Logic Pro 8 may not have new software instruments, but scratch beneath the surface and you'll discover significant improvements to what was already an impressive collection.
Logic Pro 8 brought with it a number of completely new effects, alongside important upgrades for much of its current plug-in line-up. While all plug-ins benefit from the overall interface redesign and new low-latency mode, software instruments in particular benefit from additional functionality and brand-new features. Software Instrument Live Mode has become more CPU-efficient and multi-output instruments now employ automatic aux-channel creation for their additional outputs. Also, instruments such as EXS24, ES2, EFM1, Sculpture and Ultrabeat have undergone substantial revamps, bringing new features and useful tweaks to their interfaces and functionality. I'll start exploring these welcome changes by taking a look at the general enhancements, before examining the upgraded instruments in closer detail.
New to Logic 8, the low-latency mode affects the use of all plug-ins (not just software instruments) by limiting the maximum latency that the plug-in can add to a track's signal path. Enabling low-latency mode may bypass a number of plug-ins on the track's channel strip (or its related auxes, or even output channels) in order to keep the delay time below the set value. The highest-latency plug-ins will be bypassed first. This mode is especially useful when playing or monitoring software instruments with high-latency plug-ins in their signal flow. Although this process inevitably changes the sound (to varying degrees), it is a useful short-term measure to help achieve a tighter performance during recording. For playback or mixing, of course, using delay compensation would make far more sense, as this allows perfect alignment of tracks without changing the sound.
As the name suggests, Software Instrument Live mode is specific to software instrument tracks. It is not new to Logic 8 but, as mentioned above, its behaviour has been modified to make it more CPU-efficient. In Logic 7, selecting a software instrument track would immediately switch the track into Live mode, meaning that the instrument would be ready for playing. Software instruments armed for playing take up considerably more processing power than those playing back existing regions, so it makes sense to avoid the extra strain on the CPU until the instrument really needs to be played. For that reason, Live mode is not automatically switched on by track selection in Logic 8. Instead it is switched on by incoming MIDI data, clicking the Record Enable button on the instrument track header, or starting a recording. The Record Enable button thus doubles up as an indicator of whether Live mode is active on a software instrument track. Bear in mind that it can take up to 100ms to turn Live mode on, so the first note you play will be delayed unless you provide some sort of silent MIDI data prior to playing — for example, by moving a controller.
One of the most efficient of the global instrument changes is to the setup of multi-output instruments. Previously, output assignment required considerable time and effort — and many people used multiple instances of an instrument instead, trading processing power for flexibility — but the process now couldn't be simpler. The addition of a '+' button at the bottom of a channel where a multi-output instrument has been inserted enables you to create adjacent auxiliary channels that are pre-assigned to the instrument. What's more, when inserting a multi-output instance of an instrument in place of its mono or stereo counterpart you no longer lose parameter changes, and therefore don't need to save and reload the plug-in settings. So, if you decide that after programming your drums on a stereo instance of Ultrabeat you'd prefer to mix them down on separate channels, simply call up a multi-output configuration in its place and create some auxes! Be aware, though, that the '+' button functionality does not apply to the Inspector view of channel strips, as multiple auxes cannot fit in its dual-strip interface.
The simplified multi-output assignment applies to the EXS24 MkII sampler, but there's also been a more specific overhaul of its instrument editor. The editor's interface has been redesigned to make it visually more attractive and practically more efficient, and its improved integration with the sample editor is as noteworthy as the enhancements to the overall graphical-editing functionality. The sample editor can be called up by control-clicking the start or end points of a sample or loop, enabling waveform editing of sample and loop lengths. These are saved in the audio file's header and can be recalled within the instrument editor itself.
Note, though, that saving and re-opening samples altered in the sample editor could cause some of the sample or loop start and end values to become inconsistent with the instrument editor entries, so it's advisable to choose Zone / Update Selected Zone(s) Info From Audio File, to refresh them.
There are improvements to both ES2 and EFM1 synths. ES2 has become graphically more efficient, with the introduction of macros — simplified views of its interface that feature dedicated controls for simultaneous parameter access. Selecting 'macro view' from the bottom of the ES2 window adds these in place of the MIDI controller assignments, while the 'macro only' view replaces the ES2 interface altogether. This is handy for live use, where keyboard controllers can be assigned to the macro parameters, to avoid mouse-navigation through ES2's busy main window.
Additionally, the number of points that can be added to the ES2 vector-envelope time axis has been increased to 16. The random button (RND), intensity slider (RND Int) and destination menu can be found above the vector envelope area, and the last of these provides four new random destinations: 'Vector Env XY Pad X only', 'Vector Env XY Pad Y only', 'Vector Env Times' and 'Vector Env Shuffle Times'. Vector Env XY Pad X or Y only allow for alterations of the square cursor positions of the vector-envelope points on the X or Y axis respectively. Selecting Vector Env Times means that only the time parameters of vector-envelope points will be modified, while Vector Env Shuffle Times changes the vector-envelope shuffle times within loops, including the Loop Smooth parameter (if the Loop mode is set to forward or backward).
