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The parable of the blind men and the elephant describes a situation where a group of blind people come across an elephant for the first time.
They all touch a different part of the elephant, and come together to explain their own experiences of how they think the beast is shaped; one person who had their hand upon the elephant’s leg describing it as a pillar-like tree trunk, another who had their hand upon its trunk described it as a thick snake, and so on and so forth.
Although this parable has been around for more than two and a half millennia – well before recorded music – it is still the perfect analogy for the imperfect concept of monitoring, the listening environment and human perception (cause) and its influence on the decision making process (effect).
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Every new engineer would be familiar with the feeling of finally finishing a mix on your home setup – whether it be through headphones, monitors or a combination of both – only to have it completely fall apart when playing it back through a different setup. It’s a tale as old as time, especially for those mixing primarily on headphones.
In fact, even the best monitoring set-up, in the most perfectly treated room, referenced at the perfect listening volume, will not give you an exact gauge of how your mixes will translate into the kind of real-world, less-than-ideal listening environments that it is likely to be played in. Thus, referencing your mix on different speaker setups is crucial for getting the full picture of said elephant.
Italian software developer Acustica Audio know this better than anyone and their new 3 plugin suite, Sienna, is an absolute game-changer, with the ability to emulate world-class studio listening environments and monitoring setups on inexpensive headphones.
Sienna offers a huge range of perspectives to reference, improve and perfect your mixes with, resulting in better quality monitoring for the budding engineer and significantly lowering the price of entry into the world of critical audio – meaning better mixes for all. It’s a noble undertaking, and one which can have an extremely powerful and liberating effect on your mix work.
The suite is made up of three separate entities, the first of which is Sienna Reference, which allows you to select your reference (control) headphone from the list of approved headphones. In no mind to leave anyone behind, Acustica Audio have modelled correction algorithms for over 170 different models of headphones, including everything from the prestigious Audeze LCD-2 to the trusty Koss Porta Pro.
You can blend the unaffected signal to see what correction has been applied with a wet/dry Mix knob, cut or boost the output signal if needed, and play with the Magic Q knob, which superimposes a correction curve based off the Harman curve that Acustica Audio have designed to deliver a more accurate and musical listening experience.
After selecting your reference model of choice and after Sienna Reference has applied its corrective algorithms to offset that natural bias of your cans, Sienna Rooms swoops in, giving you cart-blanche access to acoustic modelling from some of the finest sounding rooms/acoustic environments in Europe and emulating the listening space of your choice to bring the high quality (read – expensive), open air experience to the headphone mix.
I found this to be particularly handy for better referencing of low-mid and low frequency material, which we all know is often poorly represented in headphones, given the ears close proximity to the driver.
Sienna Rooms was an awesome way to simulate the manner in which low frequency material dissipates in the time domain. I also found it to give me a better read on overall true loudness, given its ability to simulate stereo summing and natural room reflections. The ability to switch to an anechoic room was also an awesome control variable to work from, just in case you had gotten lost in all the options and needed to return to home-base.
Sienna Guru lets you get even more technical with everything, custom rooms and more. It also offers a whole host of not so ideal (but none the less vital) listening environments – iPhone speaker emulation, car speaker emulation, boombox emulation, NS10 setups and so on – for you to cross check your mixes and make the necessary adjustments before you bounce.
There are also multiple slots for different headphones within the plug in as well as the ability to save presets throughout, so you can switch between different headphones on the fly.
The art and science of controlling the monitoring environment is one of the fundamental pillars of studio recording, not to mention one of the primary reasons that $100k monitors a) exist, and b) are a worthwhile investment for certain studio setups.
In an age where the high tier studio experience is getting closer and closer to recreate in the home, a tool like Sienna is invaluable, further bridging the gap and bring high quality monitoring to those who grew up referencing on headphones and headphones alone.
Dealing with such a heady subject, it’s probably not the easiest thing to articulate in a review like this, but I can’t recommend Sienna highly enough both as a tool for better mixes and to further one’s understanding of monitoring and its effect on recorded output. Needless to say it’s an eye opener.
Find out more about Sienna by Acustica Audio via their website.