Though the headline features are aimed at dance producers, Apple’s latest Logic update has something for everyone. And it’s free!
Although Apple’s 10.1 update to Logic Pro is free of charge to existing users, it nevertheless offers a huge raft of added and updated features. Some of the most eye-catching additions are clearly aimed at those making dance music, but there are numerous general enhancements that will be welcomed by everyone. What may not be so universally appreciated, however, is that 10.1 will only work on Mac OS 10.9 ‘Mavericks’ or 10.10 ‘Yosemite’, so many users will be forced to move to these newer operating systems in order to install it.
Logic’s Piano Roll editor has been given a significant makeover to make it more friendly to those used to making music in, shall we say, less traditional ways. For example, a new brush tool has been added, which allows new notes to be ‘painted’ directly onto the Piano Roll grid, and if you set the scale quantise parameters before doing so, you add only notes relating to the key. The notes are also constrained by the time quantise setting you use. A second dab with the brush can be used to delete unwanted notes, and in fact the brush functions as a very useful multi-tool for conventional editing, as it can behave as a selection tool, a pencil tool or an eraser.
Those working on smaller screens will also welcome the new Collapse mode in the Piano Roll editor, which misses out any notes not being used and replaces the piano keyboard by note names. Not only does this save vertical space, but it also makes editing and creating harmony parts easier as you can’t add any ‘illegal’ out-of-scale notes without switching back to the standard view. Drum names can also be viewed here when working on drum parts.
New tools have been added to the Piano Roll in the form of Time Handles. When active, these allow you to select a group of notes, after which the handles can be used to compress or expand the timing of only the selected group by moving its start and end points. You can even swap over the position of the two handles to reverse the sequence of notes. And talking of time, Apple Loops may now be played back at any tempo from one eighth to eight times their original speed.
Drum-machine-style editing has been made easier by the introduction of Note Repeat and Spot Erase modes, which can be used to create and modify beats or dance-style bass lines in real time while recording. These are, in essence, on/off switches that you can add to the toolbar so that when Note Repeat is active, holding down a key when recording will add a new note for each quantise interval. Spot Erase basically allows you to ‘play’ the erase function, enabling unwanted beats or notes to be removed on the fly. Clearly this feature has been added to woo the exponents of EDM, as it feels very drum-machine-like in operation.
Smart Quantize is another new feature that is so smart that I can’t figure out exactly how it is doing what it does! It is activated by clicking on the word Quantize in the Inspector, and instead of conforming everything exactly to the grid, it appears to correct both the timing and length of notes based on the feel of your original performance rather than moving everything exactly to the nearest grid line. You might say it brings your performance closer to what you intended. For example, if you play a deliberate closely spaced spread of notes in a chord but play before the beat, Smart Quantize will move the group of notes closer to the beat without messing up your spread. I did, however, find that if you change any of the quantise values in the Piano Roll editor window, the quantise action reverts to standard; to re-engage smart mode, you have to go back to the main track Inspector menu, switch back to Classic Quantize, then switch back to Smart Quantize again. On the whole, though, this is a really useful new feature.
Another area in which significant changes have been made is in Logic’s automation facilities. It is now possible to write both track and region automation; these are combined at playback, so you may need to take a little extra care when working this way to avoid conflicting moves. There are also two new automation modes, including a long-awaited Trim mode, which allows existing automation to be raised or lowered in value by the amount you move the fader. This is extremely useful for those situations where you have spent ages finessing your automation moves but just need to raise or lower the levels of certain sections without losing all the detail you’ve been working on. In other words, your original fader moves remain as they were, but are offset up or down by the trim moves you make.
Trim mode is ‘destructive’, insomuch as the trim moves change your original automation data. However, the other new automation mode, Relative, provides a non-destructive alternative. Relative mode writes what amounts to a stream of trim data but on a separate lane of automation, so that the original automation is still accessible and both parts remain separately editable. As soon as you start writing the Relative data, the automation line switches from showing your original automation to Relative automation so the first time you use it you might think you’ve wiped your original automation data. Don’t worry, it’s only the view that has changed.
