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Headphone Listening with Acustica Audio's Sienna

OK1

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I thought it good to share, cos it has absolutely impressed me a whole lot.

Acustica Audio is a pioneer in a special kind of convolution based emulation of analog audio processing devices, such as microphone preamps, equalisers, compressors and reverbs. Been around for about a decade IIRC.

Not long ago they released a new product called Sienna, which now has a couple of different versions, including up to support for multi-channel Dolby Atmos kind of emulation, over headphones. Their solution also includes headphone correction for over 200 of the most used headphones. I use an AKG K702.

Unfortunately their marketing information is a bit convoluted, not as clear and as simple as it should be. So it is a bit difficult to figure out exactly how to get the products, and discern the difference between each edition of Sienna.

There is a free version - Sienna Free. All you need to do is create or use an existing account on Acustica Audio's web site, then download the Acustica Audio - Aquarius installer, which supports both Windows and Mac.

Aquarius, upon searching or clicking on the Purchased icon, displays all free Acustica products, which you are enabled to install, and this includes Sienna Free.

Sienna Free is an audio plugin, and depending on your computer - you can install various plugin formats - such as AU, VST2, VST3 and Avid AAX.

I'm using the VST2 64 bit version via Reaper (my DAW), and have routed all Windows audio to my DAW using a virtual audio driver (ASIOLink). You could use any other.

So all audio from my Windows apps, such as Spotify and Youtube are processed in my DAW, using Sienna Free, and my DAW (via the virtual audio driver ASIOLInk) sends the result through to my chosen output device - soundcard, or USB connected audio interface or other audio interface such as any connected via other methods - PCIe/Thunderbolt, etc...

Sienna Free includes two plugins - a basic one called Sienna Rooms, which applied predominantly default corrections for the chosen "professional studio emulations" and also corrects the frequency response of your chosen headphone.

The other plugin is an advanced user version of Sienna - called Sienna Guru, which provides many more controls, and options and warrants a thorough read of the manual and a review of available demos and training/introductory videos on Acustica Audio's Youtube channel.

Not being aware of the skill level and experience of whomever may be reading this, I though it best to outline all of the above in some detail, for anyone for whom all this may be new.

I had many years ago used Sonarworks, which is about one of the more popular - well advertised solutions claiming to do something similar. I have not used Sonarworks in recent times, so its a bit difficult to compare, furthermore Sonarworks is a paid product and I have not been convinced enough after I used the demo version many years ago, to take the plunge.

Using Sienna Free - and moreso the Sienna Guru component, over the last week or so, I have been able to tweak the default corrections for my chosen studio emulation, and applying the default correction for my AKG K702 Headphones, to arrive at a listening experience that I find really next level.

It's awkward to try to describe what I now hear in words but I will try.

Without Sienna, I hear everything close to my ear, with almost no spacial cues - well commercial music does have some reverb or was recorded in a real space so some of that does translate.

But with Sienna and my current tweaks, there are the following improvements.

1. I feel or hear such a much better accuracy of all instruments vocals, etc.
2. Space. The audio is coming at me from a few inches or a few feet away in virtual space - kind of as if my head or ears are a few inches or feet bigger.
3. Transients are ridiculously accurate - being able to discern the texture of instruments, frequencies, etc, is now like child's play.
4. The difference in tone of instruments, within a track, and between different pieces of music, is like immediately transparent.
5. The clarity has enabled me listen at lower volumes yet still hear everything so much clearer.

I have added some eq via a parametric eq, to shave off some of the highs, of the end result of Sienna. I don't think its Sienna's fault, some of the high frequencies of my AKG Headphones, were always a bit too much for my taste anyway.

It's something I could never have imagined existing, every record sounds like a live performance on a stage surrounding my ears, extending into a virtual room.

Using Sienna Room is a respectable improvement, and if this was the only option, I'd still be happy with it, cos it really does correct the frequencies on my headphones.

But using Guru, enables me to take this further, and create an end result, where, the stereo width and separation of the left and right from the center, is made to become even more prominent - Wider is the word, like the sound is coming from somewhere beyond the headphone cups surrounding my ears. Unfortunately Acustica is justifiably close lipped about exactly what is going on - in the box(in their DSP).

As I said earlier, I am pretty stoked about this. It is by far the best listening experience I have ever had, from an electronic device, and this includes speakers. Totally immersive, I'll end my observations by saying, I'm on the lookout for a pair of wireless headphones which use some form of lossless wireless communication between the headphones and my computer, so I can walk about the home untethered, and I dread going back to listening on speakers. Never heard anything so clear, that causes to revisit a bunch of my reference music tracks, and every listen is a revelation - discovering panning moves I never heard before. I'll repeat, with the tweaks, the clarity, to me is stunning.

Unfortunately this is Audio Science Review, and I have no way of proving, confirming or demonstrating, any of the aforementioned observations. No graphs or charts or measurements. I do have the plot of the changes to the frequency response, which I obtained using ddmf's plugin doctor, but these are meaningless, cos you cannot hear a plot.

Thankfully I urge you to try it yourself, and hope like me - you'll end up in almost disbelief - did I just get a new pair of headphones or a new pair of ears, or both.?

Do try and let me have your thoughts. I found something that touched me pretty significantly, and wish to share the experience with others.

PS.I am not affiliated to Acustica Audio, neither am I a fan boy - trust me, their plugins and marketing and delivery have some quirks, but Sienna is IMHO, on another level of audio geekery, and sonic excellence (my opinion of course and I have obviously not listened to every high end set of speakers or headphones, or correction system, out there in the wild).

About the primary and really thankful result of Sienna, in use, is that my impression of the audio frequencies I am listening to in a recording, correlate with any checks I make via a spectrum analyser, so much easier to judge the balance of frequencies in a recording, and compare them with other recordings, by ear, and find that the mental impressions I had correlate easily with whatever a spectrum analyzer, which I check after the fact, informs me.

Merry listening.
 
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