Offline effects and new playlist functionality are just two of the highlights of Apple’s latest Logic update.
If you’re a longtime Logic user, it’s somewhat sobering — at least from the perspective of age — to consider that this year will mark the 15th anniversary of Apple’s ownership of the application. It might be even more sobering to consider that 2017 also marks 25 years since the founding of the company that Apple acquired when they bought Logic in 2002: Emagic. As if to mark the occasion, Apple unveiled the new v10.3 of Logic Pro the day before this year’s Winter NAMM Show, alongside a new version of GarageBand for iOS offering improved Logic interoperability, as discussed in the March issue.
The first thing you’ll notice when running Logic Pro 10.3 is that Apple have updated Logic’s user interface, although the changes are mostly cosmetic, so you won’t have to worry about re-learning the interface as with the jump from Logic Pro 9 to Logic Pro X. The new look implements the design language of Mac OS Sierra and is therefore flatter and lighter, with many of the icons having adopted a line-drawn appearance. This is no doubt to take advantage of Retina and other high-pixel-density displays such as LG’s UltraFine 4K and 5K monitors, which Apple are championing, and you can’t help but notice how much better Logic looks on such displays.
There’s one feature that’s been a part of Pro Tools for over a decade that users of other applications have long desired, and that’s Playlists. This feature makes it possible to have multiple versions of the contents of a track, and although only one can be active at a time, it’s probably the best way of working with multiple takes. Each take can be recorded onto its own Playlist, and you can then create a master version from all the takes on another Playlist.
Developers of other applications have long tried to best this workflow, and Apple’s attempt was Take Folders in Logic Pro 8, where you could use Quick Swipe to highlight different sections of takes to compile the master take. Now, don’t get me wrong, Take Folders can be useful, and Quick Swipe made comping ridiculously easy, but it was a very specific solution, and, as such, offered less flexibility than Playlists.
Logic Pro 10.3 introduces a new, Playlist-style feature called Track Alternatives. The name makes sense, given that Apple previously introduced Project Alternatives in Logic Pro 10.0, allowing you to manage alternate versions of a project. Track Alternatives allow you to manage alternate versions of a track, each containing a different set of regions.
The Track Alternatives functionality isn’t visible by default, and needs to be enabled by right-clicking any track in the Track List and checking Track Alternatives from the Track Header Components submenu. You’ll notice that an up and down arrow button appears to the right of the track names, and this provides access to the Track Alternatives pop-up menu. You can create Track Alternatives by either selecting New or Duplicate, depending on whether you want the new Track Alternative to be empty, or to contain the same regions as the current Track Alternative. Names are automatically assigned to new Track Alternatives, and you can rename them either using the Rename command, or to the name of the currently selected region by selecting Rename by Region.
The current Track Alternative is known as the ‘active’ one, and you can switch the active Track Alternative by selecting from the list in the pop-up menu. If you want to see the inactive Track Alternatives at the same time as the one that’s active, simply select Show Inactive from the pop-up menu. The inactive Track Alternatives will then appear beneath the active one, using a similar interface as for Take Folders and Track Stacks.
Three controls are available on the Track Headers for inactive Track Alternatives, allowing you to make that alternative the active one, to hide the track for a given Track Alternative, and access a neat Prelisten mode. If you enable Prelisten on a Track Alternative, that alternative, while not becoming the active Track Alternative, will be the one that’s audible, which is a nice touch.
On the surface, Track Alternatives may not seem that different to Take Folders, but there’s one crucial difference: because Track Alternatives work on a track level, it’s possible to synchronise Track Alternatives across multiple tracks, if those tracks are grouped together and the group has Track Alternatives enabled. This means that if you’re recording a drum kit, an orchestra, or anything else where takes are being captured to multiple tracks, when you create a new Track Alternative, a new one will be created for all tracks in the same group. It also means if you select, say, Track Alternative ‘C’ on one of those tracks, each track will switch to their own corresponding Track Alternative ‘C’. This, as you can imagine, is very handy indeed.
Track Alternatives are a great addition to Logic Pro X, although there were a few issues in the initial release of 10.3. For example, regions on Track Alternatives other than the active one could get deleted, and certain global editing operations to the timeline, such as cutting or inserting time, wouldn’t be applied to inactive Track Alternatives. These problems were fixed in a 10.3.1 update that was released just as this article was being finished.
