Why does Reference 4 lower my output volume?

By default, the output is lowered when the Safe Headroom feature is enabled. Reference 4 cuts and boosts certain frequencies to compensate for the inconsistencies in a particular output's frequency response. Boosting certain frequencies creates a risk that the digital audio will peak above 0 dB and clip.


The Safe Headroom feature lowers the output volume by the maximum peak in the correction curve to prevent the output from clipping (prevents gain-staging-related audio distortion).  

You can disable it at the risk of introducing clipping by turning off the Safe Headroom feature and turning the volume fader all the way up. 


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It's a shame that this plugin doesn't have level match auto gain option..logically it should be the first option before thinking about simulating anything...

Permanently deleted user

Can you explain a bit more about how you'd want this to be implemented? Would you rather see the "avoid clipping" turned off by default to maintain original volume or did you have something else in mind? As the article states, this is set in place to protect signal from clipping due to boosts applied to correction.


Avoid clipping it's the maximum peak of the correction eq down..

I talk about gain staging  the systemwide EQ correction plugin.. without it , it's not correction , it's coloration. i was able to do it manually with a plug after, Digicheck ..but i was talking about auto gain ..like you can found on the fabfilter pro q2 linear phase eq for example ..


What is so complicated? The audio level coming out of Sonarworks should be THE SAME as the volume going in. I don't care what algorithm you use or how it does what it does. The volume level should be the same. How does it help that Sonarworks lowers the volume, but then when you want to take Sonarworks off to bounce the audio down, THEN the audio is clipping like there's no tomorrow. Because the entire time I worked on a project where I had to boost the audio since Sonarworks made the volume so low. So it makes absolutely no sense. It is not a feature, it is crap. 

I repeat - the audio level going in should be the same audio level coming out. I don't need protection from clipping, and I don't want to do anything in the Sonarworks plugin. All it should do is EQ the signal and pump out the same volume. 

Permanently deleted user

Alex - looks like you've already been in contact with one of our Support members about this. The volume drop is merely a safety feature that can be turned off, but to me it sounds like you're not setting the plugin as your last instance in the mix. A typical placement of Reference plugin should be after any other processing that you have on your mix bus to avoid having the issue you described happening.

If you apply correction and it's volume drop (with avoid clipping turned on) and then try to increase the output level to -0dB after the fact, when turning the plugin off, you will end up with audio way above -0dB threshold.

And if you do want to have the input level just as high as the output level, simply save the "avoid clipping" state "bypassed" as your default plugin state.


And if you do want to have the input level just as high as the output level, simply save the "avoid clipping" state "bypassed" as your default plugin state.


it's wrong and it's normal .. after all the boost and the cuts of the eq will change the level on the peakmeter .. so we must also bypass the correction.

I am not a hater and it was with great exitement that I ordered your technology.

However, I don't think to teach you how much Loudness and Spectral Perception are related.

It's with great surprise that I realized that the 1: 1 ratio does not exist on Systemwide , and my surprise is bigger when I see that none of the professionals who advertise you have noticed.

As i said earlier i managed to calibrate the volume manually but instead of "simulate" other speakers and headphones ,this correction EQ plugin is a correction only if the volume is well calibrated .

thank you for your reply




Not that auto gain is the solution, but a gain control on output would be helpful. Bypass is still low :( How do I fix this?

UPDATE: I fixed it myself using "Audio MIDI Setup.app" on my Mac. For some reason the first 2 channels were lowered. Raised them and now problem solved! Nice and loud again!



This SOLVED the problem. THANK YOU Dennis!! My goodness. It took days to try and figure this out. 


I realize this post is old-ish.. but it seems like whatever your output of your computer is BEFORE you turn on the app, directly correlates to the output of the app itself.  ie... turn your computer all the way up before turning on the app. then you have full headroom when Sonarworks is running. - note: I am using the headphone edition.


I've subscribed just to say thank you to Michael Armstrong-Brown for his solution.
I understand that there is a -6bd safety that pops-on automatically once we launch the system-wide.
But I would get those ''random'' volume intensities every time I would power on my computer/launching system-wide. And it would drive me nuts as I couldn't figure this out. Perhaps it is written in the manual, but who reads those nowadays. So, Michael Armstrong-Brown's solution which is to make sure that your windows volume is all the way up BEFORE launching system-wide sonar works, then you still get that -6db safety that can then be turned off if you want, but you retain the full volume. So again, please perhaps modified the explanation on this site to also include this explanation for why it could still be too low of a level.

Thanks again Michael Armstrong-Brown.

Wishing you all the best.



Hi Stéphane, 

We have fixed the the volume jumps with the latest software release too. Find the download here and simply install the update (it will replace the older version).

Once complete, head to Systemwide settings and make sure that Adjust The Output Device Gain setting is checked - you should no longer get the volume jumps regardless of what the system volume is set to. Thank you!


If you set a safe -9db in Sonarworks, you must increase the volume by 9db in your hardware.

Bring additional sound coloring, how to solve this problem. 

Looking for a professional solution


Just got Ref 4 and love it! I understand why Safe Headroom feature is needed, but I am trying to understand the best way to work with this on and still have my mix at the levels I need them  & how I have mixed up till this point. I always worked/mixed having a target around -9db RMS on Logic basic level meter, but now with a 10db cut using "safe headroom" I can't trust that meter. Is it as simple as inserting another meter right "before" Ref 4 does it's safety cut? Also, Is the safety cut amount exactly the db that would go over 0? Thanks!


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