Sonarworks Reference 3 Lets You Mix & Master On Headphones


Sonarworks has announced that is has more than doubled the number of headphones supported by its Reference 3 Headphone Calibration system, which they say is accurate enough to let you mix and master on headphones.

Sonarworks has added calibration profiles for the most popular studio headphones from Sennheiser, AKG, Beyerdynamic, Audio-Technica and other brands.

With Reference 3, your headphones tuned to a target frequency response, which makes them sound like flat speakers in a well-treated studio. According to the company, the Reference 3 plug-in lets you mix with confidence that your work will translate to other sound systems.


All calibrated headphones share the same tonality which is very useful when collaborating over distance or using your gear on the road.

The standard version of headphone calibration doesn’t require any extra hardware; everyone with a pair of supported headphones will be able to enjoy reference headphone sound in a matter of minutes. Just download the DAW plug-in, select your headphones from pre-measured profiles and start listening to tracks you are familiar with.

With the introduction of this update, the Sonarworks Reference 3 plug-in can be used with the following headphones:

AKG K701
AKG K702
AKG K712
Audio-Technica M20x
Audio-Technica M40x
Audio-Technica M50x
Beyerdynamic DT770 80 Ohm
Beyerdynamic DT880 Pro
Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro
Sennheiser HD280
Sennheiser HD598
Sennheiser HD600
Sennheiser HD650
Shure SRH840
Sony MDR7506
Superlux HD681

Headphone calibration profiles are available in two flavors  – standard and individual.

  • Standard calibration profiles are based on averaged measurements across many samples from the same headphone model and ensures +/- 3dB accuracy towards the selected reference.
  • Individual profiles are created through individual measuring of the particular pair of headphones ensuring, +/-0.5dB accuracy.

The plug-in for digital audio workstations (DAWs) is offered in AU, AAX Native, RTAS and VST standards and compatible with both OSX and Windows.


A single license for Sonarworks Reference 3 headphone plug-in costs 69€/$69 and individual headphone measurement service is available at an introductory price of 45.50€/$45.50. See the Sonarworks site for details.

21 thoughts on “Sonarworks Reference 3 Lets You Mix & Master On Headphones

    1. You do it by lowering overall gain! Let’s say you have -6dB at 30Hz, now if you digitally lower other frequencies by 6dB and then use +6dB analog gain to recover. Basically you’re trading max SPL for extension.

  1. I’ve thought about this a lot since the last mastering calibration toolset was announced…

    My conclusions are the same, having to run a DAW to use this for everything is just silly.

    Haven’t completely thought this through, so it may also be a silly idea, but what about a little hardware plug that you can store the calibration in so you can then plug your headphones into *anything* and know what your hearing is right?

  2. That’s without considering that the designers of said headphones have been through a lot of work making them sound as good as they possibly can, having decades of experience on this. I may be wrong on this, can’t say much without testing it first – which I can’t ’cause my headsets are not featured among the list – but I’m inclined to say that without the dreadful influence of the acoustics of a badly treated space, like it happens with speaker monitoring systems, with headphones they sound as good as possible out of the box. And presumably any post EQ is going to change their tonal balance and perhaps even introduce some phasing that wasn’t and more then likely shouldn’t be there to. If it’s a linear phase kind of thing, then it will introduce latency. More often then not, people are better off listening to their reproduction systems a lot and tuning their ears to them, A/Bing with different references and that sort of thing then relying on this kind of stuff or wishful thinking convolution reverb on other solutions, which presumably will make you feel like you’re in some studio.

  3. You don’t necessarily need to run a DAW. I use VST Host and Virtual Audio Cable to listen to Tidal, Mac users usually use Soundflower for that kind of thing.

    Hardware is more tricky. We’re not a big company (yet) and developing hardware is not easy. We have successfully used MiniDSP to run our speaker calibration, but the overall solution isn’t there yet. If this software picks up, we’re surely making a hardware processor as well!

  4. this is total bs. running some dsp algorithm to balance out the tonal balance of a pair of headphones doesn’t in any way mean that they are suitable for mastering or professional mixing. just because you can make a frequency graph look kinda flat doesn’t mean that the headphones are going to produce reference quality audio, and anyone who claims it does is probably trying to sell you something… oh, hang on…

    1. Totally agree. A sine wave from a professional mastering headphones behaves with different accoustics as compared to more affordable headphones. So all that scientifc salestalk, dsp algorithms, frequency responses and whatnot are totally bs! That absolutely explains why my DAW’s software eq is not effective with my budget headphones. Don’t be fooled!

  5. How is this different than finding the frequency response and inverting it with an eq? It may have some use but certainly will suffer from the same problems like phasing and latency, no?

  6. You all seem to not understand how a digital filter works. There is no phase shift. And, It would be the same as using an eq. That’s the idea. But they measure and tune beyond the standard 31 band Having them measure yours and getting .5db. Is the way to go. I think this is great.

  7. Hi! Will this work with my V-MODA M100 ?
    I loved the idea, cause I produce most of the time with headphones and I know mine are not flat, but I still love them.

  8. It’s not about being flat, because human ear reflects sounds differently. I see no point in it. Can anyone prove me wrong?

  9. I’ve got The sony mdr7506 and the akg271. World apart sound wise headphones. I can’t use the Akg for anything since they mask the sound so much and translate horribly to other sound systems. Well, I’ve been Told they are about to release the profile for this Akg model. If they both end up sounding the same with each profile then they will have made a true believer (and an obvious customer) out of me. I’ve demoed the profile for correcting the Sony and it changes the sound. But I don’t know if it’s for better or worse… Different is not necessarily better. Might be just different…. So I’m eagerly waiting for the Akg profile to really know for sure that it’s for the better. Aka flat response from both headphones.

    1. At last the good guys at sonarworks released the profile for the akg271 mkii and so far I am REALLY enjoying this plugin. The results are really staggering. I just spent a good part of the day going from the mdr7506 to the akg and back to the monitors and they are really damned close. also tested the same reference sound on a hifi stereo and the way it Translates from the headphones is much more accurate than before. So in regards to the comment I wrote above it seems that this different I spoke of is indeed for the better. Meaning that the mix I do on the phones translates closer from them to the speakers. Also the akg can come back from the dead. Albeit having still a small difference from the Sony that can also be attributed to the size of the cups. But now it’s not night and day with the Sony and akg using their respective profiles.
      Bravo Sonarworks. Bravo!

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