Audio-capable versions of Logic have always provided some level of offline processing, although this has been limited to commands such as Reverse, or different kinds of pitch and time manipulation. It hasn’t been possible to apply offline processing using Logic’s own effects and third-party Audio Units plug-ins without using the Bounce command — until now. A particularly neat feature in Logic Pro 10.3 is Selection-based Processing, which, as its name suggests, allows you to apply processing to a selection. In fact, it’s far more interesting than that.
With either one or more regions or a marquee area selected, you can open the Selection-based Processing window by selecting the command from the Functions menu. The Selection-based Processing window allows you to configure two effects strips — A and B — of which only one is active at a time. You work with these strips exactly as you do on a channel strip, and, as with a channel strip, you can include up to 15 effects in each. In the same way there are channel strip presets for audio tracks, instrument tracks and busses, so too are there processing channel strip presets as well, and a number are provided to get you started.
One particularly nice thing about processing channel strip presets is that they’re available to the A and B strips separately, so selecting a preset with the A strip selected, for example, loads that preset into the A strip. This makes it easy to load two different presets and easily compare them.
Once you’ve added one or more plug-ins, you can audition the result by clicking the Prelisten button, where, by default, Logic will solo the tracks to be affected by the processing, enable cycle mode over the selection and begin playback. A settings pop-up menu lets you configure this behaviour, allowing you to toggle whether Prelisten enables Solo and/or Prelisten enables Cycle. One small point about the latter option is that cycle mode remains enabled after you stop pre-listening: it would be useful to have a third option to specify that cycle mode should return to its original state after pre-listening, and, even better, if the cycle range also returned to its previous location.
Before clicking the Apply button, there are a number of other settings available to specify what happens to the processed results. If Split at Marquee Borders is ticked, splits at the beginning and end of the selection will be applied to the affected regions. If Create New Take is selected, the processed version will be added to a Take Folder containing the original regions, with the processed version playing the full take. And if Add Effect Tail is ticked, the resulting region(s) will be elongated, allowing the tail of effects such as reverbs and delays to be preserved. Finally, you can select whether a gain adjustment is applied using the Gain pop-up menu. By default, it’s set to No Change, meaning no gain adjustment will be applied to the result, but it can also be set to Loudness Compensation, Overload Protection or Normalize.
After you’ve applied the desired processing, you might close the Selection-based Processing window and then decide you want to perform the same processing again but to a different selection. In this case, Logic provides a handy Apply Selection-based Processing Again command that processes a selection with the most recent settings, without the user having to open the window.
There are many improvements to the mixer in Logic Pro 10.3, the first being that the summing engine, which is used to mix all the channels together for output, is now 64-bit. This offers two advantages over the previous 32-bit mixing engine: increased accuracy and more headroom. A 32-bit summing engine offers a theoretical dynamic range of 1530dB, which is already considerable when you think the average human ear has a dynamic range of around 140dB; I struggled to figure out what the theoretical dynamic range offered by a 64-bit floating-point system would be, but then a higher authority helpfully told me you could figure out a reasonable estimate by looking at the exponent range offered by the IEEE 754 double-precision format (32-bit is known as single-precision). The result is a staggering 12,270dB! To paraphrase Spinal Tap, how much more headroom would you ever need? None. None more headroom.
Although the 64-bit summing engine is enabled by default, it’s possible to revert to the original 32-bit engine using a setting in the Audio Preferences page. One reason you might want to do this is that the 64-bit engine requires more processing power, which might be a concern if you’re running on an older Mac. If you do switch between the two engines, I’m not sure if you’ll really discern much (if any) difference; but that’s going to depend greatly on the material being mixed and the monitoring environment. Either way, I guess it’s nice to know that your mixes will now be rendered with an absurd amount of precision.
In addition to improved summing, Logic now has improved panning as well, with a new pan mode on stereo tracks that allows you to balance the left and right channels independently. To enable this, right-click the pan control on a stereo track and select Stereo Pan (as opposed to Balance, which is the default) from the pop-up menu. The pan control will now show a green ring to represent the stereo spread, which can be adjusted by dragging either the left or right white handles, and you can also click and drag just to the left or right of the white handles to adjust both channels simultaneously. Option-clicking, as usual, resets the pan control to its default value, and, additionally, you can Command-click the control to invert the left and the right channels, whereupon the ring will turn orange. Finally, the centre position of the stereo spread can be adjusted by dragging the ring left or right.
