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EMAGIC LOGIC PRO 6 (MAC)

June 1, 2004
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What happens when you take one of the most complex music-production applications to be found anywhere and add a bunch of new features? Would you believe it becomes easier to use? With the addition of new setup and project-management features and a couple of new tools, Emagic's Logic 6.4 manages to do exactly that. To top it off, Emagic has bundled TDM integration and all of its virtual instruments — which formerly sold separately for well over $1,500 — for a measly $50 more than Logic Platinum 6.3 alone.

Gone are Logic's previous flavors of Platinum, Gold, and Audio or Silver, leaving only Logic Pro ($999) and Logic Express ($299). Logic Pro combines the application formerly known as Logic Platinum with ES1 and ES2 virtual analog synthesizers, EVP88 virtual electric piano, EVB3 virtual organ, EVD6 virtual clavinet, EXS24 mkII sampler, EVOC20 vocoder, Pro Tools|HD Extension, ESB TDM system bridge, and the new Space Designer convolution reverb. (You can read more about several of these plug-ins in the November 2000, May 2001, and June 2003 [see “Is It Real or Is It Emulated?”] issues of EM, online at www.emusician.com.) Because Logic's attributes have been covered in these pages before (most recently, version 5.5 in the March 2003 issue), I'll focus on what's new with version 6. Check out the sidebar “Space Designer” for details on that exciting new plug-in.

I tested Logic Platinum on a dual-processor Mac G5/2 GHz with 2 GB of RAM (see the sidebar “G5? Gee Whiz!”), which Apple graciously provided in order to demonstrate Logic's optimizations for the latest generation of Macs. The combination speaks well for host-based systems, to say the least.

ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE

The first thing anyone learns about Logic is that its Environment is a powerful and daunting tool for configuring your studio. Long-time Logic users scoff at the idea that it's difficult to learn, but Logic newbies scoff at the scoffing. At best, it's still a big part of the program's overall learning curve.

Dumbing down the Environment would risk limiting its power, so the good folks at Emagic instead came up with the Logic Setup Assistant to lend a helping hand (see Fig. 1). The Setup Assistant is essentially a “wizard” that asks a series of questions to determine how to configure new sessions. When you launch the Assistant from the Logic Preferences menu, it promptly closes Logic, queries you about your needs, and then launches Logic again with a shiny new Environment customized according to your feedback. Unfortunately for some users, Setup Assistant doesn't work under Mac OS 9.

Having to launch Logic first seemed a bit cumbersome to me, so I decided to put the Assistant right on the Dock. Because it's a hidden file in a hidden folder, though, I had some trouble locating it; consequently, the easy solution was to fire it up from within Logic. While it was running, I Control-clicked on its Dock icon and chose Keep in Dock from the pop-up menu. I can now launch the Assistant directly from the Dock any time I want. Of course, most users will run the Assistant once or twice to set up an Environment and then leave it that way.

The Setup Assistant prompts you first to choose your audio hardware from CoreAudio's list, and then to choose how many audio tracks, buses, audio instruments, audio inputs, and audio outputs you'll need in your Mixer. Three presets are available as a starting point, including Electronic, Acoustic, and Standard configurations that differ primarily in the number of audio and audio-instrument tracks they provide. You can choose key-command sets, configure which displays you want to use in Screensets, and identify your MIDI devices.

Of course, such details are just scratching the surface of what's possible in the Environment, but that's the point. The Setup Assistant brings together the essential ingredients to get you started — no more, no less. To top it off, it saves your configuration as the Autoload template so you will start from the same point with every subsequent new session.

The new Project Manager is essentially a smart database applet that recognizes dependencies between song files, audio files, video files, samples, and more. It lets you see exactly what assets belong to a given Project across multiple volumes and even lets you add one or two comments per file.

Building on that idea, Logic now offers a simple means to collect and manage the files associated with a song. The Save as Project function assembles song files, audio files, samplers, and other related assets into a Project folder (see Fig. 2). It lets you specify whether files should be copied or moved to the Project folder or left in their original locations. There's even an option to include any songs that share files with the current song, letting you back up multiple versions of a song in one step.

MAKING ARRANGEMENTS

Various improvements have been made in the Arrange window that not only facilitate editing but also alleviate some of the window-hopping that was formerly necessary. The most obvious addition is the Arrange Channel Strip, a tiny slice of the Mixer window that now lives along the left edge of the Arrange window. It is literally a copy of the current track's channel strip that allows you to assign effects, change I/O, adjust pan and volume, and generally do anything you can do in the Mixer without having to toggle windows. In fact, you might find that the only time you'll need to open the Mixer is when you're actually mixing.

