Apple Logic Studio Mac Daddy
Thu, 1 Oct 2009
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1009 Logic Studio Main

HANDS-ON [Click above for larger, annotated image.]

1. Click here to activate Flex View, which lets you see the Flex edits you make. Even with Flex View turned off, you can still move audio like putty using the Flex Tool.
2. Set the Flex mode for each track by choosing the mode from this contextual menu; you can disable Flex Time for individual regions if you like.
3. In this comping session, we’ve deactivated Quick Swipe by clicking on this icon; all takes are now ready for editing.
4. Move this individual note by dragging on the automatically- set handles.
5. The Varispeed function shows up as this button on the transport.
6. To control Varispeed, drag up or down on this display.
7. This vocal track was selected and then “converted to sampler instrument.”
8. These are the REX-like MIDI files corresponding to the new sampler instrument slices of the vocal.
9. Here’s the vocal track loaded into EXS24, and the edit window, where you control keymapping, pitch, and reverse playback of each slice.
10. The Notes tool lets you write notes for the entire project and for each track.

NEED TO KNOW

Do the new features really make this a “left-of-decimal” update? In the case of MainStage 2, absolutely. Though Logic Pro 9 isn’t that different visually, Flex Time, improved comping, and drum replacement are just some of the robust new features under the hood.
How guitar-centric are the guitar amps, tab, and chord symbols? Very; the amps and effects will please all but the most severe tone freaks. Bass players will feel left out, as there are no new bass amp models. Keyboardists will love the amps and Pedalboard, though.
How does Flex Time compare to other DAWs’ audio stretching? Sound quality-wise, it’s on par with the best such tools in the industry. For ease of use, it’s tops.
Can I control an external MIDI stage rig with MainStage 2? Absolutely. Multiple interfaces. Multiple racks. Go for it.
Is Soundtrack Pro 3 a big improvement over version 2? If you do sound for picture, the enhanced noise reduction, time stretch, and surround tools will make your life easier.

PROS

Flex Time and Varispeed improve the editing and creation process. Amp Designer and Pedalboard add very high-quality guitar amp and stompbox modeling. MainStage’s MIDI out and other new features kick ass. STP’s kinks are ironed out, and it’s better for sound-to-picture. As with first Logic Studio release, bang-for-buck is tremendous.

CONS

As of press time, some Looper and Playback features in MainStage are a little buggy. As in previous versions, performance meter doesn’t always give fair warning of impending audio engine errors on big projects.

INFO

$499; $199 upgrade from previous Logic Pro/Studio versions; $299 upgrade from Logic Express, apple.com

by Dominic Milano and Ernie Rideout

Apple has done a fantastic job of surprising us with Logic’s previous “left of decimal” releases. Logic Pro 7 introduced a bunch of amazing virtual instruments and a decidedly improved user interface. Version 8 (reviewed Jan. ’08) included every plug-in and Jam Pack, plus the sound-to-picture app Soundtrack Pro and the groundbreaking MainStage — all at half the price of what Logic Pro used to cost by itself. The surprise this time was the release itself: Unexpected whole-number versions of Logic Pro, MainStage, and Soundtrack.

Many new features are deep-in-themenus enhancements that improve workflow. Some are in-your-face, such as the powerhouse of audio editing features collectively known as Flex Time, and the ultracool Amp Designer, Pedalboard, Playback, and Loopback plug-ins. Others improve professional utility, such as the addition of MIDI output to MainStage.

There are no substantial user interface changes, and other than new templates for new projects, no new shortcuts to the depth that gives Logic much of its musical power even as it may intimidate the uninitiated. You still get all the virtual instruments and effects, the tons of loops, the notation editor, and, yes, one of the most powerful audio production programs in the world. Instead of the huge printed manual, a searchable, HTML-based quicklink system is built in to the Help menu. Former Keyboard editors in chief Dominic Milano and Ernie Rideout dove in to see how all the new stuff impacts the way you make music.

WHAT’S IN THE BOX?

This is a non-trivial question. A completely clean install takes up about 47GB. Before you cry “bloatware,” remember what Logic Studio encompasses: five standalone apps (Logic Pro 9, MainStage 2, Sountrack Pro 3, WaveBurner 1.6, and Compressor 3.5), a couple of cool utilities, all of Apple’s Jam Packs (over 20,000 loops), 80 effects plug-ins, about 1,700 sampled instruments, and 40 virtual instruments. Fortunately, you can put much of the included content on an external hard drive; the apps that need to live on the same drive as the OS take up about 17GB. On our main test machine — a new 15" MacBook Pro with a 3.06GHz Core 2 Duo processor and 7200rpm hard drive — a full installation took a few hours but was otherwise painless.

