Apple’s new release of Logic Pro X marks the first time in nearly six years that the company has completely overhauled the app’s UI. It’s been a long time coming for pros like myself that rely on the application, and to make things even sweeter, Apple is promising more than just a fresh coat of paint this time around.
There’s no ignoring the backlash Apple experienced just two years ago with its redesign of Final Cut Pro X and the removal of pro features in return for an elegant, streamlined interface. The question is, does Logic’s slick new interface come with compromises for professionals? Or has Apple learned from its mistakes with FCPX?
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The New Look |
Immediately noticeable upon launching the app are the changes to the interface – it finally looks like it was made this decade. Apple has replaced the tired light grey UI and hard to navigate menus, as well as the dated toolbar icons that it first introduced way back in 2007. The new darker color palette borrows directly from Apple’s Final Cut Pro X redesign, and does an excellent job of making new, slightly larger toolbar icons and white text easily viewable at a glance. Apple has also streamlined the interface considerably, bringing the Transport bar to the top of the screen, and integrating it into the new “Control Bar,” while making the old toolbar collapsable via an icon on the Control bar.
Good news for pros: In this case, streamlined doesn’t mean Apple has removed quick access to functions you had on the old Toolbar and Transport. Both the Control Bar and Toolbar are still fully customizable, allowing you to add the usual common functions. On either side of your Transport LCD, you’ll get customizable quick keys to your Library, Mixer, Toolbar, etc, and the ability to place various modes and functions like the metronome and varispeed. The new icons on the Control Bar also become highlighted when engaged, making it easier to see what you have open or enabled. Some have noticed that the icons on the new toolbar and Control bar aren’t resizable, meaning you might not be able to place as many quick functions on them as before. The majority of the same quick commands can be added to the toolbar, but Apple has done a bit of cleaning up to remove some of the more redundant commands. Both are minor changes, and luckily full keyboard shortcut support is still present.
Apple has done a great job of simplifying the entire interface without actually removing much. In fact, it’s actually been able to fit even more into the simplified UI by offering one-click access to functions that were in the past tucked away in menus or only accessible through modifier keys. Each track header on the arrange page (referred to as the Tracks area in Logic Pro X) can now include a volume slider and an assignable pan or send, providing quick access to levels without having to open the mixer. It also pulled the MIDI FX out of the clunky Environment, allowing users to access the Arpeggiator, Chord Trigger, Modulator, and other effects from dedicated MIDI FX modules on each channel strip.
The redesign isn’t just a new look. The entire application feels snappier, with sessions, patches, and instruments loading up quicker than ever before. Apple didn’t highlight many performance improvements in that regard, and perhaps its just the improved navigation, but big sessions with lots of tracks seem to be a little less sluggish in Logic Pro X.
You’ll now be able to shift or command click to highlight multiple track headers and drag to easily rearrange several tracks in the Tracks area at the same time.
The Mixer in Logic Pro X is where the majority of long-time users will notice the most changes in terms of new functionality. Not only do we get access to the MIDI FX modules and new panning mode options, but the layout also now better reflects the signal path with the input at the top of the channel strip. Mousing over the plug-ins module now reveals three buttons, one that opens the plug-in window, another for selecting a plug-in, and a third for bypassing the plug-in directly from the mixer.
Some other subtle but welcomed improvements: Gain reduction meter (only works with Apple’s compressor), dragging and rearranging plug-ins on the mixer no longer requires a modifier key, and Pan now lights up when mousing over to let you know where you’re at before making adjustments. The Piano Roll also gets a facelift, with new controls for quantize and more built-in.
Another nice addition is Arrangement markers, which allows you to assign markers for the intro, verse, and chorus of your song in the tracks area, then drag all tracks from an entire section in a single click. It’s another example that Logic Pro X’s new look isn’t just a skin on the old Logic Pro– from the Mixer to the Smart Controls– Apple has also added new features to make your workflow more efficient.
Groove Tracks is a simplistic approach to the groove templates we had in previous versions, allowing you to select a master track and then a selection of other tracks that will match the master track’s quantization. It doesn’t seem to be as powerful as groove templates (you can only have one master Groove Track at a time), but it’s now a track header option allowing you to set groove tracks with a single click. The old Groove templates are still present fortunately, in case you need a more complex workflow.
Apple loops, list editors, and the browser feel less cluttered and easier to navigate thanks to the larger UI elements, but look relatively the same on the right hand side of the screen. The Library, on the other hand, has been given a new location on the left side of the screen next to the track headers and the Inspector. It seems to make more sense on the left side away from the other menus, and small arrows next to plug-in modules on the Inspector now provide quick access to presets in the Library. The redesigned UI also extends to plug-in windows, although many of Apple’s aging stock plug-ins– notably the EXS24– remain untouched and look even more dated within the shiny new plug-in windows.