Moving to the mixer, Apple have added what they call console-style VCA faders; you select a number of channels, then go to the Options menu where you are invited to create a VCA fader to control that group of channels. This emulates an analogue console in that the newly created VCA fader moves acting as an overall level control for the selected tracks, but the faders of the tracks controlled via the VCA fader don’t themselves move. While this may seem similar in function to the existing track grouping function (other than the lack of fader movement), one advantage of using a VCA is that when you mute or attenuate the VCA fader, any sends sourced from the channels it controls are also muted or attenuated.
Another mixer feature, which currently only applies to the users of certain Apogee products, is that it is now possible to adjust the mic amp gain and settings of a compatible interface directly from Logic’s mixer.
Most of the other functional changes and additions, of which there are too many to list here, are associated with workflow and organisation, though there are also numerous bug fixes. A long-time user request has been for some means of organising plug-ins to make them easier to find and a new Plug-in Manager does that with drag-and-drop ease. You get all the standard categories by default — compressors, EQ, delay, reverb and so on — but you can also add and name your own. You simply browse all the plug-ins by manufacturer, then drag them into the appropriate folder. For example, you can have all your compressors in one place regardless of who made them. This feature is accessed through Logic’s preferences.
Other useful tweaks include a Kill/Recall Solo button in the track header area to toggle the solo state of all currently soloed tracks, and a new button in the Main window (to the left of the zoom faders) that automatically adjusts the vertical zoom to maximise track height while ensuring that all the tracks are still visible on screen. Apple Yosemite includes sharing facilities called Mail Drop and Air Drop, and Logic 10.1 users can use these for sharing Logic projects.
Behind the scenes, fades are now rendered in real time rather than being calculated and then stored, which means that there’s no longer an issue when using Flex Pitch to process sections that include fades. This also cuts down on project loading time, though it can take up a little extra CPU overhead.
It is now easier to save alternative versions of a song as fully independent projects, thanks to a dedicated export option, and when importing audio files from other platforms, Logic can now import multi-channel interleaved audio files and then automatically split them into individual mono files where necessary. For those who use Logic alongside video, it now supports 50, 5994d, 5994, 60d and 60 fps frame rates, and to avoid accidents, a Track Protect button has been added to the Movie track.
Finally, Logic’s free-to-download Logic Remote for the iPad has also been updated to version 1.2, to take account of the new features in Logic Pro 10.1, and includes a new plug-in view and multi-touch EQ control.
In the main the update to 10.1 is a very welcome one, the only negative aspect being the requirement to move up to Mavericks or Yosemite if you haven’t already done so. Two of my three machines updated from Mavericks to Yosemite with no problem, but my studio Mac Pro was completely knocked over by the upgrade from Mountain Lion, locking itself into a continuous cycle of restarting every 30 seconds or so. Running Time Machine overnight got it back to how it was before with Mountain Lion back in charge, so it looks like I’m going to have to do a clean install of Yosemite.
Those new Drummers (see box) have no doubt been added to help convince the EDM crowd that Logic isn’t stuck in the past, and I don’t see how anyone can fail to be impressed, though the acoustic kits are also seriously good, especially when you consider that Logic Pro costs less than some dedicated drum sound plug-ins. Ditto the brush tool in the Piano Roll editor and those new Note Repeat and Spot Erase functions. SOS Managing Director Dave Lockwood did, however, bemoan the fact that there are still no acoustic drum kits played with brushes, while I keep petitioning for Rototoms [You’re on your own there — Ed].
The new automation Trim mode, although long overdue, will make life easier when mixing, while that part of me that still adheres to elements of the past really appreciates those Mellotrons and the tweaks to Retro Synth. Extra sonic content is always welcome, too, as are the many less obvious workflow improvements. I’m also sure that the new Smart Quantize option will see a lot of use in my sessions.
