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Apple Logic Studio

January 16, 2008
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  • Save company on brink of destruction.
  • Invent new way to create movies, make several blockbusters.
  • Re-invent the Walkman and dominate portable music market.
  • Beat cancer.
  • Push new model of music distribution, become dominant player in same.
  • Re-do operating system and hardware from scratch.
  • Invent new type of cell phone, sell a gazillion of them.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that “update Logic Pro” may have fallen a little further down the list. But apparently Apple doesn’t believe in “little” updates. The long-awaited (some would say overdue) Logic Studio package goes beyond “update” to “remake,” as it’s a suite of programs wherein Logic Pro can keep its pro core audience but the suite itself is positioned to extend its reach into the more prosumer field—like those who want to move beyond GarageBand.

THE BIG DIFFERENCES

Logic Pro 8 drops the dongle (in favor of a serial number), drops the price, and drops new elements into the “studio” package. Of these, the one that surprised me the most is MainStage, which you can think of a different “shell” for Logic that optimizes its various elements (in particular, effects) for live performance. Think of it as a virtual stage rack setup, including the option to accept control surfaces. While this isn’t the first such program, Apple has done it right—especially when you look at it in the bigger context, namely, Apple wants to sell hardware. With a program of this caliber designed specifically for onstage, and given that you’ll likely dedicate a laptop to live use, a Windows user might give serious consideration to buying a Mac laptop just to run MainStage.

And I also think Apple’s up to the same game with the Logic Studio package as a whole. They like the idea of people switching platforms, and Apple has certainly given several incentives to do so, including lower prices, Boot Camp, and a hardware base that’s easier for developing cross-platform applications. I couldn’t really picture a Windows-oriented musician switching to the Mac  just for Logic, but Logic Studio is another matter. For under $500, in addition to Logic and MainStage you get SoundTrack Pro 2, Waveburner, an encoder for mastering music in Dolby AC3, 39GB of additional content spread over 6 DVDs (18,000 Apple loops, 1,300 EXS instruments, 2,400 channel strip settings, 575 Space Design impulses, and surround goodies including surround channel strips, sound effects, and music beds), an Apple Loops Utility for creating your own Apple loops, and an Impulse Response Design utility for creating impulse responses in Space Designer. (However, note that the Jam Pack files are in CAF format—so don’t expect to use them with other programs until they’re updated to recognize this format.) But all this content does come with a price: If you’re doing a fresh install, you can take in Star Wars and a good part of The Empire Strikes Back before it’s all installed.

Someday, you’ll be doing video—which is why including Soundtrack Pro 2 is big deal. Furthermore, hidden in there are features like spectrum view editing for cleaning up tracks and other restoration features, multi-take dialog options, and easy transportability with Final Cut Pro.

USING LOGIC PRO 8

When I opened up Logic Pro 8, I was immediately struck by the streamlined, single-window interface with tabs for Mixer, Sample Editor, Piano Roll, Score, and Hyper Editor. Another surprise: The inspector has grown a second channel strip whose display varies based on what you’ve selected in the standard one. For example, click on Send, and it shows the send (or you can make a manual selection). Being able to access mixer functions from the Inspector, without accessing the mixer itself, is a major time-saver. And speaking of the mixer, it has three separate views (Single, Arrange—shows only active tracks, and All). Single view is like a “super inspector” that shows everything related to a specific track and its signal flow, and is fantastic when you’re zeroing in on working with a single track.

I never found Logic intuitive, but the new workflow made total sense to me, and I was flying around the program in no time. But was it because I jumped off the Logic bandwagon around version 4, thus giving me the advantage of seeing Logic 8 without preconceived notions? I canvassed some long-time Logic users about Logic 8. Amazingly, there was virtually no blowback—I heard a few grumbles about having to get used to some structural and terminology changes (presumably implemented to bring Logic 8 into closer conformance with other Apple Pro products), but that was it. The general sense I had was that Logic veterans were even more pleased than newcomers, because while the newcomers just assume this is the way the program should be, the old-timers truly appreciate the workflow improvements.

In terms of finding stuff, there’s a file browser (with Spotlight-style search) within the program itself, for locating Logic-specific files. An additional Library browser finds EXS instruments, channel strip settings, presets, and the like—if you’ve used Ableton Live, you’ll feel right at home. You can still work with multiple windows if you want, but the question is—why?

