The digital audio sequencer market is a potent illustration of the axiom "Competition spurs innovation." The software companies involved are locked in an intense, feature-by-feature battle to produce the dominant product. As users, we're the beneficiaries of this rivalry, and all the major sequencers now give us a dazzling array of MIDI and audio recording and editing options.
No sequencer offers more options than Emagic's Logic Audio Platinum. For version 4.0 (4.15 was the current version at press time) the company gave the program a major face-lift, adding a multitude of new features including 31 high-quality audio plug-ins. Emagic tweaked the user interface, too, making this extremely deep and powerful program more accessible, and it also completely rewrote the code for the Windows version to bring it up to speed with Logic Audio for the Macintosh. The Mac and Windows versions are now virtually identical, making Logic Audio a formidable contender on both sides of the aisle. (I tested the Mac version for this review.)
The most important factor separating Logic Audio from its competitors is the degree to which it can be customized to fit individual users' needs. Accomplished users will experience a level of control unmatched by other sequencers. The program, however, does have its own logic (pardon the expression), which takes some getting used to. Due to that fact and to the depth of its features, Logic Audio has developed a reputation for being hard to learn. Whereas it's true that becoming a power user of Logic Audio can take a great deal of time, getting started is no more difficult than it is with any of its competitors.
A NEW LOOK
If you're accustomed to older versions of Logic Audio, the first thing you'll notice about version 4.x is its cooler, more streamlined look (see Fig. 1). The user interface clearly has been designed to be easier on the eyes during long sessions. (For those who prefer the 3.x look, the program can revert: simply check the appropriate box in the Display Preferences dialog box.)
The menu structure is arranged differently, too. The Functions menu now incorporates the former Structure menu, and the new Audio menu gathers the audio features in one place. The reshuffle has made Logic Audio more intuitive and much easier to navigate.
A NIFTY ARRANGEMENT
One thing hasn't changed: you'll still spend most of your time at the Arrange window (see Fig. 2). Here you can edit track data, apply quantization, enter point-to-point automation data with the Hyper Draw function, mute and solo your tracks, change instrument assignments, and much more.
Similar to the main screens of other digital audio sequencers, Logic Audio's Arrange window shows a list of tracks. The track data is depicted in the form of horizontal bars, called Objects, upon which all types of editing can be done. Objects can contain either MIDI or audio data.
By clicking on the telescope icons in the window's upper right corner (or by using the corresponding key command), you can zoom in or out on the tracks (which can contain multiple Objects), enabling you to view more or less detail on the horizontal and vertical axes. For example, as you zoom in vertically on an audio track, it becomes an editable waveform display. Emagic improved this zooming feature in the new version by making it available for individual tracks in the Arrange window.
Nondestructive MIDI editing is one of the hippest features of Logic Audio. It's available through the Parameter box (and the Extended Sequence Parameter box) in the Arrange window's upper left corner; it's also accessible from the individual edit windows. You can quantize MIDI tracks, affect Velocity, change note duration, and alter a number of other parameters in real time without actually changing the track data. A great way to use this feature is to loop a section of a song, then tweak the parameters as it plays back until you achieve your desired results. With Logic Audio's hefty 960 ppqn resolution, you have plenty of room for fine adjustments.
Nondestructive editing in the Arrange window isn't limited to MIDI tracks. When editing an audio track, you can add fade-ins and fade-outs and loop individual Objects.
As is its custom, Emagic provides many transport-control choices in Logic Audio. In each window, you have the option of showing or hiding a transport-control bar. Or you can open a floating, resizable Transport window that can be customized as to the amount of data displayed. You can also open a second Transport window (resizable as well) and turn it into a large SMPTE position readout.
Because the program lets you open multiple versions of the same window, you can even open a third Transport window and change it into an oversize readout of bars, beats, and ticks. (Actually, the readout shows bars, beats, division, and ticks. Division refers to the subdivision of the measure. For example, if you set the division option to eighth notes, a readout of 4/1/1/110 would mean fourth measure, first beat, first eighth note, 110 ticks. If you prefer the standard bars/beats/ticks display, you can specify that in the preferences.)
In a Transport window, you can set and enable global looping functions and turn on punch-in/out recording (called Autodrop). You can also turn on the solo function, select destructive or nondestructive recording, and turn the metronome on and off.
