Review: Logic Pro X
Has X hit the spot?
How long have we heard about the impending release of Logic Pro X? Three years? Maybe it’s four years since I first heard whispers of a spanking new Logic Pro on the event horizon. Typical rumours surrounded the hearsay. “It’ll be dumbed down.” ‘GarageBandification’ was the overriding concern. And frankly, this trepidation wasn’t completely unfounded. Apple disenfranchised Final Cut Pro users with the release of Final Cut Pro X, many claiming the application had been over simplified. And indeed it had. Features professional users had come to rely upon were literally missing. So Apple reintroduced these over a raft of upgrades during the following 12 months or so. The move lost Apple a swathe of video editing devotees unfortunately. Many, however, were impressed with the ascendancy, with the ‘X’ iteration being 64-bit compliant and inevitably more powerful than its predecessor.
Much the same speculation has surrounded Logic Pro X. Again, understandably, tell-tale indications of a simplified Logic Pro manifest as the appearance of various Logic-esque concepts in Apple’s GarageBand — both the desktop and the iOS version for iPad. It would seem Apple has learned from the Final Cut Pro X rollout, and is determined not to make the same mistake with Logic Pro X.
Everything you’ve come to expect within Logic Pro still exists within the DAW. However, upon first boot of the application you may feel there are important features missing because Logic Pro initially boots in a simplified state. Activating various ‘pro’ features involves switching on a raft of Advanced Tools — such as destructive audio file editing and additional, more complex editors. So do rest assured. Logic Pro has not been stripped of complexity. Everything a power-user has come to know is still available — it just needs switching on from the ‘Advanced’ preference panel.
Like Final Cup Pro X, Logic Pro X is a completely 64-bit application with all the advantages of running a 64-bit application on a 64-bit processor. Advantages such as access to up to 1024GB of physical RAM, better parallel processing, faster bus architecture, and the ability for applications to access scads of virtual memory. Without making the leap to 64-bit code, Logic Pro 9 was restricted to a 4GB chunk of RAM, and like all 32-bit applications running on a 64-bit processor, is susceptible to more errors in operation. In other words, crashing due to topping out the available 4GB limit of virtual RAM available in a 32-bit operating system.
It’s been a nine-year transition for Logic Pro and Apple thus far. Apple acquired the application from Emagic in 2002, and with the release of Logic Pro 7 in 2004, has since developed the DAW to be far easier to use. To be honest, as a long-time user of Logic, there were cracks appearing in the framework of Logic by version six, and it wasn’t until version nine came along when I thought the DAW had settled into its stride again. Along the way there has been the usual consolidation of the program’s aesthetics to bring it more in line with the company’s ‘Pro’ application suites, along with a plethora of improvements and additional features; the integration of Apple Loops, Flex Time, pedalboard-style guitar effects and amp simulations, further effects and instruments, to name just a few highlights.
64-bit operation appeared with version 9.1, and although this iteration would still run 32-bit Audio Unit plug-ins when operating as a 64-bit application, it was a convoluted process and cumbersome in practice. As it turns out, most third party plug-in manufacturers were slow to rewrite code in 64-bit, so most Logic Pro users would operate the DAW in 32-bit mode — an option that has remained until Logic Pro X. From now on, Logic Pro is 64-bit from head to tail, and third-party plug-ins must also be 64-bit to operate within the application. It’s only now I see just where Apple had its sights set with Logic Pro — the DAW has finally matured into the everything-for-everybody composition and audio editing platform it was always destined to be. So with some presumption and suspicion dispelled, let’s dive in.
NEED TO KNOW
Drummer Tracks has got to be the most compelling new feature. It manages to combine incredible power, finesse, and flexibility with fall-off-log usability. Amazing.
Much of Apple’s task when it acquired Logic Pro was assimilating the DAW into the Apple stable of Pro applications. This process began at v7 and hasn’t really hit the mark until now. Mind you, Apple has been consolidating the grey-on-grey look for many of its Pro applications during that time also. With the relatively recent proliferation of apps on the iOS platform such as GarageBand, that aesthetic has settled into an across the board GUI that is effective and not-at-all garish or gaudy. The interface is predominantly dark grey, with colour only appearing when absolutely necessary. Even the sans-serif Helvetica-style font prevails throughout the GUI making cognitive adjustments to reading menus far more fluid. You don’t actually notice this until you reboot version nine, at which point you realise the slight shift in perception when juggling between viewing window-based menus, the Finder, and the Helvetica-esque font found in some sections of Logic Pro 9 such as the transport. Equally refreshing is the banishment of the ‘Pro Applications’ file delegation and prompt windows, these having returned to the familiar Finder-style format. Long-time users will no doubt abhor the change as they’ve seen the DAW go through more costume changes than Kylie Minogue at Mardi Gras, with important menu options changing positions just as flippantly. I’m certainly a fan of the colour scheme as it’s much the colour I’d usually attempt to achieve in older versions of Logic. Grey on grey, especially dark, seems to be the least distracting environment to work within. Plus, the overall aesthetic now dovetails with the iOS apps such as GarageBand. Hopefully the app can (please Apple) continue in this style for a good while to come.
