Apple GarageBand 3 review: Apple GarageBand 3

  • 1
3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good GarageBand 3 is easy to learn and use, can record as many as 8 tracks at once, and supports as many as 255 tracks simultaneously. The program also includes more than 1,000 loops, plus a large array of software instruments as well as handy podcasting tools, and it lets you add a variety of effects to any loop or instrument. GarageBand makes the iLife suite an incredible bargain.

The Bad GarageBand 3 won't let you edit tracks at the sample level, and the full package (GarageBand plus all Jam Packs) takes up a ton of drive space and requires a powerful system for satisfying performance. As such, it should be relegated to desktop systems.

The Bottom Line Mac users with even a minor interest in music or podcasting will be pleased with GarageBand 3's user-friendly interface and ample feature set, but the heavy app isn't ideal for most laptops.

7.8 Overall
  • Setup and interface 9.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 6.0
  • Service and support 8.0

Conquer digital music with GarageBand

With the release of iLife '06 ($79), Apple improved upon its already popular digital media suite. The latest version of this Mac-only collection includes all of the user-friendly programs from the previous iteration, including the music-production app GarageBand 3. Although this creative audio tool takes up a boatload of drive space and won't satisfy some advanced users, it's a fantastic starting point for novice music enthusiasts with a desire to experiment with digital tunes. Podcasters too will appreciate the various helpful and user-friendly tools added for their enjoyment. GarageBand 3 and its empowering abilities alone justify purchasing iLife.

GarageBand 3 installs automatically and quickly with iLife, which requires 4.7GB of space (most of it due to GarageBand itself), and there are no setup steps. You simply add samples, loops, and other audio files once you open a new project at start-up. The various and recommended Jam Packs--Rhythm Section, Remix Tools, Symphony Orchestra, and World Music--cost $99 apiece and take up 6GB, 4.5GB, 6GB, and 12GB, respectively, on your hard drive. In case you weren't counting, that's a whopping 33.2GB to install the entire GarageBand 3 package, or 6GB more than version 2 required. It would have been preferable to have the option of selecting specific Jam Pack audio files à la carte, as is the case with Adobe Audition , instead of having to copy the entire disc over to your hard drive. As it stands, the Jam Packs integrate seamlessly with the program, which is nice for usability, but we'd recommend that you forgo installing them unless you have the space and a need for more loops. We also noticed a slight decrease in system and application performance with the addition of new Packs.

GarageBand 3's clean and illustrative interface makes it a breeze to use. You can add as many as 255 tracks--if your system can handle it.

GarageBand 3 is undoubtedly one of--if not the--simplest music-creation tools that we've used. A quick read of the Getting Started guide that's found in the Help menu is all you'll need to be on your way to making your own unique groove, and the software-savvy can likely figure out the basics with a bit of exploring. The start-up interface is a two-tone gray window with a ruler scale across the top; a large track-arrangement section in the middle; and a zoom slider, shortcut keys, playback buttons, the timer display, and the master volume control lining the bottom. When you open the Loop Browser or the Track Editor, the bottom of the window slides up to reveal either the selections by instrument or an editing grid, respectively. There are plenty of keyboard shortcuts for speedy navigation. Version 3 offers improved integration with the rest of the iLife suite, such as remote interview recording via iChat and automatic podcast posting on iWeb.

The Loop Browser, activated by the Eye button, is organized into types of instruments, genres, and moods, and it includes a Favorites sorter and a search bar so that you can easily recall loops.

More than 1,000 high-quality loops come with GarageBand 3 and are segmented into instrument sets such as Brass, Synths, and Beats, as well as moods such as Cheerful and Dark. Within these, you're treated to a variety of affected loops such as Bongo Beat 01 and Orchestra Brass 03. Each of the Jam Packs adds more than 2,000 loops related to its individual title, in addition to a selection of new software instruments. Using the loops within GarageBand 3 is the quickest and easiest way to create a song; via this method, we were able to produce this track in just a few hours. But thanks to the program's ample feature set, you aren't limited to loop-based tunes. You can hook up real instruments to record into the program, and GarageBand 3 provides several preset effects that you can also tinker with to your liking. There's even a built-in tuner. Alternatively, you can use the embedded software instruments, which you play with your keyboard, your mouse (a piano-key tool pops up on the screen for this method), or a MIDI keyboard. There are 15 software sound kits--for example, organs, synth basics, and horns--each of which has a selection of instrument types. As with real instruments, you can adjust these with various effects, such as Distortion, Flanger, and Track Echo.

New podcasting tools enhance the whole experience of this popular phenomenon.

Finally, there's the new Movie Score project option and several useful podcasting tools. GarageBand 3 includes a drag-and-drop artwork feature that allows you to easily add visual enhancements to your podcasts. (Newer iPods are capable of playing these tracks with the timed-in art.) Apple has also added more than 100 royalty-free jingles and a generous number of radio-style sound effects, called stingers. But the icing on the cake are the speech-enhancer effect, which reduces background noise and brings vocals forward, and the ducking effect that automatically lowers background music when a speech track comes in. The latter is especially time-saving.

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