In addition, you can use a Transport window to enter tempo and meter information into a sequence. Unlike some of its rivals, Logic Audio doesn't have a dedicated conductor track; instead, all meter changes are entered in the Transport window (there is a dedicated Tempo List window elsewhere). Although entering the data is relatively easy, editing it is more cumbersome than it would be in a conductor track. This is one of the few areas in which Logic Audio has a slimmer feature set than its competitors. (Emagic recently announced Logic Audio 4.2, which will include a time-signature and key-change editor.)
OPEN THE WINDOWS
Although much editing can be accomplished in the Arrange window, Logic Audio also offers a number of dedicated editing windows for various functions. As its name indicates, the Event List is an event editor, but it can also be used as a global playlist editor for a sequence, allowing start and end times as well as the length of audio and MIDI Objects to be edited.
At first glance, the data in the Event List is somewhat difficult to comprehend. The window displays so much information that you must constantly refer to the column headings to understand what you're looking at.
The Matrix Editor, Logic Audio's version of a piano-roll editor, is well designed and easy to work with. Notes-which can be dragged, duplicated, elongated, or shortened-are depicted in different colors, depending on their Velocity; a horizontal line in the middle of each note appears longer on notes with higher Velocities. And you can view multiple tracks in a single Matrix Editor window, a new option.
One of Logic Audio's more unusual windows is the Hyper Editor, which allows you to easily draw and edit Velocity and other controller information for MIDI recordings. The Hyper Editor can also be used as a MIDI drum editor that lets you input individual drum parts on a grid (see Fig. 3).
If you prefer to edit musical notes on a staff, check out Logic Audio's Score Editor, a notation editor with enough depth to be a stand-alone program. Not only is it helpful for editing existing parts, but you can also use it for inputting notes in step time. In addition, it offers many features that are specifically dedicated to preparing and printing parts and scores.
Overall, Logic Audio's edit windows are quite functional and well designed. I was a bit surprised to discover that you can't simultaneously view SMPTE times and the bars/beats/division/ticks information in an edit window. You can work around this by opening two of the same edit windows-one for displaying SMPTE and the other for bars, beats, division, and ticks. But that's not as elegant (or as easy to work with) as viewing them both in the same window.
Although nondestructive audio editing, such as cutting and pasting Audio Objects, can be handled from the Arrange window, destructive editing chores are the province of the Sample Editor, a full-featured waveform editor (mono or stereo) that you access by double-clicking on any audio track. It contains tools for drawing out clicks; changing gain, pitch, and tempo; altering the "feel" of your audio files; and many other functions.
One of the Sample Editor's tools is the Time and Pitch Machine, which offers sophisticated algorithms (both conventional and formant-based) for altering audio. An Audio Object's tempo can be changed without affecting the pitch, and vice versa. Both features worked quite well for me, as long as I kept the changes relatively small. (Success also depends a great deal on the source material.) Also available is tape recorder-style pitch-shifting-Emagic calls it classic pitch-shifting-in which the tempo changes along with the pitch; it works over a wider range of settings.
The Groove Machine is designed to change the feel of audio tracks. Unfortunately, its controls are confusing, and the manual devotes only a brief section to explaining its use. Through trial and error I was able to convert a drum loop with a straight eighth-note feel into a swing groove, a pretty impressive feat. However, when I tried to alter the feel of a rhythm guitar track, I had little success-this feature seems to work better on peaky, percussive source material.
The Audio to Score Streamer function, reminiscent of the Audio-to-MIDI feature in Opcode's Studio Vision Pro, does a creditable job of translating monophonic audio files into MIDI files. The simpler the source file, the better the results. On a test vocal track, this function had some trouble tracking the pitches but did well with the rhythms. On a cleanly played guitar track, it worked much better.
SURPRISING SCREEN SETS
With all of the different windows available in Logic Audio, navigation could be a nightmare, but thanks to the Screen Sets feature, it's a breeze. You can store up to 99 individual screen layouts in your Autoload (the default sequence that opens when you select New from the File menu); each layout is composed of whichever windows you want. You can switch easily between layouts by pressing numbers on your numeric keypad.
For example, you could have an Arrange window with a Transport window as screen set 1 (the default setting); an Arrange window, Transport window, and linked Matrix Editor as screen set 2; a Hyper Editor and a Score Editor as screen set 3; a Track Mixer on screen set 4; and so forth. At first I couldn't resist the impulse to simply open an edit window rather than go to the appropriate screen set. But once I got used to the concept, it really sped up my work (and decreased the number of open windows on my desktop).
