Using Sonarworks to Verify Your Mixes Using Headphones

Mix with headphones? Are you sure?

Most definitely! Doing this is a great way to make sure your mixes are balanced and even, especially when your mix environment is not the most ideal.

Sonarworks Headphone Edition


If your production space is not acoustically ideal, or you work under the constraints of not wanting to disturb for family or your neighbors, working with the Sonarworks Reference 4 Headphone Edition might just be the solution. Or, if you can use your beautiful but loud speakers part of the time, the Reference 4 Studio Edition allows you to calibrate not only your speakers, but your favourite set of headphones as well.

Calibrating your acoustic space (your room) is best left for another post but calibrating your headphones could not be easier. You see, the good folks at Sonarworks have already created calibration profiles for many many of the most popular studio headphones. Awfully nice of them! Simply switch over to the headphone setting, load up the profile to match your headphones and you are ready to create sonically accurate mixes. 

Is this a perfect system? Maybe not but it’s pretty damn good. We have been creating mixes over the last while using a combination of the headphone calibration and then checking it on the speakers using the room calibration and it translates beautifully. Not only that, it translates beautifully to other speakers and listening environments.

This may be the answer to you creating mixes that translate. Because, if you can’t hear it, you can’t mix it!

Check Sonarworks products out here

4 Ways to Use iZotope Insight 2 for a Better Mix

by Nick Messitte, iZotope Contributor October 10, 2018
I:nsight 2 - Stereo Surround with Levels

Full disclosure: even before I wrote for iZotope, Insight was my go-to metering suite. I liked it so much that I didn’t think it could be improved. Now Insight 2 has dropped, and I’ve been lucky enough to use it for a few weeks. I’m happy to report it has easily surpassed my expectations, replacing the original Insight in my practice.

Primarily, I’d use the original Insight in post production and mastering. I might refer to it from time to time for mixing, but not as often as in other cases. This has changed with Insight 2, for the suite provides several improvements that make it a killer companion for mixing duties. Here are useful features, listed below:

1. Intelligibility Meter for vocal presence

The Intelligibility Meter was designed primarily with post-production in mind. However, it also works within the context of music. If I put an instance of Relay (think of it as Insight 2’s “helper plug-in”) in the last slot of my vocals/vocal bus, I’m able to monitor the apparent integrity of my vocals in relation to the rest of the material. By integrity, I mean how easy it is to hear the words—the very definition of intelligibility.

I find this meter quite handy, as vocal intelligibility is tricky to get right. It can be hard to know whether to bury the vocal on a phrase for the mystery of it (the work of Tool come to mind) or to bolster the vocals above everything else. There’s also the risk of raising the vocals too high without realizing it, either due to ear-fatigue or suboptimal monitoring. This phenomenon can give the mix a sort of karaoke feel. The Intelligibility Meter, particularly when set to low-noise level environments, can aid you in making the judgment call more impartially.

All you need to do is watch the meter and, well, follow the bouncing ball: if it stays in the sweet spot, there’s your visual indication that the words will be understood. If it soars above or falls below, you have the option to tweak or leave as is. The choice is yours—and now you’re in a better place to make that choice.

Insight 2 Intelligibility Meter

2. Using Relay with the spectrogram for superb EQ balance

In the time I’ve spent using Insight 2, the suite demonstrates itself impeccably when paired with the Relay module. Relay can be plopped onto tracks, submixes, auxes, or anywhere else a plug-in can go. We just highlighted its helpfulness alongside the Intelligibility Meter, but you can also use Relay in conjunction with the spectrogram.

The spectrogram goes beyond your typical frequency analyzer to show you the EQ makeup of your mix across a long swath of time, and with a greater visual representation. You can really pinpoint what each element of the mix is doing, thanks to the spectrogram’s use of shade:

a growing concentration in color from a light to dark shows you how impactful things are at a given frequency; the weaker the shade of color at 200 Hz, the less pronounced the band.

