Sonible smart:gate Review - A One of a Kind Gate
- August 8, 2023
- by Dan Brashaw
- Product Intelligence Report
With smart:gate sonible are aiming to solve the age old problems associated with gating. smart:gate uses sonible’s signature AI technology to gate based on not just volume level and threshold, but audio content – AKA what instrument is present in the audio.
smart:gate is able to analyse audio and separate wanted instruments from other unwanted content such as bleed and noise.
But is it any good? I’m happy to report that yes, smart:gate is a very capable audio gate, and its artificial intelligence equips it with abilities many no other gates possess.
Musicians, producer, mix engineers and content creators, if you’re unhappy with your DAW’s stock gate then smart:gate is a very strong choice.
A new entrance in the smart series
Smart:gate is the latest addition to sonible’s range of “smart” plugins, and it follows the same blueprint laid out by other entries in the series.
Like other plugins in the smart series, smart:gate can listen to and analyze the audio it is processing and then make parameter setting decisions for you. So that smart:gate knows what it is processing and it has a large variety of profiles to choose from. Profiles are mainly music based (Vocals, Drums, Guitar etc.) but there is also a Speech profile meaning podcaster, and content creators can use smart:gate for audio processing as well.
To analyse your audio simply press the record icon in the top of the plugin UI and play your DAW project. After listening for a short while smart:gate will set the gate parameters which it deems to be best.
Smart:gate may be the best iteration of the smart formula to date. Whilst other entrants in the smart series use sonible’s AI powered technology to speed up your workflow and to help you to make mixing decisions, smart:gate is actually capable of gating in a way that has previously not been possible.
Let’s take a closer look at what exactly is so special about smart:gate.
Opening the gate to a new world of possibilities
Traditional gating is a balancing act. Normally the only way to stop a signal getting through the gate is to set a threshold above the level of the unwanted signal, however you don’t want to cut out the wanted signal. Often, achieving this balance is impossible without some unnatural artifacts entering your sound.
What sonible smart:gate does so well is it identifies the parts of the incoming signal which are wanted depending on the profile you select. For example, when recording a full drum kit there is often bleed between drum microphones. A snare mic might also pick up kick and tom content. smart:gate can separate the wanted snare signal and allow it to pass through the gate, whilst closing for the tom and kick drums.
A particularly good example is with spoken voice recordings. This is a classic use case for a gate. Unless you are working in a professional recording environment, background noise is almost inevitable, and a gate is the go to way to deal with this problem.
smart:gate excels at this task. In our testing we were able to remove background traffic noise from a voice over recording whilst leaving the voice over sounding natural.
There is still an element of achieving a balance with the parameters. Threshold is still an important parameter, smart:gate doesn’t just nail the identification of the wanted source sound straight away.
In addition, you have to set the correct tolerance level. This controls how strict the AI is at letting through audio material that doesn’t match the selected profiler. The higher the tolerance the less unwanted audio comes through, however this does result in a less smooth gating sound. Therefore setting tolerance correctly is – as ever with audio gates – a balancing act.
When I first started using smart:gate I had hoped it would be able to automatically isolate and gate particular elements of an audio signal, but this is unfortunately not the case.
That said, it is certainly less of a balancing act than with a traditional audio gate. It’s quicker and easier to isolate the desired signal with smart:gate than any other competitor I have used.
Occasionally particularly loud unwanted noise will get through the gate and no amount of parameter tweaking is able to fix this, but this is just the reality of audio gates.
Beautiful and practical design
It’s worth mentioning the well designed UI and visual feedback of smart:gate. As with most of the smart range of plugins, sonible haven’t just stuck with a traditional parameter layout. The Threshold bar is also home to most of the other parameter settings such as Level Bias, Attack, Hold, Tolerance and Release.
This doesn’t massively change the experience of using smart:gate, it’s just very nice to look at and keeps everything simple and in one place.
In addition, the visual feedback of the plugin is both pretty and functional.
When using smart:gate as a traditional gate – AKA with no profile selected – the incoming signal is displayed in the main workspace behind the threshold bar making it easy to visually set the threshold to exclude certain elements from your audio.
With a profile selected the smart:gate only shows you the audio that its AI is letting through. You can then set your threshold based on that. Very handy!
On top of that, the red area at the top of the UI displays whether the gate is open or closed (or opening or closing).
smart:gate also boasts a few extra features which make it extra practical to use. It comes with external sidechaining so you can combine creative sidechain gating with sonible’s AI algorithm to achieve sounds not possible elsewhere.
Even more practically speaking, smart:gate has undo and redo, eight different plugin states which can be switched between and copied and pasted, and the ability to solo the difference in signal to hear exactly what you are gating.
smart:gate is the best gate I have ever used. It still falls foul of some of the problems that are always present in audio gates, but sonible’s artificial intelligence technology goes a long way to mitigate these issues creating the most capable gating experience on the market.
As with all of sonible’s products, smart:gate is also very pretty to look at and intuitive to use with a refreshing parameter layout and practical visual feedback.
The AI content dependent gating is not perfect every time and won’t do all the work for you, however it is a big step up from old school threshold based gating.
Though primarily designed for music producers, I can see this plugin being a highly valued tool for podcasters and content creators. Anyone working in audio looking for a more capable gate will love sonible smart:gate.
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.