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Logic Studio

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Digital audio workstations (DAWs) have to do a lot: they typically record, mix, and edit audio, host instruments and effects, record and edit MIDI, arrange music, score videos, print notation, slice and stretch sound loops, and even provide programmable drum machines, acoustical simulators, and surround sound. It’s easy to get immersed in all those features and lose track of actually making music. With new features constantly being added, is anyone cleaning house? Apple is. With Logic Studio, Apple has transformed Logic from a deep but difficult program into one of the most streamlined and elegant music environments of its kind.

Like Logic Pro 7 (   ), Logic Studio (with Logic Pro 8 as the core application) bundles the main sequencer/editor with powerful music and audio tools. It’s packed with the same extensive lineup of audio effects and sound tools that were found in previous versions, including a guitar amp simulator and realistic reverb, organs and keyboards, various synthesizers, the Ultrabeat drum machine, the Sculpture instrument, the EXS24 mkII sampler, and even a CD authoring and mastering utility called WaveBurner. That, arguably, was more tools than any other single package. But Logic Studio now adds a hard drive-busting collection of Apple’s music beds, Jam Packs, sound effects, and other content; the Soundtrack Pro audio editor (   ); and a new application called MainStage. To describe the new bundled apps and the breadth of the package in general, Apple has changed the package name to Logic Studio (the Logic Pro app retains the old moniker).

In a move likely to please users, Apple has also done away with the hardware dongle, the small USB key that was required to operate the program; now only a serial number is needed when you first install the application. But the big difference in Logic may be not how much is in the package, but how easy it is to access those tools.

New look, new view

Logic Pro 8, the heart of the studio, has undergone an extensive interface redesign. There are cosmetic improvements throughout, but this isn’t just a skin-deep upgrade: entire editing facilities have been streamlined or replaced, and a lot of Logic’s strange terminology has been translated into standardized language. That may sound like bad news to existing users, but remarkably, Apple has managed to avoid sacrificing the application’s core structure and functionality. Even long-time users may find themselves discovering existing features, simply because they’re easier to access. Most importantly, this means you’ll be making music when you launch, not half an hour later.

The most profound change in Logic Pro 8 is an entirely new Arrange window, a one-screen display of all the major recording, editing, mixing, and file and setting management features of Logic. You can still open separate windows if you like, but you now have access to most of the functionality of the program without worrying about switching views or dragging windows around. Tabs at the bottom of the screen expand editing panes for mixing, editing audio files, and viewing and editing MIDI information in Piano Roll, Score, or graphical views. A tabbed pane on the right provides access to the Audio Bin, Loop Browser, the file and project browser, and a Library pane for navigating presets for channel strips, instruments, effects, and other features.

There’s a GarageBand-style template wizard, but you may not need it. Choose a blank template, and you can set up everything from simple to complex mix setups with just a few clicks. As each track is added, Logic automatically displays appropriate channel presets in the Library, so you can discover the program’s deep set of sound tools and instruments, or get quick access to your own favorite settings. Basic instrument creation wasn’t too difficult in Logic Pro 7, but using aux send channels (for effects and other processing) and ReWire (for integrating other applications, like Ableton Live [   ] or Propellerhead’s Reason [   ]) has never been easier. Logic can now sync the Library with your other Macs or collaborators, using .Mac or Bonjour, a first for this kind of application.

Logic Pro 8 maintains the Environment, an under-the-hood facility for creating custom, modular audio and MIDI setups. But you no longer have to use the Environment to perform simple mixing and configuration tasks that are handled more efficiently by a standard interface.

Takes and editing

It’s not just the interface that’s different in Logic: Apple has reworked its editing features as well. You can now perform sample-accurate edits in the main Arrange window, with adjusted Snap tools and a reworked Bar Ruler to assist everything from audio edits to automation. New punch and multi-take facilities make recording audio and MIDI much easier, as well. You can easily merge multiple MIDI or audio sessions into a take; the interface is actually better integrated than the similar feature in Soundtrack Pro. Other Snap improvements, plus a new Junction facility for adjacent clips, make editing more precise.

Logic is deep, but there are still some odd imbalances absent in other DAWs. Aside from basic, non-destructive quantize (for tightening timing of MIDI tracks), there’s no arpeggiator or real-time, non-destructive MIDI editing available unless you dive into the Environment. While the Transform window is capable of some powerful operations, it’s tricky to use and performs only destructive edits.

The Menu structure will look familiar to old Logic users, but it can sometimes be confusing to newcomers. While there’s a Sample Editor accessible from the Arrange window, it’s the same audio editor from previous Logic versions; Logic lacks the slick in-line editor available in Soundtrack Pro. Editing overall is very efficient, and the integration of the Arrange window balances out some of these shortcomings, but hopefully Apple will address MIDI editing in a future version as comprehensively as it has audio and mixing.

Stage-ready rigs

If you want to play Logic’s instruments and effects live onstage, you’ll love MainStage, an application for hosting custom virtual racks of instruments and effects that’s especially suited to keyboardists, guitarists, vocalists, and other musicians. Instead of working with Logic Pro onstage, this separate tool allows you to set up custom rigs for live use. As with the OnStage feature in Rax 2.0 (   ), there’s a full-screen mode that you can view without hunching over your monitor, with shortcuts for switching sounds via the keyboard, MIDI, or an Apple Remote. You can use preset screen layouts and channel strips or build your own.