This is all well and good across the whole mix, but the Relay module gives you a shortcut to any individual element you’d want, so you can spotlight the drums, or even a single drum, within the context of a mix. By default, your entire mix is in grayscale, but the elements you assign with Relay are given colors—colors that you can change, as need be

Insight 2 Spectrogram

A real world example: I had a mix nearly finished, but at a certain section of the tune, the kick drum felt like it was getting a bit lost. I had Relay going on all the submixes at the end of the chain, so I selected the drum submix, and, against the grayscale of the spectrogram, I saw the resounding yellow of my drum information.

Insight 2 Spectragram 2

The confluence of shade in the GUI made it plain where the kick was visibly weak. I could tell it was the kick because of the sparsity of the arrangement; you could very well put Relay on the kick track, but in this case I didn’t need to. I had the visual info to make a decision, which constituted an automated boost in the weaker frequency at the part of the tune.

You should always use your ears to make decisions; no one is naysaying that! But at the end of a mix, when your ears may be tired—or at the beginning of your career, when you may not trust what your ears are telling you—the shortcut this method provides can be quite valuable indeed.

3. Sneaking around automation with Relay

Automation can be tricky. One obvious issue: you’re a bit penned in once you’ve started laying down volume moves. You may forget you’ve got automation switched on, move a fader, and then realize that it did nothing; the channel strip only snapped back to what you had written earlier. This certainly can happen if you walk away from the mix for a day and come back without remembering all the goings-on in perfect detail. Yes, DAWs have ways of telling you there’s automation turned on. But sometimes you don’t get the visual message.

For years I had a workaround: I used to automate volume levels on the last plug-in’s output in my chain—unless that plug-in was an analog emulation, where the output would change tonal characteristics. In that case I’d slap on a utility plug for the sole purpose of automating.

This was annoying, to be sure, but because of the way my brain works, it was the workaround I’ve settled for.

If your brain is similarly vexed, you’re in luck: Insight 2’s Relay has obviated this workaround. If, after judicious mixing, a whole track is too low in level—and if automation had already been applied—I don’t need to grab all the handiwork and move it up a dB or two. I also don’t need to hunt around for the best plug-in to raise the level either. By having Relay as the last track in chain, I can just do it there.

Why not a regular utility plug-in for the job? Sure. You could do that. But that never sat well with me, because I don’t like having a bunch of gain plug-ins sitting at the end of the chain—instances serving no other purpose than to make me feel inferior about my automation choices!

Relay, on the other hand, handles utility basics and also the aforementioned metering tasks. It’s not intended for raising levels alone; it’s intended to work with the metering software. I can watch the spectrogram or the Intelligibility Meter and see what raising the gain on Relay does for me, and reach my goal that much faster.

Yes, this comes down to psyching yourself into the right mindspace, but mixing works best when you are comfortable with what you’re doing. Relay makes the process more comfortable.

4. Using easy-to-read loudness meters throughout the mixing process.

Three different kinds of loudness meters are on hand in Insight 2 by default: momentary, short term, and integrated. All three have their uses when working a mix, and thanks to the new interface in Insight 2, you can resize these meters so they occupy only a corner of your screen, giving you a constant yet unassuming check if need be.

The difference in momentary, short term, and integrated has to do with how much time the meter uses to glean its reading. Momentary is the shortest (100 ms per 400 ms block of time), short term is mid-range length (1 second per 3 second block of time), and integrated lasts as long as you’ve initiated playback, updating to reflect all the changes.

Momentary metering is particularly helpful, I find, in clip-gaining a vocal (or any melodic element) to make sure it occupies a relatively even level. If the momentary reading drops or raises by too much of a variant during a given phrase, its possible the word or note is too far outside the range you’d want.

Sure, compression might help, but we’re talking about the subtle hand of clip-gaining before plug-ins, where you can make a big difference, smoothing out dynamics without impacting performance or causing sonic issues. Here, watching the momentary meter can be of service in helping you make the call.

