Paul White highlights the major features in the new version of Emagic's Logic sequencing software.
Almost everyone who relies on a leading‑edge sequencer experiences something of a thrill of anticipation when a major new upgrade is announced. And perhaps especially so when, as in this case, the manufacturer, Emagic, claims that the transition to the new version is their "biggest evolutionary step" yet. Admittedly, you are entitled to expect something a bit special when the upgrade alone costs £99 (for users upgrading from Platinum v3.5 to Platinum v4), but the sheer number of high‑ audio‑quality plug‑ins that now come built in to Version 4 may go a long way towards silencing potential dissenters. However, some of the greatest improvements will actually be invisible to the user. PC users will welcome the complete rewriting of their code to bring it into line with the Mac version, for example (they finally get Note Velocity by colour in the Matrix page and the ability to create automatic song backups!), although the Mac version too (under review here) has undergone some significant behind‑the‑scenes renovation. In this review, I'll be assuming a basic familiarity with Logic's functions — anyone lacking this should refer to previous reviews (see the 'Logic in SOS' box)..
The first thing you notice when booting up v4.0 is that the cosmetics of the interface have been changed. There's nothing radical enough to disorientate existing users, although a few of the menu items have been moved to make the operation more logical and any user‑defined key commands now appear in the appropriate menus. Although I know some users who responded quite favourably to the new look, I found that the new stronger‑coloured backgrounds compromised clarity to some extent on the Arrange page, and — dare I say it — looked rather Windows‑ish! Fortunately, there's a Preferences option that lets you reinstate the version 3 look, which after a little poking around, I did. If Emagic decide to make the background colours customisable in future versions, I'll almost certainly use the version 4 look, but until then, version 3's appearance suits me better. Obviously, this is a purely personal and subjective opinion.
Clearly, a few new colours and tidied menus alone aren't going to persuade many existing users to shell out for the upgrade, but a number of key areas of the program have also been improved. For example, the Matrix editor (the 'piano roll' editor) can now be switched to display all notes across all tracks and across all sequence boundaries (of a whole song or folder). Naturally, you can also toggle it back to showing just the contents of a selected sequence. The new option is very useful for checking the timing and musical integrity of parts that span several tracks — to avoid confusing the notes from the different parts, it's now possible to switch the view mode so that that notes are displayed in the same colour as the sequence (normally the note colour indicates velocity, with red notes being louder and bluer ones being softer).
Up until now PC Logic users have had to make do with monochrome notes in the Matrix page, but version 4 at last introduces colour here. Even so, I feel Emagic have missed a couple of tricks; for example, I'd welcome the ability to view just the sequence data within a single track rather than having to see either all sequences and all tracks, or just the contents of a single sequence. Furthermore, if you've elected to view notes in their sequence colours rather than by velocity, they don't automatically switch back to the velocity‑colours view if you go back to the regular 'one sequence at a time' Matrix display, although clearly leaving all the notes the same colour in this view offers no advantage.
In the Arrange page, it's now possible to zoom in on individual tracks rather than having to display all tracks at the same resolution. For example, if you zoom in on your audio tracks so they're wide enough to see the waveform displays, you can enter Hyperdraw envelope and pan data while still being able to see the MIDI tracks at normal size alongside. Similarly, if you need to add Hyperdraw information to a MIDI track, you can 'fatten up' just that track while leaving the rest 'skinny'. In response to user demands, Emagic have also implemented a new display option that allows the 'now' cursor to stay in the centre of the screen while the rest of the display scrolls behind it. This takes a little more processing power than doing things the old way, however, and the cursor line tends to flicker a little, so those with slower computers may find it better not to activate this mode.
Some of the improvements are purely to do with showing existing data in clearer ways: when you're recording now, the bar ruler at the top of the arrange page turns red; when you solo a track, it turns yellow, and if the sequencer is working in external sync mode, it turns blue. Although it might be seen as purely cosmetic, this kind of update does actually provide significantly improved at‑a‑glance indication of the system status, even at a distance.