I would have welcomed more inbuilt Help guidance on some of the new features without having to search for it on the Apple web site, but I’m sure that will be updated in time, and less than week after the launch of Logic Pro 10.1, people were already starting to put instructional videos on YouTube. Best of all, the upgrade is free — so, as long as you’re happy to work on Mavericks or Yosemite, what’s not to like?
The 10.1 additions which seem to be exciting Apple themselves most of all are the 10 new virtual Drummers. The paradigm is the same as before, in that each of the 10 new Drummers has a name and musical personality, but this time they are let loose on electronic kits, and their rhythmic chops are very clearly dance-oriented. Between them, they cover a wide range of styles from dubstep to techno and hip-hop, with some very useful chillout-type beats also available at lower tempos. As before, there’s a control pad that allows you to interact with the performances to adjust their intensity and complexity, as well as sliders for controlling the contribution of additional percussion elements and the propensity to play fills. Usefully, you can now have more than one Drummer track running within a song, so that you can layer drum styles and patterns. It’s also possible to switch drummers while keeping the same kit.
The new electronic kits are augmented by a Drum Machine Designer,Logic_04_15_07 which provides a number of intuitive controls for customising the individual kit sounds. These go far beyond the pitch and damping controls found on the acoustic kit pieces. As you click on the icon of a kit part within the control panel, the layout changes to give you a control set relevant to that particular sound. There’s also an extensive library of new electronic kit sounds that make use of the Ultrabeat plug-in, so you won’t run out of possibilities any time soon. (Another tweak inspired by the user wish list is that you are now finally able to copy and paste voices between different instances of Ultrabeat.)
I must say that both the performance and sound aspects of these new Drummers and their kits is most impressive. There’s enough adjustment potential to ensure they stay contemporary, but they sound huge and polished right out of the starting gate, confirming that a lot of thought and work has gone into their creation.
Apple’s MainStage now includes some of the fruits of Apple’s acquisition of AutoSampler creators Redmatica, to allow users to more easily create multisamples from their own hardware synths for use in EXS24. AutoSampler is accessed via the Main Stage Utilities menu; it doesn’t appear to have a Logic counterpart as yet, but any EXS instrument created in MainStage, once saved, may be accessed from within Logic Pro. AutoSampler makes sampling hardware instruments a much more attractive proposition, as once the relevant audio and MIDI connections are established, AutoSampler does all the work to create multisampled EXS instruments based on the key ranges and velocity ranges you give it.
A bonus for EXS24 users is a bank of 10 Mellotron sounds including the familiar choir, strings, brass and flute patches. Note that you need to load these from the sound library browser, not from directly within the EXS24. They exude just the right amount of vintage character, without the tapes sounding completely worn to death.
As part of the 10.1 update, Apple have redesigned the Compressor plug-in, giving it a scalable ‘Retina-ready’ makeover where each of the seven compressor models has its own ‘skin’. It looks very smart, though the switch for peak/RMS switching is now only visible in the Controls view.Logic_04_15_08
The Retro Synth plug-in, meanwhile, was new in Logic X but has been further enhanced, now having the ability to create wavetables from imported audio in its Wave synth mode. There are no clear instructions that I could find on exactly how to do this in Logic’s Help files, but if you point the menu’s import option at a short audio file — say, a single note from a synth — a wavetable is automatically created. You can also drag and drop audio files onto the synth’s oscillator. I tried this with a very textural single note from Sculpture and it generated a wavetable of around 100 steps. However, as the wavetable comprises single cycles of sound, the end result can be very different from what you put in, so some experimentation is in order: my Sculpture sound came back sounding more like an organ. A brief snippet of E-bow guitar worked nicely, producing a smooth-sounding patch with the general tonal characteristics of the original but more of a pad-like quality.
Retro Synth is also able to stack up to eight voices, which helps create a very fat sound, though there’s still no delayed-onset vibrato, which I would have welcomed.