Recently, Apple invited me over to their headquarters for a preview of Logic Pro X, and then sent me home with a copy to work with in my personal studio before the official release. Although I thought that this would barely give me enough time to figure out the interface before starting a project, I found that I was able to get my first song going immediately and to the production level that I needed.
The following are my initial impressions of Logic Pro X based on these first few days with it.
The Price Is Right
We haven't seen a major update to this Mac-only program since version 9 was announced back in 2009. So the release is welcome news for the many Logic users out there.
The first thing you'll notice is the price: the full version of Logic Pro X, including all the sample content, is $199.99 and it is available as a download from the App Store. There is no upgrade path for owners of previous versions of Logic.
Logic Pro X, itself, is a 651MB download, but the mandatory library content is an additional 2GB. You can grab the rest as you need it, but the additional library material downloads automatically if you open a project that uses content not yet installed. Logic Pro X will download the correct bundle.
All told, the total sound assets will come in at roughly 38GB—not bad for less than $200!
I recommend you grab it all, because the samples and patches really enhance the user experience of Logic Pro X.
Logic Pro X is fully 64-bit under the hood, and it now uses 64-bit Audio Units plug-ins exclusively: no more booting up in 32-bit mode. You'll also need to have OS X 10.8.4 (Mountain Lion) or later as your Mac operating system.
Although Logic Pro X is fully 64-bit, it is backward compatible and will open projects made in earlier versions of the program, according to my sources at Apple. The caveat is that your 32-bit plug-ins will not work in the new version.
When you open the program for the first time, you will see that Apple has taken the usability feedback about previous versions of Logic very seriously. The overall UI is very easy to figure out, and at times it seemed like I was working in GarageBand because of the initial look and feel. Remarkably, the features I wanted were usually where I expected them to be, making it simple to get a project started, but with the menus leading to deeper functionality nearby when I needed more editing power. This was an important goal for the developer, and they nailed it.
As I figured out more and more of the interface and needed the higher level features, I accessed them using the Advanced Tools section under Preferences. This allowed me to selectively bring up aspects of Logic Pro X that address audio, MIDI, surround, notation, and other functions.
There are a few things that you will recognize from other Apple products, such as the new Logic Remote app (Free), which you can use to control Logic Pro X remotely from your iPad. In fact, users of GarageBand on the iPad will find Logic Remote very familiar—and that's fine. Why reinvent an interface that has a proven track record?
The multi-touch capabilities of the iPad are perfect for controlling Logic Pro X's mixer and playing its soft synths. The app has transport controls, pages of key commands (Cut, Copy, Paste, Save, etc.), and you can use it to scroll through and audition instruments. It's a no-brainer and I was happy to have it when recording from wherever I was in the studio, rather than having to always sit next to the computer.
You can use Logic Remote's virtual piano keyboard, or select the appropriate interface for the instrument you want to play, such as drum pads, a drum set, a guitar fretboard, a bass neck with strings…you get the idea.
Another new feature in Logic Pro X is the panel of Smart Controls, which are groups of essential parameters that come up when you're working with plug-ins and instruments. For example, the Smart Controls for the Classic Electric Piano instrument include knobs for Drive, Bell, Tremolo, and Chorus. The Logic Remote app knows whatever Smart Controls are available. (Of course, you can also assign the Smart Controls to MIDI controllers and automate them within Logic Pro X, itself.)
The Logic Remote app is compatible with an iPad 2 or later, as well as the iPad mini. Your iPad must be running iOS 6 to use this app, and of course you'll need to own Logic Pro X. Most importantly, both the iPad and your computer must be able to communicate with each other over a stable WI-FI network. I had no trouble setting up Logic Remote to control Logic Pro X, once both were on my network, though on occasion the connection would drop depending on which room I was working in.
Meet your new Drummer
Among the most interesting features in this update is a new Track choice called Drummer, which provides a user-friendly and musically meaningful way to generate drum parts. I say musically meaningful because you don't approach Drummer like a step-pattern generator or select specific sampled phrases. Rather, you select one of the 15 virtual drummers that are divided by style (Alternative, Rock, R&B, Songwriter) and feel, then choose one of the preset patterns.