I’m delighted to report how incredibly solid and stable Logic now feels. You know what I mean: how the application performs generally. Far more solid than version nine. No doubt this has a lot to do with the app being utterly 64-bit running within a 64-bit operating system, but the difference is quite astounding. Graphics are swift and fluid, and the application jumps to life immediately when prompted with a button or mouse-click. I’ll point out here the minimum operating system for Logic Pro X is 10.8.4 — Apple’s first completely 64-bit OS. In other words, to run Logic Pro X you’ll need a reasonably recent and capable Mac. Anything from late 2008 will do it, and that’ll be powerful enough to extract exceptional performance from Logic Pro. Incidentally, Logic Pro 9 will happily coexist on the same drive and system as Logic Pro X so you can keep both versions online while making your transition to X.
While on the subject of feel, I’ll chip in on the topic of pricing. Logic Pro has become progressively more inexpensive since Apple took control of the DAW from Emagic. Nowadays there’s no such concept as ‘upgrading’ your present version to the current X version. Instead of the carry-on with upgrade pricing and so forth, Apple has reduced the price of Logic Pro from $599 to the ridiculous price of $210. Absolutely incredible for a DAW of Logic Pro’s capabilities. You’d not bother upgrading — just buy the new version. For the price of a plug-in you’re getting one of the planet’s greatest DAWs with enough editing and plug-in action to keep you professionally indulged in audio creation for quite a while. The only issue I see with Apple’s sales model is if your particular Mac happens to be pinned at version 10.7. Because you can’t actually purchase the ‘legacy’ v9 from the Apple App Store any longer (bear in mind those machines are now over five years old).
Downloading Logic Pro X is a 780MB task, and then there’s 36GB of additional data downloadable from within Logic Pro, from which you can pick and choose. This is an entirely new batch of sounds designed to take advantage of Logic Pro X’s new feature list, instruments, and effect plug-ins — well worth battering your download limit for.
So without further dithering, let’s inspect some of the highlights of Logic Pro X’s new features. First up is the many changes to the overall interface, as alluded to earlier. Alongside these changes come interface improvements such as Track Stacks. There are two ways of instigating this feature. The first is a Folder Stack, and is basically the same regime found in earlier versions when packing folders — in other words; consolidating a group of tracks into one Arrange Window track. The second, new variation, creates a track hierarchy allowing multiple tracks to be combined into a Summing Stack with its own volume control — the multiple tracks are assigned to an auxiliary fader. Think of it as a fast way to build a stem. It’s also a great way to build layered instrument patches and there are many examples of these style patches in the newly designed content.
In a similar vein, Smart Controls provide an interface to control multiple plug-in parameters. These are quite handy, with various themes available to build your own interfaces and control these via external controllers. Smart Controls can be saved with patches and recalled at your convenience.
Perhaps the most important interface change, however, is the complete revamping of Logic Pro’s mixer. To start with, plug-ins can be moved, copied and bypassed more easily. Plug-in insert slots now provide three discrete sections comprising a popup menu for plug-in instantiation, a bypass switch, and the middle section for opening the plug-in window. This negates the need to hold the Option key when bypassing, which is now used to copy a plug-in into another insert point — far more in-line with the familiar Option-key method when copying regions in the Arrange Window. Plus plug-ins can be moved without requiring the Command key to be pressed. Plug-ins are also now opened with a single mouse click rather than a double click. There’s also a gain reduction meter appearing in a channel strip when dynamics plug-ins are instanced. Just as useful is bus send knobs indicating by their position whether placed pre- or post-fader.
The mixer also looks a lot better, with lovely shaded fader knobs and pan controls. Now the Mixer Window feels like a mixer rather than some cobbled together approximation of the audio side of the Environment Window. At the end of the day, this makes mixing feel more like mixing. I recall (vague pun intended) the same change in perception occurring when Avid redesigned the Mixer window in ProTools. When it looks more like a mixing console your perception is more akin to working from a console. If you actually prefer the old look you can still access the mixer controls in the Environment Window just like days of old. That said, I doubt you will after moments within the newly designed Mix Window.
Further interface enhancements include the ability to save alternative arrangements within a project. This is positively brilliant, allowing you to audition vast arrays of changes to an arrangement, yet still keeping all changes within a single project file. Swapping between alternative arrangements is incredibly quick.
Additional plug-ins make the cut with a new Bass Amp Designer: it’s along the exact same lines as the original Amp Designer but, you guessed it, for bass. There are three familiar amps and a range of bass cabinets with all your usual bass driver sizes and configurations making an appearance. The Pedalboard plug-in gains seven new guitar stompbox effects including Tie Die Delay (reverse delay), Tube Burner (tube-style overdrive), Wham (pitch whammy pedal), Grit (classic distortion), Dr. Octave (sub octave enhancer) Flange Factory, and Graphic EQ. An improved guitar tuner is available from the transport bar with a single click for any audio track that’s assigned an input, or as a plug-in. And I can report this tuner works.
