Smooth Operator by Baby Audio! I finally got it! I have wanted this since its release, believing it was a potent resonance suppressor with a simplified "smooth" workflow. I was right. But, I soon after realized that it is much, much more. Smooth Operator is a beautiful multi-function, dynamic tone-shaping plugin that combines Resonance Suppression and Spectral Compression and Equalization to improve balance, clarity, fidelity, and tone. This audio plugin is a sensational sonic clutter remover.
Like all Baby Audio plugins, Smooth Operator reveals a lovely, minimalistic, inviting interface. Background color options include three eye-pleasing pastels (Baby blue, seafood green, and Baby pink). Using "baby" colors did not escape me. The preset browser is at the top/center, with a Baby Audio logo to the left and the right. I found the double logos odd initially, but soon after, I discovered a reason, which I will reveal in the next section of my review.;-) Other viewable controls include a Mute, Side-Chain for ducking, creating space, etc., and Reset icons, Solo button, Focus slider (globally increases the intensity of the frequency range throughout the nodes, Output slider, Peak button toggles between Peak and RMS, which is handy, especially when used on Mix Bus, and a little corner gripper to scale the interface. The main window has five nodes spanning a 20 to 20k range. And that's it! Nothing daunting. It has a simple yet powerful approach to selecting a frequency and determining how much to process. Smooth Operator is very approachable, so I approached. ..
This Baby is easy to use. It comes with 64 presets that cover just about everything. These are user tweakable and savable. Most of the work is being performed under the hood by clever algorithms. The bypass control is conveniently engaged/disengaged by clicking on one of the two Baby Audio logos! The solo button isolates whichever node is hovered over. S.O. is extremely useful for adding or subtracting specific frequency areas, not just high ones. It's super at cleaning up mud and gluing things together. I have read somewhere about using this plugin for De-Essing; however, I have not tried it, but I might.;-).
There are five nodes on the 20/20k curve: two white, two green, and one red. The white behaves like a floating parametric E.Q., while the green at the sides provides fixed high and low shelf bands, and the red in the middle is where the sweeping global stuff happens, affecting the overall threshold control and scrolling to adjust the Q of these E.Q. nodes. All in all, this is similar to a 4-band E.Q. with two shelves and two parametric peaks. Manipulating the nodes is creative, but as mentioned by White Sea Studio, "This is not surgical." With only five nodes, three of which are moveable across the spectrum, this cannot be surgical, but that is the point. This musical plugin helps users stay in the flow, moving forward, quickly dialing in their desired sound without being overwhelmed by a zillion controls, features, and chaos. The nodes are incredibly responsive and might take a little getting used to, as audible changes can instantly range from subtle to broad. I experimented and discovered pleasant, surprising results. When used conservatively, Smooth Operator can reduce unwanted overactive goo without deadening the overall sound — it does not throw the Baby out with the dirty bathwater.
All the work is done in real-time; it does not learn and render, which helps keep things moving, enabling the user to identify and address out-of-kilter frequencies. It excels at creative sound-shaping. It uses an FFT-based algorithm that splits the audio into numerous bands for users to manipulate in a unique layout and manner. According to babyaudi.io, "The algorithm automatically eliminates harsh resonances and muddy frequency areas. .. The plugin analyzes incoming audio at the DAW's sample rate and adapts its settings tens of thousands of times per second to attenuate frequencies with excessive energy build-up."
I WAS SURPRISED!
I initially thought of this plugin as only an intelligent E.Q. that would use bands to eliminate unwanted frequencies, but soon after, I discovered its ability to compress. It works wonders on percussive loops.
IS THIS A "SMART" PLUGIN?
Yes and No. Yes! It is cleverly and intuitively designed to provide users with a fast and fun way to remove unwanted sonic garbage and enhance all the good stuff. No, it does not use artificial intelligence or machine learning, but it does use algorithms and a unique combination of processes and design.
WHO SHOULD GET THIS?
