Review: Apple Logic Pro X 10.5 Update
Billed as the biggest Logic update since the introduction of Pro X, how much does version 10.5 alter our experience with the well-loved DAW?
Price £199 (free update for existing users)
Major updates to the DAW old guard of Logic Pro X, Pro Tools and Cubase are always exciting – if only to see how applications whose roots stretch back to the 1990s can be refreshed and refit for the modern age. In the case of Logic Pro X, significant updates aren’t easy to design and employ, given the sheer number of instruments and effects already included in the base program. Put simply, there’s little that Logic Pro X can’t already do. It’s clear, then, why Apple has directed much of its efforts towards the user experience of its DAW – changing its GUI and workflow – as well as adding new instruments and effects such as Alchemy and Studio Strings.
Assessing new versions of this DAW is about identifying the direction Apple has chosen to take it. Based on the new headline features, which include Live Loops, Remix FX, and the Step Sequencer, the Californian giant seems to be gearing its latest update towards hip-hop and EDM producers, having adopted some capabilities that have long made Ableton’s Live such a beloved option. Under the bonnet, however, there are updated attributes that will likely be welcomed by existing pro users. The question, then, is whether Logic Pro X remains the most flexible all-rounder or whether Apple has taken steps towards new ways of working.
The most prominent change to Logic Pro X is the addition of Live Loops, which transform Logic from a timeline-based DAW to a production tool that facilitates the kind of loop-based nonlinear composition pioneered by Ableton. As you’d expect, the implementation of Live Loops has a reassuringly Apple feel to it, meaning that it’s well integrated with other parts of the application and boasts a clear and informative GUI. Most important, though, is that it isn’t a replacement to Logic Pro X’s track lane system. Instead, it’s a different means of recording and triggering musical material that sits alongside (literally, in this case) the traditional Tracks area.
Logic Pro X’s Live Loops interface exists as a series of cells, each of which can be loaded with a loop, which can come in the form of an Apple Loop, a virtual instrument or an audio recording. The cells are divided into a series of scenes, presented in columns, that facilitate groups of loops being triggered simultaneously – think of these scenes as the verse, chorus and middle eight of a traditional song structure. What’s most exciting, though, is that you can record your Live Loop performance into the familiar Tracks area, which bridges the gap between the two work methods.
They will likely be a large cohort of Logic Pro X users that will gloss over the Live Loops feature, largely because their workflow is engrained into Logic’s linear timeline. For those that enjoy working with loop-based composition, though, Live Loops makes for a rewarding experience, allowing you to explore creative loop combinations and unusual triggering points on the fly. Comfortably the most game-changing element of Live Loops, however, is that it can be used as a performance-based system that allows songs to be restructured and remixed live on stage.
In keeping with the performative nature of Live Loops, the new plug-in Remix FX allows for unique gestural control over Logic Pro X’s main output or, for that matter, any other audio track or instrument. The plug-in boasts two prominent X/Y pads, which can be loaded with a number of different effects, including Filter, Wobble and Repeater. Additional controls also feature a gate, bit reduction, reverse, virtual scratching, and a stop control, making it possible to perform a range of impulsive DJ-like sonic deconstructions. Despite being principally designed to work across the main output, there’s no reason Remix FX couldn’t be applied to single instruments or groups of instruments within a mix.
Integral to both Remix FX and Live Loops is the updated Logic Remote app for iPhone and iPad. In many ways, Live Loops and Remix FX spring to life when used in conjunction with a touchscreen interface, as opposed to being hampered by the point-and-click limitations of a mouse. For example, the multi-touch interface can be used to trigger multiple loops at once or, in the case of Remix FX, the X/Y pads can track the physical tilt of the iPad or iPhone. If you prefer physical controllers, fear not: Novation’s Launchpad series integrates perfectly with Live Loops.
The 10.5 update includes the new loop format Pattern Loop. Pattern Loops are an important part of the Live Loops functionality, and work in conjunction with the new step-sequencing feature, used to trigger a variety of virtual instruments such as the new Quick Sampler or the improved Drum Machine Designer.
Logic’s history with step sequencing has been somewhat checkered. Early versions lacked any form of drum grid, and even the Step Editor, which was part of Logic Pro X pre-10.5, was underwhelming. The Step Sequencer, however, is a well implemented feature that’s equally adept at rhythm and melodic sequencing. It’s presented as a series of track lanes that can be used for individual drum voices (Kick, Snare, Hi-hat, for example), chromatic or scale-based melodic sequencing, and/or controller data such as Filter Cutoff.
The Step Sequencer gets increasingly interesting as you delve deeper into its uses and applications. Each sequencer track lane has its own clock vision, direction setting, and the ability to set note re-triggering on a step-by-step basis. For drum sequencing, it’s a massive improvement on Logic Pro X, and for melodic work the Step Sequencer makes for an intriguing to compose sequencer-driven electronic music.
