Studio monitor manufacturer KRK Systems has introduced ERGO, a FireWire-based standalone monitor controller/ acoustic correction unit.
ERGO utilizes the RoomPerfect acoustics correction system developed by Lyngdorf Audio in Denmark. This software offers a level of room acoustics correction never achieved before in this price range.
ERGO is designed to be placed between your audio outputs and monitor inputs (whether you use active or external amp-powered speakers). The ERGO unit offers an A/B speaker selector, a large illuminated volume knob, Focus/Global button, calibration button, a headphone output, and a FireWire interface.
ERGO accepts three forms of input: analog (which goes in via KRK A/D and back out through AKM AK4396 120 dB SNR D/A), FireWire (streaming from a DAW or audio application), and S/PDIF digital. [According to KRK, "using ERGO with analog or S/PDIF inputs allows for a true 'standalone' mode; once the measurements are taken, no connection to a computer is required." — Ed.]
All processing resides within the ERGO unit; the analysis software is Mac- and PC-compatible. It uses multiple measurements and proprietary algorithms to analyze your room in 3D with an included measurement microphone. ERGO employs 1,024 dynamic filters, with sample rates as high as 96 kHz with an Analog Devices 400 MHz Blackfin digital signal DSP chip, to apply electronic corrections to the speaker output to match your listening environment. "The 3D model preserves the good characteristics of the room, while correcting the bad, thereby creating a more accurate mix position," offers KRK ERGO product documentation.
Connecting ERGO was fairly easy; first, I installed the software on my computer and then connected the FireWire and audio cables to ERGO. Next, I connected the included measurement microphone to ERGO and switched the unit to Calibrate mode. Then, I opened up ERGO calibration software, running the process where it asked for just a few (it can ask for more than a few) mic test positions to take room samples; it even tells you where and how to adjust overall room SPL level. Finally, ERGO completed its processing, storing the room analysis within itself automatically. Nice.
I first set up the ERGO in my acoustically treated 15 x 22-foot mix room; I currently use very little corrective EQ on my monitors, mainly just to smooth out the crossover frequency. The calibration process by ERGO only took three test samples of this room in order to achieve a "98 percent room correction" sample. Note that ERGO only works on frequencies between 20 Hz and 500 Hz, deemed the truly problematic frequency range in environments such as my own.
After ERGO had completed its correction, we compared the results with and without correction. With ERGO, my room — with which I was already "truly happy" — immediately became more focused in the stereo image with deeper lows, with a clarity that just wasn't there before. The system character did not sound EQ'd comparing ERGO in-line and ERGO bypassed, but overall results were notable and really nice.
For a true test of what the ERGO could improve upon, we moved to my second engineer's mostly untreated 15 x 18-foot mix room with dreaded low ceilings. After setup and feeding ERGO eight (yes, eight!) different microphone locations, ERGO achieved a "99 percent room correction" sample. This time, the correction results from the ERGO had major differences in low-end EQ in an A/B comparison with the unprocessed signal. The results were nothing short of stunning for such an untreated room with obvious acoustic "issues." ERGO made an almost unusable room into a room that was quite good. With ERGO, this second room's EQ response was drastically better, and the center image was much more focused. We left the ERGO setup in this environment for some time to see if there were any differences in long-term observations, and we remained impressed.
The other unique feature included with ERGO is the Focus/Global button. In Focus mode, it optimizes all settings for the mix position; Global mode widens the sweet spot for more listeners. We tested this feature in both rooms, and while it does what it says, both my assistant and I found it quite subtle.
The notable negative I found in ERGO was a bit of zipper noise while turning its volume knob, but it was only truly discernible when no audio is present.
I've heard room-correction technologies that were built into brand-name speakers before, and I must say that I was not a fan, except of one quite expensive version. Yet I found ERGO's room-correction technology to be phenomenal. ERGO provides great converters, amazing algorithms, 1,024 dynamic filters, and many useful features. I'm not aware of anything else on the market that can touch it for the price. ERGO's RoomPerfect technology is so good, I would imagine that we will see it in future KRK products.
Randy Poole is a Nashville-based engineer/mixer and owner of the Poole Room studio in Franklin, TN.www.thepooleroom.com