Sonible smart:EQ+ by Funkybot
Sonible Smart:EQ+ is an 8-band linear-phase EQ with some unique features designed to speed up the mix process by basically “learning” your audio, and creating a specialized EQ curve to reduce imbalances in the frequency response. While I won’t call this an auto-EQ, the “smart bands,” which are this EQ’s big selling point, are definitely a step in that direction.
Interface & Features
Installation was straightforward (select folders, select plugin types, then done) and copy protection is a simple serial number, which is always appreciated.
Full GUI making use of two smart bands, some HPF and some hi-shelving.
The interface opts for a modern, flat look and is freely resizable by clicking and dragging the lower-right corner (though the size setting can’t be set as default which is disappointing). The 8 bands run across the top of the UI with the typical low pass filter, low shelf, bells (or smart bands), high shelf, hi pass filter configuration, with the option to change the filter types as needed. Each band includes gain, Q, frequency, and band solo controls. The center of the UI allows you to either click and drag to set your bands, and you’ve got an optional “blind” mode if you’d prefer to go old school. There are some smart band smoothing and gain controls at the bottom of the UI along with a “speech” mode intended for vocal use. There are no included presets, but being that this is an EQ, I don’t think they’re necessary and even less so if one plans on using the smart bands, which are the big selling point of this EQ.
Two smart bands, some HPF with some smoothing.
If you’re familiar with parametric EQ’s, as well as linear phase EQ’s, you’ll be instantly comfortable with Smart:EQ+ so I won’t cover the basics. Let’s discuss what makes Smart:EQ+ so interesting, which are it’s smart bands. Next to the four mid bands, you’ll see a magic wand icon. Engaging the magic wand during playback allows Smart:EQ+ to begins the learning process where Smart:EQ+, “analyzes your audio material, identifies spectral imbalances and proposes fully automatic solutions within seconds” (their words). This learning process basically creates something akin to a custom EQ curve. This custom curve is supposed to be make mixing easier and faster, but how does it work in practice?
Smart band icon
I was near the end of a mix and decided to throw a Smart:EQ+ instance on the electric guitars. They were already EQ’d and sounding good, but two instances of the smart bands (hi-mid and low-mid) really got them popping out of the mix. One thing I noticed was that boosting and cutting with the smart bands didn’t yield the same results you’d necessarily expect to get. Sometimes cutting the hi-mid smart band will actually make things sound brighter and vice versa.
Since it had guitars sounding so good, I decided to try it on a lead synth next. I followed the same procedure: turned on two instances of the smart bands (hi and low mid) and experimented with boosts and cuts until things were sounding good. The results were very different than I would have got with a standard parametric EQ and sounded very good. In fact, I was very impressed with how quickly things could really get to popping.
Next, it was time to move onto a vocal on a different mix. There’s a Speech button on the UI that’s really necessary here, as without it, any vocals that run through the smart band will otherwise sound pinched. Other than turning on Speech mode, I followed the same basic procedure as before (two smart bands hi/lo mids) but this time added a HP filter and a bit of top shelf. In no time at all, I had a very polished vocal.
Just about every instrument I tried Smart:EQ+ on sounded very good within a matter of seconds, so whatever Sonible have going on behind the scenes is quite impressive. Keyboards in particular quickly became a favorite use-case for Smart:EQ+ over here. It works on everything from electric to acoustic pianos to synths, which are instruments I’d sometimes struggle getting to sit in the mix properly.
There are some downsides, however. Latency is pretty significant, so forget about tracking with an instance on. However, for you to take advantage of the smart bands, you really want to be using it in the mix anyway. This is a linear phase EQ, so pre-ringing can definitely be a concern. For instance, just for fun I threw this on a snare and the “Pow” turn quickly turned into a “thPow.” This is why linear phase EQ’s and transients just don’t mix.
If you’ve already got your go-to mix EQ, but are looking for something different come mix time, Smart:EQ+ is worth a demo if only for it’s unique smart bands. It can be a great time saver, particularly with troublesome mix elements. If you’re new to mixing and not the most confident in your EQ abilities, this would be a fantastic choice too.
- Smart bands offer a unique take on EQ’ing with fast results
- On top of smart bands, can still function as a traditional linear phase EQ
- Clean UI, resizable
- Serial number protection
- Linear phase only (so expect some pre-ringing artifacts), minimum phase filters would have been welcome
- High latency for a mix EQ (almost 93ms at 44.1khz)
- UI size not retained
- Clicking logo opens browser/website
Sound Quality - 4/5: This is unlikely to be a go-to EQ, but when it works it works well.
Ease of Use - 5/5: The magic bands make EQ’ing a breeze, and everything else is what you’d expect from a parametric linear phase EQ.
Features - 5/5: Magic bands. ‘Nuff said!
Bang for Buck - 4/5: Reasonably priced, but not something I’d want as my only EQ in the arsenal. Your mileage may vary.