Sonarworks, the company famous for its precision audio software used by music creators in professional recording studios around the world, has developed a music personalization tool called SoundID Listen. The desktop and mobile app brings personalized sound to anyone listening on headphones by creating personal sound profiles. We gave it a try.
SoundID technology was born from Sonarworks’ precision audio software, which is used to record top artists like Lady Gaga, Madonna, Rihanna, Adele, Coldplay and Kanye West. This is the first time that one of the most respected companies in pro audio has come forward with a solution in the never-ending quest for the holy grail of sound. We're off to a good start here.
This is not an entirely new concept, and we've seen various products hit the market over the last two years that aim to improve the audio performance of your headphones. However, those that have come before have usually gone with a system that essentially optimizes the EQ for popular brands and models of headphones to improve the sound. The optimal audio preset that an "expert", essentially someone in a white coat somewhere, telling you what sounds best.
Except that's not really how music works, is it? Sound is so subjective, and what sounds good to you might not necessarily sound good to me. That's the problem SoundID is trying to solve.
By creating an individual profile - the Sonarworks people say that the way we interpret sound is as unique as our fingerprint - that uses smart algorithms and machine learning to evolve with you over time, you can optimize the way you consume audio. Your SoundID Listen profile is your own personal asset that is stored in the cloud and can be used to connect to different SoundID enabled devices much like your Apple ID of Google login.
Sonarworks uses a three-layer approach to identify your unique SoundID, based on your headphones (calibrating each pair to deliver sound the way an artist intended in the studio), your unique hearing ability, and your listening preferences. The level of personalization available with SoundID is unmatched on the market today.
SoundID supports 360 headphone models at the time of writing. You can see if your own headphones are compatible via the company's official website.
A data and user-driven approach to sound quality
To take a closer look at how listeners truly define great sound, Sonarworks conducted the largest ever consumer sound preference research study, surveying more than 39,000 participants. It discovered that the definition of perfect sound differs considerably among individuals. No more than 17 percent of listeners preferred the sound of one particular headphone model, leaving more than 80 percent of users believing headphone sound quality could be improved.
To improve sound quality, Sonarworks realized that it had to take a more personal approach. The company says that its research shows that with SoundID personalization, more than 80 percent of blind test participants preferred their personalized sound over the sound of their headphones without SoundID technology.
So does it actually work?
You create your SoundID profile by downloading the free SoundID app from the iOS or Google Play Store before identifying your SoundID profile with a simple in-app test. Once you have selected your model of headphones, you are asked to listen to between eight and 12 questions about state listening preferences. It's basically choosing which sound you prefer or stating that you don't hear a difference. Once you're through, you'll have created your own personal sound profile that should be in tune with your ears. You can then test your profile by pulling up a track from your Spotify premium account and flipping the profile on and off to hear the difference. You can take additional tests to refine the results, but there's no finer profile tweaking available after you've made on. If you download the SoundID Listen app on Mac or Windows and easily connect and transfer your SoundID profile to your mobile device as it is stored in the cloud.
The difference is certainly there to hear. Depending on the make and model of your cans, SoundID can make a huge improvement on sound quality.... or not, I guess that's kind of the whole point here. Either way, I found the profiles I made to be more beneficial than not.
How much does SoundID cost?
Optimizing your audio to your own perfect taste does not come for free. The basic price is $4.99 per month. You can save a little by subscribing for longer periods of time. A six-month subscription comes in at $24.99, whilst a yearly subscription costs $44.99, representing a total saving of 15 bucks.
SoundID Listen recently extended its 30-day free trial period to 60 days in support of music lovers everywhere, so you can try it out for a couple od months before you have to pay up.
Sonarworks says that SoundID has more technology to rollout throughout 2020. "Listeners will soon be able to take their SoundID anywhere life takes them - on their mobile devices, across streaming, social or music database platforms, and devices, ensuring a consistent personalized sound experience wherever you go," says the brand.
The question remains as to whether you really want to add another subscription to your growing collection. I already pay for Spotify premium and am a heavy user, but adding another $5 to my monthly debits does seem like a luxury I don't need, even if it is cheap.
The biggest problem I founf, however, was when switching between three pairs of headphones depending on whether I was in the office, at home, or on the go. You do notice small changes to the sound when you do this regularly. It's really difficult to get a consistent profile across multiple pairs of headphones. Even though the sound may be 'optimized' on each pair, the audio profile is different on each set. Many music fans will be willing to sacrifice a bit of quality for consistency.
My advice would be to check out the software on desktop and take a few tests. Then take a 60-day free trial and see if the service fits into your lifestyle before being tempted to commit to a yearly or even six-month subscription.
SoundID is certainly an interesting product that I will be keeping a close eye on, and for those who use a single pair of headphones for everything, it could be a real game-changer to our listening experience.