You can now zoom in to the sample level in the Arrange window, though sample-accurate editing still requires opening the Sample Editor. You can do time-stretching directly in the Arrange window, and Time Machine now has multiple algorithms optimized for different types of source material.

Smart Snap is a welcome enhancement to Logic's drag-and-drop behavior. The edit grid varies according to zoom level, with the assumption that the farther you're zoomed in, the smaller you want the grid. You can override the grid by pressing the Control key. With Control pressed, the grid is as fine as the current zoom will allow — essentially whatever time increment is represented by a single pixel.

Another new feature called Smart Loop Handling lets you split loops without messing up subsequent loops. For example, if you decide you want to snip a beat from the first iteration of a loop, Logic will first duplicate the looped clip and use that as the basis for the remainder of the loops.

The new Marquee Tool, represented by an unassuming little crosshair, allows you to select data in the Arrange window without regard for object boundaries. You simply lasso the data you want to copy, delete, mute, drag, or otherwise edit across multiple objects and multiple tracks. By default, the Marquee Tool respects Smart Snap grid increments, but the Control key overrides that behavior, too. Shift-clicking lets you shorten or lengthen a selection, and Control-Shift-clicking allows you to shorten or lengthen with fine resolution.

Another handy new function is the ability to hide tracks in the Arrange window. If you click on the Hide button at the top of the window, each track sprouts a Hide button of its own. Click on a track's Hide button and then click on the main Hide button again, and the track will go away. Click on the main Hide button, and hidden tracks will reappear. Although this is a welcome added feature, I found the clickety-click implementation a bit unwieldy. A quick trip to the Key Commands editor to find the hot key for the track Hide button and to create a hot key for the main Hide button left me feeling much more efficient, and the phrase “There's nothing wrong with Logic that can't be fixed by what's right with Logic” started running through my mind. By the time I set up a couple of Screensets with various subsets of hidden tracks, I was feeling pretty darned good about life.

Any Logic user who works with video will be delighted by the Video Thumbnail Track, which provides a visual reference next to your audio and MIDI tracks. In Mac OS X, you can also play QuickTime movies in DV format through a FireWire device.

MAXED-OUT MIX

The new Channel EQ provides eight bands of as much as 24 dB of boost or cut along with a cute overview of the curve displayed on the channel strip, even when the Editor window is closed (see Fig. 3). I rarely encounter something that really deserves to be called intuitive, but I found the Channel EQ to be exactly that. Its normal controls are laid out sensibly enough, but when I clicked on the graphic display to see whether it was editable, something special happened: I discovered that it's not only editable, it's smooth, sensible, and simple to tweak. Just grab the curve and start moving it up, down, left, and right until you hear what you want to hear. The one thing that requires a fraction of a second's thought is the little circle that appears now and then depending on your mouse position. Grab the circle just once and you'll see that it adjusts the band's Q. Enabling the Channel EQ is as simple as double-clicking on the blank graphic display just above the Inserts. Channel EQ is also available as a regular Logic plug-in along with the usual EQs.

Controlling your mix is easier than ever with the host of control surfaces that Logic Pro supports. Everything from the CM Labs MotorMix to the Radikal SAC-2.2 can be put in charge. Others include the Yamaha 02R96 and Mackie Control, and you can mix and match control surfaces.

For those of us who don't have even one control surface, the new One Fader Automation lets you attach any MIDI controller to an automation parameter. When Automation Quick Access is enabled, any slider, wheel, or joystick on your MIDI keyboard is immediately in control of the active track automation parameter. Nothing could be simpler (or more appreciated).

To join tracks for editing or mixing purposes, 32 groups are available. The Group Settings dialog offers an impressive degree of customization for groups, right down to which of eight sends will function as a group. You can assign a track to more than one group by holding down the Shift key, and you can apply the most recent group assignment to a track by holding down the Option key. Click again while pressing the Option key and you will clear all group assignments on that track.

In addition to the newly bundled soft synths, three new virtual instruments are included with Logic: ES M (monophonic), ES P (polyphonic) and ES E (ensemble). All three are virtual analog synthesizers and can produce interesting and useful sounds. As for third-party plug-ins, the transition to Apple's Audio Units plug-in format means that under Mac OS X, Logic doesn't recognize VST plug-ins. Fortunately, FXpansion's VST to AudioUnits Adapter will make many of your favorite VSTs feel right at home in the brave new world of Audio Units.

UNDER THE HOOD

Logic 6.2 and later updates include a number of performance optimizations that enable the current version of the program to run more efficiently than prior versions. While some of the changes were aimed at Apple's new Mac G5 machines, some benefits were in store no matter which Mac you use. The code has been rewritten to take better advantage of dual processors on G5 and G4 machines. According to Emagic, having a second processor now comes closer to doubling the capabilities of having only one.

