Almost two years to the day after Apple released the beta of its Unix-based operating system, Emagic (now owned by Apple) introduced Logic Platinum 5.3 for Mac OS X, the first professional digital-audio-production application to work in the new OS. Of Logic’s chief competitors — Digidesign’s Pro Tools, MOTU’s Digital Performer, and Steinberg’s Cubase — only Cubase was OS X native at press time. The other two products should be OS X native by the fourth quarter of 2002.
The OS X-native Logic (available as an update on Emagic’s Web site) is great news for the Mac and gives Logic users temporary bragging rights, but it’s still gearing up for prime time. Emagic’s subsequent release of an OS 9 version ensures that longtime Mac users — and those switching from Windows — will have a rich, full-featured production environment to work with as they migrate to OS X. (Although Emagic hasn’t made any announcements regarding further OS 9 development, it seems inevitable that the company will concentrate on moving to the new platform.) And you can move files easily between the two versions, which are similar except for some OS X-specific issues.
More Power, New Gear
Logic Platinum 5.3, the fifth update to a massive 5.0 upgrade released in February 2002, adds minor tweaks and bug fixes to a host of new features. A key to its power is the addition of AltiVec-based DSP optimization, which means that you can work with more simultaneous tracks and plug-ins on G4-based machines than you can on other Macs. Logic’s Audio Engine also has been significantly beefed up and can now handle 128 audio channels, with 64 auxiliary channels for 128 stereo tracks; 15 inserts per track and bus; and 64 buses — enough signal-routing control to satisfy even a seasoned studio professional.
New timesaving features include the ability to control real-time track-based automation within Logic’s main Arrange window — the old process of moving between windows was tedious, especially as tracks stacked up — and the addition of multiple undos and redos, which can be lifesavers. Logic’s new series of plug-ins enables you to output mastering-quality recordings: two personal favorites are DeEsser, used to reduce harsh S sounds in vocals, and Multipressor, a highly customizable multiband compressor. And you can now monitor plug-ins on a track you’re recording without affecting the sound that’s captured — from a musician’s standpoint, you get to hear the sound you want, and from an editor’s or producer’s standpoint, you get a clean track for subsequent processing. This is invaluable.
One more new feature merits mention: real-time sample-rate conversion, which lets you move high-resolution audio files between your desktop and your laptop and get excellent sound on either.
While Logic Platinum 5.3 makes it easy to record your tracks, it’s a complicated program with enough power and control to allow you to express even your most complex sonic visions. You’ll begin to appreciate what the phrase tough learning curve means as you work with the menus that appear in the editing windows. Be prepared to spend some quality time with the manual and the help section to get the most from your investment.
Logic’s installation process follows the standard double-click-and-choose-your-drive-or-partition method, but it’s followed by a bout with Emagic’s latest copy-protection system, which at best is a double-edged sword. It requires going back and forth via e-mail with Emagic for your XSKey Authorization number, and it requires that you use a small USB key, or dongle, for storing the access code. Since your authorization resides in the
dongle, not in the computer, you can install Logic on any USB-enabled Mac and activate it by inserting the dongle. This is fine, but if you lose it, you’ll be not only out of a dongle but also out the $349 it costs to replace it.
After this hassle, though, it’s a pleasure to finally reach Logic’s home base, the straightforward Arrange window, where you can record audio and MIDI tracks quickly. (You can also import files — including Sound Designer II, AIFF and WAV, and standard MIDI files — that were recorded in another program.) If you’ve used a music sequencer, or even a VCR, the interface will be reassuringly familiar.
You can also record tracks in the Track Mixer window, where you can add any of Logic’s nearly 60 on-board plug-ins, either during the take or in subsequent editing, until you find the right sound. And as your track load increases, you can group tracks that you want to affect in the same way (with the same amount of reverb, for example) and apply the plug-in there; this will help reduce the load on your CPU as tracks mount up.
The release of Logic Platinum 5.3 for OS X is great news, and Logic users should download both the OS 9 and the OS X versions if they’ve moved to OS X. Emagic recommends that you install the program on the boot volume, but we ran it successfully across drives and partitions. The application didn’t crash during our testing, and it looks more attractive in Aqua. We got snappier response in OS X 10.2.1 than in 10.1.5, but track counts for both ran slightly behind OS 9’s. There’s support for Apple’s built-in Sound Input and Output and most of Emagic’s hardware, and many developers have released OS X-based drivers. (Our M-Audio Delta 1010LT audio card seamlessly routed MIDI and audio data.)
While the OS X version is fine for moderate usage, you’ll likely have to boot into OS 9 for final production. Logic for OS X is an unfinished product, missing a lot of OS and interapplication communication. And as of press time, there was no OS X-specific manual — a real pain. After an hour of frustration with Jaguar’s new Audio MIDI Setup utility, a quick call to Emagic’s excellent tech support revealed that it isn’t supported yet. (It should be noted that Apple doesn’t include a help section for the utility, either.)
Unsupported formats and protocols in version 5.3 include Rewire import and export, Rex import and export, OMF (Open Media Framework), OpenTL, and Apple’s own Audio Units technology for using plug-ins and soft synths in OS X, but the real kicker is the lack of VST support.
Many people who create digital music have more money invested in VST tools than in a music sequencer, and they’re watching the market for VST plug-ins closely. Emagic has promised to release a free library that will enable VST developers to quickly and easily port their products to Apple’s format. This would be great because Audio Units promises systemwide plug and play for products from different manufacturers, which means greater performance capability for you. (Emagic released Logic Platinum 5.4 exclusively for OS X 10.2 at press time. We were able to check this version and confirm that it worked with Audio Units and Rex file import. We also found a bug; Logic 5.4 would hang while recognizing the MIDI hardware each time we relaunched the program. Emagic’s tech support suggested that this was due to a problem with Jaguar’s Core MIDI technology, and they told us to reinstall our audio-card drivers. We did, but to no avail.)
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Logic Platinum 5.3 offers a comprehensive set of tools for digital-audio production, and it’s very stable. If you currently use Logic, version 5.3 is a must-have upgrade, and the program is a worthy, if complex, choice for those new to music sequencing. But if you use a competing product, you may want to wait for the verdict on its OS X-native version before you decide to switch to Logic.