What kind of sound do people want from their monitors? Transparent, pleasant or rather they should sound bad, so everything one creates sounds good elsewhere? The question is as old as speakers are. Here at Sonarworks we think that it’s paramount that sound craftspeople can trust what their monitors show them, which is why we created Reference software. The default target curve for our software is our Studio Reference (SR), however we allow for some leeway, if one is inclined. In this article we will look at what sound targets our users prefer and will try to analyze why.

A preference for reference

To create this article we used the data gathered from more than 68 000 machines out there. We are not aware of a larger scale research on this and sample size is more than large enough to be universally descriptive.


Roughly ⅔ of our users prefer to use SR as the sound target in Reference 4. SR was designed to ensure both a tonally uncolored sound and a maximum transmission of details, as tonal masking shouldn’t be present. At the same time it’s evident that a third of our user base has chosen something else. Let’s find out why something other than flat might make sense for some!

Many shades of flat

Reference 4 software allows for some target curve customization. Some of our users have asked for a full-fledged parametric EQ, however we purposely want to keep these options limited. After all, one of the goals for Sonarworks is to keep everyone on the same page sound-wise.

Unsurprisingly, the most popular custom target curve is a bass-boost. Listener preference tests done by Harman Research also have shown that people generally prefer the same thing with roughly a 6dB spread in the low-end. They’ve found that more trained listeners like a more neutral (or subdued, depending on whom you’re asking) bottom end, while the everyday listener prefers up to 6dB more bass.

The second place has been taken by the ever-popular U-curve. There are many reasons why people would prefer this. Our SR target provides a neutral sound only at 83dB SPL, yet many listen at a lower level. Equal loudness contours dictate that the lower the SPL, the more low end one would need to compensate. The “bassy-tilt” target is also explained by this.


The increase in treble can be explained in two ways. First there’s the reality of high frequency hearing loss, just about everyone above the age 20 has it and many engineers require the extra sparkle up top to hear properly. Secondly there’s the taste aspect – extra treble gives the feeling of more detail. Of course, this is a hedonistic aspect, but there are plenty of folks who use Reference 4 for recreational listening as well!

Finding common ground

What’s most important in a monitoring system? Low distortion, high bandwidth or the capability to shake the pant legs of your clients? In our opinion it’s trust. The engineer should be able to confidently interact with the material. Once you start second guessing, it’s a free fall into the abyss. No matter then target curve, your sound should help you or at worst – not get in the way of your work. So, experiment what works for you – we think it’s SR, but the customization is there for a reason!