Of course, any processor eventually succumbs to a voracious appetite for processor-hungry plug-ins, so Logic lets you freeze tracks to reduce CPU load. Freezing entails bouncing a track with effects to disk, thereby trading CPU load for an increased disk-playback burden. Although some musicians have been doing that manually for years, Logic 6 was the first program to offer Freeze as a one-step function. What makes Freeze so cool is how simple it is: you click on the snowflake icon and hit Play, and Logic zips through the song, bouncing all newly frozen tracks. On the Mac G5, freezing multiple tracks is several times faster than recording in real time. You can specify that frozen tracks will be bounced to 32-bit floating-point format (so they will be sonically identical to their unfrozen state) or to 16- or 24-bit format (to keep down the strain on your hard drive). The track's appearance doesn't change, and you can unfreeze a track at any time.

MANUAL DEXTERITY

Logic Pro comes with no fewer than 13 separate manuals, including one for each bundled instrument and three for Logic itself. The Logic Pro Reference Manual is almost 800 pages long. To top it off, one of the three installation discs is devoted entirely to PDF files of those manuals in German, French, and English.

This impressive volume of documentation mitigates some of the quirks of the online Help. For example, when you search Logic Help, you also search Help for every other application that uses the Mac's Help Center. When I queried Help for information about MP3 support, I got much more information about Apple iTunes than about Logic.

LOGICAL CHOICE

Emagic provides frequent updates whenever Logic's feature set or stability can be enhanced. Logic 6.2 offered ReWire 2 support, MP3 import and export (in Mac OS X only), and the ability to bounce faster than real time. Version 6.3 included support for the Space Designer reverb plug-in, and 6.3.1 added compatibility with Digidesign's new HD Accel hardware. Logic 6.3.2 enhanced Panther compatibility, enabled recording on track numbers higher than 128, and made various other improvements. Logic 6.4, the most recent update as of this writing, includes several enhancements to Space Designer. Because this review has focused on the new features, I haven't even mentioned Logic Pro's excellent surround implementation, scoring capabilities, extensive set of included effects plug-ins, and other goodies.

I applaud Emagic for making Logic Pro more user-friendly than previous versions of Logic, but beginners will still find it daunting. I can't think of another digital audio sequencer with as many multilayered menus or one that requires the use of so many different windows to perform basic functions. For example, the Arrange window has 12 different tools — yikes!

The fact that Emagic has decided to essentially give away its entire line of soft synths with Logic makes Logic Pro 6 one of the best values anywhere. If you're a Logic veteran, the newest version provides plenty to keep you excited. If you're considering becoming a Logic user, it offers some good reasons to give it a try now. Either way, Emagic has once again brought a considerable amount of careful thought and intelligent design to the party, and that's good news.


Brian Smithers is an Apple Pro-Certified Logic Trainer and a Digidesign-Certified Pro Tools Instructor. That's probably why his doctor says he's “certifiable.”

Minimum System Requirements

Logic Pro 6.4

PPC/300 MHz; 256 MB RAM; 350 MB free
disk space; Mac OS 9.1 or Mac OS X 10.2;
free USB port for XSKey

PRODUCT SUMMARY

Emagic

Logic Pro 6 (Mac)
digital audio sequencer
$999

FEATURES 4.5
EASE OF USE 3.5
DOCUMENTATION 4.5
VALUE 5.0
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5

PROS: Comprehensive MIDI sequencing and powerful digital audio production tools in an integrated environment. Extensive bundle of plug-ins, including several outstanding software synthesizers. New ease-of-use features. Track freezing and offline bounce. Extensive control-surface support. New editing tools and functions. Video Thumbnail Track and FireWire DV playback. Highly configurable and customizable. Integrated support for Pro Tools HD systems.

CONS: Many functions are still unnecessarily complex. Not all features are supported under OS 9. No native VST support in OS X.

Manufacturer

Apple Computer
tel. (530) 477-1051
e-mail emagic@emagicusa.com
Web www.emagic.de

SPACE DESIGNER

Emagic's Space Designer is a real-time convolution reverb plug-in. It's one of the latest plug-ins that depends on a process that until recently was too complex to compute in real time. Convolution enables you to capture the reverberant characteristics of a particular space, such as a studio or concert hall, and apply them to an audio source. It accomplishes that by multiplying an impulse response (IR, the captured ambience) by the source audio, which requires some heavy number-crunching.

Because I tested Space Designer on a machine that's currently the fastest Macintosh with 2 GB of RAM, processor load was not an issue. A single instance barely moved the CPU meter, and four instances pushed the meter to about 20 percent of each processor. Using exceptionally long IRs or higher sampling rates will consume CPU cycles, however. Emagic recommends a G4 or G5 with 512 MB of RAM, but the more horsepower, the better.

