Emagic Logic Platinum 6

Jun 1, 2003 12:00 PM, BY JOHN MCJUNKIN

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About a year ago, Emagic surprised the audio industry with its announcement that it had been acquired by Apple. Everyone waited to see what the implications would be for the Logic series. We didn't have to wait long: Emagic introduced Logic Platinum 5.4 for Apple's OS X last fall, boasting the first pro audio host program to support Audio Units. Recently, I took a look at Logic Platinum 6, the long-awaited upgrade of what many would argue is one of the most powerful and versatile sequencing/audio software packages available today. Because OS X is still relatively new to our industry, this review focuses on ways Logic harnesses the features of this powerful operating system, as well as the numerous upgrades in Version 6.


Find books, TrackPaks, DVDs, Loops and more on Logic here...

GETTING TO THE CORE

OS X introduced us to Core Audio, which handles audio at the system level. Whether you're using a PCI-bus audio card or a USB or FireWire solution, audio is handled more efficiently and latency is kept to an absolute minimum. Audio and MIDI both have highest priority in the system, which was certainly not the case in prior versions. With the Core Audio HAL (Hardware Abstraction Layer), the latency between applications and I/O hardware is exceedingly low; as low as a virtually indiscernible 1 ms with certain hardware. Also, multichannel audio is now handled internally, a step up from the former limitation to stereo in all pre-OS X operating systems. The audio resolution is 24-bit/96 kHz, with 32-bit internal processing. Core Audio also allows multiple applications access to multiple interfaces simultaneously.

Another major upgrade with OS X is in MIDI handling. OS X is the first Apple operating system that literally integrates MIDI at the OS level, and the system is referred to as Core MIDI. No longer are third-party MIDI drivers like OMS required. An Audio MIDI Setup application allows the user to create a global MIDI configuration that can be used by all applications that need it. Because MIDI happens at the system level, it is much faster and more efficient, minimizing latency in the same fashion as Core Audio.

AU: GOOD AS GOLD

Probably the most exciting new feature in OS X is Audio Units, the new plug-in architecture that exists at the system level. Along with myriad other benefits, AU allows a user to use a plug-in in multiple applications simultaneously. This is the stuff of dreams. Among other positives here is the documentation included, both for plug-in developers and, more importantly, host developers. And while there are no guarantees that the various plug-in developers will abandon the idea of proprietary plug-in formats, one begins to get the idea that, at the very least, they will make AU versions of their plug-ins available. By virtue of the enhanced GUI capabilities and exceedingly versatile and powerful development tools available, plug-in developers would be crazy to pass on Audio Units.

AU is a landmark system that was developed with a very healthy influence from the worldwide community of home-based and commercial plug-in developers; there is a strong sense of global “community” when it comes to AU.

Although Logic 6 runs very well under both OS 9.x and OS X, VST plug-ins are only supported in the pre-OS X operating systems; only AU plug-ins are available in OS X. So, ostensibly, you must make a choice. But there's good news about this problem: An organization in the UK called FXpansion has developed an application that actually takes any carbonized VST plug-in and creates a derivative plug-in that works in AU. Strictly speaking, it's not a wrapper because it actually creates a new plug-in. The new plug-in is part AU, part VST, but works perfectly under AU. The hit to your CPU is thus minimized (typically less than 0.1% per instance!). This allows all of your classic old VST plug-ins and instruments to be resurrected. This is something that almost had to happen, because we've all grown so accustomed to our favorite plug-ins.

FREEZE!

The coolest new feature is Freeze. As with any other host-based application, the CPU can be overtaxed enough to render the applications unusable with even modest real-time DSP and even more so with virtual instruments. Freeze eliminates this problem.

Although an elegant solution, it's really nothing new. It's one of those smack-yourself-in-the-forehead, “Why didn't I think of that?” situations. But while the idea for the solution is simple, the execution is not. And that's its brilliance. Read on and see why.

Most DAW users have realized for a long time that when a virtual instrument with one or two plug-ins gobbles up huge amounts of CPU resources, you render the track by bouncing; as a result, the CPU only needs to handle playback, leaving much more power available for further programming and mixing. Freeze makes this process virtually transparent. Rather than going through all of the motions — creating buses, muting, selecting, bouncing, importing and so forth — you simply indicate which tracks you wish to “freeze” by pressing a global Freeze button. During the next occurrence of playback, Logic very quickly renders the tracks with all automation and plug-ins in place. The frozen stereo audio tracks have a default resolution of 32 bits. You can choose any other resolution you like, and this is a nice, tidy way to render files for export. The unwieldy process of rendering individual tracks one after another becomes almost mindless.

Obviously, it is preferable to avoid committing to the EQ, dynamics and whatever other DSP you have in place, and you certainly don't want to do so permanently. Or if you wish to transpose the key or otherwise alter your MIDI programming for a virtual instrument, you must have the ability to revert, which was an unwieldy and downright difficult process prior to Freeze. Because the frozen audio file is a representation in Logic 6, it is just as easy to “unfreeze.” Then you can modify to your heart's content and “refreeze” if you care to do so. This is all done with maximum transparency. Emagic touts this process as “CPU management,” and it is truly a brilliant way to maximize CPU use. The idea is not revolutionary, but the simplicity of its execution is. Emagic, as usual, lives up to its name.

