Before it's show time, it's EQ time — time to tune the system. A hundred boxes have been hung all over the place, and now they have to sound good. Everyone clear the room; this could get ugly. Pink noise — loud, pink noise — microphones are all over the theatre and the designer is sitting behind a computer screen staring at some bouncing lines and listening to the same Suzanne Vega song over and over — and over again. Tuning a system is by far the most important task in designing a show. If it is done well, everything else should go smoothly. If not, you will never hear the end of it.
Smaart (System Measurement Acoustic Analysis Realtime Tool) is software that helps tune a system. Since SIA-Smaart® Version 1 was released in 1996, it has become some of the most widely used audio/acoustic measurement and analysis tools in the world. It offers the functionality of a dual-Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) realtime transfer-function analyzer and a standard FFT-based realtime spectrum analyzer. It provides tools to assess the performance of an entire sound system, a specific part of a system, or a single system component. It can also be used to control some third-party equalizers, system processors, and other devices. Smaart Version 6 has just been released, and the possibilities are very exciting.
How It Came To Be
“EAW bought Smaart in 1998. Version 3 came out that year. We have since put out Versions 4, 5, and now 6. Version 6 was mainly developed because there were things we wanted to do but weren't able to in the existing version,” says Calvert Dayton, EAW/SIA software development manager. “When you develop software, you build on top of old code. It's like an old house where you just add on another room. We decided to tear the house down and rebuild it. Version 6 took about two years to build. It was built from new code but used existing code that had been written over the past eight years. We cleaned it up a lot, and in the process of doing that, we are now able to use new technologies.”
However, not everything went smoothly in the rebuild. “We lost our programming resources for a good chunk of last year,” explains Jamie Anderson, EAW product manager. “So many of the features in Version 5 were lost, as well. We released Version 6 without all of the features of 5, but we are adding those features back in. When you buy Version 6, you also get Version 5, and all the features in Version 5 are now being ported to 6. We'll be posting another update that has added a lot of features. But because we rebuilt it, we are now able to do a lot that we never could have done before. It is an ongoing development process, and we have lots of ideas that we want to add to Version 6. And now it can use multiple channel-input devices. It can run all measurement modes simultaneously, so you can set your delays while you are still viewing the spectrum. We can now also use Audio Stream Input/Output (ASIO) devices, and it is multi-platform.”
What It Does
“Smaart is a dual-FFT realtime transfer-function analyzer, but that doesn't mean anything to anyone but a geek. Really, it allows you to compare what is going into the system with what is coming out. It gives you very precise frequency response,” explains Dayton.
Smaart Version 6 performs dual-channel, FFT-based audio measurement. It employs a very intuitive interface that integrates measurement, analysis, and data logging. Since it has been rebuilt from the ground up, it can now use the potential of the latest microprocessors and multitasking operating systems.
As the software can also receive multichannel inputs via ASIO, it enables selection of measurement signals from a multichannel device. By allowing the use of multichannel devices that are now common, it also simplifies the hardware setup for operating Smaart.
All Smaart realtime measurements and impulse response now run concurrently so users can choose any two measurements to be viewed simultaneously. The result is the ability to run measurement modes that display realtime spectrum and frequency response data at the same time, allowing users to significantly expand the way they measure their sound systems.
Impulse Response mode now operates in its own window that runs independently of realtime spectrum and transfer-function measurements. The Impulse Response mode has also been expanded to include tools for analyzing and dissecting IR measurements, such as a user-specified time window function for retrieving frequency-domain data from specific portions of an impulse response.
Version 6 also has triggered, swept sine waves for impulse-response measurements. This functionality operates with the FFT length-specific, synchronized measurement sources and enables the user to do traditional laboratory and QC measurements. There is also increased capability for storing and recalling. Users can now display an unlimited number of reference data traces, such as frequency response and RTA. Moreover, all captured measurements are stored directly to the hard drive to prevent accidental loss due to power failures or other interruptions. Advanced trace-averaging capabilities have also been added.
“There is a lot of stuff that we want to put in it in the near-term,” says Dayton. “Version 6 has really opened the possibilities of what we can do. You can look at a spectrum and transfer-function simultaneously. We are also able to look at the frequency content of an impulse response. Two things drove the rebuild: being able to look at both spectrum and transfer simultaneously and the desire to see multiple live-transfer functions. Multiple live-transfer functions is still a pie in the sky, but we hope one day we will be able to see multiple microphones from all over the theatre and do some sort of intelligent averaging. We also want to add new Sound Performance Lab (SPL) monitoring for new environmental noise regulations. We are getting lots of requests for this in Europe.”
What End-Users Have To Say
“I like some of the changes they made,” says Troy Gwin, ACS Sound and Lighting general manager in Columbia, SC. “Smaart 6 is missing a lot of the features of 5, but they are adding those features back in. I have measured the same thing in 6 and 5, and the measurements are slightly different. Version 6 seems more accurate. I like some of the new features, but I will be even happier when they add all of the old features back in. Overall, I also like the look of 6 better, and I think that it will be much more powerful than Version 5.”
“I use the transfer function — known as frequency response in Smaart 6 — and the impulse-response measurements for PA system optimization,” says Harry Brill Jr., owner of Make Shift Audio. “I use the RTA and spectrograph for ringing out monitor wedges or lavalier mics and also on the cue bus of the console during the show. Anything I cue up in my headphones also goes to Smaart 6. This allows you to be able to find problem frequencies quickly, and it also trains your ears over time. I'm currently using a tablet PC to control my laptop remotely using a WiFi network. I have Smaart 6 running on the laptop and also controlling external devices such as digital speaker processors.”
“In the future, it would be great to grab the lines on the RTA and move them. I also want Smaart and Acoustic Tools as one program. I use 6 for everything unless there is a feature missing, and then I go back to using 5.4,” adds Gwin.
Brill adds, “I have successfully had six instances of Smaart 6 running at once. This was not possible with previous versions. This will allow the user to view multiple measurements at the same time.”
For more information, visit www.eaw.com.
Shannon Slaton is a sound designer and engineer living in New York and is currently mixing Jersey Boys, The Drowsy Chaperone, and Spring Awakening on Broadway. Other Broadway mixes include Man of La Mancha, Sweet Charity, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and Bombay Dreams. He designed the current national tours of Hairspray, The Producers, The Full Monty, Contact, and Kiss Me Kate.