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EMAGIC LOGIC PLATINUM 5.5 (MAC/WIN)

March 1, 2003
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Compared to previous versions, Emagic Logic 5 is a big leap forward in terms of features, power, and ease of use. With version 5.5, Logic now runs under OS 9 and OS X on the Mac as well as on Windows on the PC. Although future development of Logic on the Windows platform has come to an end, ongoing support of Emagic's current products has not slowed one bit, resulting in a steady stream of significant updates. New features in automation; surround mixing; 24-bit, 192 kHz compatibility; software instruments; and control-surface hardware support make Logic Platinum 5.5 a formidable package that currently rivals all other audio sequencers, on both computer hardware platforms.

Logic 5.5 is available in three versions for both Windows and the Mac OS. The version reviewed here, Logic Platinum, is the full-tilt package with the most plug-ins and the greatest capabilities. For $300 less, Logic Gold ($649) offers fewer audio tracks and other features. Note that the word “Audio” has been dropped from the product name of Platinum and Gold. The previous entry-level version, Logic Audio Silver, is now simply Logic Audio ($399) in version 5.5.

FACE-LIFT FORWARD

The key word to Logic is flexibility. No other digital audio workstation allows such a degree of customization for its users. In the past, its depth of features intimidated many novice users. Logic 5.5 streamlines many operations and menus, resulting in a more user-friendly experience without compromising any of the power that professional users demand.

Logic 5.5 maintains the graphic style that was introduced in version 4; however, you can still choose to apply the look of version 3 if you prefer. I last used Logic extensively in the days of Logic 3, so the newer graphics were a bit unsettling at first. The new look takes a dark and futuristic approach to its knobs and faders — especially in the native plug-ins — which I didn't care for initially. After spending a few weeks with the new interface, though, I switched to the version 3-like graphics and immediately preferred the newer look, which I've now grown to like quite a lot.

The main menus and submenus have been further refined in their organization since version 4, especially as new features have been added to the program. I didn't spend a lot of time comparing the current version to older ones, but I can say that the Logic's much-appreciated, context-sensitive approach to submenus is even better in version 5, making navigation of the interface easier overall.

OPENING WINDOWS

Logic's Arrange window is the center of the action (see Fig. 1). In the Arrange window's list of MIDI and audio tracks, individual tracks can be edited, quantized, automated, muted, and soloed. As you zoom in on a track, its region content becomes visible (and editable) in the form of an audio waveform or MIDI data display. The Parameter and Extended Sequence Parameter boxes offer nondestructive editing of parameters such as quantize, loop, transpose, Velocity, dynamics, gate time, delay, and audio fades. Better yet, as a sequence is playing, you can tweak those parameters in real time without a hiccup, which is perfect for painlessly tweaking dynamics and timing in the context of an entire sequence.

In addition to the feature-packed Arrange window, Logic offers a number of other editing windows, including the Mixer, Event List, Score, Transform (for creating complex MIDI-editing operations), Hyper Edit, and Matrix (piano-roll) windows and the all-powerful Environment window. Each window contains submenus pertinent to its editor (see Fig. 2). If you're familiar with the basics of MIDI and audio editing, there's very little you can't do in Logic's editors. One feature that I've always liked is Logic's ability to resize the Transport window and open multiple instances — one dedicated to SMPTE readout, one for bars and beats, and one handling the traditional transport functions, for instance.

Managing all of those windows could be a nightmare — but not in Logic. You can create custom Screensets and recall them at the touch of a computer key. Logic defaults to using the numbers on the numeric keypad to recall as many as 99 Screensets, and you can customize all key commands. Logic 5.5's user interface is so snappy that hopping between editors is instantaneous, even in huge sequences that are otherwise taxing the CPU.

SETTLING THE SCORE

Although I'm an avid Coda (now MakeMusic) Finale user, Logic's scoring capabilities impress me. I don't know that I would use Logic for commercially publishing an orchestral score (though some people do), but Logic's scoring tools are more than capable of fulfilling most performance and recording requirements. (I once did a TV show with George Duke as musical director, and he prepared all of the band's charts exclusively in Logic.) The symbiotic integration of Logic's MIDI features with its notation capabilities will be a natural fit for many users.