When adding effects to stereo tracks, you can now add the effect as either stereo or dual mono. If you choose the latter option, Logic will open separate mono instances of the effect for the left and right channels, so you can apply independent settings to each. In terms of the user interface, this is handled in the same way as when managing effects added to audio tracks where the surround input is assigned in previous versions. A segmented control is added underneath the effect window’s toolbar, allowing you to set whether you’re adjusting settings for the left or right instances of the effect, and there’s also a Configuration button. The configuration page allows you to set the processing to be either Stereo (left and right) or Mid-Sides (the I/O plug now also includes support for Mid-Sides), and there are power buttons to bypass the processing on one or both channels. The only thing that would have been useful to have in this new dual mono mode is the ability to copy the left settings to the right channel and vice versa: the copy and paste buttons work for the pair of plug-ins, not individually.
Last but not least, if you thought having 64 busses was too limiting in previous versions of Logic, you’ll be pleased to know that 256 are now available. And a nice touch when adding instruments or effects is that the pop-up menu now includes a Recent section near the top, providing quick access to the last five instruments or effects that were added.
The additions and improvements to the mixer are very welcome in Logic Pro 10.3, but one area where it feels the mixer is lacking is in its support for surround sound. Where applications like Cubase and Pro Tools HD offer impressive surround support, Logic remains mostly stuck with the surround functionality introduced in version 4.5 way back in 2000. Maybe Logic’s core user base don’t have the need for enhanced surround functionality, but there are many Logic users working in film and computer games who do.
Although it’s not Apple’s first music application to support the new MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar — that prize belongs to GarageBand — Logic Pro 10.3 implements support for this new function-key replacement and goes far beyond what you might have seen in GarageBand. So much so, that I initially thought I would write about this feature in a box; but the more I played around with it, the more impressed I became and felt that a discussion about the Touch Bar support warranted a place in the main text.
By default — and just like GarageBand — the Touch Bar’s App region displays a series of controls that are the same as those available in the Smart Controls display for the selected track, along with a Level control. If there are more controls available than there is space to display them in the Touch Bar’s App region, the rightmost control will have a faded edge, indicating you can swipe the screen to reveal additional controls. The controls themselves work the same as the Touch Bar’s Control Strip buttons (where you can adjust volume and brightness, for example). Tap once to display a slider and a close button (so you can return to the full App region), or tap and hold to drag the control in place, whereby the full App region will again be displayed when you release your finger. If you have a Drummer track selected, the Smart Controls appear slightly differently. There are controls to adjust the level of each part of the kit, as you might expect, and to the left of each one is a toggle that both hides the level control and mutes that drum when disabled.
Using the Touch Bar to access the Smart Controls is actually quite handy, as, in most cases, it’s faster than opening Smart Controls in the Main Window and making an adjustment with a mouse or trackpad. But there’s more to come. If you press the Smart Controls button on the Touch Bar, you’ll be able to access other App region modes. Navigation mode displays a timeline overview of the project, very much like the Overview Line on Cubase’s Project window or Pro Tools’ Universe view. A white rectangle indicates the scope of the project currently being displayed in the main window, and you can drag this to both scroll horizontally through the project and move the playhead at the same time. Pressing the Overview button again returns you to the App Region selector. The only thing you can’t do, which might have been nice since the Touch Bar supports multi-touch, is to use two-finger gestures to zoom in and out horizontally.
Keyboard mode is a particularly nice touch that lets you play software instruments (sadly, it doesn’t work on external MIDI instruments). If you have a track selected that doesn’t use either Logic’s Drum Kit or Drum Machine Designer instruments, you’ll see a 17-note keyboard, with up and down octave buttons. And, as mentioned, because the Touch Bar supports multi-touch, this means you can play more than one note at a time. Now, while you’re probably not going to use this for major recordings, it is nonetheless handy, especially as Apple have also added Scale and Arpeggio modes. With Scales mode, you can select a specific scale and see only the keys that are part of that scale, and Arpeggio mode toggles an arpeggiator, which adds an Arpeggiator MIDI plug-in to that track if one isn’t already instantiated.
Should you have a track selected with Drum Kit or Drum Machine Designer, you’ll get access to 24 drum buttons displayed across three pages — although, strangely, you switch to the different pages by tapping a Page button rather than swiping. Alongside the drum buttons are two controls to adjust the velocity of the drum trigger, and to activate the Note Repeat feature introduced in Logic Pro 10.1.
