Once you calibrate the KRK ERGO using the included mic, its DSP engine adjusts your monitors'' output to compensate for any acoustical deficiencies in your listening environment.
KRK Systems Enhanced Room Geometry Optimization (ERGO) stereo monitor room processor ($699) combines a hardware unit (containing an Analog Devices Blackfin processor) with a calibration mic and software. The system analyzes the sound of your monitors in your mixing environment, and its high-resolution RoomPerfect DSP algorithm adjusts their output to compensate for your room's acoustic coloration.
ERGO enjoys some distinct advantages over its software competition. Instead of being inserted as a plug-in on the mastering bus, the processing is added completely outside your DAW's signal path; therefore, it affects only the signal going to the monitors. Once calibrated, ERGO can work without a computer — useful for portable recorders or even analog tape mixes. You can leave ERGO powered on all the time without taxing your computer's processor by loading a plug-in.
READY, SET, CALIBRATE
The base unit can connect to your audio system in several ways. It connects via FireWire (working as an audio interface and operating at sampling rates up to 192 kHz); via S/PDIF digital input (serving as a D/A between your interface/mixer and speakers); or via analog inputs with 24-bit/96kHz A/D converters.
With four balanced analog outputs, ERGO can feed two pairs of powered stereo speakers (or power amps feeding passive speakers), and one monitor feed can include a subwoofer. There's also a ¼-inch headphone output with its own volume control. You can set that up as an independent audio stream from your DAW when you're using ERGO as a FireWire device. Though ERGO can run on a 6-pin FireWire port's bus power, you'll need the included power supply if you're operating it without a computer.
Before ERGO can analyze your room, you must install the software, which includes a control panel and a calibration application (Mac/Win). Next, connect the base unit to your computer via FireWire — even if you eventually plan to use the S/PDIF or analog inputs when mixing. Connect and turn on your speakers, launch the ERGO Cal application and place the calibration mic as instructed, starting in your mixing sweet spot (the focus area) for the first pass. Put the mic on a stand that can move easily, as you'll be repositioning it several times before you're done.
The calibration software sends a tone through the base unit to check volume, and once it's satisfied with the level, it starts sending various audio signals through the speakers to measure the room, correcting frequencies ranging from 20 Hz to 500 Hz. There are a lot of steps, but fortunately, the software gives instructions along the way.
After it has analyzed the focus area, ERGO Cal will ask you to move the mic and repeat the process to add to the system's room knowledge, which the calibration software expresses as a percentage. You need a minimum of 90 percent for ERGO to work, but it can keep going until the software reports room knowledge of 100 percent. One of the coolest things about the system is that it compensates for both the focus area and the global room, and you can toggle between them depending on your listening position. You can also bypass DSP at the push of a button.
I tested ERGO feeding Genelec 1030As in a bedroom studio with low ceilings, and I ran the cross-platform software on my 2.2GHz MacBook Pro with 4 GB of RAM. Calibration is time-consuming, and listening to the test tones was a little irritating. On a couple of occasions, the system stalled several minutes into the process, but adjusting the output levels slightly solved the problem. Once calibration was complete, operation was easy. I really liked being able to switch between FireWire, analog and S/PDIF inputs without recalibrating the unit. The large volume knob, the front-panel level meters and the ability to select among monitors with the push of a button were real plusses.
I was amazed by how much the processing opened up the lower mids and helped me distinguish sounds that were fighting each other. The true test came when I took the mixes out to my car. Whereas previous prints sounded dense and cluttered, the ERGO-assisted recordings had better clarity and balance, especially in the low end. ERGO doesn't make you a better mixer, but it does give you a clearer picture of your sound.
Overall rating (1 through 5): 4