Hesam Seyed Mousavi, August 26, 2013
The first thing that existing Logic Pro 9 users need to know about Logic Pro X is that nothing has been taken out of Apple’s revered DAW in order to make the transition to its tenth full version. All of your Logic Pro 9 projects (and earlier) will still open in it, and everything you’ve always known and loved about Logic is still here -the Environment, the Transform Editor and the Hyper Editor (now, understandably, renamed Step Editor). So relax – Apple hasn’t broken Logic.
The only problem anyone might have in stepping up (apart from griping about the lack of an upgrade path from v9) is that Logic Pro X drops support for 32-bit plugins. The vast majority of Audio Units plugins made the move to 64-bit ages ago, but it is possible that one or two of yours might still be stuck in the past.
However, Logic Pro 9 and X can coexist quite happily on the same Mac, sharing their content libraries and even running at the same time, so you can at least go back to old projects in 9 as needed during your switchover period.
Available only on the App Store and requiring OS X 10.8, Logic Pro X installs with only a minimal library (2GB or thereabouts) to start with, then automatically downloads another 30+GB of Library content when first launched, the vast majority of which is sample content for Drum Kit Designer, which we’ll come to shortly.
You don’t have to install everything, of course, but we were quite flabbergasted to see that there’s still no option to install the Library on an external drive without manually creating a symbolic link – not something the average user is going to know how to do.
Our irritation at that, though, was countered by an unexpected improvement in the performance of the notoriously crash-happy AuValTool – Logic’s validation system for plugins. On first launch, it cheerfully and quickly went through our entire (and enormous) collection of instruments and effects without so much as a hiccup, passing every single one. It’s the little things…
The new look
As we all knew it would, Logic Pro X has indeed gone through a Final Cut Pro X style redesign, but unlike that pro video fiasco, this time Apple has done it right.
With its cool, dark background and embiggened icons, controls and legending, it’s clearly doing everything it can to make those transitioning from GarageBand feel at home. And it looks all the better for it, the colour scheme classy and gorgeous in the low light of the studio.
There are too many tweaks and improvements to the UI to list, but chief among them is that the Piano Roll now hosts controls for quantise, swing and more, and the Score Editor has been completely redesigned to be more usable. The Transport is now at the top rather than the bottom, and the main menus are reworked to be more logical, moving lots of previously scattered functions into the new Record, Mix and Navigate menus, for example, and repositioning the Track menu in the main menu bar, rather than the Arrange page.
The Library has been moved from the right-hand side of the interface to the left and tarted up with pictures for everything, while volume and pan controls can now be accessed directly in the Track List – thanks, GarageBand.
The tabbed pane on the right still plays host to the previous Loops and media Browser pages, but now also includes the multi-tabbed List Editors page and Note Pads, which enables note taking for individual tracks (reflecting the channel strip Note areas) as well as the whole project.
The mixer has become a lot easier to use. Effects are re-orderable without requiring a modifier key (frikkin’ yay!), plugin slots now reveal bypass, edit and preset selector buttons when the mouse pointer is hovered over them, and gain reduction meters appear on tracks with Logic’s own compressors and limiters inserted (also a new feature in Pro Tools 11, fact fans).
However, despite Apple righteously waging war on skeumorphism in iOS 7, not only are all the faux ‘vintage’ instrument and pedal interfaces still onboard, but they’ve been joined by similarly ‘realistic’ fader caps and rotaries in the mixer. Sigh.
Conversely, Logic’s venerable collection of pre-Apple synths and effects plugins look a bit weird and overwrought in the context of the slick new interface. We’re surprised yet not at all surprised to see that nothing’s been done in that department at all – it definitely needs to be, though.
The upshot of all this is that Logic Pro X is immediately more intuitive than 9, much easier on the eye, and just… prettier and more ‘designed’.
It’s not all gravy, though. The spatial inflexibility of the Toolbar will wind up those using smaller displays. Previously we could fit a ton of buttons into it and hide text or icons to shrink the whole thing down, but now we’re stuck with a very thick bar containing a customisable set of oversized buttons that MacBook users will only be able to fit about 13-odd of on before the overflow menu at the right-hand end comes into play, with no resizing options whatsoever. Still, at least it can be killed.
Track icons, meanwhile, comprise the same nicely drawn but faintly tedious collection of acoustic and electric instruments, and per-pane brightness controls would be welcome, particularly since dark notes on the Piano Roll can get quite hard to see.
All that aside, after an hour or so in X, going back to 9 feels like returning to something from the Atari era – whether or not you see that as a bad thing!
The equivalent of the macro systems found in other DAWs, Smart Controls enable you to assign up to 12 parameters of your choice from the selected track’s channel strip, instruments and effects (both third-party and Logic’s own) to a set of MIDI-assignable knobs, sliders and switches wrapped up in a simple GUI housed in the bottom pane.
Assignments can be made ‘intelligently’ by the software or manually; each control can be assigned to multiple parameters,; response curves are fully editable; and all Smart Controls are automatable. You can also choose from an array of GUI layouts designed to look like real-world instrument/outboard panels – veritable skeumorphic hell,but quite fun, nonetheless.
As a decidedly ‘Apple’ take on the macro concept, Smart Controls are a resounding success, giving us a clutter-free way to keep key channel and plugin parameters constantly present and instantly accessible.
Making the processes of foldering and bussing tracks easier than ever before, multiple tracks can now be nested into fold-away Stacks, of which there are two types: Summing and Folder.
A Folder Stack simply groups the included tracks for unified level control, solo and mute, without affecting their routing in the mixer – like the old Folder Tracks, basically, although they’re still around, too, should you prefer.
A Summing Stack, on the other hand, mixes the output of all contained tracks to a bus, and can record and play back MIDI on its Master track for triggering all MIDI instruments in the Stack – massive collapsible synth stacks ahoy, then. Stacks can also be made within Stacks, and complete Summing Stacks, with all their components and settings, can be saved into the Library as Patches (a new format for Logic Pro X) for recall at any time.
Stacks are similar to Ableton Live’s Groups and Instrument Racks, but once again, Apple has done a great job of realising the concept in its own style. Whether you just want to gather that string section together in the Arrange page or build the world’s phattest multi-synth pad, you’ll have a much easier and more manageable time of it now than in previous versions of Logic, not to mention most other DAWs.
Although the Environment has always made it possible to build MIDI processing devices within Logic, finally we now have proper MIDI Effects plugins with which to beef up and contort our notes and CCs. The headline is the well-equipped Arpeggiator, which features all the functions and parameters you’d expect from such a thing, plus both Live and Grid modes for two different styles of triggering.
The rest of the line-up includes the self-explanatory likes of Chord Trigger, Note Repeater, Modulator and Randomizer, as well as Scripter, with which you can design your own (in code, I hasten to add – this is absolutely not ‘Max For Logic’).
Every one’s a winner, and we look forward to seeing how this new aspect of Logic develops moving forward, as they say. And with their big, chunky GUIs, like Drummer, Logic’s MIDI Effects look very much like they were designed with the iPad in mind. Intriguing.