Logic has always allowed you to record multiple MIDI channels at once, but the result would end up as one track which would then have to be demerged into separate tracks. Now, each track has its own Record button and up to 16 tracks can be placed into record at once. This is good news for those musicians who like to work in groups to record several parts at once in real time, and it's equally applicable to guitar synth users who tend to allocate a different MIDI channel to each string. The data doesn't appear in the selected tracks (other than the currently active one) until you stop recording, though — almost as if the program is doing a sneaky demerge in the background after recording, a suspicion that's reinforced by the fact that you have to select 'Demerge Tracks by MIDI Channel' to make this mode active. Alternatively, you can still record in several tracks at once without selecting 'demerge', in which case all selected tracks contain the same data, (originals in the active track and aliases in all the others). This latter mode was included to provide an easy way to record layered parts without having to mess around in the Environment page. If the Record button is turned off on the selected track, the MIDI Thru function is also disabled.
There's no doubt at all that having independent track record buttons is a useful feature, but I still feel Emagic could have taken the idea further for the benefit of guitar synth users. For example, there's no way to globally control the Program number and volume across all selected tracks — you still have to set them up individually.
Delving into the Environment reveals a few small changes and additions, one of which is the ability to create aliases (Shortcuts in PC‑speak) of Environment objects that can be viewed on other layers. Collections of Environment objects can be grouped together to form Macros and two new Transformer modes have been added — Alternating Split and SysEx Mapper. The first splits MIDI data between its two ports while the second allows MIDI events to change SysEx messages in real time — I think I'll leave that one alone! Environment faders can now be set to send 14‑bit pitch‑bend and controller messages rather than just 8‑bit ones, and audio objects have been given MIDI output ports that reflect the movement of any controls on the object — for example, the mixer channels. This provision doesn't affect the automation in Logic but does make it easier to send data to external devices, such as controllers with motorised faders.
The Audio side of the program includes new drivers, covering more hardware devices, including 24‑bit/96kHz systems, and is now also fully ASIO‑compliant. Up to 64 audio tracks per type of hardware fitted are supported (though other limitations such as drive speed will probably reduce this) with a maximum of 128 audio tracks available in Logic Platinum and 64 in Gold. Any audio track or buss can be set to mono or stereo operation and the routing has been extended so that busses can be routed to other busses, making conventional subgrouping possible. Platinum has 16 internal busses while Gold has eight.
Effects may be inserted directly into the main stereo mix (providing they are stereo‑in, stereo‑out) and certain pieces of hardware have direct support as well as ASIO. In some circumstances, a dedicated driver will give better performance than ASIO, which is designed to be a common component interfacing many different types of hardware and software.
Previously, when you switched on an audio driver, it used to always be necessary to reboot before the change would take effect, but v4.0 now offers a feature that allows you to at least attempt to start a new driver without rebooting, via the 'Try Launch' button. It won't always work, but it's worth a shot. In Mac AV mode, Driver Delay is adjustable to match the speed of the host computer, while the new Audio Engine supports the Korg 1212 I/O card directly and is claimed to give better performance than the ASIO driver (because of the high latency of this particular card, however, hardware monitoring must always be used, which means there's no control over pan position in the monitoring while recording, although the level may still be adjusted). An option has also been included to increase the size of the process buffer for use with slower pre‑G3 computers.
In previous incarnations of Logic Audio, Mac users have had to convert WAV files before using them, but v4.0 includes the ability to play these back directly. This means all those cheap‑and‑cheerful sample discs that use the WAV format are now legitimate Mac sample fodder. I tested this function and found it worked quite transparently, just like opening an AIFF or SDII file.
Logic Audio v4 now comes with 34 built‑in, automatable effects. These work like plug‑ins, but they're integrated into the program so they can't be copied separately or used with other sequencers.
Though 34 might seem like a large number, that doesn't include some of the effects appearing in different versions — for example, reverb, which comes in Platinum, Gold and Silver variants, with Platinum taking the most processing power. The old version 3 reverb has also been retained for those who want it. Similarly, there are several equalisers, with the multi‑band Fat EQ parametric offering the best features, inevitably at the expense of the greatest processor demand. Then there's compression, delay, chorus, flanging, phasing, overdrive, distortion, gating and so on. A few of the effects are worthy of particular note — for example, the Spectral Gate. This is a threshold‑dependent filter that produces weird results, suggestive of vocoding, off‑tune radios and metallic whispering! There are lots of controls to twiddle and a nice graphical interface; I managed to create some really interesting effects with very little effort.
