Logic Pro X 10.1 (OS X) review: Apple's Logic Pro music production suite gets a free 10.1 upgrade

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The Good There's a tremendous amount of value in Logic Pro X for $199, and the 10.1 update adds more drummers, improves some plug-ins, and tweaks session editing for finer control. It's easy to run the mix or individual instruments from an iPad.

The Bad Popular third-party plug-ins can still cost a fortune, it's hard to transfer a session to a professional studio running rival ProTools, and for analog types, the emphasis in this update is more on digital/electronic music than live audio recording.

The Bottom Line Logic Pro X 10.1 from Apple is a self-contained music studio that offers tremendous flexibility and power -- once you get past the learning curve.

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8.5 Overall
  • Setup 9
  • Features 9
  • Interface 8
  • Performance 8

With last year's Logic Pro X, Apple gave its music recording software a major overhaul, both bringing it into alignment with its main competitor Avid's Pro Tools, and also finding some bold points of differentiation to create a starker contrast between the two programs.

This early 2015 update, called version 10.1, adds several new features and tweaks, but is a relatively minor revamp overall, consisting of some new drummers and sounds designed to appeal to electronic music artists and producers, plus a revamped compressor plug-in, and some advanced editing functions.

It's a free update if you have last year's Logic Pro X, but if you're coming in fresh, or from either an older version of Logic or from Apple's simplified GarageBand app, the entire package is $199 (£149 in the UK and $249 in Australia). Compared to what you could spend for a professional audio recording and editing suite, such as Pro Tools, which can cost anywhere from $200 (for an upgrade) to $800 or more, it's a tremendous value.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Logic includes a huge library of software plugins (apps that add effects such as EQ or pitch correction to audio tracks), including compressors, reverbs, and simulated guitar amps. It's great to have so many effects included, because popular plugins from other companies, such as AutoTune from Antares or the L3 multi-band compressor from Waves, can cost hundreds each.

You also get a varied selection of virtual instruments, which are digital recreations of instruments from pianos to guitars to vintage synths to exotic world music gear, all played via either MIDI input from an external music keyboard, individual note input within the program, or even from an on-screen keyboard on your iPad.

If that all sounds a bit over your head, and you have no idea what plug-ins, virtual instruments, or MIDI are, than I'll be the first to say that Logic Pro X may not be the right app for you. It's an advanced music recording and production suite, with a steep learning curve, although I appreciate the built-in song templates, designed for getting a singer-songwriter or electronic music session up and running quickly with preset tracks and plug-ins. But if you're just dabbling, stick with GarageBand until you feel you've outgrown it.

A guitar amp plug-in. Sarah Tew/CNET

For $200, Logic Pro X 10.1 offers a huge toolkit for both professional and advanced amateur audio engineers and musicians. That said, Pro Tools is in many ways still the industry standard, especially if you plan to take your work to a professional recording studio for additional recording or mixing. The value equation has also changed somewhat with the recent release of Pro Tools First, a limited, but still usable, free version of Pro Tools that offers an easy way to learn that software before investing.

But the secret weapon in Logic is no doubt the ability to use your iPad as a realtime control surface, for riding faders, playing instruments, or adjusting plug-ins. Having tried many hardware and software external control surfaces for Pro Tools and other music programs over the years, the iPad-to-Logic connection is amazingly simple to set up and it operates in real time. The connection offers tremendous flexibility, making Logic an easy-to-use tool for capturing music ideas on the fly once you're fluent in the basic workings of this deep, complex software package.

New drummers, plug-ins and editing tools

One of the big upgrades for Logic Pro X last year was the addition of drummer profiles you could use to perform as a sort of AI drummer in your songs.

Each drummer is essentially a bank of drum loop families, and you can reassign any drummer's patterns to any other drum kit. More importantly, any loop can be adjusted on the fly to be louder, softer, more or less complex, using different symbol or kick/snare variations, and with more or fewer fills. You can even tie the timing and complexity in with an audio track, such as a bass guitar, and it will tweak itself on the fly to follow along.

Several of the available virtual drummers. Sarah Tew/CNET

In version 10.1, Logic Pro X gets 10 new drummers that produce beats in a variety of electronic and hip hop styles including Techno, House, Trap, Dubstep and more. Also, a new drum machine designer plug-in gives you new sounds and features for custom electronic drum kits in several different styles.

This "virtual drummer" idea has been around for a while, with plugin apps such as Strike and BFD, and the Logic Drummer works in a largely similar way. In the right hands, it's definitely more expressive than simple drum loops, but even with the new drummers and categories, there's still a loop-based feel to it. Spending some time tweaking patterns and kits can provide a lot of variety, but the genres are on the poppy side, so there's little for jazzheads or other non-rock/pop/R&B/electronic types.

The latest version of Logic Pro X also includes 200 new synth patches and 10 classic Mellotron instruments. The original Mellotron was an instrument that generated sounds via audio tape loops, and was used by bands such as The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and several other progressive rock bands. As an example, you might remember the breathy flute sounds that accompanied Jimmy Page's guitar in "Stairway to Heaven." These were sounds performed using a Mellotron.

This drummer's default beats and options. Sarah Tew/CNET

But beyond just new sounds, you also get some revamped tools. The piano roll editor has been improved to show more notes in less vertical space and lets you identify drum sounds by name. You can easily compress or expand the timing of selected notes using new time handles. If you want to add some notes in a specific section, you can use the new Brush Tool in the Piano Roll Editor to click and drag notes that conform to a scale so even randomly placed notes will end up sounding good.

The Compressor plug-in has been redesigned with a scalable Retina-ready interface and features seven different models of compressor, including a new Classic VCA (voltage-controlled amplifier) model, designed to simulate famous real-world compressor hardware from Neve, Focusrite, and others.

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