The window that contributes most to Logic Audio's reputation for complexity is the Environment window (see Fig. 4). On the surface, the Environment is where you configure your studio setup. In that sense, it's similar to Mark of the Unicorn's FreeMIDI or Opcode's OMS. (You don't need either program to use Logic Audio, but it does support OMS.) Performing basic setup tasks is relatively simple, as is setting up custom instruments that trigger a combination of MIDI sound sources.
The Environment is also the place to go if you want to roll up your sleeves and get under the hood of Logic Audio's MIDI engine. Learning how to use this feature-which will take you some time-is similar to learning object-oriented programming. In the Environment, you use "virtual cables" to control the flow of MIDI signals. You can reroute MIDI data and add MIDI effects, such as an arpeggiator, delay, or Touch Track (a feature that allows you to trigger a sequence from a specified MIDI note). You can even set up editors for various MIDI devices.
In Logic Audio's Environment, you can tweak or completely alter almost every aspect of the program's MIDI implementation and signal flow. If you want to use alternate Environments but don't wish to tackle the work yourself, you can simply download or purchase third-party Environments from user-group Web sites. A good number of Environments (including editors for many MIDI devices) are available on the Logic Audio CD-ROM.
You'll need the Environment to complete your studio setup's initial configuration, but after that you can ignore it if you prefer. During the review period, I recorded three major projects without once having to tinker with the Environment. But it's always there if you decide to use it, and the potential for customization is almost limitless.
MIX ME UP A GOOD ONE
Not surprisingly, Logic Audio offers not just one mixer, but three: the Track Mixer, the Audio Mixer (audio only), and the GM Mixer (MIDI only). Most users will probably opt for the Track Mixer because it lets you mix both types of data from the same screen.
Channels in the Track Mixer correspond to those in the Arrange window. You can avoid cluttering the mixer by deleting any unused tracks in the Arrange window.
The mixer is also where you add plug-ins, either as inserts or by sending to a master effects bus (up to 16 buses can be used simultaneously). Logic Audio has its own set of high-quality plug-ins (more on these later). It also supports third-party plug-ins in the VST, VST 2.0, Adobe Premiere, AudioSuite, and TDM formats for the Mac, as well as the VST and DirectX formats for Windows. Automation is straightforward and easy to implement; you can record fader moves, pans, mutes, and even real-time changes of plug-in parameters.
The individual channel EQs are a very convenient part of the Track and Audio Mixers. You can choose from parametric, high shelf/cut, or low shelf/cut, and you can open up to four single-band EQs per channel. Although you could opt for plug-in EQs instead, using too many would put a heavy load on your CPU. The channel EQs are not nearly as processor intensive, yet they still sound quite good. For those attempting to do an entire mix within Logic Audio, or for those with only two audio outputs on your sound card, the channel EQs will be a godsend.
During my testing, the Track Mixer suffered periodically from buggy graphics, especially during or after the use of plug-ins. The display texture would change in places, and sometimes plug-in or Transport windows would mysteriously multiply, tile on each other, and change color. Luckily, these erratic graphics never affected the program's musical performance or caused a crash. (According to Emagic, the problem occurs only on Macs running System 8.1 and isn't a concern with System 8.5 and above.)
The most dramatic additions to the latest Logic Audio are the 31 new audio plug-ins, many of which rival third-party products in quality and features. I don't have the space here to describe each one, but I'll give you some highlights.
Fat EQ (see Fig. 5) is the most impressive of the new plug-ins. It features five fully parametric bands that can be switched in and out individually (useful for saving CPU resources). You can select from different EQ curves; your options depend on the band. As you adjust a particular band, the results appear in a nifty-looking bar graph display. More important, Fat EQ sounds terrific and compares favorably with expensive third-party EQ plug-ins.
Another standout is EnVerb, a reverb that lets you alter the envelope of the reverb tail. You can set up all sorts of gated, reverse, and unusual effects with this plug-in, and it's particularly useful on drum tracks.
Logic Audio Platinum also includes Emagic's flagship reverb plug-in, PlatinumVerb. It offers great-quality sound and several editable parameters including the Spread control, which adjusts the width of the reverb's stereo image. If you want additional reverbs that don't eat up as much CPU power as PlatinumVerb, you can open GoldVerb or SilverVerb; these plug-ins have fewer parameters but will suffice in many situations.
The Tape Delay plug-in does an effective job of simulating an analog tape-delay unit. In addition, it lets you set the delay time by clicking on icons representing a 16th note, an eighth note, a quarter note, and a half note; the values are based on the sequence's tempo.
