Advanced Room Correction, or ARC by IK Multimedia is a software plugin that acts as a correction treatment without really having to "Treat The Room". It's a solution for those of us who are NOT in the ideal recording or listening environment. Most project studios consist of a desk, a computer, a set of speakers and maybe a couple of pieces of gear somewhere nearby. The room could be a bedroom, a living room, and if you're really cramped for space, a closet! Hopefully not the latter but with today's computers it can be done. The recording environment itself is not always the biggest problem. In fact, it can be eliminated completely with the help of virtual amplifiers and virtual instruments. Logic 9 is just one example of a whole array of great virtual instruments and now, guitar pedals and amps. A close up mic can do a lot for dealing with room issues and that is a big help on the recording side. But what about the listening part of the equation?
After a long time assembling your tracks its time to produce the mix. If you're using a project studio or even a larger version in an untreated space, it can be less then ideal for the actual listening part of this process. I would describe my listening area as something between a disaster and a complete mess. So, thinking of treatment using baffles, dampening devices and the likes to create a flat listening environment is just not practical and would be quite a job not to mention, very expensive.
So, what are you supposed to do in a less then "ideal" listing environment? There are alternatives. There are good monitors on the market, these can range from small to large and from cheap to very pricey. In any event, it can be a bit overwhelming and every room is different. A powered speaker has the audio amplifier built right in but that always means more cost and weight. What about the room? Does the space you're working in have the right spot for your monitors? If so, you're going to pick a set that fits the "space" and provides a good sound.
In the end, a set of decent monitors are a good way to allow for some comfort and listening which is more flexible and enjoyable. The room, or in my case, the disaster, is just bubbling with all kinds of reflective surfaces and objects which are going to change my final sound. That is a problem. Some high end monitors allow for audio correction built-in but by the time you get that worked out with the process, you're limited to a listening "Sweet Spot" that is where you sit. If the system you're trying to use is lacking in some way or the room is just to much of an influence, you're looking at a real problem. Good monitors with correction are going to be as good as they are priced and the technology they make use of will vary in quality! So, maybe you have some good monitors and you're using a separate power amp to drive them. It's an affordable solution that needs a bit of help to get things sorted so you hear your mix the way it's supposed to sound. In this case, you will need to take the room out of the mix and get your listening spot or spots flat sounding so it represents your end result.
Enter IK Multimedia's ARC (Advanced Room Correction). The ARC system is a simple to use plug in software that can be put in the output section of the DAW main output at the very end. This means all the sound will pass through the ARC correction software and then to the power amp and speakers. The result, a flat listening environment regardless of your room, garage, kitchen or closet. I think the closet is probably not going to work. To many coats and such.
So, how does this work and why is it a viable alternative to room treatment. According to the manufacturer, IK Multimedia, ARC is able to collect measurements you make with a supplied OMNI-Directional microphone that is very flat in response.
I have done this process many times and after having tried it in a number of ways, and with a number of approaches, I can say one thing for sure, The more sample measurements, the better the end result. The ARC software allows for up to 32 measurements. There are a minimum of 14 measurements needed to get the software working just for a project studio. a few more on the larger sized studios. More measurements are optional and I would advise using all of them.
In each of these set ups, You can literally set up your testing so that your microphone is moved around in the pattern for the particular set up. 1-16 is shown for a one chair studio which is what I ultimately wound up doing for myself, but I used 32 measurements. The pattern has some logic to it. The software actually collects these measurements in clusters and processes the results so as to optimize position 1 and so on. Each position that is extended away from position #1 is further from the "Sweet Spot". But if you're using the patterns for more then one chair, you're going to get a wide sweet spot.
My advice is to go the full 32 measurements in every scenario. The results are much better and refined with a flatter response all around. It also increases the sweet spot size to a wider area which makes it great if someone drops by and wants to have a listen. You can leave your current selection on your ARC control panel drop down menu, or change it. The ARC drop down menu looks like this.
On the left, the menu has drop down selections for your different measurements, on the right you can see some alternate audio options.
During the process of measurement, you are required to place the microphone in the position recommended. This is something I have learned to divide up with a measuring tape. If you're going to do this just once and get it as best as you can, it's best to be as methodical as possible. I start by using the chair's dimensions as my reference. Since it has depth and width, you can consider your install measurements which are all done around the chair itself. Now using that as a scale, create a pattern as equally divided up as you logically can. Since the IK Multimedia shows the pattern needed for the minimum, which for a project studio, it is 14 measurements. the one chair studio is 16 and so on. I used all 32. That means you need to extend your measurement area not only in a logical pattern but considering your space, to divide it up as best as you can. I try to keep things in a X pattern. If I do a measurement on the front right, I do the next one to my rear left and so on. You will run out of patterns if the space is small but you can always simply move the mic from the front to the rear in a straight line if you have done all the area surrounding your listening spot. The goal is get 32 measurements. This will pay off in the long run.
If you wanted, you can take only the minimum measurements and let that be processed as a final measurement, give it a name like, test 1.0. Then go back and do the same measurements but this time go for the full 32. Call that m test 1.1. Now check them in your listening spot. You should visually see a change in the response itself. The resulting response will be flatter with the larger number of testing samples.
Now how does this all shake out for you the user?
In the end, it should remove the room from your listening area. This correction software is very clever and effective. Regardless of your room, you should find a major improvement. Now the IK Multimedia suggest you try and treat your room in advance with what you can, as much treatment as you can afford to as this will inevitably help the results when the software is put into effect during the measurement process.
You can do a test to see if your correction is working as it should. Set up your DAW and have your ARC window open. Once the system is up and running, Turn the Power button off. Put on your head phones. Get a good listen. Now, at the moment you're ready to switch your ARC system on, take your head phones off and listen to the sound from the monitors. They should be exactly the same or as close as possible considering your monitor system and environment.
In my case, I have done this and it is the same. When I first tried it. I found I had an out of phase speaker driver in one of my monitors. That was quite revealing and after sorting that out, the sound was improved in a huge way. The test of using the headphones, then switching on the ARC system as your plug in on your DAW will really prove it works. I have had use of this system for some time and it has really helped me remove the room from my mixing process on monitors. As a safeguard, I check it both ways, with and without headphones but I have done this so many times I am finally satisfied I have it as dialed as I can get it. Yes, I am obsessive compulsive, don't pay attention to that man behind the curtain.......
Normally if you do the measurements as methodically as you can, it is a one time measurement process. If you're obsessive compulsive, you might do it a few times until you see the flattest line you can get.
The system also offers some optional listening choices. Depending on the program material and room, you may opt for a high frequency roll off, high frequency and mid-range roll off or another choice that helps you get along with your monitoring for the time your using them.
One last remark about the ARC system: You may still have uncorrected audio if you're not running through a DAW. One solution for this is to find a host program that will host "effect plugins". Since the ARC is a Plugin it will be treated like an other FX plugins. As it turns out, iTunes, at the time of writing, does not support plugin hosting. There is a host audio player that does for $20 USD. Neutrino offers a very cool player with all kinds of built in features. It is a shell of sorts and will use all your iTunes library for audio material. It also has a few other cool features like built in reverb and a slow down feature, handy for learning music etc.
So now that you are armed with the ARC knowledge, you can buy those bargain JBL 4311s and still get them to sound as good as all the modern corrected speakers. I have seen really excellent results with all types of speakers using the ARC system. It sure beats the cost of serious room treatment and if you're like most folks, a room treatment in the middle of your house, or garage or maybe a dual purpose office/studio might not fit your style... But the ARC system won't cramp any of those situations and will still give you the professional audio quality you need without having to wear headphones!