Logic 5.5 lets you use the Sonata, Jazz, and Swing fonts in addition to its native Emagic music font, though those are oddly the only choices. I'd prefer the option of using any available music font, but I can live with the choices provided.

Importing and exporting 24-bit OMF files is a breeze, making it simple to shuttle projects to and from Pro Tools or Digital Performer. If you drag a Standard MIDI File (SMF) into your Autoload document's Arrange window before you import the OMF file, your new file will contain both a correct tempo map and all of your custom Screensets. I do wish that Logic could automatically convert split stereo files into interleaved files when it imports OMFs, however, so you didn't have to recombine the left and right from separate tracks.

CONCEPTUAL THINKING

Logic has a few additional concepts that you must wrap your head around to make your life easier. First, the Environment window is powerful, yes, though not as scary as some say it is. Once you've created your basic setup, you might never look at it again. However, if you're a tweaker or just want to do some cool things with MIDI, then the Environment is your friend. In the Environment, you can apply MIDI delays and arpeggiators, create custom programming interfaces for hardware or software synths, and add tons of other cool, creative features to your tracks by using object-oriented virtual cabling between devices.

The second concept to understand is that Logic uses the synthesizer-voice paradigm to define audio-track playback, which I find preferable to the Photoshop-style layer paradigm of some other programs. There is a limit to the number of available voices (in Logic Platinum, it's 128 mono or stereo voices for each audio interface); however, tracks can share a single voice.

On the surface, that may sound like a shortcoming, but it makes the playback of overlapping regions on a specific track much more sensible and easier to control. For example, a region in a track plays until a new region begins, much like playing a second note on a monophonic synth while still holding the first note down; the second note takes priority and steals the voice. That model makes much more sense to me for audio playback than managing a convolution of overlapping audio layers. When a new region begins, the previous region stops playback, even if there is overlap. (Of course, you can create crossfades between the regions.)

Not only do multiple regions within a track share a voice, but you can also assign multiple tracks to share a single voice. In that case, Logic gives priority to the topmost track in the Arrange window's vertical track list. In addition to securing a higher track count by sharing a voice between tracks that never play at the same time, that feature can lead to some creative applications. For instance, it's quite easy to comp a vocal track by assigning all the individual takes and the destination comp track to the same voice. If the comp destination is placed below the individual takes in the Arrange window and left unmuted, then unmuting any take above the comp will steal the voice (remember, tracks higher in the list get priority) and you can audition that track's audio region instead of the comp track; muting the take will allow you to hear the comp track again.

It's important to understand that muting a track does not automatically mute the mixer's fader attached to the voice (each voice gets a fader, but not each track). Of course, muting the fader in the mixer automatically silences all tracks assigned to that voice. Perhaps one day Logic will provide two mutes in the Arrange window — Track Mute and Fader Mute — for easier navigation and to more easily distinguish between the two.

MIXER TRICKS

Logic has combined the multiple mixers found in previous versions into one supermixer. You can now view MIDI, audio, audio instruments, I/O, and GM objects all together as well as separately. The mixer's most significant feature enhancement is the automation section, which now supports common techniques like Overwrite, Touch, and Latch. Currently, you can automate volume, pan, mute, send, plug-ins, and solo. One missing feature that I'd like to see is a Trim for both Touch and Latch modes, which would maintain the previously written automation moves while relatively trimming the volume, for instance, as much as a decibel or two.

Logic 5's mixer is a big improvement over previous versions, but there are still a few refinements I'd like to see. You can't squeeze more faders onto the computer screen by using the telescoping zoom to resize the audio tracks. Unless you create a new mixer configuration in the Environment window, the order of the tracks is fixed (MIDI, audio tracks, audio instruments, buses, outputs, and master, in that order); that limitation is perplexing, especially considering that so many aspects of Logic are highly customizable. Clicking on an audio or audio-instrument track in the Arrange window can automatically select the Mixer window (if it's open) to make that track visible, but that feature doesn't work for MIDI tracks. I'd also like options beyond those currently available for creating custom mixer views as I do in other DAWs. Logic is way behind Digital Performer and Cubase in its mixer functions.

