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Apple Logic Pro 7

February 1, 2005
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It should comes as no surprise to anyone, but for long-time Logic users, it may be a bit sad to see the latest rev of Logic is now an entirely Apple-branded program. Gone is any mention of Emagic. Starting with Logic version 7, now dubbed “Logic Pro,” the program is officially brought into the Apple Pro Application fold, which includes other media-creation heavy weights such as Final Cut Pro, DVD Studio Pro, and Shake.

Whether this actually makes any significant difference to Logic aficionados is a matter of opinion. Putting emotional attachment to our studio tools aside, however, the new branding is more than just a mere switcheroo of manufacturer names. There are tangible, impacting changes (both pro and con) in this new version that are clearly the influence of Apple design. For example, the look and feel of Logic is now very much like that of Final Cut. It’s more refined — there’s more “3D-ness” with an emphasis on darker grays, smaller iconography, and similar fonts. In a word, elegant.

More than just a facelift and UI tweak, though, Logic Pro 7 represents a major leap forward in DAW development. On technological and inspirational levels, there are features that no other program can touch.

HIGHLIGHTS

Where to begin? Logic Pro 7’s feature set boasts numerous enhancements on existing features, as well as all-new instruments and effects that will certainly win fans among musicians and engineers alike. Apple’s website (www.apple.com) does a great job of enumerating all of the big-ticket items, so rather than regurgitate these ad nauseum, I’ll concentrate on the highlights (as I see them), and why they matter to project studio denizens such as myself.

Project management enhancements. The Project Manager now lets you organize and archive all project-dependent audio files into a single project folder/location. This includes any impulse responses, EXS24 samples, and QuickTime videos referenced in the session. Forget about tedious, time-consuming backup sessions, or hunting down random audio loops and files. Project Manager makes it painless and effortless.

You can also create a project folder at the start of a project and have all imported media automatically copied or moved into this folder in the background while you work. In practice, this works very well, and allowed me to move projects from one machine to another without any of the usual hassle involved with migrating sessions.

Channel Strips. One of the major benefits of working with hardware effects processors and synthesizers is the ability to store loads of sophisticated multi-effect routings, along with EQ, compression, and more, as presets, so all you have to do is load and go. Right out of the gate the presets are designed to sound great. In most software studio environments, combining and working with groups of effects isn’t nearly as convenient. The process goes something like this: First, insert all the necessary effects, then set wet/dry levels, tweak specific plug-in parameters, and then . . . well, we all know the drill. This tedium can be avoided, thanks to Channel Strip preset management.

Any combination of plug-ins inserted on an audio or software instrument channel can be saved as a Channel Strip preset. To get you going there are hundreds of factory presets, which employ Logic’s included effects, and of course, you’re free to create your own — and yes, you can mix and match among third-party and Logic effects. Having this kind of recallability is a huge time saver, and helped me get the kinds of sounds I was looking for much faster than if I had to build effects chains “from scratch.”

Many of the Channel Strips sound fantastic and were clearly designed by folks who know how to coax professional results from Logic’s plug-in stable. One gripe: You can’t recall Audio channel Channel Strip settings on Instrument tracks, which means if you come up with a killer preset for electric bass and you want to use it on a sampled electric bass sound, you’d have to re-insert each plug-in, copy and paste their parameter settings, and then save it as an Instrument Channel Strip. There ought to be a way to recall effect-only configurations on Instrument tracks. Hopefully this will be addressed in a future update.

That said, the benefits of Channel Strips far outweigh this minor inconvenience, which comes nowhere close to being a deal breaker.

Apple Loops support. For the uninitiated, Apple has its own loop format, Apple Loops, which includes embedded tempo, key, and other information such as instrumentation. In Apple Loops-compatible programs, most notably Garage Band and Sound Track, loops automatically sync to song tempo. The underlying technology works very well and is virtually artifact free, so long as you’re making changes within sensible limits — slowing tempo more than 30 BPM may start to sound strange, depending on the material. With version 7, Apple Loops support has been added to Logic, giving its loop-related feature set a much -needed shot in the arm.

You can still work with audio loops as you would in previous versions, but Apple Loops offer some distinct advantages. For starters, they’re searchable by a variety of predefined criteria (“Electric Guitar,” “Relaxed,” “Distorted,” “Intense,” and so on). Searches are performed from within the Loop Browser, and when you click on a loop, it automatically plays in the right key and tempo. When you find a groove you like, simply drag and drop it onto a track.

Apple Loops can be audio or MIDI data, and when you drag a MIDI loop onto an instrument channel, the track data along with the software synth/sampler and any effects associated with the loop are automatically loaded. If you drag a MIDI loop onto an audio channel, the loop is automatically rendered as an audio file. Very cool.

You can’t turn a MIDI sequence into an AL, but you can convert your own audio samples into AL format using the Sound Track Loop Utility (free download from Apple), which does a respectable job of auto-detecting tempo, and can even batch-process whole folders of loops. You’re free to assign tags for mood, style, and whatever else, and you can even add user comments.