It was with some trepidation that I approached ReWiring Reason into Logic, as ReWire used to be such a pain in the butt it’s one of the reasons I stopped using Logic. No more: Just make some buses, select your ReWire client from the bus menu—done. (However, note that Logic can’t serve as a ReWire client, and neither MainStage or Soundtrack Pro 2 implement ReWire.) Another bonus is that Logic can not only import REX files, but batch-convert them. You can just throw them into a project, or convert them to Apple loops so they show up in the browser.

As the (extensive) collection of plug-ins remains more or less the same, some Logic users have dismissed this upgrade as just a new face for old code. I disagree. Sequencing applications have reached a certain level of maturity, and the one maddening thing about Logic to me was always the workflow. It didn’t matter how many cool features it had if I pulled my hair out every time I used it, but Logic Pro 8 changes that. The program as a whole is dramatically easier to use.

Besides, there are several changes to the plug-ins other than just an “interfacelift.” Delay Designer is the coolest delay I’ve seen since Native Instrument’s Spektral Delay. The 26 delay taps have resonant filtering and pitch shifting, so you can enter melodic as well as rhythmic territory. There’s also a bare-bones phaser and echo plug-in; while neither is a ne plus ultra kinda device, they work and they’re fun. The binaural panner, like most binaural effects, is great for headphone fans (a concession to the prevalence of earbuds?), and there are improvements to the Compressor (new modes), the AutoFilter’s gone multi-mode, Space Designer and Sculpture now do surround, and Ultrabeat has gotten a significant makeover.

BUMPS IN THE ROAD

Despite Internet rumors, Logic will run on a G4 or G5—but it sure runs better on an Intel-based Mac (I was loaned a Xeon-based machine for this review). I installed the software on my dual G5, and performance was certainly acceptable; but really, Logic wants an Intel-based Mac. A more significant issue is that Logic has changed the rules about AU plugs with multiple outs, as it differentiates between those that simply have more outs and those designed for surround. Apparently it’s not a huge deal for companies to update their plugs for compatibility, but third party companies are known to complain about “Apple moving the goal posts” with respect to AUs, and this seems to be an example of exactly that.

Another limitation that remains is you can’t undo at the parameter level, even though you can undo changes to arrangements. This would be high on my list for the next update. On the bright side, though, plug-ins now have a compare option.

CONCLUSIONS

I have to hand it to Apple: When they decide to do something, they almost always do it right. They weren’t the first to come up with the portable digital music player, graphical user interface, computers using Intel chips, portable computers, or cell phones. But when Apple makes a move, they do so dramatically and effectively.

The cynical might say that Apple has put this much value into Logic Studio to seduce people into buying Mac hardware. There is likely some truth to that; and the “Apple-is-as-ruthless-as-Microsoft” crowd will note that seeing software as a way to spur hardware sales puts software-only companies that support the Mac at a disadvantage.

Yet I doubt that Apple needs Logic Pro; I assume that dropping it tomorrow wouldn’t cause a ripple in their bottom line, and with the long wait for version 8, the Logic faithful were starting to wonder if Apple had lost interest in favor of consumer electronic goodies. This update shows that Apple has well-defined plans for Logic: part of a suite of programs (not unlike the Final Cut Pro “bundle”), with more features to keep the pros happy, and new features to bring in a new crowd.

I’m not an Apple partisan or detractor; I use both Windows and Mac. But kudos to Apple for remaking Logic without losing its essence, while expanding the market to new users and keeping their base happy. That’s a tough feat for any company to pull off. Once again, Apple has shaken up the market—big time—and delivered. They deserve the success Logic Studio is certain to bring them.

Product type: Suite of DAW, live performance software, and audio-for-video scoring programs.
Target market: Prosumers to pro-level recording studios and post-production suites.
Strengths: Yes, that really is the price. MainStage and Soundtrack Pro 2 add exceptional value for live performance and video, respectively. Vastly improved workflow with cleaner interface. Strong extra content, particularly the Jam Packs. Searchable library. Many little tweaks. Delay Designer processor rocks. Excellent composite recording. Better mixer busing. Printed and electronic documentation.
Limitations: Some AU plug-ins with multiple outs need updates to work with Logic 8. Doesn’t recognize Acidized file markers. Logic Pro no longer available separately (but at this price, do you care?). No pitch correction.
List price: $499
Contact: www.apple.com

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