The Modulation Delay plug-in offers several effects, including chorusing ("Big Chorus" is a good warm preset), flanging, and doubling. A cool resonator effect (great for those "robot" vocals) is also available. The tremolo preset is workable, but it's not likely to replace your Fender amp anytime soon.
Two more plug-ins are Overdrive and Distortion. The former does a good job of adding dirt to a signal without sounding too artificial. I tried it on some electric guitar tracks and was able to add realistic-sounding grit as long as I kept the settings subtle. I also had success with the Distortion plug-in, which sounded smooth and unmarred by the raspiness often associated with digital distortion.
One of the more unusual plug-ins is Enveloper, which gives you control over a signal's attack and decay sections. Its main controls are gain sliders for attack and release. Lowering the release value reduces a track's audible reverb tail or room ambience. When I tested it on a drum track printed with a healthy amount of reverb, I was able to make the track sound almost completely dry. Raising the attack gain heightens the percussiveness of the audio's attack, but this effect sounds realistic only with subtle settings.
The Auto Filter plug-in conjures up filter sweeps and other synthlike effects. I was easily able to transform an acoustic guitar track into a wah-tinged synth sound. Sound designers will have great fun with this one.
Compressor was a bit disappointing. Although it's functional and offers plenty of features, it isn't as sonically pleasing as some of the other plug-ins and can even sound harsh.
For the most part, though, the plug-ins that come with Logic Audio are of high quality and cover all the important bases. My biggest complaint is that they don't have many presets, especially compared with what some of their competitors offer.
Another major improvement to version 4 is support for 24-bit, 96 kHz recording and playback. The program can also now handle up to 64 audio tracks-either stereo or mono-for each sound card installed in your computer. (Logic Audio Platinum supports the use of multiple audio cards, but beware: you'll need a lot of RAM to take advantage of this capability.)
Another noteworthy addition is the ability to record on multiple MIDI tracks. Two options are available: Split mode and Layer mode. In Split mode, incoming MIDI data is sent to its corresponding MIDI channel. This works well for recording several MIDI instruments, each to its own track. Layer mode is good for recording a single part to multiple instruments, because incoming data is sent to all record-enabled MIDI channels.
Also new is the program's ability to open up to nine recent songs directly from the File menu. When you're in a hurry to open a recent composition and you don't feel like searching through your hard drive for it, this is a handy feature.
Logic Audio Environment tweakers will be glad to discover a new feature called Macro Objects. This function allows the grouping of up to 100 Environment Objects.
I should also mention that the user manual has undergone another revision and is now more than 850 pages long. It's generally well written, contains lots of information, and has a decent index. Nonetheless, for all of the manual's detail, information about certain topics (such as the aforementioned Groove Machine) is maddeningly scant.
THE LOGICAL CONCLUSION
Logic Audio Platinum was already a powerhouse digital audio sequencer. With the release of version 4, Emagic made it even better. The plug-ins alone are more than worth the cost of the upgrade; the new look makes a cool program even cooler; and with its cleaner, simpler menu structure, Logic Audio is more user-friendly than ever.
Of course, there's always room for improvement. My wish list includes a more consistent manual, an improved compressor plug-in, more presets for the plug-ins, and an integrated conductor track that controls both meter and tempo.
Those are small points, however, and overall this is one impressive product. Between its real-time, nondestructive MIDI editing; its flawless and smooth handling of audio; and its comprehensive mixing features, Logic Audio Platinum is an amazingly powerful piece of software. And the more you use it, the better it gets.
Mike Levine is an associate editor for EM and the editor of Onstage, EM's new live-performance quarterly. When he's not buried in his word processor, he also composes music for commercials.
Although Logic Audio Platinum is Emagic's flagship sequencer, the company offers three other lower-priced sequencers with varying feature sets. All offer real-time, nondestructive quantization.
Next in line after Logic Audio Platinum is Logic Audio Gold ($499), which has all the same MIDI features as the Platinum version but is a bit slimmed down in the audio department. It has no 24-bit audio support and no TDM support, it supports only dual sound cards, and it comes with fewer plug-ins.
One step lower on the ladder is Logic Audio Silver ($299). It has many of the higher versions' key features, including all of the MIDI editors (score, Hyper, Matrix Edit, and Event) and several of the audio plug-ins.
On the entry level, Micrologic AV ($99) is a powerful sequencer for the money, but it has a smaller plug-in set and fewer audio features than its cousins.