If you have an audio-based track selected, what would normally be Keyboard mode becomes a set of audio monitoring controls. You can adjust the level of the track, and toggle record and monitoring, but you can also reassign the input for that track, and monitor and adjust the hardware gain setting, if you have supported hardware.
It’s worth remembering that since the Touch Bar replaces the function keys, this may affect the way you use Logic if you rely on key commands assigned to the function keys. It’s still possible to access such shortcuts, of course, by pressing the Function key, but Logic Pro 10.3 introduces a much slicker alternative. A dedicated Key Commands mode provides 16 banks of eight assignable buttons, giving you 128 in total. The first bank is displayed by default, and the others are accessed temporarily by holding down the modifier keys.
The best thing about the Touch Bar Key Command buttons is that many of the common key commands offer default icons, while others are displayed as text. This means you can see what your shortcut keys do, as opposed to having to remember what Ctrl+F1 does.
As you would expect, Logic Pro 10.3 ships with a default set of Touch Bar Key Commands, although you can configure your own in the new Touch Bar section of the Key Commands window. In the list of commands, there’s now a Touch Bar column that displays any Touch Bar shortcut for a command, along with columns for Short Name and Color. Short Name allows you to specify what text to display on a button, and, if a key command has an icon associated with it, entering text here will override the icon and display the short name instead. And there’s no prize for guessing that the colour column is where you can set a button’s background colour from a choice of eight.
Logic Pro’s Touch Bar implementation is remarkably good, and it certainly gives those with a new MacBook Pro something to brag about. It took me a little while to build the muscle memory to quickly navigate around the different modes, and it would have been nice if this functionality had been documented in the manual, but your patience will be rewarded.
Over the last few years, it’s been a common complaint that Apple seem less focused on ‘pro’ users than they used to be. While that’s arguably true in the case of hardware (the current Mac Pro line-up was introduced in 2013) and some software (Aperture was discontinued in favour of the simpler Photos app that appeared in OS X Yosemite), I don’t believe this line of thinking applies to Logic Pro X. For example, in no way has Logic been dumbed-down, and nor, for the most part, has it lost any of the functionality Emagic and now Apple have been implementing for the past 25 years. And if you look at two of the key new developments in Logic Pro 10.3 — Track Alternatives and Selection-based Processing — I don’t think you could argue that these are not high-end features.
I think the reason why some long-time users are perhaps frustrated with Logic’s direction is that, rather than building and improving on some of Logic’s older features, Apple are opting mostly to add shiny new features: Alchemy, the pretty new compressor effect, the acoustic and electric drum features, and so on. While these are great, and have valid applications for all Logic users, pro or otherwise, it’s disappointing to observe some areas of the program, such as MIDI editing, starting to stagnate.
With the exception of a left-hand panel being added to the Piano Roll editor, it really doesn’t feel as though MIDI editing has changed significantly since Logic 2.5 in 1995, when what is now called MIDI Draw first appeared as Hyper Draw. I’ve said this before, but if you compare Logic’s Piano Roll with Cubase’s Key editor, there’s a huge gap in functionality — not least that oft-requested feature from some users about the ability to see multiple lanes of MIDI Draw simultaneously. Now, Apple are no worse in this department than Avid (MIDI editing hasn’t really changed in Pro Tools since version 8 in 2008), and while the features that are there are good enough for some users, I think power users really want more.
However, despite all these niggles, you have to remember that Logic Pro X is a $199£200 Apple Pro application, and it seems almost churlish to complain when you get so much functionality and content for so little. And now that Apple seem to have settled into a more regular update pattern, future versions should hopefully appear on more regular basis.
When Camel Audio announced they were closing up shop in January 2015, it was an open secret that this was due to the company having been acquired by Apple; so it wasn’t a complete surprise when Alchemy reappeared in Logic Pro 10.2. Sporting a new, cleaner, Apple-approved user interface, it was now also possible to import EXS sampler instruments, amongst other things.
There are over 30 improvements to Alchemy in Logic Pro 10.3, ranging from offering a downsample option in the Source, Master and Multimode filters to Autosave now working correctly. Possibly the most helpful, though, is that Alchemy now supports Logic’s Quick Help, meaning you can hover the pointer over a control in Alchemy, and Logic’s Quick Help will offer a brief description of what the control does. One small thing I noticed, using Logic on a new MacBook Pro without a dedicated GPU, is how Alchemy’s user interface can feel a little sluggish at times compared to running it on a Mac Pro, presumably due to the MacBook having less capable graphics.