NEW AUDIO FEATURES IN LOGIC 9

Flex Time. This is actually a group of features, and one of the most talked-about new perks. These include Flex editing, the Flex Tool, Audio Quantize, and multiple tempo tools: Varispeed, Speed Fades, and Tempo Import/Export. You select a Flex mode from the contextual menu (different modes for different audio material) under the track name. When using the Flex Tool or clicking in the lower portion of the waveform display in Flex View, Flex markers are added automatically at the nearest transient. You can also manually place markers. Transients generally occur at the beginning of drum hits, notes, or words in a vocal line. Markers define the area that will be affected by a Flex edit. Dragging a marker expands/contracts the audio between it and the nearest or adjacent marker — audio beyond the nearest marker is unaffected. This lets you do all sorts of fun things. For instance, you can change the length of words or phrases in recorded vocals by dragging the beginning and end points of the automaticallymarked waveform; you can also give a vocal line an entirely different rhythm that still sounds natural. Also, you can manually line up tracks that were played slightly out of time. The Flex features can also automatically quantize one or more audio tracks utilizing the full range of Logic’s MIDI quantize levels, add varying degrees of swing, extract a groove template from one or more tracks, and more. There’s even a “tempophone” function (Speed Mode) if you want to sound like you’re changing the playback speed (and pitch) on a turntable or tape recorder. Flex Time works well and it’s way cool. All that’s missing now is a Flex Pitch mode, a la the polyphonic version of Melodyne.

Varispeed. This lets you convince your friends you can play faster than Jordan Rudess by recording at whatever percentage of full speed you choose, then playing back at normal speed. While recording, playback is slowed but pitch is unchanged. You first have to add Varispeed to the transport bar: Controlclick the transport bar, and choose “Customize Transport Bar.” Once the “-/+” button appears, engaging it gives you a “Speed Only” section of the transport with a percentage you can change by dragging. Slick.

Quick Swipe. This was introduced in Logic 8 as a way to comp multiple takes together quickly. It was brilliant, except for one problem: You could slice and select from among as many takes as you wanted to create your ideal comp at the top of the take bin — but you couldn’t edit any of the audio until after you had exported the comp to a new track. That meant you couldn’t move a single word in an otherwise perfect vocal composite just to see if it worked better. In Logic 9, you can disable Quick Swipe mode once you’ve created a comp, and doing so makes all of your takes editable with the usual audio tools — and with the new Flex tools, too! This means you can move a word in, say, take 22, and the change will be reflected in your comp. This is a huge improvement.

AMP DESIGNER AND PEDALBOARD

Logic 7 gave you Guitar Amp Pro, with its configurable heads, cabinets, and mic placement. Now, the Amp Designer plug-in is billed as a guitarist’s dream — 25 classic heads, 25 cabinets, 10 classic reverbs, three mics, all lovingly rendered with amazing graphics — but it’s also a boon for us keyboard players (see Figure 1 below). Used in conjunction with the 30 coolsounding and groovy-looking pedals in the new Pedalboard plug-in (see Figure 2 below), you’ve got physical models of just about every guitar amp and stompbox known. Routing whatever you can think of, even a Roland V-Piano, through a crankedup, modeled amp will produce interesting sounds. Really — we tried honky-tonk VPiano into a slightly distorted brown-face “Fender” with moderate tremolo, and it was perfect for a Beatles-esque track. Putting a virtual (or real) Wurly, Rhodes, ARP String Ensemble, Minimoog, or Hammond through a bunch of stompboxes yields everything from classic tones to experimental bliss. The blogosphere has complained that some of the amps are noisy (when they’re cranked up, they are), but hey, so are real guitar amps when turned up.

1009 Logic Studio Amp Designer

Fig. 1. Amp models are faithful and detailed; so are the graphics. Most guitarists will recognize the sound, but even the Logic logo treatment on each of the 25 models gives a huge clue as to the real amp that was modeled. You can mix and match heads and cabinets, and choose and position the virtual mic model.

1009 Logic Studio Pedalboard

Fig. 2. Been wanting to run EVB3 through multiple Leslie sims? With Pedalboard, now you can. We cranked drive on these to nail that "Keith Emerson's Wall of Leslies" tone. Drag and drop from the collection of groovy stompboxes on the right to build your virtual pedalboard on the left. Click the arrow in the lower left corner to open Macro Assignments, which let you control your virtual pedals with physical ones.

