Apple Logic Pro X

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Most nonlinear editing software includes tools for editing and mixing audio. Nevertheless, if you really need to focus on audio, you need a dedicated DAW (digital audio workstation) application. There are quite a few challengers to the dominance of Pro Tools, including Reaper, Nuendo and Audition, but the strongest of these is Apple’s Logic Pro X. It holds a unique position as a tool that covers many divergent needs, including audio production and post, studio music recording and mixing, live performance and music notation.

The revamp to Logic Pro X and its integration with Final Cut Pro X, makes this an ideal time to see how well it works as a companion tool for video editors. Logic Pro X is without a doubt, a wonderful music production tool, but my focus is video editing. I’m going to skip the music side of Logic in this review, in order to focus on its strengths and weaknesses for my needs – film/video editorial.

Tech specs and installation

df_lpx_instrumentsLogic Pro X supports a wide range of control surfaces and I/O devices. Audio resolution is up to 24-bit/192kHz. The mixer supports up to 255 audio channel strips, 255 software instrument channel strips, 255 aux channel strips, 64 busses and 99 MIDI tracks. Logic comes with 67 effects plug-ins, including Pedalboard (with 35 stompboxes), and 18 software instruments. The sound library includes 1548 patches, 3647 Apple Loops, 848 sampler instruments, 30 drum kits and over 2,000 presets for instruments, patches and plug-ins. Needless to say, it’s a whopper!

Logic Pro X may be purchased and downloaded from Apple’s Mac App Store. It also works with a separate companion program, called MainStage that will appeal to musicians who play live. Both are independent applications and you can purchase and install one or the other or both. MainStage taps into Logic’s resources, effects and contents, but it’s not essential for post users.

The download sizes for Logic Pro X and MainStage are under 900MB and under 700MB, respectively. There’s also the free Logic Remote application for the iPad (iOS 7 or later), to control Logic Pro X, MainStage and GarageBand on the Mac. Logic’s plug-in controls and libraries may be accessed from Logic Remote. It’s ideal when you want to control a recording from a quiet room separated from the gear.

Once you install Logic Pro X, you gain access to optional content that may be downloaded and installed from within the application. How much of this you’ll want, depends on how much musical content you need. This includes stereo and surround plug-ins, samples and loops and compatibility content to work with older versions of Logic and GarageBand. All totaled, this extra content is up to 38GB of media. The largest batches are comprised of the Drum Kit samples and the Legacy and Compatibility group, which includes the JamPack loop libraries. If all you want is the basics, like plug-ins and some loops, you’ll only need to download a few extra gigabytes of content to get started. You can download the rest later at any time.

Templates, settings and preferences

df_lpx_templatesWhen you first launch Logic Pro X, you can start with a blank slate or use several different project templates. It is important to understand the distinctions among these, because different templates will use different settings. For example, it took me a while to figure out how to enable scrubbing, because a particular function needed to be enabled in the project settings’ MIDI tab, even though none of my tracks were MIDI tracks. Project settings are tied only to a project and they differ from the application preferences, which apply global changes.

In preferences you can enable Advanced Tools, for project alternatives, media browsers, expanded mixing and automation capabilities. The use of Advanced Tools is a way to make both beginning and advanced users comfortable with Logic Pro X. When Advanced Tools are not shown, the interface is a bit closer to GarageBand, with a number of controls and panels hidden or disabled. Once Advanced Tools are shown in Logic’s Preferences, you gain additional options required by experienced users.

Since a project can be based on time or musical values (beats, measures, key signatures), it’s important to set your project up correctly from the beginning. The opening template page lets you make overall changes to that project – like disabling the musical grid or setting samples rates and frame rates – but, even after you start, some values can still be altered. Once you become familiar with the project variations, it’s easy to create your own custom templates.

Tracks can be standard audio, MIDI, software instrument or drum kits. The difference between a standard track and an instrument track is that the instrument track is a patch configured with a number of in-line plug-ins. Each patch contains one or even multiple channel strips (such as the drummer track) in its configuration. If you add a software instrument track, it will default to piano with a set of plug-ins. Highlight the track and open the Library pane to change the type of sound or the type of instrument – for instance, from a piano to a guitar with a British lead sound. This changes the configuration of the patch. Likewise, a standard audio track, without any plug-ins added at the start, can also be changed in the Library pane to a different option, like a vocal track configured as a fuzz vocal. Each of these patches is simply a set of plug-ins with presets. All can be changed, removed or added to, depending on the sound you are looking for.

Interface

df_lpx_smartcontrolsLogic Pro X’s clean interface is optimized for a single screen, but also takes advantage of dual-screen layouts. Like FCP X, Logic uses a design of various panels that can be opened or closed, depending on your focus. Track adjustments, like volume or panning, can be made in the separate mixer window or in the main window. Effects adjustments can be made by opening each plug-in’s controls or by using the Smart Controls panel in the main window. The latter presents a streamlined set of macro controls that manipulate select parameters belonging to the multiple plug-ins used on the track. By default, each track also has a built-in EQ that becomes active once you make the first adjustment.