For a fuller explanation of Alchemy in Logic Pro, refer to a technique article published in the December 2015 issue (www.soundonsound.com/techniques/kind-magic-alchemy).
In addition to the headline new features, Logic Pro 10.3 also offers many smaller enhancements that make the application easier to use. One of my favourites is that when you adjust the start and end bounds of an audio or MIDI region, you’ll see the full length of the available audio or MIDI data displayed on the track, making it easier to see where you want to drag the bounds to. And in terms of display, another row of 24 colours has been added to the colour palette, offering a new shade of the existing colour scheme.
Logic Pro 10.3 is now also able to import MusicXML files as well as export them (which the program has been able to do since the original release of Logic Pro X). As a test, I tried importing the open Goldberg Variations Music XML file from Musescore (musescore.com/opengoldberg/goldberg-variations). Logic was indeed able to import the file, although the result was not flawless. The notes seemed to be fine, and elements such as repeat and first and second time bars were carried over; but the font used to display tempo markings, such as “crotchet = 60”, displayed a question mark where there should have been a crotchet. But it works, and I suspect your mileage will vary depending on the files you try to import.
While there are more features of this ilk than I have space to describe, I’ll end with one that’s been on the wishlist of hardcore Logic MIDI users for years: it’s finally possible to add key commands for the first 30 Transform user presets, via the 30 “Apply Transform User Preset to selected Events”.
Released alongside Logic Pro 10.3 and GarageBand for iOS 2.2 was a new version of Logic Remote for iOS (1.3.1). This was mainly to provide compatibility for the new version of Logic, but it also supposedly improves the reliability of the Wi-Fi connection between your iOS device and your Mac.
Logic Remote was last updated the year before, in January 2016, when Universal support was added so that the app could be used on an iPhone as well as an iPad. The app is more limited on an iPhone, presumably owing to the lack of screen real estate, and, in vertical orientation, lets you control the selected channel in Logic as well as the master output. If you turn the iPhone horizontally, you can access key commands and a keyboard, which now also features a scale mode similar to the one in GarageBand for iOS.
Since the debut of Logic Pro X in 2013, Apple have released three subsequent updates: version 10.1 (reviewed in the April 2015 issue), version 10.2, and, now, version 10.3. In the past, as with most applications, significant new versions of Logic were denoted by major new version numbers to reflect the quantity of noteworthy improvements. However, since reaching version 10, Apple have decided to change the way Logic updates are released. Rather than huge upgrades every couple of years with a large number of new features, it seems we’ll see a more regular update schedule, with each version containing a smaller number of new features. This is not dissimilar to Avid’s update plan, except in the case of Logic Pro X the updates are free and don’t require a subscription — if you exempt the cost of buying new Mac hardware every couple of years, of course!
Force Touch is a technology that debuted on the Apple Watch, which makes it possible to perform one action by pressing normally and another by pressing down slightly harder, with haptic feedback making it feel as though there are two physical stages. Logic Pro 10.2 made it possible to perform certain commands with the Force Touch trackpads that began to appear on MacBooks and MacBook Pros in 2015, and the Magic Trackpad 2. For example, force-clicking in an empty part of the Track List opens the New Track sheet, although that’s just scratching the surface.
You can force-click on the workspace of an instrument, MIDI, or Drummer track to create a new region on that track, as though you had used the pencil Tool; and, similarly, force-clicking a vacant area on an audio or guitar track opens the Add Audio File selector. It’s possible to rename a region by force-clicking it, which is handy, and force-clicking a track header toggles the Zoom Focused Track command. You can force-click on any ruler to create a marker at that location, and, finally, you can force-click to create notes in the Piano Roll and Score editors, or events in the Step Editor, and force-clicking existing notes or events deletes them.
If you have a Force Touch trackpad, you’ll probably find yourself very quickly getting used to this way of working.
- Playlists I mean, Track Alternatives!
- If you have a new MacBook Pro, the Touch Bar support is great.
- The culmination of hundreds of tweaks and additions introduced in versions 10.1 and 10.2.
- The MIDI editing functionality feels like it’s stagnating.
- Surround mixing features are lacking.
While some long-time users may disagree with the direction Apple are taking Logic Pro, it remains a powerful music and audio production tool that offers staggering value for money.
- Apple Logic Pro 10.3.1.
- Late 2013 Apple Mac Pro running Mac OS 10.12.3.
- 2016 Apple MacBook Pro running Mac OS 10.12.3.