iSmashPhone Review: Arc System 2 by IK Multimedia

Arc 2

My Dream Studio–It’s just a Dream

I have a dream recording studio. It costs hundreds of thousands to put together. The acoustics are perfect, and the frequency response throughout the room is top-notch. I have foam panels strategically placed on each wall. Bass traps fill the corners of the room. It’s perfect for mixing. Unfortunately, that’s my dream recording studio.

The reality is more like this: I live in an apartment alone., my iMac and Logic Pro are where I do most of my work, and I don’t have a treated room. I’m a hobby musician, and I can’t afford to buy hundreds of dollars of acoustic panels. Sure, I would love to, but getting quality foam can get expensive, especially when you add the bass traps. I’m not saying it’s not necessary, because it is if you want your room to sound optimal. You just need to be willing to lay down some serious cash on top of everything you’ve spent on your computer, software, monitors and interface. You also need to make sure that your panels are properly set up. Normally, there will be some degree of compromise. Most bedrooms were not made with studio recording and mixing in mind. Welcome to the world of the home studio musician.

The Solution
While acoustic foam and bass traps are a great start, and there is no reason not to get it if you can’t, it’s not always going to be perfect. This is because your room is not perfect. It’s not made for reproducing sound as accurately as possible. That’s where tools like IK Multimedia’s Arc System 2 come in.

Arc 2 was recommended to me by another buddy in home recording. He loves it, and told me I should give it a try. (You can check out his site here, and his band has an album on the way. Great musician worth checking out.) Like most musicians that aren’t signed to a label on a multimillion dollar deal, we have to record and produce our own music. Most of what we invest in comes out of our own pockets. He’s experienced in this, so I took his word for it.

IK Multimedia has always been great with us, and they sent us Arc 2 to try out.

What is Arc 2?
Arc 2 is essentially a plugin. You run it in your DAW and it compensates for inconsistencies in your room’s sound. Because of the way sound travels and bounces off of walls, what we hear isn’t always an accurate reproduction of what’s coming from the speakers, or even from the computer before it reaches the speakers. Here’s an example: turn on some of your favorite music. Listen closely. Now, walk to the corner of your room. Walk along the wall. Walk to the other corner. Do you hear things changing? If you listen, you may notice things tend to sound different in different parts of the room. Some areas will have some major bass, others will lose bass almost completely. That’s just part of it. Things seem to change as you travel around through different areas of the room. That’s what happens when you are sitting in front of the speakers, too. Of course, walking around the room is an extreme example, but it’s just to give you an idea of how sound works against you in a mixing environment. Arc 2 is designed to compensate for those dips and peaks.

How Does it Work?
Arc 2 comes in three parts: a microphone, a measuring tool and a plugin. We will go over each.

Microphone


micophone

Arc 2 comes with an omnidirectional microphone. It’s designed to capture sound as accurately as possible with a very flat response pattern. It works not only for measuring, but it’s wonderful for using later for other studio applications, such as recording your instruments. I used it for vocals on a few tracks, because I happened to have it on the stand and wanted to try it out.

Measuring Tool

Measurement
The measuring tool is a software application. It tells you exactly what to do and how to do it. Basically, you stand the mic upright in the position your head will be when you sit with the microphone’s diaphragm at ear level. You then run the software, and it plays a loud, LFO-modulated sine wave that quickly runs up and down the frequency spectrum. Careful, this thing is loud. It doesn’t sound pleasant, but it’s necessary if you want to get an accurate reading of the full range of sound.

You will have to move the microphone through several preset points in and around the listening position. Each time, you will take a measurement. This is the most important step. Make sure you do it correctly. Make sure that the room is set up the way it will be when you are working. Close any doors, and make sure that when you mix from here on out, your doors are closed the same way. As I explained before, sound changes when things around the room change. That said, I found it’s best to lie low on the floor while taking measurements, so that I don’t interfere with the sound. Furthermore, if you make any major changes to your room, for instance, if you move a bookshelf, you will want to recalibrate. You don’t have to, but it’s the best way to keep things sounding accurate.

Correction Tool

Correction
This is a plugin. You run it at the end of your final output chain while you are mixing down your song. It takes your measurements and applies correction to the room based on that. The plugin load depends on how much correction your room requires. You must also remember to disable the plugin when you area ready to bounce down the track, otherwise your mix will be bounced with the room compensation, and it will sound strange when you listen somewhere else.

My Experience
When I was mixing, I often found myself compensating for bass by turning it up–big time. When I’d go to the car and pop in a CD, all I’d hear is a kick drum with everything else pushed low into the back of the mix. Arc 2 reminded me where my bass was sitting with everything else in the mix. It gave me a flatter signal that later translated into a more accurate mix. I’m not great at mixing, it’s a learning process, but this has definitely been helpful in getting things to sound better.

The hard part is first turning on the plugin after you’re used to the way your room sounds. You will find that you have to learn how to trust what the plugin is doing. You have to listen and remind yourself that things won’t sound like what you’re used to. You really have to train yourself to trust the sounds coming from the speakers with the plugin running. Once you can do that, you will find that your mixes start to sound better. Just trust your ears when you run the plugin. Things will sound nice in the end.

Loving It
I am loving the plugin so far. I use it for my mixes. It was tricky and odd at first, but in the end the results paid off. There are a few more features, such as adjusting for your hearing. This means the plugin can adjust to how your ears have adapted to the listening environment. There is also an option that lets you hear things as they may sound from other speakers, such as cheap computer speakers, or televisions. It may not be a substitute for listening in other environments, but it’s enough to give you a rough idea of how your mix will translate to other rooms and speakers.

You can check it out here: IK Multimedia Arc System 2

You can also check out my music here:

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