Channels support effects and instruments from Logic Pro and Audio Unit plug-ins. All of these features are perfectly geared for performance. Guitarists can bring up a full-screen tuner and easily tap through effects units; keyboardists can set up sophisticated splits and layers and switch and sculpt sounds. You can move from one preset to another with silky-smooth, no-glitch segues, even if you’re holding down notes as you do so. That’s something a lot of DAWs can’t do. Combined with the collection of instruments and effects already in Logic, it’s a great bargain.

If you just want a way to play instruments and effects, MainStage could be perfect. But it does have some limitations. There’s inadequate functionality for people wanting to play backing tracks; you can use AppleScripts to trigger songs, but that requires a lot of manual setup, and won’t allow automatic synchronization of tempo-dependent effects and instruments, or jumping around within a song. There’s no ReWire support, which means that you can’t use it with other software tools, and you can’t really integrate it with Logic projects beyond simple presets, either. And Apple didn’t pick up on some of Rax’s clever features, like displaying lyrics and notes for different songs.

More advanced users may want to consider tools like Ableton Live for their interactive clip-triggering features, or Native Instruments’ KORE for a more sophisticated rack of instruments and effects with ReWire support. For everyone else, the depth of the instrument and effect set here, combined with an elegant interface for configuring and accessing those tools, makes MainStage a strong choice.

Surrounded by Studio improvements

There are too many improvements in Logic Studio to mention, and rather than being “me-too” features or bug fixes, they really do seem part of a clearly defined strategy to refine the application. The surround features, drawing from the work done on Soundtrack Pro, make production for surround sound far more powerful. Surround tools are integrated throughout the app, in file import, recording, bouncing (including direct bounce to DVD-A), mixing and metering, channel strips, an intuitive new Surround Panner, and integrated encoding via Apple’s Compressor. Many instruments and effects also get the Surround treatment, which is especially fun when working with the ES2 and Sculpture synths, Space Designer reverb, and new Delay Designer multi-tap delay.

While the instruments at first appear to be identical to those in Logic Pro 7, there are many smaller improvements, as well. The EXS24 mkII finally has a usable instrument editor; it’s bare-bones in comparison to standalone samplers like Native Instruments’ Kontakt, but it does make the EXS24 easier to edit. The Ultrabeat drum machine, while it retains its unusual interface, has a new full-view sequencer grid and step automation, plus support for EXS24 samples, making it far more useful. Lastly, while the Delay Designer is also present in Soundtrack Pro, it really shines here; it’s an extraordinary tool for creating multi-tap or custom delays that can change pitch and volume for all sorts of unique effects, from basic to far-out sound.

Logic Express

Logic Express 8 is Apple’s budget version of Logic Studio (for $199), and just as Logic Studio adds additional tools that Logic Pro didn’t have, Logic Express 8 also has more out of the box than earlier versions. The Logic Express application has the same single-window design, editing and recording, video playback and scoring, music notation, and mobile sync features as Logic Pro. It also includes more instruments and effects than the previous release, with the full-blown EXS24 sampler, ES2 and EFM1 synths, Ultrabeat drum machine, and Guitar Amp Pro amp modeler, along with most of the effects included with Logic Studio.

What you’ll miss are Logic Pro’s surround capabilities and some of its more sophisticated tools, like the Sculpture synth and Space Designer and Delay Designer effects. More importantly, you won’t get any of Logic Studio’s bundled items, like the Jam Packs, MainStage performance app, Soundtrack Pro audio editor, and WaveBurner burning and mastering tool. If the main draw of Logic is the editing facility and you don’t need all of those extras, or if you’re on a budget, Express is a solid choice. But with Logic Pro at half its original price, the Studio upgrade may be worth it—especially if you want to work with surround sound or play live onstage.

Macworld’s buying advice

Logic Studio is extremely effective at providing an extensive tool kit and then getting out of your creative way. There are still some dated MIDI editing tools, and MainStage’s lack of integration with Logic or ReWire restricts its use to some users. But the streamlined, fewer clicks-to-music philosophy throughout, combined with more precise tools for audio editing and surround, make this a landmark release. Logic Pro 7 already had more in one box than other sound composition tools; now it has still more with a 50 percent price reduction. But ultimately, having more isn’t nearly as important as being more playable, and that’s what Logic 8 does most successfully.

[ Peter Kirn is a media artist and educator based in New York. He runs the online music tech blog and community Create Digital Music. ]

Logic Pro 8’s all-new Arrange window lets you avoid window-shuffling for tasks. Because there’s a consistent interface for channel presets in the Library pane, getting at commonly used settings is easier.MainStage is a new tool for live performances. It lets you leave the main Logic application behind and focus on playing instruments and effects. Under the hood, sound transitions occur more smoothly than they might within a full host, while on the surface, the display is resized so you can see it easily from a few feet away while you play an instrument or sing.
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