You wouldn’t use the Intelligibility Meter for this purpose, because you wouldn’t be comparing the vocals to the rest of the mix in this instance. In this usage, where you’re trying to achieve vocal consistency in and of itself during an editing task, the momentary meter can be of enormous value.

Short term is helpful for keeping an eye on how loud your mix is at the present section. Mastering engineers often keep an eye on this meter when working the overall levels of a chorus, a verse, et cetera.

Integrated loudness gives you a comprehensive view of how loud your entire mix is over the whole playback. In mastering, it’s often used when determining whether an entire song is the right loudness for a streaming service.

However, this measurement can also be useful in a mixing contest. if you’re working on a mix linearly, and you find the integrated loudness value has either snow-dived or skyrocketed, you know you have a problem.

To be clear: What I’m talking about here is not comparing loudness between sections, but working linearly across the whole song and finding a latter section wanting. Whereas short term loudness can help you determine that something went screwy in the last chorus (with its three-second range) integrated loudness can help you determine that something is off across the duration of the song—provided you’re working a pass from start to finish (not looped or cycled sections, and without stops and starts). As such, it is a useful check against your senses should you be experiencing ear fatigue.


Yes, there are other facets of Insight 2 we haven’t had time to cover in depth. I think the biggest one I skirted over was the music production presets in the Layout section, which allow you to instantly change the layout of the GUI to suit a given mixing task. Another is Relay’s ability to re-align stereo signals and correct phasing issues in this manner. But I think these four are quite representative of the benefits this metering plug-in gives you, not just for post, but for stereo music production. These meters have certainly made my life easier in the short time I’ve been playing with them, and I’m willing to bet you’ll have a similar insight, too.

Sorry for the pun.


Mixed product bundles at a nice discount

We're looking for input!

I:mage of someone making a purchase of audio tools from Zuka Music

We have been thinking about this industry and specifically, this business model we here at Zuka Music are in.

We are supplied with world class products from our exceptional lineup of vendors. These are industry leading products in use worldwide by the best in the business. So, should be a good business correct?

Well, yes and no. It is great because everything we sell is always in stock (unless we drop the line) and available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We cater to the ultimate needs of our target industry….they need it when they need it. But all is not cool in our world. In effect, we are competing with the very people that supply us with product … and in most cases, they have the advantage. They sell products that we cannot sell and in ways that we cannot sell. For example, subscriptions. You can buy a subscription from many plugin suppliers that gives you access to every plugin they make. A great deal, especially if you like the particular line of products. We are NOT allowed to sell subscriptions. How do we compete with that? Many pro users never give businesses like our a chance because they feel it is better to go directly to the manufacturer. Maybe if makes them feel like they are getting a better deal, or more support, or more recognition. Whatever it is, it is nothing that we cannot provide.

Pick two or more

So, in order to combat this in some small way, we are going to begin to offer package discounts on two or more products, completely of your choice. Buy two and get a specific discount. No matter whose plugin you buy. Buy three get a bigger discount, buy four …. and so on.

If you have some ideas for product combos, let us know. We’ll start this off by announcing the Zuka Mixing Bundle!

Look for these discounts beginning in June.

Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash
Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

How to Master Your Tracks for Streaming – easier than you think if you’ve got the right tool.

I am linking to a video from Warren Huart because this was a great session on the use of Nugen’s Mastercheck, which is a great tool to use to get a handle on how your mixes will sound like on the various streaming platforms. Enjoy and thanks to Warren for giving the community this content.

McDSP On Going Flash Sales


McDSP Summer 6060 Sale Until October 3rd

The 6060 Ultimate Module Collection contains the largest collection of processing options of any module-based plug-in available.

The 6060 includes over 30 unique modules for EQ, compression, saturation, distortion, specialized filtering, dynamic range expansion, gating, and more. Custom modules include bass optimized biasing for the larger than life low end, transformer-based tone shaping circuits for high end shine, tape simulation, de-essing and new EQ and compression designs. Additional modules are already in the works.