While on the subject of plug-ins there are also new virtual instruments comprising of updates to the vintage keyboard style instruments such as the B3, plus a new ‘Retro Synth’ plug-in that will emulate analogue, FM, and wavetable style synthesis. Unlike Logic Pro’s usual synths such as the ES1 and ES2, Retro Synth is easy to operate and extremely accessible.
ESCAPING THE ENVIRONMENT
DRUM IT UP
Possibly the most riveting addition to Logic Pro X is Drummer Tracks. This is truly revolutionary. Forget your pile of drum-kit emulation plug-ins because Logic Pro’s Drummer sets a completely new standard for both sound and usability. Here’s how it works:
Imagine you need drums for your latest song (not difficult, I know). You create a Drummer track in Logic Pro, create a region on that track, and hit play. Voila! Instant drumming. The drums will play for the length of the region you created. While this may sound over simplified, it isn’t. That’s all you need do. The drum track appears as audio within each region created and intelligently ‘plays’ drums according to bar position, adding slight variations and fills accordingly. If the performance suits, just go on ahead composing. If you want something more bespoke, that’s entirely possible also.
Double clicking a Drummer track region opens the Drummer editor in the bottom of the Tracks Window. This is where, with your producer/songwriting hat on, you can choose from various drummer personalities. These take on the guise of various drummers — like real people! 15 of them in total, each with their own style of drum-kit. ‘Logan’ reminds me of John Bonham. ‘Anders’ plays metal-style strums. The stable of drummers is categorised into four groups comprising Rock, Alternative, Songwriter, and R&B. Choose your player, choose a preset pattern style, then adjust with the X-Y grid how hard or soft, and how simple or complex the drumming is for each Drummer Track region. Choose the degree of fill action, choose percussion, choose the complexity and occurrence of kick, snare, hats, toms, and cymbals. You can then deliberate over further feel such as the loudness of ghost hits, push the feel forward or backwards, alter the swing, and even lock the kick and snare to follow another audio track in your Track Window — bass would be a good starting (and possibly ending) point. If you need a completely new style for the chorus, simply create a separate region for the chorus and make adjustments to suit. Need a super fancy roll toward the end of the chorus? Chop that last bar into its own region and edit it to taste. Hell, you could even have another drummer sit in for the rolls! It’s that simple.
Now with your engineer/producer hat on, you can edit the instruments within a drum kit, picking out suitable snares and kicks, and alter the tuning, dampening and gain for snare, kick, individual toms and cymbals, and the hi-hats. It’s very simple and incredibly intuitive. Plus all these changes happen in real-time as you tweak away. If you want to get more finicky with the mix, you can choose from a further eight multi-output kits which allow the kit pieces to be split out to individual outputs in the Mixer Window. Then for microscopic editing, a region can be converted to MIDI data which can continue to play your Logic Pro kit, or even send the MIDI data off to one of your own sample libraries or virtual drum instruments. Extremely flexible. Extremely intuitive. And it sounds really good!
For the price of a plug-in you’re getting one of the planet’s greatest DAWs
DRIVE BY WIRELESS
Apple hasn’t missed a trick with a dedicated iPad controller application for iOS. From within Logic Pro X you can access Logic Remote and you’re whisked off to the iTunes Store to download the free app and insert it into your iPad. Logic Remote connects faultlessly to Logic Pro X and offers mixing, track creation, automation recording and editing, navigation and transport controls — all the functions you’d expect from an iPad-based control surface. Yet there’s even more lurking within Logic Remote such as instrument playback devices like drum pads, guitar strumming devices and keyboards, along with key command pads that can be assigned any key command you wish — perfect for nudging objects backwards and forwards in a mix from the comfort of your leather lounge suite.
What really impressed me, however, was Logic Remote’s Smart Help. When selected in Logic Remote, hovering over anything in Logic Pro X with your cursor immediately displays the relevant help document on your iPad. This is actually quite brilliant. Instead of ploughing through a table of contents or the index of a manual, Logic Remote finds the associated information for you. Even if you’re not sure exactly what you’re looking at on-screen, or what it may be called. It takes the RTFM ethos to a much more transparent and easily accessible level. Top marks, Apple.
THE FINAL MIX DOWN
Admittedly there is more to this upgrade than I can cover here, and much more than you’ll initially experience when first booting Logic Pro X. Please be assured there’s nothing missing from Logic Pro that will be missed — all the ‘Pro’ features are still there for the many who utilise them. One caveat on the M.I.A. front is the absence of direct Avid ProTools support, but this ship sailed long ago with the release of Native ProTools and Apogee’s wonderful Symphony hardware. If you’re still running TDM hardware in Logic Pro it’s high time you moved on. With a hefty Mac and a suitable interface you’ll achieve far more than you could using TDM-based Avid DSP cards. If not, stay in ProTools world. As for Logic Pro X, I’ll say again that I feel the DAW has finally come of age and is now a true Apple application. Solid, easy to use, and brimming with useful, creative composition and production tools. More than worth the paltry asking price.