Closer Look: Rational Acoustics Smaart I-O

Smaart realtime measurement and calibration software has been around for many years. First developed and distributed by EAW and in 2009 acquired by Rational Acoustics, it has become one of the most widely used calibration programs out there. It’s affordable, fairly easy to get working, and tolerant of a variety of interfaces and measurement microphones. Basically, you can tune a room successfully without breaking the bank and often with a hardware interface you already own.

When Rational Acoustics took over development of Smaart, it was a big step for the software. The company is solely focused on Smaart, and it services the software and users extremely well. Yet this whole time, Smaart has only been a software program. Many users found that the Sound Devices USB Pre was a great choice for Smaart, and for a while, it seemed to be the interface of choice and lightly endorsed by Smaart.

It seems the days of software-only are over. Rational Acoustics has just announced its Smaart I-O interface, designed specifically to work in conjunction with Smaart version 7.3.2. It’s a small (1.75” H x 7.25” W x 4.25” D) two-input and two-output interface, connected and powered by a USB connection. What’s immediately noticeable is that it lacks any knobs or buttons. The unit is solely controlled by the Smaart I-O Control App, which is downloadable and works with Smaart v7. Pure software control is an interesting choice, I think. On the plus side, there are no knobs to break off in your backpack. On the negative side, I’m not always a fan of adjusting virtual knobs, and screen real estate is often a problem when Smaart-ing.

There are two combo-jack inputs with switchable phantom power on the mic inputs. Each jack has a high-quality active balanced input with 50db of software-controllable analog gain in “precision 1db steps.” Smaart monitors these inputs directly, which “allows the user to retain accurate SPL calibration while varying measurement signal input levels.” This is actually a great thing; since the gain of the inputs is controlled through the software, you now have gain reporting from the hardware to the software. So if you change the level of the gain on the hardware input, Smaart makes the relative adjustment in the software to give you consistent SPL measurements. In use, this means that, if you take a reading in the stalls and then move your mic to the balcony and have to gain up the mic, you can still compare your data directly because Smaart will have made the gain correction when you turned up your mic. There are also two balanced outputs, which can be used to play source material or to route pink noise to the console if it’s being generate within Smaart.

With Smaart v7, it became possible to use more than one measurement mic. While the Smaart I-O only has two inputs, you can link multiple I-Os together to get more inputs and a more complex measurement system. The Control App will recognize the added units, and you can synchronize the clocks to get accurate data.

All in all, the I-O seems to make perfect sense. It’s straightforward, small, and reasonably priced. All of that makes it seem like a direct descendant of the Smaart software and a valuable addition to anyone’s Smaart system.

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