Both HD and Native versions on sale. Check out our sale page for more

We are growing again

Wow, it is really tough starting a new business. Of course, I know that, having started a number of them in my life. However, I had never ever started a totally on-line business so I was not truly sure what to expect. Vying for new customers on line is a whole different animal. There are so many choices people can make and all seem as good or the same as all the others. But as usual, this all comes down to relationships; with your customers and with your suppliers. For the former, we are working hard to gain your trust and your business. Let us know what we can do to further that goal.

As for the second, we are fortunate of have a lineup of truly great plugins from world class vendors. Plugins that are well known workhorses in audio production houses and recording studios, as well as the DIY singer/songwriter musician. And, some that are not as well known, mainly because they are newer and not as well known, but certainly no less capable.

We are pleased to welcome two new product lines to our lineup; DiscoDSP Synthesizers, Samplers and Effects. We are talking killer analog synths here! And, the incredible IZotope line of audio restoration, repair and mix plugins. IZotope is the recognized leader in audio repair so we are very excited to have them on board.


izotope logo

Check out our lineup and please get in touch if you have any questions about Zuka and our products.



Upcoming flash sales. What’s next?

Well, next week, and actually next month, we are going to be featuring a number of McDSP products with special pricing to go along with them. First up, from Sept 7 to Sept 10, we are offering the really versatile 6050 plugin.

People familiar with McDSP’s virtual 500 Series rack will love the 6050 Ultimate Channel Strip. This one plug-in pairs the 6030 Ultimate Compressor and 6020 Ultimate EQ bundles side by side with a third module for saturation, filtering, and expansion for versatile tone shaping you can use on every track. Each module can be re-ordered and sidechained to unlock exciting new effects for drums, guitars, vocals, and more. The McDSP 6050 includes 28 modules of modern and classic EQs and compressors modeled after real analog gear to help you achieve anything from subtle sweetening to aggressive, over-the-top destruction on any source. Easily drag and drop any module to rearrange the signal flow of your channel strip.

Native version is regularly $259.00, now just $65.00 until September 10th. HD version is regularly  $389.00, now just $89.00. That’s crazy good!! Remember, this is for a limited time only.

6050 Ultimate Channel Strip



Well, next week, and actually next month, we are going to be featuring a number of McDSP products with special pricing to go along with them. First up, from Sept 7 to Sept 10, we are offering the really versatile 6050 plugin.

People familiar with McDSP’s virtual 500 Series rack will love the 6050 Ultimate Channel Strip. This one plug-in pairs the 6030 Ultimate Compressor and 6020 Ultimate EQ bundles side by side with a third module for saturation, filtering, and expansion for versatile tone shaping you can use on every track. Each module can be re-ordered and sidechained to unlock exciting new effects for drums, guitars, vocals, and more. The McDSP 6050 includes 28 modules of modern and classic EQs and compressors modeled after real analog gear to help you achieve anything from subtle sweetening to aggressive, over-the-top destruction on any source. Easily drag and drop any module to rearrange the signal flow of your channel strip.

Native version is regularly $259.00, now just $65.00 until September 10th. HD version is regularly  $389.00, now just $89.00. That’s crazy good!! Remember, this is for a limited time only.

NR800 Noise Reduction Processor Overview

Despite efforts to make recordings as clean as possible, noise contamination can still occur. By golly its about time McDSP did something about it. Say goodbye to noise. Say hello to the NR800 Noise Reduction Processor.

The NR800 reduces unwanted noise while preserving the original signal, in realtime. Noise reduction modes and bias options cover a wide variety of scenarios, and low and high noise reduction focus points zero in on the culprit frequencies. Fully independent pre-filters further enhance noise reduction capabilities. Read on to get acquainted with the latest in noise reduction technology from McDSP!

The NR800, like all McDSP plug-ins, comes with plenty of presets to get you started. Wind in your dialog? Noisy guitar amp? Too much leakage from the toms getting into the snare? The NR800 has those scenarios covered at lots more. Spend some time with the preset library in the NR800 and see what it can do.

