When Apple updated iLife in January 2004, it introduced GarageBand, an audio sequencer and software instrument collection at no extra charge. Immediately, GarageBand was a hit with casual Mac users and pro musicians alike. A few months later, GarageBand 1.1 (reviewed in the July 2004 issue of EM, available online at www.emusician.com) was released, offering numerous enhancements such as ReWire connectivity and better Audio Units support. Now Apple has updated its creativity suite to iLife '05 (Mac, $79). New GarageBand features include MIDI file import, multitrack recording, real-time notation display, and lots of other goodies.
Like the previous versions, GarageBand 2's minimum system requirements call for a minimum 600 MHz G-series CPU, a DVD drive, and 256 MB of RAM. You'll need a Mac G4 or G5, because a G3 can't handle GarageBand's software instruments. The new version also requires 3.5 GB of disk space and Mac OS X 10.3.4. I installed iLife '05 on my dual-processor Power Mac G4/1 GHz with 1.5 GB of RAM and Mac OS X 10.3.8. My audio interface was a MOTU 2408mkII with a PCI-424 card.
Installation was straightforward: I ran the installer from DVD-ROM, clicked on a few buttons to agree with the defaults, and waited patiently while the program finished its business. In addition to GarageBand 2 and its samples and presets, the disc installed iPhoto 5, iDVD 5, iMovie HD, and iTunes 4.7.1 at the same time, placing everything on my startup drive, with no option for storing presets or sample content elsewhere.
New and Improved
The most anticipated new feature in GarageBand 2 is its ability to import multitrack Standard MIDI Files (SMFs). Simply drag an SMF from the Finder to the Timeline, and GarageBand will automatically assign a software instrument to each track (see Fig. 1). For the most part, SMFs imported flawlessly, with tracks assigned to instruments as expected. Occasionally, when I tried to import an SMF without an extension in its name, it failed to import at all. After I added an SMF or MID extension and dragged it to the Timeline, GarageBand recognized the file even if I later deleted the extension. GarageBand still doesn't export MIDI files, but Apple Logic Express and Logic Pro 7 can import GarageBand files directly. Additionally, GarageBand 2 can't play external MIDI instruments, another desirable feature that most sequencers offer.
GarageBand 2 lets you record as many as eight audio tracks and one software-instrument track simultaneously. You can capture a band's entire live performance or record a drum set with individual mics on each drum. You'll need an audio interface with multiple inputs, as well as enough microphones or direct instrument sources for multitrack recording.
Using an algorithm borrowed from Logic, GarageBand can now display software-instrument tracks in traditional musical notation as you play. To make editing as easy as possible, selecting a note plays it and also displays it in piano-roll form. Although Notation view occasionally had a hard time interpreting triplets (especially if I played with any degree of swing), tracks always played back exactly as I had recorded them. Notation view is a handy feature, although it would be even handier if GarageBand could print musical scores, but that might be asking too much from an entry-level program.
GarageBand 2 can convert MIDI or audio recordings to Apple Loops. When you select a region and drag it to the Loop Browser, a dialog box appears in which you can specify instrument, genre, mood, major or minor scale, and whether it will follow tempo changes. I appreciated this new feature, but I wish you could add your own descriptors. Curiously, when I saved a MIDI loop and changed the key signature from C to G, the track transposed up a fifth while the loop transposed down a fourth.
GarageBand now imports audio files from various formats such as Acidized WAV, MP3, unprotected AAC, and Apple Lossless. Just drag the file from the Finder to the Timeline. Unlike Apple Loops, imported files are unaffected when you change key or tempo. To convert audio to an Apple Loop, drag it from the Timeline to the Loop Browser.
Two new features enhance the tuning and timing of audio tracks, effectively pitch correcting and quantizing them. For pitch correction, move the Enhance Tuning slider from minimum to maximum; at high settings, you'll hear Cher-effect artifacts. You can also select Limit to Key to keep pitches within the Master Track's current scale. The Enhance Timing slider is accompanied by a quantization grid with four duration settings. When I tried it, the highest settings produced some bizarre results. Nonetheless, you might be hard-pressed to find any other such inexpensive software with such advanced capabilities.
But Wait, There's More!
When you select Musical Typing from GarageBand's Window menu, you can play software instruments using your computer keyboard — a practical feature when you're sitting in an airport with your PowerBook, I suppose. Eighteen keys on the top two letter rows are used to play notes (see Fig. 2). Other keys let you shift octaves, enable sustain, control Velocity, and apply vibrato and Pitch Bend. You can even play six-note chords with a different Velocity for each note. GarageBand's implementation of computer-keyboard note entry is the most comprehensive I've seen.
GarageBand 2 introduces several new software instruments and effects. Vocal Transformer, for example, lets you change a male voice to a female voice or a cartoon falsetto. Vocal Transformer also transposes tracks as much as a fourth up or down, enabling you to sing harmony with yourself using only one recorded take. For guitarists, three new amp-simulation presets are available: Big Wheels, English Channel, and Thick Jazz. Among the new software instruments is a category called Synth Textures, which includes some of the finest electronic timbres that GarageBand offers.
GarageBand 2 features several additional enhancements. You can lock tracks to conserve CPU cycles — a function called Freeze in Logic. Just as you've always been able to specify volume changes graphically, now you can draw Pan changes for any track. You can scale your MIDI keyboard's Velocity, too, and GarageBand 2's onscreen keyboard is resizable. For people who have Apple Jam Packs installed, GarageBand 2 gives you the ability to show only loops and instruments from the standard GarageBand complement, from individual Jam Packs, or from any third-party add-ons.
My only real complaint about GarageBand 2 is that it still requires you to store its content on your startup disk. The 80 GB drive that came standard in my Mac G4 (like the 80 GB drives that come standard in most PowerBook G4s and iMac G5s) already demands constant housekeeping just so you can find enough space for additional new programs, updated system files, new audio plug-ins, and all the other data necessary for living the digital lifestyle that Apple encourages. I could reformat a larger drive and make it my startup disk, but when you own as much copy-protected software as I do, that's a major hassle.
Fortunately, I discovered a little-known work-around. After you install GarageBand's content (including any Jam Packs) to your startup drive, copy the Apple Loops folder to another drive, and then delete it from your startup drive. Open GarageBand and drag the folder from its new location to GarageBand's Loop Browser. From within the dialog box that appears, select Current Location. That will create a symlink (symbolic link), which is the Unix equivalent of an alias in the Mac OS or a shortcut in Windows. I understand that Apple wants to keep installation simple, but it should spotlight this work-around for more advanced users.
Studio on a Budget
When Apple released iLife '05, its price increased by $30. Is it still a bargain? Absolutely. Where else can you get so much creative functionality and sample content for so little? Without a doubt, GarageBand is still the best deal in the world of computer music. If you're one of the thousands of amateur and pro musicians who use and love GarageBand, GarageBand 2 is an essential upgrade.
EM associate editor Geary Yelton lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with his lovely wife Pam and their amazing cat Sadie.
digital audio sequencer
$79 (iLife ‘05)
OVERALL RATING [1 THROUGH 5]: 4.5
PROS: Intuitive user interface. Impressive value. Imports Standard MIDI Files. Records eight simultaneous audio tracks. Converts several audio formats to Apple Loops. New effects and additional high-quality content. More fun than ever.
CONS: Stiff CPU requirements. Still doesn't support external MIDI sound sources.