Sunday, May 24th 2020

Sonarworks Releases SoundID Listen: Personalized Sound on your Computer

Sonarworks had caught our eye back at CES 2019, when they showed off their then-still-in-progress mobile app for personalized sound signatures called True-Fi. The Latvia-based company has credentials to back all their claims, and the in-suite demo was impressive to say the least. Getting it out in the real world meant that the company had to build up their database of compatible headphones to first normalize the sound signature, and then work on the best option for recuperating R&D costs without breaking any wallets. As it turns out, the company had more insight on this at CES 2020 but are only now ready to show their retail plans in the form of SoundID.

SoundID, as both a mobile app (iOS, Android) and the new desktop SoundID Listen experience, takes over from where True-Fi started. The interface is more colorful and user-friendly to the masses, and the mobile app in the current beta form is being marketed more for profile-creation than usage, although it has the option to plug into your Spotify library. The older A/B tests are retained here, and at CES 2020 the app only had the "Core" experience. As of May, the app has new features to coincide with the desktop client's release, and read past the break for more on both.
The ability to connect to SoundID Listen to allow for the profiles to be transferred over to the desktop for global usage is the biggest change in the currently released product, but the app also now has another level of customization called "Super". This effectively adds in hearing measurements for each individual ear, and then further optimizes the personalized sound based on this. I took this test recently, which is longer than just the A/B preference tests and requires you to be in a quiet environment, and involves a somewhat rudimentary test of the frequency and amplitude reception to different tones generated during the test. This depends a lot on the headphones and the phone used, however, in addition to how good (or not) your hearing is. As seen below, the app decided no adjustments were needed for me, and the subsequent preference test showed the overall identical category, albeit with a slight shift in the frequency curve. This may be the result of a combination of different factors, including a different phone, a different set of headphones, and a different ambient environment.

SoundID Listen, available as a 30-day free trial for everyone on Windows and MacOS is a desktop program that lets you log into the same account used on the mobile app, and use the SoundID profiles globally on the computer. This program on Windows is only compatible with Windows 8.1 and newer, and takes the form of a virtual output device in the sound manager. The headphones plugged in- wired only- are also carried over from the app, but you can have multiple headphones to choose from with the associated profiles for each. Once done, there is a simple On/Off toggle for you to then have it running as a middle person to take the base sound from your file and deliver the personalized sound to your headphones. As with the original demo at CES 2019, this was quite impressive to me. More impressive is the part where anyone, at least if you have one of the 300+ headphones currently supported, can actually experience this right now.
Pricing is currently set up on a subscription model for SoundID Listen, with the mobile app continuing to be free for profile creation and quick testing within the app. Sonarworks is going with a $4.99 USD per month after trial ends, with small discounts for a longer plan ($24.99 for 6 months, $44.99 for 12 months). One of my concerns remains the need for wired profiles and another is the still-smaller selection of headphones to choose from, and then there are no doubt many audiophiles who prefer a native listening experience. The company has done a good job in adding support to many popular headphones already, and the availability of both the mobile app and a desktop listening for free within the trial period gives the option for people to test it out and see if they like it enough to continue subscribing to it.
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