Before digging into the noise reduction capabilities of the NR800,nr800 prefilter be sure to enable the HPF and LPF filters on the left hand side of the user interface. These filters can help isolate the portion of the frequency spectrum that contains the ‘good’ audio. No need to exercise the noise reduction algorithm on audio you don’t want in the first place.

The NR800 pre-filters come with a wide range of slopes – 6 dB/Oct to 36 dB/Oct – useful for subtle and not so subtle results! Sometimes it is useful to apply a slight amount of pre-filtering using the 6 dB/Oct slope, to gently remove a small amount of unwanted signal.

The NR800 pre-filters are also very useful in defining what is the range of frequencies you’d want to keep. Once the HPF and LPF frequencies are selected, the NR Low and High focus points should be set to approximately the same frequencies, or even slightly inside the window created by the HPF and LPF. For example, if the HPF and LPF frequencies were 100 and 10,000 Hz respectively, you’d want to have the NR Low focus point at or above 100 Hz, and the NR High Focus point at or below 10,000 Hz.

Start playback. At a moment of nominal signal level, press the Threshold Snap button, found on the right hand side of the UI. This will give the NR800 algorithm an idea of where the signal levels are for the DESIRED signal are at. Press the Gain Snap button, located right next to the Threshold Snap button. The gains will move to a reduction level that should be appropriate for the audio in question.

That’s right – you tell the NR800 how to remove the noise by letting it know the signal level of the audio you want to keep. No more hunting for that ‘good noise’ segment of your audio track. Just hit play, snap the threshold, and then snap the gain for the appropriate amount of noise reduction. If the result is not what you need, then snap the Threshold and then the Gain again.

The Gain snap can be further enhanced by choosing one of the NR Bias modes found just above the Gain and Threshold snap controls. The default setting is FLAT, but there is a collection of other settings that can influence how the noise reduction is calculated when the Gain snap button is pressed. To audition the NR Bias options available, choose a NR Bias setting, and then ‘snap’ the Gain again. A green guide-curve is displayed in the plot, but does not affect the sound. The guide curve can also be used as a reference when manually adjusting the noise reduction amounts in each band.

After ‘snapping’ the NR800 to attention, you may still want to adjust the gain in some (or all) of the bands. Golly it would be great if you could link all those bands to a master, huh? Well you can! The NR800 links all its bands together with the M (master link) and L (link) buttons. The master band will move all the linked bands, while the linked bands can still be moved independently.

For even faster setup, hold the shift key and then press the M (master link) button in a given band. You will see all the bands L buttons toggle (to ‘on’ presuming they were all ‘off’ previously). Now the band with the pressed M is the master for the Gain and Threshold controls in all the other bands.

On the far right of the NR800 user interface there is an NR Mode menu with options like SMOOTH I, DYNAMIC, and FAST. As the amount of noise reduction is auditioned, be sure to check out some of these modes. Each mode is calibrated differently and one may perform better than another for a given application.

Also on the far right of the NR800 user interface are the Range and Response knobs. The Range controls the overall amount of noise reduction and is a convenient way to reduce or increase the overall reduction amount. The Response control provides an adjustment to the calibrations including in the NR Modes. A faster response makes the NR800 react more quickly, while a slower response makes the NR800 sound more natural.

There is also an ‘x2’ button right next to the noise reduction ’NR’ enable button. The ‘x2 button will double the overall amount of noise reduction, and is useful in extreme situations. You can dial the Range control back to 50% with the ‘x2’ button enabled to get the 100% noise reduction ‘setting’.

In the event you are having trouble discerning if a given noise reduction band is doing the job you want, and enabling/disabling the band with the 1, 2, 3, … numbered buttons is not enough, you can solo the given band and listen to the pre-processed signal coming into the NR800.

The NR800 is the essential workflow of the noise reduction process. Isolate, identify, and improve. The best mixes are not made by computer, they are made my audio engineers. If you are reading this, you must be one of the later (I hope). Fire up the NR800 and get some noise reduction processing in your production.

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