IK Multimedia ARC 2 Room Correction Plugin Review

2013 Jul 22, 2013

What you hear out of your studio monitors has a huge impact on how your final mix will turn out. It affects your recording and mixing decisions, which ultimately sculpt the sound of your tracks. And with many of us recording and mixing in non-ideal spaces, what we hear isn’t normally the truth of the matter. Enter the ARC 2 Room Correction system from IK Multimedia. Is it the savior of your mixes? Let’s find out.

Could The ARC Help Me?

Your speakers don’t tell you the whole truth. I’ve written about speaker placement being a critical move to accuracy. I also recommend some basic acoustic treatment to tighten up your room. Both of these in tandem will tremendously help you balance out and tighten up the reflections in your room to get a more accurate sound in your room, helping you make better mixing decisions.
But I was hearing a lot about room correction systems and had never tried one in my studio before. I liked the idea of the ARC (Advanced Room Correction) system because it was a plugin, not some hardware unit, so it could travel with my Pro Tools sessions. If you’ve never looked into one of these products, it’s fascinating.

What Does It Do?

In a nutshell, the ARC 2 system ($299 US) is a software plugin for your DAW (AU, VST, RTAS and AAX) that you insert on your master fader so it can adjust what you hear just before hitting your speakers. The box comes with a microphone that you setup in your mixing position (and many other positions in your room), and the setup software blasts sounds out of your speakers and listens to what those tones sound like in YOUR room from YOUR speakers.

This tells the software what the problem areas of your room are. Now the ARC software can create a high quality, in phase EQ curve to compensate for your room, delivering to you what sounds like a flat response. The result? You make better mix decisions because you are longer hearing the incorrect frequencies of your room that aren’t actually in your mix.

What Did ARC 2 Do For My Room?

Let me give you a concrete example of what ARC 2 has done for my room. My mix room is acoustically treated (absorbers and bass traps) and my speakers are optimally placed. The result? A quiet, dry, and focused sound. I was pretty happy with my mixes in that room. After setting up the ARC 2 software based on my room and my my speakers, I inserted ARC 2 on the master fader of a track I was working on (raw tracks that is), engaged the correction, and was shocked at what I heard.

Instantly the low end of mix tightened up, the midrange popped out, and the overall punch came back in my tracks. It was the funniest thing. The overly woofy sound I didn’t like on the drums in the low mids was practically gone (meaning it was never there in the first place, only in my room). Before the ARC 2 I would have started EQing that out till it sounded better. Now it sounded fine, no need to tweak.

The same was true with guitars. Without ARC 2 engaged my lead guitar seemed a bit flat I would have tried to poke it out with some upper mids. With ARC 2 engaged the guitars became clear and plenty present. No EQ needed! At first my head started to spin because I felt like I was being incepted by Leo DiCaprio, trying to understand what it all meant. But after a few minutes it became clear, the ARC 2 cleaned up a couple of trouble spots in my room so I could actually hear what my tracks sounded like and I then made different EQ moves based on what I was hearing. Without ARC 2, I might have been making my tracks worse than they were initially!

ARC 2 In Practice

Here’s how I’m using the ARC 2 system these days. As a recording tool it’s invaluable. How can I be sure I’m getting recordings right at the source if my room is playing few tricks on me? Recording with the ARC 2 on my master buss lets me monitor back with more accuracy so I can better adjust mic placement as needed. I literally don’t want to record without this thing.

When mixing, I simply start my mix by inserting the ARC 2 on my mix buss BEFORE I make any fader or EQ adjustments. It takes 2 seconds to drop it into my mix. I then mix like I normally would, never even thinking about what ARC is doing. Only at the end of the mix do I bypass the ARC plugin before bouncing my mix down. The idea being simply that you don’t actually want the ARC effect on your mix, it’s only to change what you HEAR when mixing in your room. If it sounds confusing at first, you’re not alone.

Is ARC 2 The Answer To Your Problems?

The ARC 2 sounded like a miracle plugin when I first heard about it. That’s exactly why I disregarded it initially. But when many of our Dueling Mixes members began talking about how they were using it with great results I decided to bite the bullet and give it a shot. After using it extensively for the past 6 months I can say this: it works. I feel like my mixes are better balanced and are translating better on more systems.

But here is my caveat (you knew one was coming, didn’t you?). I believe that proper speaker placement and simple acoustic treatment is critical BEFORE going the ARC route. Why? Simply because they actually make your room sound better without any software, and in reality will help ARC not have to work so hard. Therefore I think you’ll get better results that way.

Summing Things Up

In the end, things like monitoring, acoustic treatment, and room correction are only part of the equation. Some would argue the most important. I would say a simple pair of headphones will help you eliminate all of those problems anyways. But if you’re going to mix on speakers (which I do recommend long term) in a home studio, even with the ARC system, you still need to know how to mix. No plugin can give that to you. Only time and experience can.

That being said, I honestly believe that at this point in my the life of my studio, the ARC 2 has been the best investment I’ve made in my studio this calendar year. Like speaker placement and acoustic treatment, it’s helped improve every other piece of gear I already own. I highly recommend it!

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