Any eProducers who want a tool to help them spend more time creating and less time tinkering by making adjustments but letting the tiny little engineers beneath the surface do all the heavy lifting.
WHO SHOULD NOT GET THIS?
Digital audio gurus who have time on their hands and live to process audio, controlling every facet.
I suggest that users approach this plugin with kid eyes and ears — having fun, playing in it and through it, letting go of obsessive control, and simply enjoying the creative musical process of improving the harmonics of tracks with the goal being to Make Your Music Sound The Best You Can.
WHEN/WHERE TO USE THIS
Anywhere in the F.X. chain. Do you want to balance the raw audio or after it is processed? Both? Why not? I suggest using this in the beginning stages of production, not in place of audio repair tools, but for getting things sonically smoother before getting deeper into the madness of the mix. It's also useful at the end stages of production to crosscheck.
WORDS THAT COME TO MIND
Organic. Seductive. Sculpting. Musical.
As I listed the features and functions throughout this review, I realized that Smooth Operator is a new kind of channel strip that is perfectly named. It's not an automatic fix for sonic issues but it provides lots of assistance. It's like having another set of well-trained ears sitting beside you while you dial in the sound you have in your noodle. It's educational and informative — providing a way to compress and E.Q. without worrying about parameters, which is vital to audio production, especially in the early stages. Smooth Operator is a grab-n-go tool for musicians looking to get things right quickly. It's a creative tone-shaper that is exceptionally effective at enslaving harshness and enhancing sweetness. Smooth Operator works swimmingly on individual tracks, busses, or even the stereo bus* mix. I found this little beast most useful on recordings that sounded off to my ears, but I couldn't figure out why. It's also excellent on tracks that sound great by either confirming greatness or offering a subtle suggestion to make it even greater. For the price, I could not and would not pass this up. The audio software market is overloaded with "snake oil" plugins that promise the world. Smooth Operator delivers what it promises and is fun to use. I wholeheartedly give this Baby two adult thumbs up! Excellent job, Baby Audio. Thank you.
Note: According to their website, Baby Audio offers a free trial, "Our trial versions output 5 seconds of silence every 60 seconds — until activated with a license key." I dare you to check it out.
*Sidebar Question: Buss or Bus?Read Review
If you are someone who searches for more and more refined, purpose-built effects and/or transition sequencers/tools/toys, this is among the very best out there.
This brings to mind plugins such as NI's "The Finger" (a Reaktor-based effects sequencing tool), Sugar Byte's Turnado, or Cableguys Shaper Box, but imo the interface, sound quality, and overall feature set of Transit are more refined. The transitions and/or effects sequences you can design with this are attention-grabbing, mind-melting, liquid audio-style sounds, and I am immediately a big fan.
One star removed for (apparently) no MIDI mapping or binding?? I see a menu item that says "Randomize MIDI assign on/off/DAW", but I see no other options anywhere, including right click/context, that allow me to map anything. This was just released, so hopefully a patch? I cant possibly be missing something so obvious, and I've put some time into reading docs, etc. Ill add the star when I find MIDI mapping.
Update: dev got back, doesnt seem super interested in making MIDI map features any better, and Im not sure if this is just in Bitwig or all DAWs. I can make Bitwig and Cubase map MIDI directly and overcome this issue, but it would be nice to have a native right-click or mode switch MIDI map function for efficiency.Read Review
Very beautiful GUI design, using very simple operations to achieve complex and interesting transition effects. I'm glad that Baby's plug-ins are becoming more and more interesting. That's right, this is the plug-in I want.Read Review
Excellent sound sculpting tool. I treat it like a channel-strip that typically have both Eq and compression. The results are extremely transparent when set appropriately. Nothing like it. Oek Soothe meets Gulfoss and slays Ozone 10's Stabilizer.Read Review
Nice touch to add for more organic feeling.
Too bad there is no "random" value that can modify the speed.
Thanks :).Read Review
Amazing tool for sound explorations.
It works random, so if you find something that you like, dont press the dice again;).