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.
Recording is improved as well as editing, thanks to enhanced takes and comps. Take Folders group together alternate versions of a track, created either automatically during a looped recording session, or manually by grouping regions. You can now edit within these takes, so you can try adjusting a take before you integrate it with the finished track, including warping individual takes with the Flex Tool. This makes it easier to produce comps or "composite" takes made up of the best bits of different recordings. Cool as Flex Time is, it's really the sum of these different editing capabilities that makes Logic a pleasure for audio work.
With so much change, not everything is perfectly integrated. While Flex Markers are easily edited from the Arrange pane, the Transient Markers to which they snap cannot; adjustments to transient detection are accessible only from the Sample Editor pane. Transient Markers can be used to slice audio and to create new sampler instruments, but you can't perform either of those same tasks with Flex Markers. Now that Logic has added this useful metaphor, potential extensions of the idea become apparent, and some will be missed. Ableton Live has the rough equivalent, for instance, of slicing to Warp Markers and not just transients.
Virtual amps and effects
For all the power of Logic Pro's editing engine, some users may simply want to plug in a guitar and start playing. The Amp Designer and Pedalboard expand the rich-sounding amps and effects introduced in GarageBand '09 with additional tools and models for simulating amps and effects. The sounds and behaviors have been meticulously modeled, so that every knob and stompbox behaves as you would expect, and the selection covers the gamut of amps and effects for different genres.
It's nonetheless impressive what Apple includes right out of the box. In Amp Designer, you can mix and match models and cabinets, dragging around mic placement to adjust tone. The Pedalboard includes a splitter with frequency control and mixer, and lets you drag and drop the order of effects in a chain as you would icons on the Mac's Dock. The Pedalboard also includes a selection of rotary and delay effects, a beautiful wah pedal, thick chorus, and reverb. Apple has particularly emphasized oddball, boutique-style effects that are sometimes absent in pristine digital collections. If you're just looking for specialized guitar effects, competitors like Native Instruments' Guitar Rig or IK Multimedia's AmpliTube still provide strong standalone options, but Logic 9's excellent interface and sound quality provide significant power for those looking for guitar effects integrated in their Digital Audio Workstation.
Live performance with MainStage
Some of the features that make Logic Pro powerful for recording and editing can make it restrictive for playing live. That gave rise in Logic Pro 8 to MainStage, a dedicated application for playing instruments and effects with Logic. MainStage 2 takes a promising idea and turns it into something with some significant depth.
The first MainStage worked well for instruments and effects, but lacked features needed for backing tracks, looping, and integration with other performance tools. Each of these deficits has been addressed. You can now drag audio files to your MainStage sessions or add the Playback tool to a Channel Strip to bring up an interactive sample playback instrument. That allows both simple backing tracks or multi-channel stems to be fully integrated with MainStage's interactive virtual song set. A Loopback instrument makes it easy to lay down layered loop recordings, which can optionally be synced to MainStage's session tempo.
If you just want a more accessible way to play Logic's deep set of sound tools, MainStage comes with a variety of useful presets. But its real power is in its deep customization. It can require some work to set up instrument and effects racks, channel strips, and interactive visual modes, but once you're done, you have a unique environment for live performance. New in this version, custom on-screen layouts can now be grouped, customized, and controls mapped to multiple parameters, making MainStage a tweaker's delight.
MainStage won't solve every performance scenario. The looper doesn't allow you to set the tempo of your session with the length of the first loop you record, a key feature in hardware loopers and a capability recently added to Ableton Live. The new playback features, while well-suited to backing tracks, aren't really designed for triggering complex sets of loops. That's where the addition of Propellerhead's ReWire, a technology for interconnecting music applications, could help MainStage fit a wider range of users.
MainStage acts as a ReWire host, which means applications like Ableton Live or Propellerhead Reason can route their audio directly into MainStage, with the two applications synchronizing tempo in both directions. This could allow, for instance, more sophisticated sets of samples and loops in Live to integrate with favorite instruments from Logic. MainStage's ReWire implementation is too new to fully determine how stable it'll be on tour, and you can't invert the relationship and use MainStage as a ReWire client, but ReWire support is nonetheless a welcome addition.