Software keeps getting smarter. At the rate it's going, it may be controlling us someday. But for now, we thankfully still have the upper hand, and tools like Sonible's new smart:comp ($129) plug-in, a "spectro-dynamic" compressor, can help make life in the studio easier. Smart:comp is the latest in a product line that includes smart:EQ and smart:EQ Live, among other plug-ins.
Smart:comp features Sonible's smart:engine," which the developer describes as, "an A.I.-based, content-aware system designed on the basis of psychoacoustic principles as well as extensive hands-on mixing experience."
So, what makes smart:comp cool? First, it uses its intelligence to analyze your music and come up with what Sonible refers to as "automatic parameterization," which simply means that it sets what it thinks are appropriate parameters based on its analysis of your music.
It works like this: A pull-down menu features a number of instrument profiles including drums, snare, kick, bass, guitar, keys, vocals female, vocals male, and standard. The latter presumably is for sources that don't fit any of the profiles. You press a button to start the analysis, and in a few seconds the plug-in sets itself to what it considers the optimal parameters to keep the dynamics in check.
All of them are fully adjustable manually, so you can tweak as much as you want, and you can revert back to the automatic settings with the press of a button. I tried it briefly on all the elements in a small mix session, and it allowed me to come up with usable compressor settings quickly. Smart:comp's large GUI features plenty of visual feedback so you can also see the effect of the settings on your music.
Automatic parameterization is only part of smart:comp's bag of tricks. Once it has done its analysis, the Spectral Compression feature comes on automatically. It looks at your audio in real time and performs what's essentially automatic multiband compression (with 2000 bands!) to preserve tonal balance.
The plug-in also offers two additional "ducking" modes that utilize the sidechain. One is Sidechain Ducking, which provides standard broadband sidechain compression. The other, Spectral Ducking, is designed to reduce "spectral clashes" by dynamically compressing the source signal, based on frequency, to make room for the sidechain input signal.
Smart:comp's compression is transparent, for the most part; it's not designed to be a "character compressor." However, with the threshold low and the ratio high, and appropriate attack and release settings, you can get some warm, squashed-sounding compression from it.
Overall, smart:comp is an impressive processing tool, offering a unique and powerful feature set.