Following on from our preview last month, we test-drive the new Logic Pro v7.1. Does it finally deliver what v7 promised?
The Logic v7.1 upgrade has finally shipped, after a delay of around three weeks. No one seems to be sure why Apple decided to put back the release but, as it was finally delivered just after Tiger was shipped, that may have had something to do with it. The new version installed onto my Mac with no problems; though it did overwrite the original 7.0.x file, so if you want to keep your older version you should copy it to another hard drive before installation.
So was it worth £13.99 in the UK (or more if you were one of the first people to order from the Apple store; earlier orders charged for shipping!)? First the good news: full plug-in delay compensation (PDC) works perfectly on playback. I tried it out on a song with lots of busses and auxes each with several UAD1 and other native third-party plug-ins. Running this song under version 7.0.1, I had to spend a lot of time slipping audio files around to make sure that the audio sent through busses remained in perfect time with the audio tracks and virtual instruments. Under v7.1, Logic 's full PDC sorts this out automatically — everything plays back perfectly in time.
Now the bad news. Apple have implemented PDC in a pretty simplistic fashion. If you try recording new audio with PDC set to All (such that tracks, busses, and auxes are all compensated for), the new recordings will play back out of time with the rest of the track. Another problem comes if you record and play back external MIDI instruments and don't return their audio through Logic 's Input or External Instrument objects (where they will be delayed along with all the other tracks). These too will be out of time with previously recorded material — which is particularly important for those who mix outside of Logic using external hardware.
Apple suggest a few workarounds for these issues (you can mentally insert an exclamation mark after each of these if you wish). One method is not to record any new audio after you've started mixing. Another is to use the old-style PDC setting whereby just tracks are compensated for — this won't be an easy option if you have dozens of busses full of effects plug-ins. Apple also suggest that you could disable all plug-ins placed on auxes and busses or you could just not use them at all. Another suggestion is that you disable Software Monitoring from the Audio Hardware & Drivers pane of Logic 's Preferences. However, if you do this it will stop you from adding some of Logic 's reverb or compression to the monitor mix to assist a vocalist when recording. You can, of course, use an external mixer in this mode and add effects there, but given that many of us are recording 'in the box' these days, that's not always an option.
There are also issues with the metering accuracy and SPL position when using PDC. Many Logic users who have waited a long time for PDC are pretty unhappy with its implementation in Logic v7.1, especially as competing software manages to avoid these pitfalls by automatically delaying the playback of new recordings to fit with tracks already recorded. It does smack a little of Apple rushing out PDC to calm the protesters without thinking it through fully. For the full Apple write-up of the situation, check out http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=301025.
The other new features are more promising. The audio you record into Logic v7.1 is now able to follow tempo changes in the same way that Apple Loops do. This new feature has already foxed a few users with its implementation. Firstly, to get the recordings to follow the Song's tempo changes, you need to make sure the box is checked in the Region Parameters box. Only files recorded into Logic v7.1 can follow the Song's tempo, and it's limited to the Song into which you recorded the audio — though you can make other files able to follow tempo by bouncing and using the Add Results To Audio Window option. Alternatively, you can convert them to Apple Loops directly using the Open In Apple Loops option in the Arrange window's Region menu, or you can save audio tracks (and virtual instruments) as Apple Loops directly.
The quality of the audio as a result of tempo changes is pretty good — within reason and depending on the source material. Shooting up to a fast tempo from a slow tempo does cause playback artefacts, but you can improve this by splitting the regions at the tempo change point. You can also transpose regions directly from the Region parameter box, and the same caveats apply as with tempo changes.
The new Bass Amp (not Pro, notice) is hidden in the distortion menu of Logic 's plug-ins. It's pretty basic (and thus easy to use) and the sounds it produces are very useful, though I don't think it will tempt me away from my UAD1's LA2A and Pultec EQ just yet. It has a simple Garage Band-like interface, with a pull-down menu where you can choose from several classic bass amplifier emulations. The basic sound can then be modified using EQ sliders. I very much hope Apple will develop this into a Pro version in line with Guitar Amp Pro.
