Logic Express 8 full review

With Logic Studio 8 dropping in price, it’s easy to wonder if the world needs Logic Express. As the cut-down budget version, it’s very much cheaper, but – not so predictably – includes most of the features of its bigger brother.

There are no limitations on track count or audio quality in the stripped down version of Logic, and almost all of the effects and instruments are included. While there are obvious differences – you don’t get MainStage, SoundTrack Pro 2, the big box with the printed manuals, or the big stack of sample DVDs – you have to dig a little deeper to find the differences that matter the most.

The good news is that the editing features in Logic Express are identical to those in the bigger version. You get the traditional MIDI piano roll editor and also a basic music-notation editor, which is perfect for those more familiar with traditional dots than MIDI controllers. The notation isn’t up to the levels of a full-featured editor like Sibelius, which does a lot more, and also costs a lot more, but it’s good enough to give you a good head start editing music using conventional music notation.

For the record
Similarly, audio recording and editing are identical. There’s no limit on the available tracks, the audio editors are the same, and almost all of the effects are the same. The catch is that ‘almost’ – the important difference is that the high-end mastering effects are missing, specifically Linear Phase EQ, Match EQ, AdLimiter and Mulitpressor. This won’t bother beginners, but more experienced users may be left frustrated, because without them it’s hard to add the final polish to a finished mix that transforms it from a bedroom knockabout into a radio-friendly classic.

Also missing are some of the more interesting instruments. The mighty Sculpture isn’t included, which is a shame but not quite a disaster – it’s better for experimental sounds than indispensable keyboard classics. But the absence of the vintage piano/organ/Clavinet simulators – the EVP88, EVB3 and EVD6 – may be more of a problem, and many buyers will find this is the main reason Logic Express won’t fulfil their needs. These instruments can be simulated up to a point with the EXS24 sampler, but not having the originals is a loss. EVP88 especially has become a staple of lounge and downtempo, and its absence means it’s going to be hard for anyone who writes in those styles to consider Logic Express seriously.

At the professional level, there are relatively minor differences in hardware and mixing support. Surround isn’t available. Most users won’t be bothered by this – see ‘Surround vs stereo’ for more details – but it limits the appeal of Express for more dedicated users. Also missing are support for professional options such as TDM/ProTools hardware, Distributed Audio Processing and high-end control surfaces from the likes of Euphonix. Since most of these options cost four or five figures – and upwards – it’s unrealistic to expect them to appear in a budget package that costs just over a hundred quid.

So who’s going to want Logic Express? It’s cheaper than Logic Pro and includes most of the key features, and you could easily spend the price difference on third-party loops and samples. If there’s a definitive answer, that’s a good clue towards it – the stock Apple loops and JamPacks are generic, tending towards West Coast bland. You can certainly construct competent tracks with them, but there’s nothing adventurous or original about them. UK users writing trance, drum and bass, garage, or almost any style other than pop and rock will find they’re not an essential buy, and the money saved can maybe be spent more usefully elsewhere.

It’s a similar story with SoundTrack Pro II and MainStage – they have their uses, but they’re specialised tools with a relatively narrow appeal. If you’re not a keyboard player or a film or TV composer, you’re not going to miss them.

Apple may be relying on price difference and buyer momentum to persuade users to choose the full Logic Pro version over Express. But in practice, Express has more than enough to hold the interest of almost anyone who doesn’t make music for a living. If you’re serious about music, you may find yourself missing the mastering tools in Logic Pro and some of the instrument plug-ins. But if you already have equivalent instruments and effects, there’s really very little reason to choose the more expensive package.

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