USER-FRIENDLINESS

Emagic has also gone to some lengths to make Logic 6 more user-friendly and shift some of the focus away from the operational and toward the creative aspects. For instance, there is an elegant mechanism to hide/expose tracks now that will be intuitive to seasoned Logic users, but simple for new users as well. There's also the powerful new Marquee tool, which enables “region and sequence-independent selection and editing.” For example, I was able to select across the boundaries of a repeated loop, which had the effect of creating a representation of a new loop. This is possible using Smart Loop Handling, which prevents any ill effect to copies or aliases while, for instance, the user is working with the Scissors tool. In my example, a copy of the new loop was created, and when I moved it to another track, it became an entity unto itself. In addition, the Smart Snap feature behaves exactly as the name implies: Objects snap into position dependent upon a chosen level of resolution, causing the mouse to be smoother and more intuitive.

Another welcome new addition to Logic 6 is editing at near-sample level in the Arrange window. Editing at this level of resolution was previously only available in the sample editor. This is one of the few new features that makes Logic 6 feel a bit more like Pro Tools. Another perk is the ability to have a thumbnail of a movie displayed frame-by-frame in the Arrange window via QuickTime. The level of zoom automatically determines the number of frames displayed. You can also find a setting for this feature in the video preferences. Another powerful feature associated with video synchronization is the ability to import or export DV via FireWire into and out of Logic directly. It's a nice way to get your movie up on a big screen in your mix environment. Another major step forward is the capability to time-stretch directly from the Arrange window. This speeds up the work process immensely.

One of the most significant upgrades in Logic's operation is in grouping: Every channel can be assigned to one or more of a maximum of 32 groups. The groups can be for editing, mixing or both. Grouping like this is nothing new, but now that it's finally available in Logic, users will enjoy the ability to create drum muting, vocal mix groups and so forth. Users can group tracks vis-à-vis zooming, hiding/exposing and record-arming, among other things. Individual sends can be grouped per track, as well.

CONTROL FREAK

Logic now supports quite a number of third-party control surfaces. While the Logic Controller has been, and probably remains, the best choice if you already have other controllers at your disposal, it's nice to be able to use them all. A powerful feature of this support is that you can simultaneously use any number of controllers from different manufacturers configured as you see fit. Another powerful aspect is the ability to assign controllers literally. For example, one can use the linear faders of a pair of controllers in a “long-throw/short-throw” configuration, like a large-format analog console. The possibilities are wide open. Controller configuration is accomplished outside of the Logic “environment,” existing in a state that is probably best described as a plug-in. Each different brand and model has a “plug-in” associated with it, and you can have multiple iterations of each.

Other clever additions include the Mix in Arrange feature, which gives you a mix module or “channel strip” in the parameter section of the Arrange window. The display automatically coincides with a channel selection. It's great to be able to tweak mix parameters without switching to the mix display. Also available is a powerful EQ plug-in available for each channel. It features eight bands, including filters and shelving — high and low — and four parametric bands in the middle. However, all eight bands are fully parametric; they simply default to the above-described configuration. The GUI for this EQ provides a wealth of visual information about the EQ curve. There is a nice representation of that curve on each channel strip in the Mix window. Aside from all of the EQ's nice visual aspects, it sounds good, too — really good.

For users of Propellerhead applications such as Reason, ReWire II support is a welcome addition to Logic 6. Up to 64 channels of audio can be routed from that application into Logic, and Logic's MIDI sequencing can control virtual instruments going back the other way. Synchronization between the two applications is a breeze.

Logic now features a Project Manager application, which allows handy consolidation of all the resources associated with a project in one place. It enables renaming, introduction and editing of comments. Another powerful tool here is “Save As Project,” which enables simplified archiving and transport another way. It consolidates all aspects of a project, even the audio used by samplers. It yields a panoply of options in terms of how and what is saved: a great way to organize and prepare a project for transport to another studio or professional.

CONCLUSIONS

There is a reason why there was a slight delay between the acquisition of Emagic by Apple and the appearance of an expected product upgrade. They wanted to do the upgrade correctly, and they succeeded. It's powerful and supports almost every format you can imagine. Seasoned users will be thrilled with the powerful new tool, and newcomers will be bowled over by the possibilities. Logic 6 will be a serious application used by professionals in all different production domains.

Emagic USA, 530/477-1051, www.emagic.de.


John McJunkin is the principal of Avalon Audio Services in Phoenix, and is a consultant in the design and operation of audio systems for recording professionals.

Check out Logic 6 in action:


A channel EQ


displaying movie frames in QuickTime


The Project Manager

Hear an MP3 demo produced in Logic 6 (courtesy Emagic):

Download the Logic Platinum 6 brochure (Adobe Acrobat format)






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