Pedalboard is more fun when you use real pedals to control its virtual effects. You can assign Macros to control pedal parameters. Open up the Macro window by clicking on the triangle in the lower left of the window, and select which effect parameter you want to control. You can also assign a physical controller using Learn Mode; command-click on a screen parameter, and the Controller Assignments dialog appears. Wiggle your control, and it automatically makes the connection. We had some challenges setting up an expression pedal to control a wah effect using Learn Mode; when it didn’t work right off the bat, we were flummoxed by parameters in the Controller Assignments such as Format, for which the choices are “unsigned,” “2’s complement,” and “sign magnitude,” as well as a Mode choice that offered “scaled,” “direct,” “X-OR,” and other such engineerspeak. Fortunately, using the Macro window avoids all this, making things much easier.

So, how do the models sound? Dominic loved Spin Box, a cool Leslie simulator that you can instantiate multiple times. As he puts it, “In the real world, there’s something magical about running a Hammond through a guitar amp plus a Leslie or two. EVB3 [Logic’s organ] gets nice and growly through a couple of Spin Boxes and the Small Tweed amp with a Vintage Brit 4 x 12 cabinet. I just wish a single switch could toggle rotor speeds on multiple Spin Boxes.”

“Running the EVP88 [Logic’s electric piano] through a Blackface amp with the spring reverb setting is amazing,” says Ernie. “It really has a convincing spring sound and amp warmth; it reminded me of my Rhodes through my old Fender Twin.” Bottom line: The Amp Designer amp and cabinet models are super-convincing. They respond very musically and naturally to guitar, keyboard, and soft synth audio. Overall, they’re the equal of any other amp models available.

WORKFLOW

In Logic 9, new features take the tedium out of mundane tasks and make life easier. Selective Track Import, for example, imports portions of projects from the Media Browser. Say you’ve got a favorite drum setup and want to use its channel strip configuration in new project. In the Browser, opening the project that includes your drum setup gives you options for importing individual channel strips; the entire kit’s channel strips; one, some, or all track contents; plug-ins, sends, and I/O setups; and automation data. This is also handy for moving audio tracks between sessions recorded at different times, say, when you prefer the groove the rhythm section recorded yesterday. When you import this way, track content naturally retains its position relative to the first beat of the first bar. We do wish there was an “import at play head” option, as this would save you time jockeying tracks around to assemble tunes one section at a time.

Drum Replacer, located in the Track menu of the Arrange window, is another new feature, and an alternative to the dedicated replacers rounded up on page 50. It lets you replace or double recorded drum parts with sounds from an extensive sample library that opens up in the Media Browser. Because the trigger threshold is variable, you can, for example, double only the primary strikes, leaving buzz rolls and other fills unaltered. Settings optimized for typical snare or tomtom playing are provided. You can use Drum Replacer on other sources — for example, to lock a kick drum to a pulsing bass line. Copy and paste the bass track onto a new track, select that track, then apply Drum Replacer, set the threshold to taste, and you’ve got a new kick drum part.

You’ll find other handy additions hidden around the interface. Bounce in Place is new to the Region edit menu, and it provides a simple way to bounce a virtual track to a new audio track, without having to resort to the File menu. Convert to Sampler is found in the Audio menu in the Arrange window, and it’s really a gas: Select a region of an audio track, and it creates a program in EXS24 [Logic’s soft sampler] for you, instantiated in a track, with each transient, note, or word sliced and associated with a MIDI track. This is a blast, as it lets you edit any audio material within EXS itself, using all the EXS parameters and keymapping edit view. Among other things, this is good for some quick, REX-like slicing fun.

MAINSTAGE 2

1009 MainStage 2 w callouts

[Click above for larger, annotated image.]

1. In MainStage 2’s edit window, you can tell the new External Instrument channel strips by their huge MIDI plug icons.
2. Mainstage can now be a ReWire host. ReWire is the selected input on this channel.
3. Switch patches, and MS2 sends out program change, bank select, and all data to configure your whole rig; set this up in the MIDI output tab of the Inspector.
4. In the Patch List, cursoring up or down syncs up all program changes you’ve set for soft synths and external MIDI gear alike.
5. In the Workspace, the Loopback window is visible; working with Loopback’s plug-in interface (see Figure 3 below) is more fun.

In its first version, MainStage was a nice way to organize and map virtual instruments and effects so you could use your Mac as your sound source for live gigs. It could host Logic instrument or effect plug-ins as well as third-party AU plug-ins, but lacked MIDI output for controlling external gear.