For longtime Logic Pro X users, the most welcome addition has to be the long-awaited update to the EXS24, now simply called Sampler and sporting a slimmed-down sibling called Quick Sampler. More than a simple GUI redesign, Sampler is a root-and-branch rethink of how sampling integrates into the world of Logic Pro X. The EXS24’s faults went beyond its tired GUI. Its clumsy integration sadly kept the EXS24 Instrument completely detached from the EXS24 Editor. The new Sampler instrument not only looks different, using it feels like a more coherent experience, with those previously disparate elements brought together as one.
Quick Sampler is a simplified version of Sampler designed for the quick and easy sampling tasks that don’t necessitate any form of multi-sampling. As with many aspects of the 10.5 update, it’s the little tweaks that make the biggest difference. Now, dragging an audio file into the Track header area gives you the option to create a new Quick Sampler instance (in addition to options for Alchemy and Sampler), with transient marker points mapped across different keys. You can also use the recorder function to quickly sample single shot or time-sliced audio directly from your audio interface, making Quick Sample a spectacular time-saving tool.
One sample-based addition that’s easy to overlook is the new Auto Sampler plug-in, previously found as part of Apple’s MainStage application. Placed across the audio-insert path of a software instrument or an external instrument such as a hardware analogue synthesizer, Auto Sampler can be used to automate the process of creating a multi-sampled Sampler instrument. Simply specify the key ranges and number of velocity layers and press Sample to have Logic create a finished multi-sampled instrument from your chosen source.
Upon a cursory examination, it would be natural to summarise the changes implemented in Logic Pro X 10.5 as a move away from linear recording and music production and towards a more loop-based workflow. You might even, dare we say, suggest that Logic Pro X is becoming more akin to GarageBand. The new Live Loops features in combination with Remix FX might polarise users. Those that enjoy Logic’s immediacy and ease of use will love these novel additions, whereas audio geeks who relish the nitty gritty of programming and production may be left unimpressed. Rest assured, though, Live Loops and Remix FX aren’t gimmicks. They provide a more performative way of managing your workflow, and might well transform the way people use Logic in the live arena.
However, as with any application as diverse and all-encompassing as Logic Pro X, it would be foolish to see any update as a lurch to one style of production over another. Each version simply brings new a dimension to the system. The introduction of Alchemy in 10.2, for example, was a nod to those that use sound design extensively, whereas 10.4 offered the Vintage EQ collection for those that use Logic Pro X for traditional recording and mixing tasks. Aside from the fresh features, therefore, there’s plenty for long-term users to be pleased about, including the Sampler plug-in, the new step-sequencing features, and the Auto Sampler.
As with all the X-based versions of Logic Pro, it’s pleasing to see how much Apple has improved the workflow of its DAW without inhibiting its (occasionally) complex charms. Having used Logic since version 2.5, we can assure you that it’s never been more approachable than it is today. Despite its accessibility, its well tailored to engineers and musicians who like to drill down into the details. There’s a depth to Logic that few other DAWs can match. In terms of potential cornerstones for your music-production environment, it’s difficult to imagine a more comprehensive package than Logic Pro X, and with the introduction of Live Loops, its ability to span both the studio and stage has taken an evolutionary leap.
Do I really need this?
Choosing the right DAW is one of the most important decisions you can make in respect to setting up your studio. Logic Pro X is one of the most versatile, given its long-standing abilities with both MIDI and audio recording. While many studios opt for Pro Tools as a replacement for a traditional multi-track recorder, Logic Pro X has been the popular choice for music professionals working across a range of composition and production tasks for many years. Logic is also one of the most keenly priced DAWs, possibly because it helps keep the market for new Apple computers buoyant. Don’t be surprised, then, that Logic is tailored to more recent operating systems. To use 10.5, you’ll need OS 10.14.6. Want to upgrade Logic? You might be looking at a hardware upgrade too.
Key new features
- Compose and arrange music with Live Loops
- Create sophisticated multi-sampled instruments with Sampler
- Build your own beats and melodies with the Step Sequencer
- New Quick Sampler to quickly build playable sampled instruments
- Improved Drum Machine Designer
- 2,500 new loops, 17 Live Loops starter grids, 1,500 new patches
Luna (free to Apollo owners)
A new entry into the DAW market, Luna is a free solution available to those running Universal Audio’s Apollo and Arrow interfaces. It’s a bold reimagining of the DAW, featuring tight integration with the hardware and a focus on traditional recording and mixing practices.
Live Suite £749
Ableton’s Live is the original non-linear loop-based DAW, and effectively straddles both live-performance and studio-based tasks. It’s more expensive than Logic Pro X but Live offers some innovative ways of linking up with CV-based modular synthesizers, as well as the world of Max MSP as part of Live 10 Suite (£539).
Get the latest news, reviews and tutorials to your inbox.Subscribe