Apple Logic Pro X full review
We've long held Logic Pro X to be one of Apple's best products, offering an impressive array of features and power at a relatively affordable price (at least in terms of professional software). Over the years a number of updates have introduced new tools or capabilities, but with the latest 10.5 version Apple has upgraded its music production suite in such a way that most other companies would claim as an entirely new release - but this update is free for existing users.
What does the update bring to the table? We take a look in our in-depth Logic Pro X 10.5 update review.
In the loop
Those who've spent any time with the iOS version of GarageBand will have come across Live Loops. These are short beats or melodic vignettes that can be placed into columns and triggered together to form the basis of a song or backing track. All the loops are royalty-free, so you can use them in commercial releases as well as for backing music in family videos.
Apple has now brought these to Logic Pro X, albeit with a few more whistles and bells.
For a quick primer on Live Loops, read How to use GarageBand on iPad.
To use Live Loops in Logic you click on the nine-dot grid icon above the tracks in the main workspace. This opens the Live Loops Grid into which you can pull loops from the normal library; you position each one in an empty square called a cell, more of which can be created by simply dragging a loop on to the workspace.
Along the bottom of the grid there are several numbered columns. Logic calls these Scenes, and they are how you trigger all the loops in that particular column.
After you've assembled a few loops into one scene, click the number and it will immediately play them all.
To trigger the next scene, click on its number and this will begin at a preset point. The latter is controlled by the drop-down Quantize Start menu at the top of the grid which offers a range of timings, from one to eight bars or much smaller intervals. When you click the scene number it will wait until the interval you've specified has elapsed and then begin playing at the beginning of the next bar or sub-division.
The real trick with this is it means all of the loops remain in time with each other at all points, so you can just get on with experimenting. There's also a circle that fills as the scene plays, showing you when the next change is going to occur.
It might sound a little complicated, but using Live Loops is nothing of the sort. The visual nature makes it easy to see what's happening at any point.
Another cool feature is that the loops are all linked to the instruments in Logic, so if you find an acoustic guitar part you like but want it in a heavier track, simply select the loop and change the instrument to a distorted guitar or vice versa. Of course, you're also free to record your own loops directly into a cell, whether it's via a midi controller or a live instrument.
Introduce an iPad or iPhone running the Logic Remote 1.4 app and you can control the grid in a more organic fashion, choosing to either launch entire scenes or individual cells by tapping the grid itself. Those who've used Ableton Live with the Ableton Push 2 controller will recognise the approach immediately.
There's also the Remix Effects plugin, which gives you two large square surfaces with which you can alter modulation, filters and other effects in real time just by sliding your finger. Think of it as a built-in Kaoss pad, but without the additional cost.
When you've come to a final arrangement in your head, you're then able to click the Enable Performance Recording button, hit Record and play the loops live directly into your project. This automatically creates tracks and regions on your standard workspace without any need for conversion or importing.
What's great about this is that you could already be working on a song and realise you need some kind of rhythm section or melodic accompaniment, all of which can be added in minutes with little fuss.
The sample life
There are two main approaches to sampling in Logic Pro X 10.5, with Apple now including a Quick Sampler and a main Sampler. The former allows users to, as the name suggest, grab clips from single audio files and convert them into playable instruments within Logic. The real magic is in the way the program offers various automatic editing options designed to either slice up drum parts so you can use individual parts and sequences or analyse melodic instrument files and present the best option for making loops. Of course, you can still edit the sample with filters, modulation, and the waveform itself.
The interface is cleanly laid out, with the soundwave displayed at the top and the various editing dials broken into sections below. You can also record directly into Quick Sampler if you have a riff or sound that you want to incorporate in your song.
Long-time users will find themselves searching in vain for the trusty EXS24 sampler, as the tool that's been in Logic since the beginning has finally been replaced with a more modern alternative. Don't worry, though, as the new sampler can work with .exs files and offers user the choice of exporting creations in that format so they will be compatible with older versions of the software.
