It’s fairly common these days for new plug-ins to boast about some form of AI (Artificial Intelligence also known as machine learning) technology that promise to make our audio production lives easier by minimising or irradiating the guess work that many of us struggle with in a mix.
Plug-ins that promise to speed up mixing workflows and sound good in the process generally catch our attention at Production Expert. We’ve tested a number of intelligent plug-ins, many of which work quite well though some machine learning powered compressor plug-ins can struggle to perform well across a wide range of different mix applications. Sonible, the makers of smartEQ and other intelligent EQ plug-ins has just released their latest plug-in smartComp, which promises to dial in automatic compression with results that thy claim sound transparent.
In this video we give you a quick guided tour around smartComp’s UI along with two examples using an electric guitar loop and drum mix.
What We Love About smartComp by Sonible
Resizable User Interface
The UI has a cool resizing feature, which is easy to adjust by dragging the bottom right hand corner of the plug-in outwards. Not all, but a number of third-party plug-ins provide this useful mode but Sonible have managed to make the plug-in resizing feature smarter as it remembers it’s user assigned size when the UI is closed and reopened. Not all plug-ins that can resize do this, which can be frustrating.
Guided “How To” Tour Of The Plug-in
Another point of interest is the walkthrough guide that pops up the first time you open smartComp. This takes less than a minute to complete and will show you exactly how to get going with the plug-in. If at any time you need to refresh your memory you can easily rerun the tour from the settings window.
Minimal Control Set
Some compressor plug-ins offer too much in terms of features, which can put users off from even demoing the product. smartComp is different as it only provides the bare bone controls you actually need, the ones that you will end up using time and again when dialling in compressor values. If you are looking for a compressor that sounds like an analog unit in all its saturated characterful glory then this may not be for you, however if you are after an ultra clean ultra transparent sounding compressor then this is well worth putting a hour or so of your day aside to test for yourself - Download free 30 day trial of smartComp
Most of the compressor setting can be adjusted either on the central graphic or from the left control section, which can be expanded to view a set of fine controls. You can grab the nodes in the central display to adjust the knee, threshold and ratio and we found this to be the best way to manipulate the plug-in.
At the bottom of the UI smartComp features a wet/dry control, which is great for dialling in parallel compression effects along with input and output trims. To the right of these controls is an Auto button that does exactly what it says on the tin. All compressor plug-ins should feature an auto-gain control of sorts as these automatically apply makeup gain after compression has reduced the signal. Auto gain enables you to hear the exact behaviour of the compressor without your ears being fooled by distracting volume differences. This is not only a very cool feature but an essential mode that we recommend you leave on with smartComp.
smartComp’s party piece is the learn mode, which is very similar to what you find in Sonible’s other EQ plug-ins. To setup you first need to select the appropriate profile from the dropdown menu, hit the learn button, start playback in your DAW, wait a few seconds for the process to complete and as if my magic instant compressor values appear.
What Is Spectral Compression?
The section at the bottom of the UI that glows blue is the spectral compression section. Sonible says:
Spectral compression is all about giving a track the best possible definition and maximum transparency. By continuously analyzing the input signal across more than 2000 bands, smart:comp acts like an intelligent, ultra-high-resolution multiband compressor that dynamically smoothes out tonal imbalances.
Sonible claim that once you have experienced the power of the spectral compressor, which only applies compression when the AI believes it is needed, you wouldn't want to mix without it. Hearing is believing, with the sensitivity dial set to around 50% we could clearly hear the effect of compression back of in a pleasant way while still achieving ample gain reduction. In our tests this worked nicely on drums, guitars and vocals. There appears to be no side effects to this unless the sensitivity is set to maximum attack mode.
Our Verdict - Smart By Name, Smart by Nature
As we alluded to at the start of this review, some AI compressor plug-ins can be a bit hit and miss. This certainly isn’t the case in Sonible’s smartComp. It’s undoubtably smart, quick and easy to use while it produces compression effects that sound effortless and open across a wide range of track types. There’s very little to dislike here, the price represents great value for money as most AI plug-ins of this ilk generally cost substantially more.
Make no mistake, while smartComp can do a lot of the heavy dynamics lifting for you it isn’t a get out of jail free card for those who haven’t a clue how to set compression values tastefully. A basic understanding of compression is still required to get the most out of the UI, but that can be said about any type of plug-in.
Price & Availability
Sonible are offering smartComp at a time limited introductory price of €89 (regular €129). Visit the Sonible website to grab a copy of the 30 day free trial of smartComp.