Review: Apple Logic X 10.3

By Geary Yelton ,

The most recent update to Logic Pro X delivers literally hundreds of changes to Apple’s top-shelf digital audio workstation. Some new features are obvious, like a brighter, flatter GUI, and others are so obscure that you may not discover them until you need them, like support for up to 256 buses—far more than the 64 buses in previous versions. Some features are under the hood, like the new 64-bit summing engine, and others will matter only to owners of the latest MacBook Pros, like being able to navigate the timeline and access transport controls using your computer’s Touch Bar. Version 10.3 is a free update, too. If you’re a Logic Pro X user and you haven’t yet updated, what are you waiting for?

The Logic Pro X 10.3 update offers much more than you’d expect, such as useful workflow enhancements and file-sharing capabilities with GarageBand on iOS.

GUI ENHANCEMENTS

The first thing you’ll probably notice is that Logic Pro’s graphic user interface has changed slightly. I placed two MacBook Pros side-by-side, one with the new version and the other with 10.2. At first glance, the changes were subtle, but the more I looked, the more differences I found. Most of the grays in 10.3 are lighter and less shaded. If you look in the display preferences’ Tracks tab, you’ll find a pull-down menu to lighten or darken the background in the Tracks Area. Apple says variable grays offer better legibility under different lighting conditions.

Most knobs and buttons are now flat rather than trying to appear realistic, though the mixer’s channel faders retain their skeuomorphic shading. Flatter controls give 10.3 a more up-to-date look than previous versions, and I assume they’re easier on the computer’s graphics processor. When you open a few of the included plug-ins, however, you’ll see that some are flat and some are skeuomorphic, just like in the previous version. Another graphical change is that the color palette now has 24 more colors for labeling tracks, regions, and notes.

Almost all of the windows, menus, and controls appear in the same locations as before. You may notice a few new details, such as the Horizontal Auto Zoom button, which lets you graphically squeeze or expand the contents of the Tracks area to fit its width. The Piano Roll, Step Editor, and Audio Track Editor also offer Horizontal Auto Zoom, so that you can view their entire contents simultaneously from beginning to end without scrolling.

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FUNCTIONAL REFINEMENTS

Fig. 1. Selection-based processing lets you apply any combination of effects plug-ins to any audio you’ve selected. You can audition the processed audio before rendering a new file.

Selection-based processing with audio effects is my favorite new feature in 10.3. It lets you apply dynamics or effects plug-ins to an individual audio region, multiple regions on one or more tracks, or a selected portion of a region rather than an entire audio track (see Figure 1). For example, you could apply a group of effects to a track’s first measure, different effects to the second measure, and another group of effects to the third measure. Selection-based processing lets you audition the processed audio before you apply any effects.

The wonderfully useful Track Alternatives feature allows you to record different versions of a track without overwriting the previous one, and it works for both audio and MIDI tracks. You can record alternate versions of the same track or portions of a track and then edit them individually, even copying and pasting between them. After you’ve recorded some alternatives, you can easily switch between them to help you choose the one you prefer. With Track Alternatives, you could save different versions of a track to look back at how it has evolved.

Until now, Logic Pro X lacked true stereo panning, in which you could vary an individual stereo channel’s width and center point rather than simply its stereo balance. Version 10.3 gives each channel optional discrete left and right panning controls, as well as binaural panning capabilities.

Many enhancements and bug fixes are specific to the software instrument Alchemy. These include the LFO waveshape display updating when you load an LFO preset, more consistent response to Aftertouch, and better audio quality when you import Apple Loops into Alchemy. The best new feature, however, is the ability to easily import presets from the pre-Apple version of Alchemy that was published by its developer, Camel Audio.

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WORKFLOW IMPROVEMENTS

If you use iCloud and the latest version of GarageBand for iOS, now you can continue working on your latest Logic Pro project on the go, away from your computer. Just share the project to your iCloud Drive, open it on your iPad or iPhone, add tracks using GarageBand’s instruments and audio resources, and then hit Save. It’s a simple procedure that renders your entire Logic Pro project as a stereo audio file that opens in GarageBand. When you’ve finished working in GarageBand, just open the file from your iCloud Drive in Logic Pro. All your Logic Pro tracks will appear as they were before, along with the GarageBand tracks you’ve added. Who says you can’t take it with you?

Whether you’re just learning your way around onscreen or you’re a power user who relies on key commands to speed your workflow, Logic Pro X 10.3 has much to offer. Hovering the cursor over any control button now displays the button’s key command, if it has one. And if you click on the Duplicate Track button while holding down the Command key, it will duplicate the selected track’s contents in the new track, as well as the track settings. That’s something new I already use a lot.

You get over a dozen new key commands and the ability to assign keys to certain functions that previously lacked assignability. New key commands allow you to apply crossfades, close Track Stack folders, create and edit project alternatives, and move the locators forward and back by one measure, for example.

Various thoughtful improvements are scattered throughout. When you pull down a channel’s plug-in menu, for example, it shows you the five most recent plug-ins that you’ve used at the top of the menu.

TOUCH BAR SUPPORT

If your Mac has a Touch Bar—Apple’s new high-res multitouch display strip above the keyboard—Logic Pro X offers new ways to access various controls and navigate projects. Tapping one of the buttons displayed on the Touch Bar shows you an overview of your entire project. You can quickly jump or scroll to any location on the Timeline by tapping it on the overview or swiping left and right.

When you select a track, the Touch Bar can also display audio controls, a virtual keyboard, or buttons that serve as drum pads, depending on what kind of track you’ve selected. If the track’s plug-in has Smart Controls, its parameters can appear as buttons on the Touch Bar, with sliders to set values when you tap them.

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MORE THAN THIS

Most of Logic Pro X 10.3’s performance improvements are too numerous to discuss in a two-page review. Many eliminate known bugs, including fixes that prevent Logic from quitting unexpectedly when you, say, close a project while in full screen mode or switch between open projects. Intentionally quitting the application is faster than ever before, too.

Fig. 2. Logic Pro X’s new Recording preferences pane displays parameters that appeared elsewhere in previous versions.

Although Apple’s documentation explains most of the new features, some sections haven’t been updated to reflect those changes. For example, during the review the explanation of recording multiple audio takes instructs you to select commands that are no longer where they used to be (see Figure 2). In addition, I wish some of the explanations were more detailed.

Logic Pro X 10.3 gives you plenty to explore, with boatloads of features that make your work faster and more productive. Some are designed to make it less likely you’ll spend so much time tracking down problems and figuring out how to perform tasks, leaving you more opportunities for creativity. If you’d like to know more, look for my tutorial in the next issue of EM, which will provide more details about how to use some of Logic Pro X’s new features.

STRENGTHS
Process selected audio with effects. True stereo panning. Imports older Alchemy presets. Flexible file sharing with GarageBand for iOS. Workflow enhancements and bug fixes. Touch Bar support.

LIMITATIONS
Touch Bar functions require the latest model of MacBook Pro. Documentation hasn’t been thoroughly updated.

$199
apple.com

Contributing editor and synthesist Geary Yelton has written for Electronic Musician for almost half his life. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina, and Venice, Florida.

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