Review: Logic Pro X loses none of its power, gains great new features

At a Glance
  • Apple Logic Pro X

    Macworld Rating

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Get more realistic drum tracks with the aptly named Drummer track (click to enlarge).

You can also choose which drums will and won’t be used in the track. For example, if you hate cymbals, just click them in the representation of the kit, and they disappear. You can also adjust fill and swing controls, adding more or less of each with the turn of a virtual dial.

But there’s still more. Click on the drummer’s kit, and you can not only change the kind of kit he uses, but swap out his bass drum and/or snare for a different style of drum—a bright pancake snare instead of a deeper snare, say. And for each drum and cymbal you have the option to adjust its gain, dampening level, and tuning.

You can also enable a Follow option that tells your virtual drummer to examine the other tracks and try to get a feel for its part based on what else is playing in the song. What I’ve heard so far from the drummer track is pretty remarkable—it sounds like a real drummer rather than a loop.

The virtual drummers are also capable of playing in time signatures other than 4/4. Thinking I’d trick the drummers, I demanded that they play in 5/4. They did. I also tried 3/4, 6/8, and 12/8, and they dutifully beat out the appropriate rhythms. I then created a track that played a measure of 7/8, two measures of 4/4, three measures of 3/4, and then a measure of 6/8. Unlike any drummer I’ve ever played with, this one didn’t stumble once. Clever, these Apple engineers.

More flexible

With Logic Pro 9 Apple introduced Flex Time, a feature for subtly adjusting the timing of where specific notes fall. If, for example, a kick drum plays a little before the beat, you can shift it over to fall on the beat. Now, what Logic Pro 9 did for timing, Logic Pro X does for pitch with its new Flex Pitch feature.

Suppose you have a singer who’s largely nailed a part, but a few notes are slightly sharp or flat. In the past you could use a pitch correction effect to try to knock them into line, but Flex Pitch takes a different approach. For a monophonic track (meaning only one note sounds at a time), Logic can display bars indicating how “in tune” a note is. Notes in tune will display a solid bar. If a note’s flat or sharp, the bar is partly full, with the direction of the empty space indicating whether it’s sharp or flat. You can then gently drag the bar up or down to fill it and bring the pitch into tune. You can also make more radical adjustments and change the note entirely—drag it down a fifth, for example—to change the melody. Obviously this sounds more natural when notes are separated as they would be on an instrument track, versus a vocal track where the singer slides from one pitch to another.

If you find dragging a drag, just play the note you want on your MIDI keyboard to move it. Additionally, you can ask Logic to analyze the pitches in a track like this and extract its notes as MIDI data, which is a cool idea if you want to easily double a vocal part with an instrument.

New and improved instruments

If you long for the analog age when Moog, Sequential Circuits, Yamaha, Waldorf, and Oberheim ruled the roost, Logic Pro X has you covered with its new Retro Synth instrument. This instrument models analog, wavetable, and FM synthesizers from years past and contains the oscillators, filters, amps, and effects you’d expect. With the click of a Settings button you can tune and transpose the instrument and determine how it will behave with your controller’s mod wheel, aftertouch, and velocity. I’ve heard enough Yamaha DX7 FM patches to last me a lifetime, but for someone who hasn’t experienced the real thing (or, more realistically, doesn’t already own the real thing or their virtual-instrument counterparts), the Retro Synth is a great addition.

Long for the sounds your dad used back in the day? Try the Vintage Synth instrument (click to enlarge).

Logic Pro X includes new versions of its Vintage B3, Vintage Electric Piano, and Vintage Clav plug-ins. The B3, in particular (modeled after the classic Hammond B3 organ), is wonderful. Not only will you find the expected drawbars, vibrato, and percussion switches, but you can make a load of adjustments to the rotor cabinet (Leslie) effect, including the motor’s rate and acceleration, mic placement (front or rear), and the balance between the rotating top speaker and the larger speaker at the bottom of the cabinet. If you like, you can even “age” your B3 by adjusting a series of Condition sliders. Somebody at Apple clearly has an abiding love for these old organs.

The additions to the redesigned Vintage B3 instrument are impressive (click to enlarge).

While the Vintage Electric Piano doesn’t have quite as many controls as the B3, it has plenty of knobs to twiddle. As someone who played a Fender Rhodes for years, I appreciate not only the tone controls but also the included Chorus, Phaser, and Tremolo effects, which, back in the day, required the purchase of a string of stompboxes.

