Review: Sonible smart:EQ 3
How smart is Sonible’s new EQ plug-in? We don our tweed jackets and reading glasses.
⊕ Smart:filter gives good results
⊕ Create custom smart:filter profiles
⊕ Helps when setting up for spectral mixing
⊕ A lot of EQ for the money
⊖ Can feel a bit convoluted when you just want some conventional EQ
If a 24-band EQ sounds like an intriguing prospect, then how about one that includes AI assistance to help you create the perfect spectral balance in your parts and mixes?
Price €129 (€89 intro)
Every time you EQ a part in a mix, you’re dealing with a unique sound and situation, which demands bespoke treatment. This hasn’t stopped EQ plug-in designers from cramming their products with presets for all manner of different instruments, and while these can sometimes be helpful, they can also give a false sense of security to those with less EQ experience. They can also do more harm than good if you use the same preset on more than one part in a mix.
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Sonible have taken a different tack with their new smart:EQ 3 plug-in for AAX, AU and VST. At the basic level, this is a fairly standard parametric EQ, albeit one with up to 24 EQ bands, or “standard filters”, as Sonible refers to them (Smart EQ:2 offered only seven bands). A simple double-click in the plug-in window’s EQ graph adds a new control point and dragging it around sets the band’s frequency, gain and Q.
As well as a conventional parametric curve, you can switch bands to operate in high-shelving, low-shelving, high-pass and low-pass modes. Also, the standard filters can operate in either left-right or mid-side modes, and you can solo them to help you focus on a specific band.
Where things get smart is with the so-called smart:filter. This uses AI techniques to analyse the incoming audio, then creates an additional EQ curve that aims to correct any tonal imperfections, basing these calculations on a chosen profile. There’s a general-purpose “universal” profile, along with profiles designed for specific instruments – synths, guitars, drums and so on. Once the smart:filter has completed its analysis, the resulting EQ curve is drawn in the plug-in window, along with a set of interactive handles that allow you to control the strength and range of the smart:filter’s effect. The smart:filter works alongside the standard filter bands, and you can create your own custom smart:filter profiles by combining a standard filter setup with a smart:filter curve.
Possibly the smartest thing about smart:EQ 3 is its Group mode, which works on spectral mixing principles. Up to six instances of the plug-in can share their spectral information, and smart:EQ 3 uses this to calculate where the frequencies in one part may be masking those in another. It then adjusts the smart:filter curve of those parts to remove the spectral masking, giving each part its own frequency range in which to “poke through” the mix.
Smart:EQ 3 can feel a bit convoluted when compared to a conventional mixing desk style EQ, but that’s not to say it’s difficult to use – far from it. The smart features work very well – better, indeed, than we had expected them to – and Sonible has created a logical and understandable interface for controlling both the standard filters and the smart tools.
Those who find EQ-ing a chore should enjoy handing over the job to the smart:filter and Group mode, while those who prefer to trust their own ears and judgement should also find these to be useful shortcuts for getting parts into the right ballpark before adding some bespoke sculpting. And, of course, with a generous capacity of 24 bands, smart:EQ 3 allows for a lot of sculpting!
- MacOS 10.12+, Windows 10 (64-bit)
- Intel Core i5 CPU, 4GB RAM, OpenGL Version 3.2+
- Up to 24 bands of standard EQ
- Additional smart:filter EQ curve based on audio analysis
- Group mode to create EQ curves based on multiple sources
- Left-Right or Mid-Side processing
- Attractive, dynamic visual interface
- Supports sample rates from 44.1 kHz to 192 kHz
- Available in VST, VST3, AU and AAX
- Computer-based or iLok authorisation