Is the future here? Sonible’s AI-powered Smart:comp 2 is here –
Coming from the near future to offer producers and engineers a new world of dynamic control, the Sonible Smart:comp 2 is an AI-powered spectro-dynamic compression suite.
As far as I can remember, the takeaways from Terminator 2: Judgment Day were that the self-aware robots we can’t trust and, given the chance, artificial intelligence units will crush our weak human skulls. But what if we replace the word “overwrite” with “compress carefully” and “skulls” with “source material and mixes”?
Since the dawn of music compression, mankind has struggled with artifacts, coloring and speed issues introduced by this manipulation. Now, often these “problems”, slow opto output speeds, distortion and pumping, have become cool “features” and sound creation tools that have shaped entire genres. But what if we could use compression in its purest form? the kind that was originally an engineer’s gain and dynamic range on the fly before it morphed into $20,000 worth of vintage units? What if we wanted the unit to become “dirty” by choice?
Since about 2016, Sonible builds intelligent sound manipulation tools. Smarket:comp 2 is the latest addition to this range and an improved sequel to the 2019 model. Sonibles product line spans the entire audio landscape of sound tools, ranging widely from AI Reverb, equalizerlimiters and beyond.
Over time, we have seen AI algorithms having an increased effect on multiple aspects of our lives. And not just by creating hilarious and weird works of art, or raw judgments against human art. Everything from medical prediction to stock trading to driving started to involve elements of AI, and it didn’t turn into the predicted Skynet-led wasteland. Still.
Anyway, let’s take a closer look at the Smart:comp 2. The unit has all the controls that would be familiar to any compressor user – Threshold, Ratio, Attack, Release, Wet/Dry, Make up gain, Frequency and External side chain. However, beyond these standards is where the Smart:comp 2 starts to get interesting. At the top of the unit is approfile menu with a huge range of selectable options, or I guess in this case compression scenarios.
From here, a general profile for the audio source can be selected, from a kick drum to a drum bus; from vocals, to speech, to a full mix or to suggestion Universal mode if your source falls outside of one of the other 30 profiles.
Hit it Learn during playback of your source material and the plugin will make judgments about your settings, controlling AAttack, Release, Threshold and Ratio. Open the Atackle and Rrelease parameters, the envelopes for these two can be adjusted with times from 0 to 300 ms plus Hold and Shappen option on the Offensivewith Exit times ranging from 0 ms fast to 3000 ms deliberately slow, plus Shello and Hold extras, more Tempo to sychronize capacity if you really need to pump your drums.
To the left of the screen is an option for a User-defined compression model where one of six transfer curves can be selected and manipulated in interesting ways via the red graphic style function for different bursts of compression, triggering and expansion.
This is probably one of the most interesting sound sculpting features of the unit, and easily missed! And while you’re at it, make sure you don’t ignore the Mid/side capabilities of this thing, and the Channel link amount.
Down below is where things start to get even more fascinating: this is where Spectral compression section resides. Supposedly an unbiased multiband component, the Spectral Compression The feature splits audio into 2000 separate frequencies to smooth out tonal imbalances, leading to a silkier compression experience with additional hi/lo pass to select affected frequency ranges.
Now, within the Spectral zone comes some additional features – a Clean dirty button to control the SChest compression style, from transparency to the punch of dirty frame. Then there is a global level control for the Spectral compression amount, and a characteristic tonal control, ranging from Dark at Bright. And let’s not forget, on the right with the output measurement section, you will find a simple Limit switch that will cap things before you can clip to 0dB.
But how does it sound? Can AI be tricked or defeated? Well, executing a kick through this thing gives a nice smooth result. A 3:1 ratio, approximately 6.2dB compression (which may be heavier, depending on your program hardware), plus 57ms attack and auto release. Pleasant and homogeneous sound.
On a realistic 82bpm kit drum bus, the AI picks a 1.8:1 ratio, around 5dB of compression, and an 86ms attack with an automatic release. Not a bad conservative choice I say. Pass through Compression models some more exciting curves can be added with a little extra Average pressure. Continued with the Spectral color leads to interesting cymbals pumping in the Bright adjustment, while pushing it towards Dark leads to a nice “thwack” of the bass and snare drums.
On bass, this thing goes for a nice conservative 2.4:1 with about 3.5dB reduction, 31ms attack and auto release again. Push the Spectral Style warms up the bass and can easily push it into the fizzy zone.
Finally, let’s see what happens to an entire mix. We get a recommended ratio of 1.5:1, a reduction of about 5dB in the heaviest sections, a 120ms attack with an automatic release again. The Spectral control section is much more apparent with a whole mix in its jaws, with Style well shoot everything in sharper and more punchy focus, and push Color around the Bright the range pulls in the highs well, especially in the release phase of the compression.
The Smart:comp 2 indeed, compression takes some guesswork – all the AI suggestions were pretty good and time saving. The display is intuitive and removes much of the mystery of what the compressor is actually doing, and having 8 slots available for A/B-ing is a pretty good extension of the traditional A/B option. 2 way. This could be a great dynamic tool for program material of all kinds, but if the goal is to get a more extreme or interesting end product, it might be a good idea to take back control and run this thing manually, at least less momentarily, from robots.
The Sonible Smart:comp 2 retails for €129 (approx $189 AUD), is currently on sale at €89 (approx $130 AUD), and is readily available on the web for macs (including support native to silicon) and Windows 10.
For more details, visit Sonible.com