Mainstage 2 (MS2) now has MIDI output, and can control a large, complex MIDI rig. We loaded up a MacBook Pro with a couple of MIDI interfaces, an audio interface with MIDI, and some MIDI controllers, and hooked up so many keyboards and sound modules to the various ports that it was starting to look like a Rick Wakeman gig. Using MS2, we sent program changes with MSB and LSB bank messages to all this gear. We set up ridiculous keyboard layers and splits that combined virtual and hardware synths. We created screen controls that sent different controllers to different modules at once. Every time we changed patches in MS2, it configured the whole system. It works, and kicks much ass.

All this is due to a new entity exclusive to MS2: the External Instrument Channel Strip. It works just like setting up a zone on a powerful MIDI controller keyboard: Set the output port, MIDI channel, program and bank changes, and key range, and bam — you’re controlling an external instrument. If you have spare inputs on your audio interface, you can even route the thing’s audio through the same channel strip to make it part of your MS2 mix. There’s no limit to layers, zones, or strips in a patch, other than CPU power. In practice, we made ten non-EXS soft synths work alongside the external gear without any noticeable screwiness.

MS2 lets you control your Concerts (the main project files MainStage saves), sets, and patches with multiple physical controllers — with judicious assigning, we found this to work well, with one exception. We used an Akai EWI-4000 wind controller to control a Yamaha VL-1m synth we’d layered with some virtual instruments, but pitchbend from the EWI (which is always there, as the mouthpiece and pitch plates transmit it) sounded like garbage. We alerted Apple, and found out they’re aware of the pitchbend issue and already working on a fix for the very next update. For the time being, we used MS2’s handy MIDI filters feature to screen out pitchbend info, and it sounded fine. We still wanted the bend, so we hooked the EWI directly to the VL-1m, but still had MS2 send program changes — a logical solution. However, it turns out that when you set a channel strip to receive no MIDI input (since we controlled the VL-1m directly), MS2 no longer sends anything via its corresponding MIDI out. The workaround was to create an unused MIDI object in the layout, and assign it to be the MIDI input for the channel.

Mixing and matching your real and virtual instruments and effects with this kind of control is fantastic. But MS2 has even more fun things: Playback and Loopback (see Figure 3 below). Playback lets you load an audio file, which plays back in sync with your Concert tempo. We set one up at the Concert level, then changed patches to play completely different rig configurations over different sections of the song. Very cool. We also set up four Playbacks in one patch and loaded backing horn tracks from a multitrack Logic session — looped and controlled from the keyboard, they rocked. In another patch, we loaded in full-song rhythm section parts from the same session — wow!

Loopback is an audio looper that allows multiple loops in the same patch. It can sync to the Concert tempo, or not. You can specify the loop length in advance, or let your foot- or button-taps determine the length. It has reverse, undo, and fade-out functions that make it work very much like an Echoplex. You can import audio, and you can export your loop creations. In one patch, we ran the Ultrabeat drum plug-in, some virtual keyboards, live guitar, and a live vocal into one Loopback: instant songwriting fun or one-man-band. (Tip: If you get noise when you add a mic or guitar channel in MS2, insert a Noise Gate or De-Noiser plug-in, and the hum and buzz are gone!) We then set up multiple loops in the same patch, looping synth rhythms in one and vocal overdubs in another. Yeah!

Playback and Loopback add a huge new dimension to MS2, but they’re not without issues. Playback won’t import anything from iTunes, and some audio tracks import full of digital garbage even when iTunes and other apps play them fine. It does import and add markers, but we couldn’t navigate backwards through markers to play back section 3, then 2, then 1, for example, using the marker function in Playback’s window. The workaround is to set up screen buttons in Layout mode and assign them to choose Playback’s marker locations — buttons to jump forward and backward one marker, for example. Loopback’s onscreen controls seem straightforward, but sometimes it seems to make no difference what their settings are — the loop might be at the wrong tempo or not synced with the Concert tempo. If this happens, the solution is to clear the previous loop info. Setting loop length with your own tapping is tricky: Loopback doesn’t adjust your loop points to match the tempo, and if you’re off by a tick or two, your loops will drift out of sync.

ReWire hosting is another huge addition to MS2, though there’s still no client behavior. We set up patches that mixed Logic and Reason soft synths right next to each other — awesome! We got Live tracks to flow into MS2, and though it took some doing, even mixed Ableton Live’s Looper instrument with Loopback. (Though Loopback is very good, we find Looper in Live to be the virtual loop recorder pedal to beat. It’s more powerful and super-fun to use.)

A good controller really improves the ReWire/MS2 experience; we used the M-Audio Axiom Pro 49, which constantly kept us informed with Looper function keys, MS2 synth parameters, and Reason synth parameters, all displayed on its LCD while MS2 was in ReWire mode.