What you hear will be based on several other factors that mimic the behavior of a real drummer. The XY matrix on the screen gives two ranges—Loud to Soft and Simple to Complex—that you use to tell your drummer how to play. These instructions are on a region-to-region basis, so you can have your drummer play something simple and soft for a few bars, then slowly get louder and busier as the song progresses. In addition, you can determine whether the part is based around a ride pattern played on the hi-hat, cymbals, or toms, and the degree to which those instruments are featured in the pattern. Tambourine, maracas, and handclaps can also be added.
You can link the kick and snare parts to another instrument by checking the box marked Follow. As a result, the pattern will be based on, say, the bass part, just a real drummer would do in certain situations.
There are controls that determine the amount of swing in a pattern and the likelihood of fills. What's interesting is that Drummer changes up the fills, based on all the settings, to a degree that it really does sound like how a drummer would approach them.
Although the kit for each virtual drummer has a particular sound, you can modify it using the Drum Kit Designer. Click on the kit's preset name, and a new window opens to reveal a set of drums. Click on the kick or snare drum and you'll get three instrument choices on the left, with controls on the right that change the tuning, dampening, and gain for each. The toms and cymbals only offer the editing features, but they're great for fine tuning the kit to match the song your developing.
The best part is that you're not locked into anything with Drummer. As you build your song arrangement, you can develop the drum part and its sound without leaving a musical head space. However, when you do want to get tweaky about the individual instruments in the kit, the Drummer regions can be converted to MIDI.
There are numerous programs and plug-ins on the market that create realistic drum parts algorithmically, but it's great to find one that is integrated into a DAW to this degree and that is this intuitive to use.
Logic includes a number of plug-ins for its Software Instrument tracks that can be used to enhance MIDI performances. These include an arpeggiator, a modulator, a transposer, a chord trigger, and a randomizer.
Under the MIDI plug-in tile, you will also find a scripter. This allows you to create a new MIDI engine by scripting your own. This is a feature I especially look forward to exploring.
This new feature allows you to consolidate and control a collection of tracks, as well as stack instruments to build layered sounds. There are two ways to approach a Track Stack: you can create a Folder Stack, which doesn't involve submixing, or you can create a Summing Stack that submixes the tracks into an Aux channel.
Either stack is easy to create: Shift-select the tracks, then hit Shift + Command + D. In addition, a summing stack can be saved and recalled as a Patch in the Logic Pro X sound library.
In fact, Patches can store channel strip settings, Smart Control data, and Track Stacks, all of which allows you to build, save, organize and recall complex instrument configurations. These can even be loaded into Apple's MainStage 3 ($29.00), for use in a performance. Logic Pro X includes over 800 sampled instruments, 1,500 instrument and effect Patches, and 3,600 Apple Loops. The new and legacy content is included in either Logic Pro X or MainStage 3. They share the same library, so once you install it from one app, the other sees it, as does GarageBand.
It's easy to take this for granted, but I certainly welcome the ability to access all of these resources from one place in the computer: it takes up a lot disc space, so you should be able to use it all without hassle.
Some of the overall UI improvements include the ability to customize tool bars, use arrangement markers, add gain reduction metering, and organize inserts in a convenient way. You can share your mixes to your SoundCloud account directly from Logic Pro X, as well as access files from other Apple apps using Media Browser, import and exports Final Cut Pro X XML files, and export music notation as Music XML files.
Logic Pro X offers Flex Pitch, which can be used to alter the pitch of monophonic audio recordings (either manually, automatically, or using a MIDI controller), as well as extract MIDI data from the audio tracks, themselves. Flex Pitch works well and it's an important feature to have integrated into a DAW considering how important pitch correction is to modern music making.
There is also some good news for guitarists and bassists. The Bass Amp Designer gives bassists the tools to create virtual rigs that make sense for their instrument. This includes models of modern and classic amplifiers and speaker cabinets, as well as the ability to mix between DI and miked sounds.
The pedalboard feature includes effects for guitarists such as distortion, tube-like overdrive, a flanger, an octaver, pitch changing, and even a reverse delay.
Just the Beginning
Overall, the one thing I find remarkable about Logic Pro X is that it's fairly easy to use whether you have experience with Logic or not. After working in it for several days, I haven't found the need to look for any documentation. When I had a question or needed to find a feature, the Help menu led me to the answers quickly. Yet, I can do the sophisticated audio and MIDI things I expect from a DAW that's been around this long.
Keep an eye on Electronic Musician magazine and emusician.com in the near future for a full review of Logic Pro X.