How to make a “systemwide” Sonarworks on Linux – the easy way

I’ve been contemplating on trying Sonarworks since a while, and after WhiteDrum55 and kimbo both acknowledged its usefulness in a thread in a Wikiloops forum, and after I learned that Sonarworks even offer some kind of beta version of their plugin on Linux, I downloaded and tried that. I was sold after 20 seconds, and decided to buy it after an hour or two.

So what does Sonarworks do, you might ask. Well basically it equals out the frequency curves of your headphones (and speakers in the ‘Studio’ version). Looks like this for some headphone models we have:

Screenshot from 2020-05-08 07-50-29
Screenshot from 2020-05-08 07-51-04
Screenshot from 2020-05-08 07-51-40

These are, from top to bottom, the curves (in blue) before correction, the corrective ones (in green), and the resulting ones (in purple) for the Sennheiser HD598 (my main “open” cans), the AKG K141-2 (Zuleikha’s), and the Sennheiser HD569 (my closed ones).

So that software makes them basically sound almost alike, definitely more neutral. Which is invaluable for recording and mixing.

After playing around with it a while in my DAW I thought how nice it would be to have these corrections systemwide, and in fact for Windows and for MacOS, Sonarworks offers a program they call “Systemwide” which does exactly that. But for Linux they don’t – so I’ve made one. 🙂

(Credits have to go to user sysrqer in this Linuxmusicians forum entry who’s describing how to do it in just a few words – so I’ll mostly add some screenshots to make it a bit more clear here)

You’ll need a few programs called ‘claudia’, ‘carla’, and ‘cadence’ for this, which come with the KXStudio repositories – so these are available for Debian and its many derivatives like for instance Ubuntu Studio. There are ways to do this on other distributions, but not with these tools, and therefore not that easy – so that’s out of the scope of this article.

So in Cadence, you’ll use LADISH to automatically load a studio after your login, like this (I called mine ‘Sonarworks’):

Screenshot from 2020-05-09 11-14-59

In the “Engine Settings” for Jack, you’ll have to mark a checkbox to “Ignore self connect requests to external ports only”, like this:

Screenshot from 2020-05-09 11-14-41

Then, under “Tools”, you use ‘Claudia’ to set it all up:

Screenshot from 2020-05-09 11-13-49

In ‘Claudia’ you have to set up that Studio (here ‘Sonarworks’), and add Carla to it, like this:

Screenshot from 2020-05-09 11-14-11

In ‘Carla’, you’ll add the Sonarworks Reference 4 plugin which comes as a VST plugin for Linux (with an .so file type):

Screenshot from 2020-05-08 07-53-48

And in the “Patchbay” tab of ‘Carla’, you’ll do the cabling like this:

Screenshot from 2020-05-08 07-54-10

Make sure that you don’t have a second set of cabling running from the PulseAudio Jack Sink directly to the System playback inputs, and also check after a reboot, or after loading/unloading programs like Ardour.

And boom – you’re set:

Screenshot from 2020-05-09 11-57-53

With the wrench symbol in the plugin loaded into Carla, you can start the graphical interface of Sonarworks – so that is how my screen looks after I log into my system.

This isn’t all perfect yet, and the plugin itself has some relatively high demand on CPU (about 10% on my older Core i5 processor), but that will surely improve over time. Hearing music (and now also videos and other sources) like they should sound is invaluable to me, and well worth the price. Did my first new mixes for Wikiloops already using this, and I couldn’t be happier.

As always, thanks for reading.