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

Apple adds new drummers, plug-ins and editing tools to its professional music-creation tool.

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Dan Ackerman

Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a semi-regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times

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Jason Parker

Senior Editor / Reviews - Software

Jason Parker has been at CNET for nearly 15 years. He is the senior editor in charge of iOS software and has become an expert reviewer of the software that runs on each new Apple device. He now spends most of his time covering Apple iOS releases and third-party apps.

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8 min read

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.

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8.5

Logic Pro X 10.1 (OS X)

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.

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.

New automation features let you add automation to a region rather than the whole track. This means you'll be able to add things like a section where the volume or effect changes to just a selected region within a track.

Plug-ins stacked on different tracks. Sarah Tew/CNET

To round out the new features, we finally get a plug-in manager that lets you customize the organization of your menu. This means you can now keep all your most-used plug-ins handy so you can make quick changes while recording or at a performance.

In version 10.1, the company has expanded it's Logic Remote toolset to include a new plug-in view so you can have access to Logic or Audio Unit plug-in parameters. You can use multi-touch gestures to shape the tone of individual tracks using the Visual EQ, rather than simply changing values or presets from a list. It also lets you remotely add or reorder plug-ins -- an option that was limited to the desktop in the previous version.

Taking control with your iPad

It's the Logic Remote feature, a separate iOS app for your iPad, that really makes Logic compelling.

That's because most music-recording apps mimic the look and feel of a traditional physical mixing board, while also offering an edit view with music note data and audio file waveforms, as well as multiple pop-up windows for controlling everything from effects to signal routing. There's so much going on that it can be nearly impossible to effectively control everything via a mouse and keyboard, unless you're sticking to very simple track-by-track recording.

Sarah Tew/CNET

One common solution has been physical control surfaces, which could be anything from a USB-connected keyboard (the musical kind, not the QWERTY kind) to a full-on mixing desk with physical faders, knobs, and inputs. These can cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, and as many third-party companies make these devices, the functionality and reliability can vary widely.

One of the best features of Logic Pro, first added with last year's 10.0 build and continued here, is the seamless support for the iPad as a control surface. Once both an OS X computer running Logic Pro X and your iPad running the Logic control app are on the same Wi-Fi network, they can be linked together.

The big advantage here is that Apple makes both the OS X software and the iOS app, so they're built from the ground up to work well together. Over the years, I've tried a few third-party apps for controlling Pro Tools in a similar fashion, but none of them has been as seamless and wide-ranging as this, and those apps are prone to lag, bugs, incompatibility issues and other problems (there may be a perfect Pro Tools/iOS control surface app -- I just haven't found it yet).

Moving multiple faders at once on the iPad. Sarah Tew/CNET

The most obviously useful way to control Logic Pro X from the iPad is to use the tablet's surface as a mixing board. This mode literally puts a bank of faders in front of you (up to eight at a time) and you can jump between different banks at will. Manipulating the mixing board faders via iPad instead of mouse and keyboard has one big advantage: thanks to multitouch on the iPad, you can grab several faders at once and manipulate them in real time. On a laptop or desktop, you'd have to link several tracks together or else record fader automation one track at a time.

Many of the built-in plugins and virtual instruments that come included with Logic Pro also have custom control screens on the iPad. Keyboard-based instruments give you an actual physical keyboard you can play, plus the various knobs and other controls as the real-life version of these virtual keyboards would offer.

Obviously, with no tactile feedback, it's very difficult to play accurately or expressively on an iPad screen. With only an octave or two represented on the screen at once (depending on how you set it up), you can really only play with one hand at a time. You can, however, use the iPad screen to quickly and easily input note information, strum a virtual guitar neck, or even set up basic chords you can strum or arpeggiate with minimal fuss.

The iPad app can also control plug-ins. Sarah Tew/CNET

Conclusion

Logic Pro shares some DNA with Apple's consumer-level music app GarageBand, and knowing how to use one can at least help getting started in the other. That said, Logic Pro is not the sort of program a beginner is going to be able to pick up and master overnight.

Also keep in mind that many professional recording studios primarily run Pro Tools these days, which could make transferring sessions between home and studio a hassle. And, to record real-world instruments, guitar, bass, vocals and so on, you'll need potentially expensive microphones, I/O equipment and pre-amps to get a good signal into your Mac so remember to budget for those as well as for name-brand plug-ins (such as Autotune).

But you can also skip the preamps and extra plug-ins for now because the base $200 Logic Pro X 10.1 package represents an enormous software value, packing in more tools, sounds and instruments than you'll probably ever need, plus the integrated iPad remote app can save hundreds more on an external control surface. If you're a Mac/OS X user, and not already heavily invested in a competing music app/plug-in platform, Logic Pro is a great example of what Apple can leverage by creating its own hardware and software, allowing the two sides to work together as seamlessly as possible.

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8.5

Logic Pro X 10.1 (OS X)

Score Breakdown

Setup 9Features 9Interface 8Performance 8