1009 Apple Playback Loopback

Fig. 3. PLayback and Loopback look and work similarly, but the former is a virtual instrument and the latter is a delay effect. Playback (top) imports audio tracks, with markers, and lets you add markers and rearrange the track on the fly. Loopback (bottom) is an Echoplex-style looping delay, and a bit tricky to master, but powerful once you do.

SOUNDTRACK PRO 3

Soundtrack Pro (STP) is Apple’s sound-formoving- pictures complement to Logic and its popular Final Cut Pro (FCP) nonlinear video editing software. STP3 has significant workflow enhancements, among them additional ways to scroll the play head and QWERTY shortcuts for selected tracks’ Record Arm, Mute, and Solo buttons. iXML metadata support enhances pros’ ability to search for footage based on attributes such as location, shoot date, and so forth. As before, you can roundtrip FCP video sequences, complete with scoring reference markers, open them in STP, save them as flattened files, and send them back to FCP.

The Lift and Stamp functions added in STP2 let you copy and paste EQ attributes from one clip to others, which streamlined matching audio quality between video clips. In STP3, Lift and Stamp gain the ability to sample volume levels. The concept is a lot like Adobe Soundbooth CS4’s Voice Level Match feature, except that STP3’s Volume Match can’t match dialogue within clips. This could be a major limitation if your source material is an interview, and the dialogue lives on a single mono audio track or the people speaking aren’t isolated on separate channels. If the people don’t talk over each other, it’s simple enough to razor-tool a single audio clip into multiple clips, but it’s a step Soundbooth CS4 users don’t have to worry about.

In our tests, STP3 overcompensated for quieter voices, raising background noise along with speech. Saving each dialogue track as a separate audio file before matching levels produced better results. We found that if there’s even the slightest difference in room tone or background noise, it will be accentuated when level match is applied. STP3’s noise reduction helped, but didn’t completely mitigate the problem. Also, if you’re compensating for certain natural level mismatches, say, someone whispering versus a natural speaking voice, you may be better served using other tools such as mixer automation. Beware the Clipped Signal Analysis tool — in our test (see Figure 4 below), it introduced clipping instead of eliminating it. Thankfully, the effects in STP3 are nondestructive, so undoing the damage was simple and painless.

1009 Logic Studio Clip Signal Repair

Fig. 4. Soundtrack Pro's new clipped signal repair tool yields contrary results: before (on the left, note only two clipped signals) and after (on the right, clipping was added by the effect.

The noise reduction algorithms have also been tweaked to let you automatically eliminate common audio glitches such as pops, clicks, and hum. We thought we’d throw something a little more challenging at it: a skydiving video whose audio was recorded with no windscreen on the mic! The wind noise drowned out dialogue from people standing about a foot away from the mic. Three passes through the NR removed about 99 percent of the noise. Some barely audible, R2D2-like high-frequency artifacts remained, but this torture test proves that for more typical noise removal needs, STP3 is more than up to the task.

You may recall from our Jan. ’08 review that sending XML files between Logic and STP2 didn’t work. So we tried exporting a stereo mix of a 16-track audio project that included a QuickTime video from Logic to FCP. The XML opened in FCP without a hitch. However, when we sent the project to STP3 using the roundtrip feature in FCP, only the video, without sound, showed up in STP3. Looks like the triedand- true OMF and AAF formats are still the best ways to swap projects between Logic and STP.

While Logic Pro 9 happily played audio out a Digidesign Mbox 1, STP3 didn’t get along with the Mbox. Our tests revealed it’s an Mbox 1-specific issue, because STP3 worked fine through Apogee One, Mbox 2, Line 6 Toneport KB37, and MOTU interfaces. Apple also tried to duplicate the problem with an Mbox 1, but couldn’t.

CONCLUSIONS

The new Logic Studio is an incredibly powerful suite of tools for composing, audio and MIDI recording, post-production, live performance, and scoring moving pictures. It’s deep, intuitive at times and daunting at others, and priced to sell a lot of Macs. Of the over 200 new features, Amp Designer, Pedalboard, MainStage 2’s MIDI out, and Flex Time make the $199 upgrade a no-brainer. If you’re a GarageBand musician ready to learn a full pro system, Logic Studio is an amazing value, and will even open your GB songs with all tracks in the right places. Is it easy otherwise? Getting off the ground with Logic 9 and MainStage 2 is no more difficult than with any other program. Getting deeper requires more study and practice than with some other software, in our opinion — but this doesn’t diminish its power or usefulness. If you’re on the fence, just remember the times you’ve said to yourself, “If only I had Program X, I could Y.” Logic Studio is one of the few that always seems to fill in both those variables easily. For doing that at this price, it’s clearly a Key Buy.





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