The Envelope Filter can be used to add synth‑style filter effects to any dynamic sound, while a level‑dependent Envelope Shaper can be used to alter the envelope of an existing sound. Also more creative than its description might suggest is the EnVerb, a reverb in which the user can change the attack, hold and release times of the reverb envelope to create reverse, gated and just plain weird reverb effects. This one is a bit greedy on processing power, but to be fair, all the effects have been streamlined as much as possible, so a Mac G3 or Pentium II will be able to run several of the more sophisticated plug‑ins at once.
Those into 'anti‑quality' will take a liking the BitCrusher, an effect that can reduce the bit depth and sample rate of any audio signal to ensure that it's noisy, distorted and full of aliasing artifacts — lovely! At the other extreme, a noise‑shaped ditherer has been added so that those recording at 20 or 24‑bit resolution can reduce their work to 16‑bit resolution while maintaining as much as possible of the original dynamic range.
In checking out all the plug‑ins, I found that the main compressor sounded excellent on vocals. It levels and thickens beautifully, just like a good stand‑alone box. There's also a tape‑delay emulation, featuring high‑cut filtering and soft clipping in the feedback path, that sounds very '60s. When it comes to reverb, Emagic make great claims for their algorithms, and although they have inevitably been squeezed a lot compared to hardware reverbs in order to get the processing demands down to a realistic level, they're actually not at all bad. The top‑of‑the‑range PlatinumVerb has a number of user‑adjustable parameters, including pre‑delay, density, decay time and room shape, and though I was a little unsure when I heard it set at 100 percent wet, it sits really well in a mix and does a very capable ambience impression.
All the effects can be automated, where relevant, and the vast majority have an easy‑to‑use graphical interface. Those with smaller monitors can choose an alternative view option, which presents the controls just as a row of faders, rather like earlier Emagic effects, but either way, the controls are big enough to get hold of easily and everything is clearly set out. Most of the effects come with a few factory presets to get you started, but it's also possible to save and recall your own patches from within the effect's control panel window.
I spent several days playing with v4.0 so that I could find out which of the new features were really useful and which I felt were more superfluous. In fact the only frivolous thing I found was the new look, and frankly, if you don't like it, you can always turn it off and go back to the old look. The new menu layouts are a definite improvement, though — everything is clearer and more logically placed. In fact the only odd thing is that when opening a window, I occasionally get a dialogue box that says "Did not change style of desk!" I've no idea what this means, and it goes away when you click the Exit button, but I'm intrigued. Perhaps it doesn't like the desk it's sitting on and is suggesting I redesign it? Hang on while I get my saw!
I experienced no real problems and haven't had a crash yet, but there are nevertheless one or two more areas where I still feel fundamental improvements could be made. For example, the way mix and plug‑in automation data is stored is rather untidy — what I'd like to see is something like a second Arrange page where each audio track and plug‑in had its own track of control data. Of less importance, but still irritating to me, is that I can't seem to get an Environment object to access all the available banks of a fully expanded Roland JV2080. You can access the first four cards, but after that you can't open any further banks. This is true even when the ready‑made JV2080 Environment object is pasted in from the support disk.
Emagic also should consider implementing a search function, so if you can't remember what menu something is in, you can enter one of the words and get a list of menus containing those words — rather like a regular Find command. Context‑sensitive prompts, allowing the function of any mysterious button to be determined by holding the mouse pointer over it for a few seconds, would also be welcomed by many new users.
Those suggestions apart, I have to say that the major new operational features are genuine improvements, especially the facility to zoom individual tracks and to view multiple tracks within the same Matrix window. I also like having the ability to record multiple tracks, although for MIDI guitar use, I still feel there is a need for a proper MIDI Guitar Environment object, complete with intelligent data filtering.
On the audio side, I verified the importing of WAV files without problems, then checked out the Direct I/O driver (using Pro Tools hardware) plus the new real‑time audio effects. Again, all worked smoothly. I like the new cosmetic design used for the effect control panels, though not all the virtual front panels will fit across a 14‑inch monitor unless you switch to the simplified Editor view (with thin sliders). Most of the effects are intuitive enough to set up, but some take a little experimenting to get used to, especially the Envelope Filter and the Spectral Gate. Overall, the effect quality is good considering how little processing power they take, though I'd still want to use a hardware reverb for any really serious work.