ALL PLUGGED IN

Using Logic 5.5 under Mac OS 9, the old issue of frequent incompatibilities with VST plug-ins is a thing of the past. I didn't exhaustively test every VST plug-in available, but I had no problems with any of the VST plug-ins I commonly use, including soft synths. In fact, I felt that most third-party plug-ins ran more efficiently and with more stability in Logic than in any other software I've used.

In addition, I don't need as many VST plug-ins as before. More than 50 native plug-ins ship with Logic Platinum 5.5, and they're stunning. I've never seen a more musical, powerful, and useful set of native plug-ins in an application. You name it, and Emagic probably has it covered. Although there are too many plug-ins to cover in this review, the standouts include Stereo Delay and Tape Delay (which let you set groove amounts as well as beat subdivisions) and several cool distortion effects. Fat EQ is a tasty five-band equalizer (see Fig. 3). Enveloper does amazing things to guitar sounds, and Ensemble produces a great chorus effect. Enverb and PlatinumVerb are fine reverb plug-ins. I was also impressed with Multipressor (a multiband compressor), AutoFilter, Spreader, StereoSpread, and subBASS. Really, there are no dogs in the whole collection. I still love my Waves, PSP, and Audio Ease plug-ins, but if I had to, I could certainly get by with only Logic's native plug-ins.

STRIKE UP THE BAND

Arguably, Logic's most exciting new set of features is the plethora of great, native software instruments that are available. The current crop includes several free mono and polyphonic synths in addition to some great virtual instruments sold separately by Emagic: EVB3 organ, EVD6 clavinet, ES2 synthesizer, EVOC 20 polysynth and vocoder, EVP88 electric piano, and the flagship EXS24 mk II sampler.

When you buy Logic 5.5, you receive evaluation versions of all the virtual instruments that run for four weeks — enough time to get hooked. Every instrument is spectacular. It's hard to single out any one of them, but I have to point out that the EXS24 mk II sampler now supports streaming samples and reads and converts Giga, Akai, SampleCell, SoundFont, and DLS formats. I tested several of my Giga and Akai libraries, and the EXS24 mk II worked flawlessly. I would put this instrument, as well as the EVP88 and EVB3, on the must-have list.

I'm happy to report that all of my VST instruments worked great in Logic 5.5, too. If you're currently a HALion or Kontakt owner, you'll have to stay in OS 9 for the time being, but you won't be disappointed in the performance.

OS X FACTOR

It gets even better. Version 5.5 supports Mac OS 9, OS X, and Windows. The OS X version requires OS 10.2 (Jaguar) because Emagic's new owner — Apple Computer — has now released Core Audio, CoreMIDI, and Audio Units as integral components of the Mac OS (see the sidebar “Apple to the Core”).

Logic 5.5 supports the new core-level drivers in spades. Running Logic under OS X is amazing. Because all of Logic's native plug-ins are either built in to Logic's code or designed for Audio Units — and therefore much more processor-efficient — you can spread plug-ins around like crazy. MIDI latency now seems to be determined only by the hardware synths themselves, and working with software synths in Logic under OS X is nirvana.

The downside is that there is no immediate support for VST plug-ins under OS X (and VST plug-ins need to be rewritten for OS X anyway). Perhaps a third-party developer will create a VST shell for Logic in the near future; I suppose that Emagic won't, because Apple is sticking by its guns on establishing Audio Units as a true standard. Otherwise, I hope that plug-in developers can quickly get their products working with the new Apple drivers; some have begun shipping revised plug-ins already.

As of this writing, the price to pay for the inherent power gains of running Logic 5.5 under OS X is the loss of VST plug-ins. However, I applaud Apple and Emagic's bold move because users stand to gain immensely by the transition. It needs to happen across the board sooner than later, and everyone needs to sign on.