Settings and preferences remain largely the same, although one or two trivial options appear to be missing, like the ability to adjust the color of the Tracks area. There is also an Advanced pane in Preferences that will allow you to enable and disable pro features like destructive audio editing, beat mapping, and customizing Smart Controls, all of which are enabled by default for those coming from old versions of Logic.
SMART CONTROLS |
The new Smart Controls feature in Logic Pro X, on its face, is an easier way of controlling software instruments and plug-ins. Rather than having to pull up a plug-in’s sometimes complicated UI, Smart Controls provide a selection of customizable, onscreen controls mapped to various plug-in and channel strip parameters. Apple provides an automatic, intelligent selection of Smart Controls with varying interfaces for each plug-in. For example, a synth might start with smart controls for waveforms, glide, and master volume, while a bass patch from EXS24 will load up Tone, Overdrive, Compressor, etc. Smart Controls at first seem like an easier way to let less advanced users fine tune patches from the Library without opening a plug-in, but they can also be quite powerful for pros…
Smart Controls are completely customizable, meaning you’ll be able to assign any parameter from a plug-in or channel strip to a knob on any given Smart Control layout. You can even assign multiple parameters to a single knob, apply automation, and map Smart Controls to external controllers. Smart Controls get really interesting with Logic 10’s new Summing Stacks…
TRACK STACKS |
Folders from old versions of Logic make a return, but now they do more than just hide those drum tracks you spent 4 days locking to the grid. The two new types of folders, now called Track Stacks, include a “Folder Stack” and a “Summing Stack”. The Folder Stack is just a folder, grouping tracks and providing a master volume, solo and mute, but preserving individual routing for each track. But a Summing Stack is a whole other beast.
A Summing Stack doesn’t preserve individual routing of sub tracks, and instead creates an aux track that each subtrack gets bussed to. This is a great way to create fat, multi-layered instruments: imagine stacking multiple MIDI instruments and triggering them all at once through the main track of a Summing Stack. There were other more intricate ways of doing this before, but Summing Stacks make it a cinch for just about anyone, and much easier than in other popular DAWs.
Unlike Folder Stacks, the “main track” on a Summing Stack has smart control functionality and can have effects processing applied to it just like your average send setup. You’ll also be able to save it as a patch in the library, and integration with Smart Controls makes for some really fun setups.
One amazing feature is that the main track’s Smart Controls can take a hold of any parameter from ANY plug in and instrument in the Summing Stack on a single or multiple different smart control knobs. That’s something that would have required a deep knowledge of Logic’s Environment previously, or a serious amount of tedious automation work.
With the inclusion of Summing Stacks, we can now save, create and choose from Logic’s new preset Patches. A patch can be made up of any combination of channel strip settings, instruments, plug-ins, Smart Control data and routing information. Apple includes a bunch that you can load up with various instruments, but you’ll also be able to customize a patch at any level, allowing you to mix and match any of the various elements within. And don’t worry, all of your old custom channel strip settings are available and can be implemented into new patches within Logic Pro X.
DRUMMER & DRUMKIT DESIGNER |
Think Logic’s take on Magic Garageband- a feature that inserts a virtual band member into your sessions– only this time it’s a drummer with some serious thump. Logic now lets you create a “Drummer” track, which will automatically load up the new “Drum Kit Designer” plug-in and present you with the Drummer UI. It might sound gimmicky, with presets across several genres grouped by 15 drummer’s names like “Kyle” and “Aidan,” but each comes with its own playing style, kit, and a number of presets. You’ll be able to adjust how the drummer plays along to your track, with controls for adjusting the frequency of fills and patterns of the cymbals, kick, snares, etc. You can even set Drummer to follow the rhythm of a specific track in your session or convert Drummer performances into MIDI regions for further editing in the Piano Roll or Step Editor.
It’s pretty entertaining, and its surprisingly realistic-sounding kits are a great counterpart to the electronic and hip-hop focused samples in Logic’s UltraBeat plug-in. While the UI might please only bedroom guitarists cutting demos, the “Drum Kit Designer” instrument behind the scenes will let you load up and edit over 15GB of quality drum kits at any time without having to deal with the new Drummer interface. Kits in Drum Kit Designer are modeled after real-world kits and the plug-in offers the usual mic control, tuning, dampening, gain, and the ability to swap out pieces to build a custom kit. Apple says it used “some of the industry’s best session drummers and recording engineers” to create Drummer (and it shows), but Drummer can also trigger samples from your favorite third-party source if you’d prefer.
The drum kits likely won’t be replacing all of your third-party drum samples, but after hearing Drum Kit Designer, it appears to be less a gimmick and more Apple’s stab at a serious drum sampler than you might have thought. Drummer is definitely a great feature to have for amateur musicians recording demos that might not want to drop extra cash on a third-party drum solution. And pros will have close to 20GB of new, high-quality kits to play with in Drum Kit Designer.