The much anticipated two 'new' virtual instruments, the Hybrid Basic and Hybrid Morph synthesizers, have caused a bit of confusion amongst v7.1 users — usually because they can't find them! This is because they are located in the Garage Band instruments menu. As both of these instruments were first seen in Garage Band 2, it's a bit cheeky of Apple to suggest that they are a new feature of Logic. Putting that aside, they are, like all the Garage Band instruments, extremely useful and sound very nice indeed. The Hybrid Morph in particular reminds me of my old Wavestation (or maybe my Kawai K1?), while the Hybrid Basic is a little PPG-like. Actually, I find myself using the Garage Band instruments more and more in Logic — the analogue synthesizers are particularly good and have recently usurped my Pro53 and the ES2 for simple pads.
The Enhance Timing plug-in has already proved itself useful in bringing into time some recalcitrant (or 'badly played') acoustic guitars. Again, this is a Garage Band-first feature which attempts to improve the timing of audio recordings. It's a pretty simple affair with a pull-down menu for setting the grid note duration you want to lock to, and an amount slider. I've found that settings up to 50 percent work well on guitars and drums. The results you'll get from this plug-in are variable; it's another case of 'suck it and see'. One point that has caused some confusion; the Enhance Timing plug-in needs to be in the first plug-in slot to work, otherwise it'll be greyed out in the plug-in list.
There are also a lot of new Key Commands in v7.1 including Import Audio File — after doing several music bed compilations, which required me to load in hundreds of songs, I'm particularly happy about this one! Unfortunately, Apple don't provide a list of all the new Key Commands, so you'll have to do a search in the Key commands window to see if your particular long-time request has been implemented. Some of them are listed in the What's New Help menu item and at http://manuals.info.apple.com/en/Whats_New_in_Logic_Pro_7.1.pdf.
Logic v7.1 has a lot of little features and bug fixes too. A particular favourite of mine is the ability to drag plug-ins around directly in the Track Mixer window, rather than having to use the Audio Configuration. Ultrabeat now supports 'drag and drop' for drum voices and sequences, and you can export the step sequencer information as MIDI data into Logic — hooray! You can also store windows with hidden menus (opened by holding Alt and Apple keys and clicking the window's title bar) in Screensets now.
Many of the improvements in v7.1 aren't documented. For example, the Time Machine has some new algorithms which are much improved, and Logic 's pitch-changing sounds much smoother now, with reduced audio artefacts. It still isn't at the Melodyne level yet, though — I have a fantasy that Apple will acquire the Melodyne technology and integrate it into Logic one day. One important fix in v7.1 is that Logic now correctly imports OMF files that have a lot of audio files associated with them. This is an essential improvement for those working with Pro Tools systems, and was a big gripe with version 7. Speaking of bug fixes, Apple have made the unprecedented move of publishing all the bug fixes in version 7.1. The document is available at http://manuals.info.apple.com/en/Improvements_in_Logic_Pro_7.1.pdf. It's nice to see a mention of the Circular Structure error that has occasionally popped up in all versions of Logic over the years. However, I've still to find out what it actually means!
After struggling with Logic 's AU validator and incompatible AU plug-ins in version 7, I was a little concerned to read reports of further incompatibilities in v7.1. However, it seems that plug-in companies were on the ball with this release of Logic and that most of these problems were solved quickly by downloads from the relevant web sites.
Also on the update DVD is version 1.1 of Waveburner, Apple's mastering and CD-burning program. This installation also overwrites the earlier version of Waveburner; but as that was practically unusable, it's no great loss. The latest Waveburner however, approaches the functionality of the old OS9 version. It still has some strange limitations; Space Designer and the Adaptive Limiter are missing from Logic 's plug-ins, for example, but you can now at least save and load presets.
The program now has an AU plug-in cache, like Logic, so it doesn't take hours to load if you use Waves plug-ins, as it did previously. You can now load old OS 9 Waveburner projects and the CD-burning side works perfectly. Waveburner has been sorely needed, as there are few mastering and Red Book CD-creation programs available for OS X. Waveburner v1 was slipped onto the Logic 7 DVDs almost apologetically, and with good reason, seeing how poor it was. Apple should be shouting about the latest version from the rooftops, as it's now a very useful and easy-to-use CD-creation program.
Logic Pro v7.1 is much closer to being the program a lot of us wished the original v7 had been. It's been much more stable in the week I've been using it extensively on a major project. It still does crash unexpectedly, however, but now it is once a day rather than once an hour! It's nice to see Apple listening to users by publishing a list of bug fixes, but they still have some way to go if they want to calm the worried ranks of Logic users unhappy since version 7's launch. Logic has the potential to reclaim its sequencer crown; but Apple need to listen to their users more, especially the professionals, if it wants to be king (or queen) again.