THE LOGICAL CHOICE

Logic has always been a great tool for composers, and with the great collection of software instruments available from Emagic, never more so than now. Logic Platinum is a serious contender for anyone involved in post-production audio, including record production and surround mixing. Small complaints aside, Logic Platinum 5.5 is the closest thing to a “desert-island” application I can think of. It has it all, especially with the inclusion of the optional software instruments.

A few areas still need small improvements. I'd like individual Velocities for audio regions, which would be great for smoothing out levels while comping tracks. I wish a few features I'm fond of in Digital Performer were available in Logic, such as the ability to drag the mixer's Mute and Solo buttons without having to click on them individually; an additional layer of unlimited takes in each track, which would eliminate the need to create new tracks for each overdub; and the ability to automatically create a folder for the audio files nested in a project folder. I'd also ask for bounce-to-disk in less than real time (for computers powerful enough to process that quickly).

Emagic must be applauded for its vigorous development of new features and its continued support for OS 9 and Windows (currently, Logic is still the most mature DAW on the PC platform). Apple and Emagic are also to be commended for biting the bullet and dragging us into Mac OS X, which is the future of professional audio production. I, for one, am jumping on the bandwagon.

CONTROLLED LOGIC

Emagic supports several hardware controllers, including the Radikal Technologies SAC-2K, Mackie HUI, Mackie Control, and (of course) Logic Control. Overall, integration is a smooth affair. Emagic sent me a Logic Control and Logic Control XT (eight-fader expander) to evaluate along with Logic. Setup was a piece of cake. Overall, the combination worked great, though there was some occasional bugginess such as the Logic Control freezing up or refusing to see the current Logic file. Usually, a reboot of the Logic Control or the application solved the problem. For the most part, however, I enjoyed an enhanced mixing experience. I've used hardware controllers for DAWs for a while now, and I really like the responsiveness of the Logic Control.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

Emagic
Logic Platinum 5.5 (Mac/Win)
digital audio sequencer
$949

FEATURES 4.5
EASE OF USE 3.5
SOUND QUALITY 4.5
VALUE 4.0
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5

PROS: Extensive, powerful feature set. Highly customizable. Nondestructive MIDI processing. Incredible software instruments. Updated mixer automation features. Support for surround mixing and 24-bit, 192 kHz audio. Good scoring features. OMF import and export at 24-bit. As many as 99 Screensets. Support for various hardware controllers. Extensive set of killer native plug-ins. Stable VST effects and instrument support (in OS 9). Supports Core Audio, CoreMIDI, and Audio Units under OS X.

CONS: No VST support under OS X. Bounce-to-disk is in real time only. No alternate takes per track. Can't display multiple plug-in windows simultaneously. Can't easily resize or reconfigure mixer.

Manufacturer

Emagic, Inc.
tel. (530) 477-1050
e-mail emagic@emagicusa.com
Web www.emagic.de

APPLE TO THE CORE

Unless you've been living under a rock, you're probably aware that Apple Computer has standardized the way that music applications communicate with the Macintosh by addressing audio, MIDI, and plug-in processing at the operating system's kernel level. The result is unprecedented amounts of DSP and nearly nonexistent latency in native systems, and that's a very good thing.

Basically, Core Audio replaces ASIO, EASI, MAS, and all other audio drivers by connecting the hardware straight into the OS, reducing latency to less than 1 ms. CoreMIDI takes the place of the OMS/FreeMIDI juggle that many Mac users perform frequently. The Audio Units format promises to become a standard for plug-in development that will eventually replace older, less efficient plug-in technologies. For those of us making our living with digital audio, the world is becoming a brighter place.

Minimum System Requirements

Logic Platinum 5.5

MAC: PPC 604/250; 128 MB RAM; Mac OS 9.1/X 10.2; CD or DVD drive; USB

PC: Athlon/Duron/Pentium/300; 128 MB RAM; Windows 98SE/2000/ME/XP; CD or DVD drive; USB

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