FLEX PITCH |
Flex Pitch, a new tool for editing and quantizing the pitch of audio tracks, brings the powerful functionality of often expensive, third-party pitch manipulation software like Melodyne right into Logic. Integrated beautifully into Logic’s UI, you can easily adjust the pitch and formant of monophonic audio files manually or using scale quantization, all within a familiar piano roll type overlay. It’s even easier to use than a lot of third-party solutions, with drift, gain, fine tune, vibrato, and formant controls directly on each note without having to switch between various tools.
This is how it works. Naturally located next to Apple’s Flex Time options, Flex Pitch will analyze a performance displaying pitch deviation as well what it has determined the intended note is. If it looks a little sharp or flat on the piano roll editor, just slide it back to the intended pitch. You can also use the local inspector controls to make pitch adjustments across an entire performance or group of notes, or use Apple’s “Set all to Perfect Pitch” if you want the quick and dirty job.
It’s not as feature-filled as something like Melodyne, but it’s a nice addition in Logic Pro X and some might prefer its intuitive UI.
ALTERNATIVES & AUTO-SAVE |
Apple is listing Auto Save as a new feature in Logic Pro X, which presumably means it will actually work this time rather than just occasionally recovering crashed projects. There’s also a new Alternatives feature, which essentially lets you create and save alternate versions of your session from the File menu, and you’ll be able to view automatic backups through a “Revert to” menu option. You can still save sessions in folders containing access to all the project assets like you’ve been used to, but the default will now save sessions to a single, consolidated project file. All welcomed improvements that will finally give you peace at mind knowing you won’t lose your work when pushing the limits of your hardware.
NEW INSTRUMENTS/PLUG-INS |
Apparently admitting defeat against third party synth developers, Apple hasn’t given electronic musicians a whole lot to be excited about in the way of new instruments. Retro Synth is an interesting little addition to Logic’s software instrument suite, offering 4 synthesizer types– Analog, Sync, Wavetable and FM– but it really doesn’t bring anything unique to the table.
Anyone familiar with Amp Designer will feel right at home with its the new bass equivalent, Bass Amp Designer. You get 3 amps and a handful of cabinet options along with a handy little mix slider for the DI/Amp signal balance. Apple also includes 7 new foot pedals including a graphic EQ and my personal fav, the sub octave enhancer, Dr. Octave.
Beyond that, Apple has introduced what appears to be nothing more than re-skinned versions of the EVD6, EVP88 and EVB3, now called Vintage Clav, Electric Piano and B3 Organ respectively. To be fair, the overall UI design is much easier to navigate, and there’s also some refreshed stock presets, if you’re into that kind of thing.
One awesome new feature with plug-ins, especially for those on smaller screens, is the ability to resize plug-ins to a much smaller window size than ever before, as you can see with the EXS24 pictured in the screenshot above.
LOGIC REMOTE |
Apple has for the first time released a companion iPad app for Logic Pro alongside the release of version 10. It doesn’t bring a full fledged Logic experience to iOS devices, but instead acts as a second screen for performing certain tasks remotely. You can pull up Garageband style interfaces for playing instruments and drum kits, but the cool part about Logic Remote is the ability to remotely navigate projects and control the mixer. You can monitor levels, adjust volume, pan, solo, etc, play with Smart Controls, and control multiple faders at once with touch gestures. You’ll also be able to control the Transport, which could be nice for controlling a session in a vocal booth away from your Mac, for instance. The ability to have the mixer at your fingertips but not taking up precious screen real estate will be refreshing for those without a physical mixer, as controlling the mixer with your hands is naturally more intuitive.
THE BEST LOGIC YET |
$200 is an insanely low price for everything that Apple has been able to do in Logic Pro X. It might have been a long time coming, but there’s something to be said for how much you get with Logic Pro these days for what used to cost upwards of $500. Close to 20GB of Drum Kit Designer samples isn’t the half of it. Since moving to the Mac App Store a couple years back, and dropping down to $199, Apple has added ton of great content for free that used to all cost extra. Well over 10GB of legacy content, loops, and instruments from old versions of Logic, and all the GarageBand JamPacks, are still present in the latest version. Add in all the welcomed UI tweaks, Drummer and DKD, Flex Pitch, and the new macro Smart Controls, and Logic has a solid foundation to remain one of the top DAWs on the market going forward.
There’s still some work to be done– some of its stock plug-ins, like the EXS24, are in desperate need of an overhaul, and pros might have a few nitpicks. I’d love to be able to place colors behind channel strips in the mixer, something that some of Logic’s competitors have offered for a long time. You can also say goodbye to any 32-bit plug-ins you might have floating around, as Apple’s going 64-bit only this time around.
In the end, Logic Pro X makes an excellent upgrade for existing Logic users, and marks the best version yet for newcomers to Apple’s audio suite. No, Apple’s isn’t offering upgrade pricing to any existing Logic Pro users, but take it from me, the $199 is well worth the work that went into this release.