We think that most people will be pleased with the upgrade, as the powerful new plugin allows for dragging and dropping of multiple files into the sampler, with automatic editing tools that can split the samples by silences in the track, analyse the structure for loop points, create zones either from entire samples or individual notes, and then map all the results to your MIDI keyboard for immediate use.
There are sections for modulation controls, zones, mapping, and synthesiser settings, all of which are available in a single screen so you won't lose them behind other pages on a busy project.
In the short time we had with the Sampler for this review, we were impressed by what could be created in a matter of minutes, but such is the depth of options available we were only able to scratch the surface. It's obvious that putting in the hours could return some truly remarkable results and new sounds.
If you're new to Logic or old on the Mac, then you'll have to watch out for using the Cmd+Z command that will live in your muscle memory, as it instantly makes the samples you've been working on disappear. A few naughty words were uttered during the making of this review, but by the end we'd managed to curb our finger impulses.
Step in time
Ticking another box on the Most Wanted list for Logic users is a step sequencer that finally gives you a decent alternative to the Piano Roll. This is built from the ground up with beats in mind, but you can also use if for bass and any melodic instruments from the existing sound library.
The Step Sequencer grid is broken into divisions containing four cells as well as a number of tracks representing parts of the kit or notes in a scale. Click cells to turn them on and create beats or melodies.
Rather than having to elongate or shorten the cells to change the length of the note you simply select the value you want from each track's drop-down menu - be it 16ths, quarter-notes or what have you. Individual cells can also have various effect applied to them, such as velocity, enabling creators to add a human dimension to the sequences by varying how hard the note is played.
You can also choose to have certain tracks play their sequences in reverse, back and forth across the pattern or randomly. The default grid is for 12 steps, but this can be adjusted via another dropdown menu up to 64, with the pattern automatically reproduced by Logic.
The feature works with Drum Kit Designer sounds, plus the melodic instruments automatically displays only notes that work in a scale so you can't really get anything wrong. This is a huge step forward for putting together, primarily, beats and basslines with the minimum of effort, and one that's been needed for a long time.
So much more
As you can see, there's plenty for creators to get their teeth into with Logic Pro X 10.5. And that's before we point out that Apple has also included a new Drum Machine Designer, Drum Synth, more than 2,500 additional loops, plus a wide range of other tweaks along the way.
It's quite a lot to take in and that may be an issue for those unfamiliar to Logic. While many of the new features use a visual approach that affords a shorter learning curve, there is a lot to grasp; you can expect to get lost along the way when you first delve into the complex behemoth that is Logic Pro X in 2020.
Apple recognises this and has worked alongside some prominent online tutors and YouTube creators to produce instructional videos that can take you through those initial steps. MacProVideo has put together a What's New in Logic Pro X 10.5? short course that's available for free, while MusicTechHelpGuy has several videos on YouTube about the new features and how to use them.
There's also an online user guide by Apple to point you in the right direction should things get too confusing.
At the time of writing, Apple is offering a free 90-day trial of Logic Pro X 10.5 so you can try it out and see if it's the right solution for your music creation needs. There are no restrictions and anything you create will be yours to keep even when the trial ends.
As we stated at the beginning of this review, Logic Pro X is one of Apple's most polished products. We're not shy of pointing out when the company charges too much for its devices, but the software division really does have the bit between its teeth at the moment.
Any one of the main new features that have been added to the 10.5 update could have been reason alone to release it; the fact that there are several very high-quality new tools is, well, frankly silly. But in a good way.
Logic Pro X was a five-star product before the update, but now that this upgrade has arrived, and is completely free to existing users, we may well have to start rethinking the maximum number of stars that can be awarded.
For advice on hardware that's up to this kind of task, read our guide to the best Mac for music production. And for our thoughts on suitable alternatives to Logic, read best Mac music production software.