Guitar players haven’t been left out entirely. They get seven new stompboxes—Tie Die Delay (a reverse delay), Tube Burner (overdrive), Wham (when your guitar’s whammy bar isn’t enough), Grit (distortion), Dr. Octave (doubles the pitch an octave down), Flange Factory (a flanger), and Graphic EQ.

Apple has also redesigned the sound library with 1500 instrument and effect patches, 800 sampled instruments, 30 urban and electronic drum machines, and 3600 Apple loops. You can also download the old Logic Pro sound library along with Apple’s Jam Pack collection from within the application for free.

Logic Remote

One of the difficulties I have working with an application like this is that my keyboard rig is 90 degrees away from my computer desk. This means that when I want to adjust something in the DAW, I have to swivel my chair about and perhaps lose the flow of what I was playing. Apple has a solution in the form of the free Logic Remote iPad app.

Logic Remote puts a virtual control surface on your iPad. As long as your Mac’s running Logic Pro X and it and your iPad are on the same Wi-Fi network, you can control the most important parts of Logic remotely. This includes not only transport controls but also a mixer, complete with fader, pan, record, animation, and mute and solo controls. If you’ve used GarageBand on an iPad, you’ll be familiar with this interface, as it pulls many elements directly from that app.

Logic Remote lets you control many of Logic's most important features from across the studio (click to enlarge).

You additionally have the ability to pull up a music controller—a keyboard, drum pad, drum kit, chord strummer, or fret board. With the controller comes many smart controls attached to an instrument—tone controls for an acoustic guitar, for example. These controllers can appear in context—you’ll see a fretboard if you’ve chosen a guitar, for example, or both drum pads and a virtual kit if you’ve selected a drum kit. But you can choose any controller you like. This is helpful for me as I don’t play guitar and therefore don’t know which frets and strings correspond to a particular note. Instead, I just use a keyboard for playing single note parts or the chord strummer to play a guitar track’s rhythm parts.

Just one of a handful of controllers available within Logic Remote (click to enlarge).

You can also use Logic Remote to create a new track (audio, software instrument, drummer, or external MIDI track), choose instruments from the library, initiate the arpeggiator, and jump between markers. You’ll also find an area for initiating key commands by tapping on the iPad. And if you need some assistance, just tap the Smart Help button to access Logic’s electronic manual (good for bedtime reading). What you can’t do is edit existing tracks or see an overview of your project. For these things you’ll need to return to your computer.

Obviously, I prefer a real keyboard with a sustain pedal over the keyboard offered by Logic Remote, but for making simple adjustments (or playing drum parts), it’s very handy. Plus, I haven’t found latency to be an issue. Tap on the iPad and you hear the notes without delay. I did find, on a couple of occasions when switching between projects, that Logic Remote failed to make the switch as well. Restarting the app fixed the problem.

Logic Remote requires an iPad 2 or later (or an iPad mini) running iOS 6 or later. And it works only with Logic Pro X.

Bottom line

That’s lot of great new features (added to an already impressive set of existing features) at a price that even starving musicians can afford. But features aside, who is Logic Pro X for? It’s hard to imagine a musician or producer who won’t benefit from it. Thanks to its easier-to-use interface, it becomes a viable next step for GarageBand users. Those seeking drum tracks that sound like the real thing rather than loops will be impressed by Logic’s Drummer tracks. Bass players not entirely committed to their hardware rigs (or who can’t lug them around everywhere they hope to record) will appreciate having modeled amps and speakers. Keyboard players seeking traditional timbres should be thrilled with the Retro Synth and B3 instruments. Producers and engineers are already well aware of Logic’s depth and attractions. They simply get more expansive with this release. And everyone with an iPad should be happy with the convenience wrought by Logic Remote.

In short, unless you’re already committed to another DAW or aren’t entirely dependent on 32-bit plug-ins, you should plunk down the measly 200 bucks Apple asks for it. It’s an amazing piece of work.

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At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Cleaner, more intuitive interface
    • Smart Controls make it easier to edit common parameters
    • Stacked Tracks helpful for removing clutter, creating instruments
    • Drummer track produces more realistic drum grooves
    • Retro Synth and improved B3 attractive instrument additions
    • Logic Remote provides free and useful control surface
    • Pitch easier to adjust with Flex Pitch control

    Cons

    • No support for 32-bit plug-ins
    • No upgrade pricing
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