Selecting a surround ES2 configuration opens the new Surround Range and Diversity extended parameters, determining the breadth of the surround field and the way the audio is distributed to the surround speakers. The Diversity modulation target (only available in surround instances) is another welcome addition to the ES2 modulation matrix, as a controller can now be used to dynamically alter the amount of audio distributed to the surround speakers.
Finally, the EFM1 synthesizer benefits from the additional extended parameters of FM Intensity and Vibrato. Both can be controlled by a number of MIDI controllers, and their amounts can be set by sliders that are found in the extended parameter area or the controls view of the plug-in.
The same surround Range and surround Diversity extended parameters available for the ES2 are also now available for Sculpture, and here the surround enhancements go even further. Surround Sculpture configurations feature a true surround delay, where a surround Groove pad replaces the standard Delay Time pad that is used in stereo instances. This makes it easy to control the delay-time relationships between left and right speakers using the horizontal axis, or the front and rear speakers using the vertical axis. In surround configurations, the Spread parameter can be accessed as a numerical edit field at the top-left of the pad, by click-dragging or double-clicking, and then typing in to modify the value.
There are additional delay-crossfeed modes as a result, and delay parameters between multiple instances or consecutive settings can be copied, pasted or cleared by control-clicking anywhere on the pad area. Sculpture also has a new Sustain mode, which disregards the morph envelope's real time-line position, instead assigning it to a MIDI controller for dynamic manipulation of the envelope's time range.
Ultrabeat enjoys the greatest number of enhancements, to both its interface and its functionality. There's a Full View option available in the interface, accessible from a button at the bottom right of the plug-in window. This replaces the front-panel controls with a grid (not dissimilar to the piano roll), so you should feel right at home when programming drum parts — especially as the grid is made up of trigger buttons that work independently of the current sound selection.
The retro approach to beat-making is complemented by a new Step Automation Edit mode, which makes it possible to program parameter changes every step of the way, on every drum sound. You could have the pitch of a kick drum or bass sound changing on every sixteenth subdivision, or the filter resonance stepping up and down on different beats, for example. In fact, even the envelope can be made to change shape for every hi-hat hit, providing a less mechanical feel. Add to these facilities the new Accent button (which is available in the step sequencer) and the creation of interesting dynamics really starts to seem plausible.
If this sonic and dynamic flexibility doesn't meet all your drum-programming needs, then maybe the new Step Generation commands will do the trick. These provide different options for creating and shuffling steps, and should come in handy when choosing to add new steps or moving and randomising existing ones.
There are also useful changes with regard to the sounds themselves. It is now possible to import EXS instruments to Ultrabeat, and EXS instrument layouts will be preserved to the best possible degree, with layers taking advantage of the second oscillator's sample playback mode. An external input has been added to Oscillator 1, so any audio in Logic Pro 8 can be processed through Ultrabeat's synthesis engine. There's also an initialising preset, which resets the filter and pitch parameters to their default settings and is obviously very useful when starting work on new sampled sounds.
The interface redesign, upgraded surround functionality and contextual architecture are welcome. It's also great to see the improved integration between different instruments, and between instruments' different editors, as in the case of Ultrabeat and EXS instruments or the EXS24 instrument and sample editor. Logic 8 didn't introduce any completely new software instruments, but its already impressive list of instrument plug-ins have combined with the many welcome enhancements described here to provide a truly powerful set of tools — and access to an almost limitless sonic palette.
One of the interesting (or annoying) things about Logic Pro 8 is that Apple have removed certain features that have been part of the program for years. While at first this may seem crazy, it's not without precedent. I found the first incarnation of Cubase SX to be noticeably less well-specified than previous Cubase versions, and the latest Nuendo is a bit of a skinny latte compared to its full-fat predecessor. With regards to SX, though, Steinberg rewrote the program from the ground up and it has now paid off: Cubase is once again a comprehensively-featured, powerful DAW. How much Apple have actually reworked Logic's underlying code is a bit of an unknown, although it seems that version 8 is the beginning of a major sea-change in the thinking behind the program. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the long-standing tradition of incorporating new features while retaining old ones is coming to an end.
In the past, each new version of Logic has managed to keep its most archaic working methods and its creaky old plug-ins, even when better options have been introduced. The obsessively neat may complain, but many people still use the old Environment and obtain good mileage from those once impressive Silver and Platinum effects.
Although keeping older features can lead to 'software bloat', it does mean that your legacy songs will still load. The changes in Logic 8 don't affect older projects in any serious way, but some of them do seriously hamper the effectiveness of the program. For example, the inability to copy audio configurations from DAE-based songs is an important omission. In fact, I'm surprised it wasn't picked up in beta testing, as it is preventing some very high-profile users from upgrading.
The music technology industry has long been driven by the novice musician's desire to acquire equipment 'as used by the pros'. Apple must be aware that a few notable defections from their flagship music software could seriously affect the company's long-held high regard in this field. It could be that we're in a similar period of development as with Steinberg during the Cubase SX upheaval, which may bring significant improvements down the line — but I also hope that Apple will listen to their users and reinstate more of the missing features in a future update.