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GarageBand 2

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In early 2004, Steve Jobs enthusiastically unveiled GarageBand, a program that gave even musical novices the power to fashion dynamic soundtracks. But as marvelous as GarageBand was, some users were frustrated by the program’s limitations.

Apple has addressed many of the problems with the original release and added some new features that make GarageBand even more musical. Although some features are implemented better than others, GarageBand 2 is a commendable upgrade.

New, Improved, and Needing Improvement

GarageBand 2 takes some of the burden off your processor by allowing you to lock tracks. When you lock a track, it’s rendered to your hard drive, freeing the processor to devote its attention to other things—like playing and recording more tracks.

GarageBand 2 can simultaneously record as many as eight digital-audio tracks and one Software Instrument track. In my tests with Mark of the Unicorn’s 828mkII audio interface running on a 1.25GHz PowerBook G4, it did just that with nary a hiccup. Musicians who want to record multiple instruments and voices at the same time, will find this feature a real boon.

Inputting music for Software Instrument tracks is now easier, thanks to the new Musical Typing feature—a window that lets you “play” your Mac’s keyboard by pressing keys that correspond to musical pitches. Unlike other on-screen keyboards I’ve used, this one is responsive and even lets you play chords without an annoying delay.

You can now drag multitrack Stan-dard MIDI Files into the program, where they’re split into separate tracks (bass tracks continue to import an octave too low, however). Regrettably, you still can’t export MIDI files from GarageBand, though Apple’s Logic Express and Logic Audio can open GarageBand files. As with the original GarageBand, you can export your mixed songs as AIFF files.

Other promising features that could use just a touch more refinement are GarageBand’s new track-notation view and pitch-shifting functions. The notation view errs on the side of producing legible scores at the expense of rhythmic accuracy—it missed a few triplets and dotted rhythms in my tests. And you can neither change meters and key signatures in these scores nor print the scores. Amateur musicians will appreciate the resulting scores’ clarity, but pros needing more notation capabilities should look to Logic Express, Mark of the Unicorn’s Digital Performer, or Steinberg’s Cubase.

GarageBand’s ability to shift the pitch of digital audio tracks is welcome, but once you move a track more than a major second up or down the scale, lowered tracks sound wobbly and raised tracks sound increasingly chipmunk-like as you move farther away from the original pitch.

On the other hand, Enhance Tuning—a feature that pulls slightly out-of-tune audio tracks back into tune—is a marvel. Applying a medium amount of the effect noticeably improved my less-than-spot-on vocal tracks.

Macworld’s Buying Advice

Apple has released an admirable update to an already remarkable music application. Although a very few rough edges remain, musicians of all skill levels will find GarageBand 2 worth the price of admission.

With GarageBand 2’s new Musical Typing feature, you can use your Mac’s keyboard to play notes—and chords.
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