Acting on impulse

Space Designer comes with over 1,000 IR files and many presets based on them, covering everything from stairwells to bathrooms to warehouses (see Fig. A). Because convolution can also model the behavior of effects processors (or any other audio device), many presets are devoted to emulating the sound of big-name reverbs; some of those, including some wonderful delays, are excellent.

The Outdoor category reproduces the ambience of forests and fields. When I applied those presets to classical concerts recorded in dry spaces, they sounded less claustrophobic. I was pleased that the outdoor sounds are useful, because the one glaring omission in the included IRs and presets is a complete absence of real concert halls.

You can record your own impulse responses and deconvolve them in Space Designer (under OS X 10.3). Because IRs can be AIFF, WAV, or SDII files, you can trade them with colleagues (even if they use other convolution reverb software). Space Designer also synthesizes IRs.

The plug-in includes a resonant filter that can operate in highpass, bandpass, or 6 or 12 dB lowpass modes. You can shape filter frequency with an envelope. The cutoff, which in the initial release had been expressed only as a percentage, is now properly expressed as a frequency.

Most Logic plug-ins have lots of parameters you can automate, but Space Designer has only three: direct (dry) output, reverb (wet) output, and Stereo Crossfeed, which can narrow or even reverse the source's stereo image. The reason for so few automated parameters is that after each parameter change, Space Designer has to recalculate the convolution, making you wait a few seconds before you hear the effect of your tweak. Once in a while I even heard a pop or click at the end of the recalculation.

Keeping it real — or not

The sound of Space Designer at its best is quite good indeed. With the right IR, it creates lively, interesting delays; warm, lush, natural-sounding reverbs; and stimulating special effects. I imported an IR of an old church (downloaded from a competing plug-in's user site) and applied it to a recording that was too dry. With a quick adjustment to the wet/dry mix, I was able to place the performers in the hall they should have played in.

Space Designer's various controls, though much appreciated, rarely helped make a sound more natural. Rolling off some highs with the lowpass filter sometimes improved the sound, but everything else usually made the sound more artificial. That's not necessarily bad — for some sounds, shortening the envelope to gate the reverb or adding resonance to make a sound ring was very useful and appropriate. Using synthesized IRs generally yielded rich, dense, studio-style reverbs. Space Designer is equally at home with purists or experimentalists.

I have a few quibbles. The resolution of the reverb level slider works in 0.5 dB increments, which is too coarse. I got around that limitation by putting Space Designer on an Aux track, whose fader has slightly finer resolution; that is a more traditional use of reverb anyway. You can't change the delay time, because it's a function of the IR itself; that's not surprising, nor is it a design flaw, but it's a limitation unless you either create a set of IRs with different delay times or time-stretch an existing IR. I was also disappointed that Space Designer doesn't directly support surround sound.

All told, though, Space Designer is a welcome addition to Logic's effects palette. It's a different sort of reverb and requires some minor modifications to your expectations and approach, but it's worth the effort.

G5? GEE WHIZ!

I always wince at Apple Computer's ads comparing the performance of its newest computers to that of PCs; they always sound shrill and almost desperate to me. So I approached the loan of a dual-processor Mac G5/2 GHz for this review with a tiny bit of skepticism. How could any machine live up to the hype that Apple has given the G5? After spending some time using one, though, all I can say is that there weren't enough hours in a day for me to drag this machine to its knees. No matter how many audio tracks, plug-ins, and virtual instruments I threw at it, the G5 hummed along as though it barely noticed me. I'm impressed — moreover, I'm more enthusiastic than ever about the future of host-based systems.

Apple briefed me on the technical details of the new machines. The short version is that between the new 64-bit architecture, the increased independence of the dual processors, and the increased memory and I/O bandwidth, there's a lot of oomph in that box. It will still take another OS upgrade to realize the full potential of the 64-bit processing, but significant gains are already in evidence.

The new enclosure is designed to be much quieter than recent G4s, but the review unit turned out to be the loudest computer in my studio. The main culprit was a pronounced whine that Apple suggested might be the fan on the upgraded video card it installed. It appears to be an isolated problem, though; the school where I teach has a classroom containing 25 Mac G5s, and it's pretty quiet in there.

More interesting is the inclusion of optical S/PDIF I/O on the back panel. It's capable of 24-bit audio at 44.1 or 48 kHz. If your software knows how to tell CoreAudio to sync to the incoming bitstream, it will lock up nicely for bit-accurate digital transfers. It also supports DTS and AC-3 streams.

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