The wealth of Logic plug-ins will be familiar to most Soundtrack Pro and Final Cut Pro X users. If you want more, then compatible, third-party Audio Units plug-ins also work, including those from iZotope, Focusrite and Waves. Even the numerous musical plug-ins, such as a guitar pedal, can be added to standard audio tracks, including vocals. I’ve focused a lot on mixing tools, but, of course, Logic Pro X includes all of the file-based editing tools with sample-level accuracy that no professional DAW could be without.

df_lpx_trackstackA big new feature for most will be Track Stacks. To create a Track Stack, select a set of individual tracks and create a Stack from these. This can be a Folder Stack – where the component tracks are simply treated as a group. The other option is a Summing Stack, where the individual tracks are routed through a bus. It’s a lot like a Compound Clip in FCP X or a traditional submix bus in other audio mixing software. Let’s say you have a composite voice-over built out of several clips and spread across several tracks. Select and combine these into one Summing Track Stack and now the entire voice-over can be treated as a single track. The sub-tracks within it can be hidden by twirling the reveal triangle on the Track Stack. If you need to tweak one of the clips within the Stack, simply twirl it open and make the adjustments to that clip.

Logic Pro X also offers a composting feature that’s designed for recording sessions called Quick Swipe Comping. This function lets you quickly cut up the best sections of various takes. These can then be highlighted within a group, somewhat like FCP X’s Audition function. The composite of these recorded tracks is contained within a Folder Stack and can be manipulated as a group, without ever losing access to the alternate takes.

Another useful tool is Flex Time and Flex Pitch, which are great for video production, where broadcast length is critical. Turn on Flex Time and use the Flex Tool to expand or contract part or all of a clip to fit the necessary length. Finally, there’s Groove Track, which will let you realign the timing of tracks to a selected Groove Master track. Thanks to Flex Time, this feature works with both MIDI and audio tracks.

Working with NLEs

df_lpx_nle-to-lpxLogic Pro X supports a number of interchange formats, including AAF, Final Cut Pro XML, OMF and FCPXML. These come with some caveats. FCPXML (from FCP X) came across fine, even after the changes to the FCPXML format made in the 10.1.2 update. Compound Clips were automatically broken apart into individual tracks inside the Logic project. I was also able to bring in audio from FCP X as an AAF file by using the X2Pro Audio Convert utility. Unfortunately an AAF from Avid Media Composer didn’t work, because Logic Pro X cannot read audio files that are formatted as .MXF.

For Avid users, OMF is fine, but you have to use the following workaround in Media Composer: change the project format to NTSC; enable OMF media in the Media Creations menu; export an OMF with embedded AIFF-C sound files. In Logic Pro X, use the “Import Other” menu option. Finally, with Premiere Pro CC, the older (Final Cut Pro 7) XML format works fine. Translation completeness will vary with these different solutions. Generally fade handles or crossfades were completely lost, even with FCP X. Levels set within the NLE may or may not transfer. I got the best translation from Premiere Pro CC2014 using XML, where automation levels and crossfades were interpreted correctly.

Editors sending a project from an NLE into Logic Pro X should understand how to properly prep the audio files. Channels that are muted or disabled in the NLE will still be imported, but muted. This includes any unwanted audio from an FCP X project that’s part of a Connected Clip (B-roll). If you don’t want it, detach and remove it from the sequence. Camera clips using two microphones are often interpreted as stereo audio by some NLEs. These should be edited to the timeline as dual mono and not stereo. DAWs process interleaved stereo pairs differently than most NLEs. Once inside Logic, selecting either input 1 or 2 of a stereo track, will sound different than if this same audio comes in as two separate mono tracks and one or the other is used.

The weakest part of this interchange is video support. With FCPXML, Logic Pro X would attempt to use video from the project as a picture reference for the mix. Unfortunately the clip was completely wrong. If you want a proper picture reference, export a self-contained clip and open that as a movie file in Logic Pro X. The application will sync it to the start of the track and provides good offset control for accurate sync. Movie files may be viewed in a separate viewer window, as a movie track or as a small thumbnail.

Going in the other direction, you can export a full mix, as well as all or just selected tracks. Levels and plug-in effects will be baked in. Likewise you can also export an FCPXML or AAF. In the roundtrip back into FCP X, you have the option to include video and combine the tracks into a Compound Clip.

Conclusion

Logic Pro X is a refined audio tool, but it’s still missing some items offered by competitors and even by past Apple software. Ironically there’s still an “open in Soundtrack Pro” feature, even though that application has been discontinued. It still works quite well. Logic lacks a spectral analysis view. There’s no ability to use noise prints and ambient prints for noise reduction and filling in gaps. In an era when all audio post going to broadcast has to be CALM Act-compliant, there are no built-in loudness controls and metering features specific to this need. You can do each of these with third-party plug-ins, but it would be nice to have that be part of the native toolkit.

In spite of a few deficiencies, Logic Pro X is a wonderful mixer for stereo and surround projects and a great tool for composers. Video editors who use it can also benefit from Logic’s musical side. Simple scores are easy to create even if you aren’t a musician, thanks to the extensive media and loop libraries. Maybe you just need a temporary underscore to play under a voice-over so the client can get the feel of the piece. Or maybe you have strong composition skills and want to build the final music for your piece. Either situation can be filled by Logic Pro X. The term “Swiss army knife” gets bandied about for many applications, but it is warranted for your audio needs here. A few third-party plug-ins might be required to augment the package for some needs, but at the price – and given the wealth of additional content – Logic Pro X is a tremendous value for any video editor who wants to make sure their mixes stand out above the rest.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork.

©2014 Oliver Peters