Unfortunately, user comments aren’t included in the search routine. This wouldn’t be that bad if it were possible to edit or create your own tag criteria, or at the very least be able to search by sample library title, but you can’t. This makes it virtually impossible to search for, say, an entire collection of samples from a particular library within a specific folder on your hard drive. Thus, making the Loop Browser of questionable use if for those of us with third-party sample collections. This is a big oversight on Apple’s part, but I’m hopeful that it will be addressed in the very near future.

Global tracks. As their name implies, Global tracks are used to view and edit general song parameters such as key signature, tempo, and markers. Some tracks are extensions of existing functions. For example, the tempo track picks up where the Tempo Operations window leaves off, allowing you to make tempo changes in a more musically intuitive fashion by inserting and dragging automation points. This isn’t anything ground breaking, but what’s cool is that you can create up to nine tempo alternatives, which can be a big help for composers trying to work out timings for their cues.

Replacing the Reclock function of previous versions is the Beat Mapping track, which can be used in a couple of ways. First, beats and barlines can be dragged with the mouse, making it possible to apply a beat/bar map to performances that weren’t originally recorded to a click. Additionally, the Beat Map track can generate timing information from an audio or MIDI file to create a beat map. This works by analyzing an audio track’s transients or by following a MIDI guide track.

This sorta-kinda works. I tried generating a map based on an 8-bar stereo drum track, and while Beat Map’s analysis did a good job of finding clear transients, the resultant tempo map was constantly changing within each beat, even though the performance was generally solid. This made it impossible to add a sampled loop and have it follow along with the live track.

I had much better luck by manually dragging beats and barlines. My only gripe here is that beat markers can’t be overlaid on top of an audio track’s waveform display, which makes it difficult to line up beats with transients within an audio file. File this under Missed Opportunity.

New instruments.

Two new instruments — Sculpture and UltraBeat — have been added to Logic’s already formidable arsenal of software instruments. These are two serious noisemakers worthy of their own reviews, but I’ll cut to the chase.

On the basis of physical modeling, Sculpture models the vibration of a variety of materials (strings, glass, steel, wood), with a full complement of synthesis parameters for molding these raw models into organic-synthetic hybrid textures. Describing sound is like dancing about architecture, or something like that. Suffice to say, Sculpture is nothing short of awe inspiring, and I’m sure film composers, ambient electronic artists, and sound designers will be mining its sonic palette for years to come.

Next up is Ultrabeat, which is part pattern-based beat box and part drum synth. It uses sample-playback and analog-modeled synthesis for sound generation, which can be combined for each of its 25 voices. On the synthesis side, you’ll find a healthy set of features including ring mod, bit crushing, FM, multimode filtering, and more.

A good cross-section of well-programmed kits organized by style are on hand, along with factory drum patterns, plus you can add your own grooves and samples. We’re not talking multisampled drum kits, mind you. It’s strictly a one-sample-per-note affair. But this doesn’t limit Ultrabeat’s usefulness, and besides, the included EXS24 sampler offers an impressive collection of multisampled kits, so between the two, your drum source needs are covered.

Distributed processing. I’ve saved the “how cool is this?” feature for last. Distributed audio processing allows you to expand the DSP capacity for Logic by offloading calculations for software instruments and effects to additional gigabit Ethernet-equipped G4s and G5s connected via Ethernet. In essence, extra machines can be added to your music production system as dedicated DSP “farms.”

How it works is, any machine running a small application called Logic Node (installed with Logic Pro; distributable to as many machines as desired) that’s networked to the primary Logic computer shows up within Logic’s Audio Preferences as a “Node” machine. Within the program, each audio and instrument track has its own Node button, so when you want to move a track’s plug-in processing over to a node machine, you simply enable the button.

Officially, node computers must be a single processor G5 or better, but I was able to use my 1GHz dual processor G4 as a node without any problems. It was truly a joy to behold a spiking CPU performance meter drop to acceptable limits when I offloaded several DSP-intensive synths and effects. Hats off to Apple for pushing the envelope of native-based DAW functionality.

WAIT, THERE’S MORE

There’s a lot to love about Logic Pro 7, and I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface. What I’ve covered here are, in my view, the stand-out features that directly affect productivity and help inspire musical ideas. And while I cited several significant shortcomings, allow me to take a step back and put things into perspective. Logic Pro has all of the great features mentioned above, and many, many more — convolution reverb, analog modeling synths, vintage Hammond B3 and Rhodes clones, multiband compression, and the list goes on. It’s an entire suite of pro-quality music making tools bundled into one program that costs less than a grand. No other professional DAW on any platform offers as much for the price. Bottom line: Whether you’re into recording band projects, producing electronic dance music, remixing, or scoring for film, Logic Pro 7 is a powerful, professional, self-contained environment capable of taking you from the idea stage to final mix in a way that no other program does.

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