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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

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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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