I was, as I mentioned earlier, impressed by the compressor, especially for vocal use. Provided that you have a fairly fast computer, (Mac users are best using a G3 model), the real‑time effects are very worthwhile, but when I tried to duplicate the tests on my now antiquated 100MHz Power Computing machine, I had enough trouble getting plain audio to play at all without worrying about the effects. According to the manual, the minimum recommended Macintosh computer is a 120MHz Power PC, but my advice would be to not expect too many simultaneous processes from anything of that spec.
When it comes to editing audio, Emagic have finally included a pencil tool, allowing sections of waveform to be redrawn or modified, something that can be useful to remove very short clicks or spikes. Oddly though, I found the pencil wouldn't cross the zero line while drawing — you can either redraw positive half cycles or negative half cycles, but you can't just go ahead and draw in a complete cycle. Surely this must be a bug rather than a feature?
Almost a hundred pounds may seem a bit steep for a software update, but the inclusion of so many good real‑time effects, not to mention significant general improvements, actually means you're getting a bit of a bargain. I'm not entirely convinced by the new look, but the general tidying of the menus and the ability to display user‑defined key commands within the menus is a clear improvement. The main functional enhancements to the program are genuinely worthwhile, and there are other less obvious refinements that are too numerous to mention, including additions to the scoring repertoire.
As far as 24‑bit/96kHz support is concerned, this is probably a good marketing move, though I still hold to my belief that it is completely irrelevant to 99.9 percent of users. Unless you're recording acoustic music that has a wide dynamic range in a perfectly silent venue using state‑of‑the‑art everything, you simply won't hear a difference. Even if you are, you may still not hear a difference! I'd gladly sacrifice all that for a better automation editor, more guitar synth support and a punch in/out footswitch.
The real winners this time around are the PC users who have for so long had to settle for being one or two generations behind their Mac counterparts. Version 4 delivers all the improvements that Mac owners get, and they're also brought up to date in one or two other aforementioned areas. Upgrading, at least on the Mac, was painless, so I won't hesitate to recommend that existing users move up to version 4 as soon as possible, even if it's only to get their hands on all those lovely effects.
Notator Logic v1.2 May 1993
Notator Logic Audio Dec 1993
Logic v2.0 Aug 1995
Logic v2.5 Oct 1995
Logic Audio v2.5 Feb 1996
Logic Audio v2.5 PC Nov 1996
Logic Audio v3.0 Jan 1998
Logic Audio v3.0 PC Apr 1998
Logic Audio v3.5 Oct 1998
||• Overdrive. |
Emagic incorporated Direct I/O into their Audio Engine from version 3.7 onwards, allowing Digidesign hardware to be accessed without using Digidesign's DAE (Digital Audio Engine). Using Direct I/O precludes the use of any on‑card DSP — the card functions as an I/O only — but the other side of the coin is that host‑processor‑powered plug‑ins may be used.
Using DAE, only Digidesign‑compatible plug‑ins may be used. Having the choice means users who have something like an Audiomedia card, or even a Pro Tools system, can use it via Direct I/O when necessary to provide better quality I/O without sacrificing access to VST plug‑ins. Of course Pro Tools may still be used with DAE to get the full benefits of the hardware, including TDM plug‑ins, though as with any MIDI + Audio sequencer, you can't have VST plug‑ins running on DAE‑driven hardware and you can't use TDM plug‑ins on non‑DAE driven hardware. My solution is to route tracks where TDM processing is required via DAE channels and tracks where I want to use VST or inbuilt Logic plug‑ins via the Mac AV outputs. Apparently the TDM support has been improved so that plug‑ins with side‑chain routing can now be accommodated, though I didn't have the necessary components to verify this.
- Good range of useful effects and processors built in.
- Tidier menu structure with enhanced display facilities.
- Ability to record multiple MIDI tracks at once.
- Some genuinely useful new features, as well as 24‑bit, 96kHz support.
- Not being able to change the colours of the new‑look interface makes it less clear than the v3 interface.
- Waveform redrawing doesn't appear to be working quite as expected.
Version 4 is a major upgrade to an already excellent program. The upgrade combines an updated layout with innovative new features/display options plus 24‑bit/96kHz support and a lot more built‑in audio effects.