Sonible smart:comp 2 Review
- August 18, 2022
- by Dan Brashaw
- Product Intelligence Report
Sonible’s smart:comp2 is a glimpse into the future of AI assisted compression, and more broadly compressors in general. Like most of Sonible’s lineup, smart:comp2 has an AI engine under the hood which can listen to your audio signal and apply what it deems to be ideal compression.
However, unlike many AI assisted plugins on the market, smart:comp 2 does not rely on its AI as a gimmick to shift units. The AI engine is powerful, and very useful for beginner and intermediate users, but it is not the focus point of this compressor. Experienced producers and mixing engineers – or perhaps anyone in the anti AI in music production camp – will relish smart:comp 2’s interface, clarity and power features without ever touching any of the AI controls.
As a simple, non AI assisted compressor, Sonible smart:comp 2 pushes boundaries in both design and functionality making it both a pleasure to use, and uniquely capable in several areas.
It boasts spectral compression and spectral sidechaining, giving incredibly transparent results, and the UI design is one of the most intuitive I have used in any compressor.
AI Done Right
Sonible have trained smart:comp 2 on thousands of “well-com-pressed” samples. To compress a track or tracks with AI one simply selects a profile (e.g. ‘Drums | Kick’, ‘Mix | Pop’, or ‘Vocals | Rap’), presses the record icon and then plays back one’s project.
After a few seconds smart:comp 2 will select the parameters it feels will best serve your sound given the profile you’ve selected. You can flick the various profiles once your audio has been analysed, without having to analyse your audio again – a simple but much appreciated feature.
The AI suggested settings are often subtle and transparent and are designed not to alter the character of your sound. This is, in my opinion, the correct choice on Sonible’s part. smart:comp 2 is more than capable of creative compression, but it’s good to see that Sonible aren’t getting their AI to make creative decisions, instead the AI compression is very functional.
These suggested parameters often act as a great starting point providing settings which can be tweaked for your desired sound, however beginners could use them straight out of the box for a totally acceptable compressed signal
Old school audio purists might say that a few knobs and a level meter are all a self respecting compressor needs to do its job, and they’d be right, but with smart:comp 2 Sonible have shown that experimenting with compressor presentation can make things very intuitive.
smart:comp 2 has adjustable bars with which to set your threshold and ratio. Attack and release times are adjusted by dragging the ms value of these parameters up and down. Below each of these values is a dropdown box allowing shape adjustments of the attack and release curves. This is a fantastic extra feature, and the use of the dropdown box keeps the interface clean.
The shape of your compression can be adjusted by manipulating the shape of the line below the threshold. How your shape manipulation affects your audio at different levels is illustrated on the left hand side of the UI where parallel white bars show either compression or expansion.
There are six shape presets or “compression templates” available allowing users to use smart:comp 2 like a gate or parallel compressor amongst other assorted purposes. Other developers take note.
Spectral compression and character controls
Spectral compression splits the incoming audio signal into thousands of bands across the frequency spectrum, and compresses each band individually. Think of it like multiband compression on steroids.
This helps to give a very clean compression sound, compressing only the parts of the frequency spectrum that cross the threshold whilst leaving other areas untouched, taming tonal imbalances in your signal.
The amount of spectral compression can be controlled at the bottom of the UI. By default it’s set to 100, it can be turned to 0 for traditional single band compression, or turned up to 150 for extra resolution.
Spectral compression does have a subtle but noticeable effect on the tonality of your compressed signal. When compressing audio that has information across the spectrum it is particularly noticeable, for instance: drum loops.
The kick drum is the loudest signal in a drum recording, and when using single band compression it eats up the headroom pushing the signal above the threshold and compressing the entire frequency spectrum. When using spectral compression, only the frequency range that the kick sits in is compressed leaving cymbals and air in the upper frequencies untouched. This can give a brighter sound to your loop which, although subtle, sounds great.
Speaking of brightness, there is a color dial next to the Spectral Compression dial allowing you to make your audio brighter or darker
To the left of the Spectral Compression dial is the Style dial. By default it’s set to clean but turning it clockwise dirties up your signal if you’re not a fan of the ultra clean spectral compression sound. Though in general smart:comp 2 is a very transparent compressor, it’s nice to have the option to add a bit of grit, and the effect is very pleasing.
Perhaps the most useful consequence of spectral compression is the ability to perform spectral sidechaining.
Sidechaining your bass to your kick is a producer trick as old as time. However, with traditional compressors, when you bass ducks out of the way of your kick, the entire bass signal ducks, not just the clashing frequencies.
Spectral sidechaining in smart:comp 2 means that only the frequencies taken up by the kick drum are ducked in the bass signal, allowing the rest of your bass sound to remain and your kick to pump through your mix whilst maintaining maximum power in your bass signal. This isn’t an essential feature – producers have been doing just fine with traditional sidechaining for decades – but it is a nice bonus to have and enable a new approach to a technique that has been done the same way for generations.
Sonible smart:comp 2 is a fantastic modern digital compressor. No, it doesn’t give you the flavour of analogue style compressors, or emulations of classic gear, but if you’re looking for a clean digital compression you really can’t do much better.
Spectral compression is an amazingly powerful feature, and the ability to perform spectral sidechain ducking is a game changer.
The AI features are great and make smart:comp 2 an excellent option for beginner producers who don’t feel confident making their own compression decisions, or for intermediate level producers who just want a bit of guidance.
But, as previously discussed, the AI features don’t define this compressor, and the impeccable UI and extra power features make this an essential for advanced producers as well.
Dan Brashaw is a producer and writer based in Bristol, UK. He releases dance music under the moniker Skeleton King, and his music has been released on Lobster Theremin, Fantastic Voyage and Breaks 'N' Pieces. His writing has been published in DJ Mag, Electronic Musician, and via a multitude of online outlets.