That's a tumultuous week indeed...
- Some tips & hints about Sonarworks Reference 4 ( General tips for both Windows & MacOS based on my own experience ).
I did have some issues with Sonarworks not working after the first installation or some updates from time to time ( mostly on Windows 10 since I'm using a Hackintosh, can't remember to have issues on the MacOS side of things, at least with the most recent versions, it wasn't working that smoothly at the beginning ). On Windows it's mainly due to the way audio & audio drivers are handled. If you feel it's not working correctly, I recommend to do a clean Reference 4 uninstall, clean up your registry, reboot your PC and run a new install.
Also if you have ASIO4ALL audio drivers installed, it can really gives you some issues with Sonarworks. Basically their new versions are now targeting Windows WDM Audio Drivers and ASIO Drivers from Sound Cards Manufacturers. To get the best out of Sonarworks and use it in your DAW, you need to restart the app in ASIO mode ( at least one time ). If your sound card comes with built in ASIO drivers their will be the ones seen & targeted by Sonarworks.
During a recent Sonarwoks update, I had issue with the application not starting automatically and not activating my profile preset matching my sound card. It turned out that I had ASIO4ALL installed with the demo version of FL Studio, because I didn't uncheck the "Install FL in ASIO mode" option from FL installer. Had to uninstall ASIO4ALL & the FL Studio ASIO version, uninstall Sonarworks, clean up the registry using CCLEANER or manually using "Regedit" if you feel comfortable, reboot, make a new install of Sonarworks and then everything was working fine.
Now if you rely on ASIO4ALL for audio drivers and need to have it, it's probably gonna give you troubles.
There's also a difference if you're running Sonarworks in ASIO or Windows WDM audio drivers mode, I think it changes the ability to see Sonarworks System Wide as an available audio device inside your DAW.
Anyway, I suggest to browse their blog & support pages, they have some topics about all of this but in a nutshell the best configuration is to use it in ASIO mode with the built-in audio drivers from your sound card manufacturer and getting rid of ASIO4ALL.
Once the application works, it should be a "set & forget" process, you create a preset selecting your audio source and which headphones calibration profile to apply to it and it should set System Wide to use this by default each time you boot your computer. In some cases you could have the app not showing up, or stay inactive ( greyed icon & unable to access the right click menu from Windows running processes tool bar ), if it happens, start Windows Task Manager and you'll see several instances of processes related to Sonarworks, kill them manually and Sonarworks will close and then reopen it. Same story if you find yourself with no sound anymore, but this time you can just close Sonarworks from the app and reopen it.
Those are the quirks & headaches I came across with Reference 4, but they have really improve since the start IMO.
- Using it in your DAW : I only use the Ref.4 Plug-In, you simply need to remove it or bypass it before rendering. Using System Wide as the audio out device inside your DAW is an alternative, but it wasn't meant to work that way and Sonarworks also recommends to use the Plug-In in your DAW.
And YESSS, the listening experience is very very surprising at the beginning, and I can tell you that's it's even more drastic with monitors, but even on headphones. That's also why they have that Dry/Wet Mix feature on the Plug-In, it can avoid to have this drastic change comparing to simply enabling/by-passing the Plug-In.
All in all, it's really just a matter of time and listening, once you have System Wide as your default audio device and using your headphones profile, get use to listen to music you know on Spotify, SoundCloud, YouTube or even better any local high fidelity .wav audio files ( like audio ripped from a CD ), that will give you another listening experience than with your own music because your brain won't focus & recall the long mixing hours you had with your own audio.
It's really a matter of time and going trough this new listening habit, your brain needs to be re-programmed since your ears are not receiving the same signal anymore, can really takes a while, some people don't get with any of those correction software because of this BTW, they are feeling "tricked & fooled" but honestly it's just a mind-set thing. It's not correcting your audio at all, it's just improving what you can perceive & listen to and make better Mixing decisions.
It's not a perfect solution but I really think it helps, it works better with MacOS Core Audio than on Windows, but that's been a known OS issue for edges, it's the main reason why I stick to the Mac side of things for anything audio so far. In your case if you also use Rogue Amoeba Loopback to perform some routing, it can also get a bit more complicated to setup, but you should be able to select "Loopback" as your main audio device within Ref.4. That's why now having the option to make and switch "Presets" in Ref.4 is quite handy.
- I'll have a listen to the new track version with fresh ears in a while, I got a cold and was sick as a dog yesterday, got the feeling to listen to music with my head inside an integral motorbike helmet... Haha, getting better though.