By Peter Kirn Macworld.com | on August 27, 2009
Price When Reviewed: 345 . 139
Pros: Flex Time and editing improvements make manipulating recorded audio more satisfying; MainStage 2 is a more complete live performance solution; lots of amp and effects goodies; many subtle usability tweaks.
Cons: MainStage's looper can't set a tempo from a first loop; Some tasks require switching between Flex Time Markers and Transient Markers; MIDI editing and some add-ons due for a refresh.
Digital music workstation software can include an encyclopedic array of functionality. But when it comes to using these tools creatively in music making, a few details and the way they fit together can make a huge difference.
The new version of Logic Studio incorporates upgrades of the Studio's traditional suite of applications: the flagship Logic Pro 9 workstation and its instruments and audio effects; Soundtrack Pro 3 for stereo and multitrack recorded audio; MainStage 2 for easy access to instruments and effects for jamming and live performance; WaveBurner 1.6 for mastering and authoring CDs; and Compressor 3.5 for file exchange. Deep in that vast suite, though, a single new feature called Flex Time could have the biggest impact on the way you work.
Overall, Apple's Logic Studio 9 introduces some significant headline features. There's an entirely new audio manipulation engine, allowing recorded sound to be reshaped in time. New models of amps and effect pedalboards emulate traditional guitar gear and open up new performance possibilities. MainStage has grown from a clever way to host instruments and effects to a more mature host, adding integration with other software, as well as playback, looping, and recording capabilities. But those highlights aside, smaller fit-and-finish enhancements are often of equal importance in real-world production.
Molding audio in time
Once recorded, sound traditionally ceases to be entirely malleable: you can slice and reorder sound, but changing its internal timing is more difficult. That can limit some creative possibilities: even when working with talented musicians, part of a take might be slightly out of time--especially when adding up a day's worth of different takes. For sound designers, producers, and remix artists, there are creative reasons to want to re-groove recorded audio, as well. Logic Studio's new Flex Time tool collection combines a new interface designed for making these changes with an under-the-hood engine that can warp sound more convincingly.
Switch to the Flex Time view in the Arrange pane, and blocks of audio become stretchable. Click a waveform, and you can add a Flex Marker--a pointer to a position in the recorded waveform--which you can move forward or backward in time. Drag the marker left and right, and the waveform squishes or stretches like Play-Doh. The effect is addictive and instantaneous; the interface never feels like it's in your way, because you can drag on the waveform directly to warp it.
You can change as few or as many points inside a waveform as you wish, whether re-grooving an entire recording or fixing one errant high hat. Different modes allow you to ensure the results fit the source material: Slicing and Rhythmic modes preserve the attacks of percussive material, whereas Monophonic and Polyphonic modes stretch the sound. The Speed mode changes the pitch along with the time, as would changing the playback speed of traditional analog tape. (This version also adds Speed Fades, which can simulate the braking of a turntable.) Apple says all of these modes are based on new audio algorithms developed in-house, and the results sound terrific.
This kind of functionality may be familiar to experienced users of digital audio workstations. Rival technologies from Steinberg, Digidesign, Cakewalk, MOTU, and others have all sought to make molding sound around beats easier. But there are certain advantages to being last. Logic's implementation takes a little bit of the best of all of these features. It's perhaps closest in spirit to Ableton Live, though with important differences. Live focuses on mapping the entire tempo of a loop, whereas Logic leaves audio untouched by default. Logic is arguably better for subtler adjustments than Live, as Live's warping is geared for regrooving large blocks of loops and combining them in non-linear ways.
For recording and production workflows, Logic has made this kind of work uniquely accessible, and it can make the edits almost stunningly transparent. Engineers may not want to let musicians know they can change recordings this radically, lest Flex Time become to timing what pitch correction has become to tune.
Streamlined audio production
Flex Time combines elegantly with a complete set of features that transform the experience of editing audio in Logic. You can quantize audio and snap sliced audio on one track to a transient on another, which makes Flex Time even more powerful. You can extract an audio feel from one track, and apply it to other audio or to MIDI materials, quantizing portions or all of a track to one another without having to apply a mechanical grid. You can replace transients on a track with MIDI to make instant drum tracks, taking full advantage of Logic's built-in arsenal of synths and sounds.
An expanded Bounce in Place feature not only records audio, but takes into account the tail of effects like reverbs and maintains routings to sends. (This effect is destructive, but it's also easy to bounce to a new track from the same feature.) You can also instantly slice an audio track for use as an EXS24 sampler instrument. All of this functionality is easy to get at, too. Advanced MIDI quantize options are available in the Channel Strip or via a floating window rather than being buried elsewhere, and audio options are available via a streamlined contextual menu.