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.
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.
While audio pros won't be satisfied with GarageBand 3 alone, the program is a good choice for novice music production. In addition to the features mentioned above, there's a basic mixer for each track that lets you adjust the left and right balance as well as fade the volume in and out. You can also import audio (AIFF, WAV, MP3, Apple Lossless, and unprotected AAC) and MIDI files by dragging and dropping them into the interface, and GarageBand 3 has the ability to display recordings in full musical notation. The app also lets you edit individual tracks, but we were unsatisfied with the level of editing; you can't get down to the audio sample level. Pick up a separate audio-editing tool such as Bias Peak if you need this functionality. Once you've completed your GarageBand music project, you can export it to iTunes as an AIFF file. Within iTunes, you can then convert the file to an MP3 or AAC track.
As one would expect, GarageBand 3's performance varies based on the system. Interestingly, when we tested the latest version of the program on a G4 PowerBook with a 1.67GHz PowerPC processor and 512MB of RAM, we got the same performance as we did when testing version 2 on a G4 iBook with a 1GHz processor and 256MB of RAM, even though the PowerBook had a more optimal configuration. (Apple recommends 512MB of RAM and requires that you have Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later or Mac OS X 10.4.3 or later.) Essentially, performance was a bit sketchy at first, with the app skipping and halting with as few as four tracks playing. Luckily, the help menu includes tips for optimizing GarageBand 3--for example, not running apps in the background and locking individual tracks--and once we utilized these tricks, we experienced few problems.