that Dirac Live makes, they’ll no doubt be blown away,” enthuses Rami Yacoub, acclaimed music producer for artists such as Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato and Avicii.
“Recordings can be experienced in their purest, more accurate and complete form, without the introduction of distortions produced by the studio itself. Dirac Live is a game changer for our industry, and will soon become the go-to room correction solution for producers of all professional levels.”
Ågren is quietly optimistic:
“It's been pretty good, I must say,” he smiles. “It's still early days. The feedback we’ve already received in the home space is very strong in favour of the technology, and the end result for the studio market is exactly the same. It’s very convenient if you are in the studio, since you just plug this into your digital audio workstation, and off you go! You don't need any other hardware. You don't need to consider what type of connectors you have, or anything like that – it just works for you!”