At last week’s NAMM show in Anaheim, CA, Apple Computer announced a repackaging of its Logic professional audio applications to follow a two-tiered approach, just like Apple’s Final Cut video editing products. At the high end, the $1,000 Logic Pro 6 is a rebundling of Logic Platinum 6, plus software instruments and audio-processing plug-ins which were previously sold separately. Meanwhile, the $300 Logic Express 6 targets students, educators, and the semi-pro/serious amateur market by offering a smaller (though not inconsiderable) collection of professional quality tools, effects, and capabilities at a lower price. If users need more capabilities, Logic Express projects can be shifted over to Logic Pro. By simplifying the Logic line – which most recently included Logic Audio, Logic Gold, and Logic Platinum plus a small herd of separate add-on software packages, all offered in various combinations – Apple hopes to clarify its pro-level audio products, avoid confusion with its new audio-oriented Soundtrack and GarageBand, and parallel its offerings in pro-level video software. Apple says the new Logic projects will be available this March.
It’s Only Logical — It’s difficult to discuss audio products without getting into impenetrable technical specs for both audio software and hardware, and encountering partisanship which makes the Mac versus Windows debate seem civil and witty. But for the uninitiated, the Logic applications enable users to assemble and mix audio and MIDI sequences, as well as apply sophisticated audio processing and effects. These are the kinds of programs used by professional recording studios and engineers to produce music, soundtracks, and other audio-related projects. (Similar products on the Mac currently include Avid/Digidesign’s various Pro Tools offerings, Mark of the Unicorn’s Digital Performer, and Steinberg’s Cubase products.) Apple acquired Logic when it bought the German company Emagic in mid-2002 and converted it to a wholly owned subsidiary.
Generally, Logic Express 6 can be described as a somewhat stripped-down version of Logic Pro 6. Logic Express 6 supports fewer tracks, buses, and input channels (basically, the number of real-time parts which can be managed separately in an audio project), and lower digital audio resolution (24-bit/96 KHz, which is essentially DVD-quality audio, whereas high-end projects sometimes use 24-bit/192 KHz, which Logic Pro 6 supports). Logic Express 6 also lacks the capability to mix to surround sound and includes far fewer effects and software instruments. That said, Logic Express offers substantial capabilities, many of which weren’t available in any form in the digital audio world only a few years ago: with knowledge and creativity (and work!), users can certainly produce professional-quality projects with Logic Express 6. Logic Pro 6, conversely, offers flexibility and extended capabilities needed in higher-end professional settings like recording and video scoring studios, where having unlimited tracks, handling heaps of plug-in effects, mixing to 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound, and choosing from a wide variety of software instruments are sometimes of great importance.
Twang that Drum — At NAMM, Apple also previewed new software which will work with future versions of Logic. Two are software instruments: Sculpture and UltraBeat. Sculpture synthesizes the waveform of a vibrating string or bar (and, naturally, enables the user to twiddle all sorts of parameters like the size and material of the item, its environment, and how it’s being excited – bowed, struck, maybe even wiggled with a magnetic field.) It might seem that something like Sculpture is a neat way to replace acoustic instruments like a violin or vibes with software equivalents, but that’s not true: more likely, Sculpture will be most useful creating fodder for richer, never-before-heard sounds which have some characteristics of real world items.
UltraBeat starts from a series of drum "voices" and enables the user to apply different types of synthesis and processing to create new sounds: some might sound remarkably like real-world instruments, and some aren’t going to sound even remotely percussive. Percussionists face no new threat here: UltraBeat is most likely to appeal to producers of various forms of electronic music.
My Loop Goes to Eleven — Apple also previewed GuitarAmp, a full-featured guitar amp simulator which will integrate directly with Logic. (Presumably, a stripped-down version provides the amp simulations in Apple’s GarageBand and GarageBand Jam Pack.) The idea of an amp emulator is that you plug a guitar into your audio interface directly, and use GuitarAmp to simulate the sound of your guitar played through various types of amps – and you can change and modify your choices long after recording a guitar track, if you like. (Yes, the sounds and designs of guitar amps vary enormously, and amp emulators are easier to cart around than dozens of amp and speaker cabinet combinations.) Apple says its models represent the best-known guitar amps and offer "impeccable" emulations, enabling users to choose various speaker cabinets, microphone placement techniques, and various front-panel controls. The main difficulty GuitarAmp may face is that it’s not a new player in this arena: amp emulators have been around for several years, with companies like Line 6, DigiTech, Yamaha, and others regularly releasing amp emulators which are easier to haul to a gig (and cheaper!) than a Mac. Moreover, while amp emulators have the advantage of flexibility and convenience, in professional circles they’re not universally loved: many players and engineers who want good guitar tone would rather use a real amp in a real room, consenting to amp emulators mainly due to time or budget constraints. But for project studios and home recording, they can be a godsend – particularly because they can produce screaming loud guitar sounds without disturbing the neighbors.
Apple also announced that future versions of Logic will support Apple Loops, which seem as if they will be available in two varieties. The first is basically a loopable bit of audio and/or music: the Apple Loops which ship with GarageBand to provide backing and rhythm tracks are a good example. Presumably, future versions of Logic will be able to search through libraries of these tracks (based on metadata about instrumentation, genre, and even mood), import them, and manipulate them directly (apply effects, expand or shrink them, etc.). Apple also commented on a "software instrument" form of Apple Loops which, in addition to raw audio and metadata, may contain MIDI performance data and processing parameters. In theory, one could change the instrumentation and some sonic characteristics of these Apple Loops within Logic.
Look Upon My Works, Ye Mighty — With its NAMM announcements, Apple will be offering a semi-consolidated line of music-making products aimed at amateurs and hobbyists (GarageBand), videographers needing to do some audio processing (Soundtrack), students, educators, and mid-range users (Logic Express), and high-end professionals (Logic Pro). Open questions include how third-party developers will respond to Apple’s pro audio offerings, and what impact that response will have on the professional audio market. (How many users of Adobe Premiere do you think are happy with Apple’s foray into the professional video market?) With Apple developing both Mac OS X and pro audio applications for Mac OS X, companies like Avid, Mark of the Unicorn, and Steinberg may have to seriously question seriously development of their pro-level audio applications for the Mac. (Pro Tools and Cubase have strong Windows versions products already; Digital Performer has always been Mac-only.)
The situation is confounded by Mac OS X. Until Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar, professional audio under Mac OS X was essentially limited to stony silence occasionally punctuated by irritating squawks, kernel panics, and tumbleweeds blowing through the center of town: the operating system simply lacked many capabilities required by the pro audio market. For many people – myself included – even Mac OS X 10.3 Panther is still not a viable platform for pro audio work due to lack of developer support. (In turn, developers have quietly noted it’s hard to support an operating system with critical, unresolved issues in its audio architecture.) I know several studios which are still running Mac OS 9 and hoping their computers don’t fail before a conversion to Mac OS X is feasible (I got a panicked call from one several weeks ago); similarly, I know of studios which have abandoned the Mac and studios which have reverted back to Mac OS 9 from Mac OS X due to insurmountable problems with allegedly working solutions. Logic itself hasn’t been immune from problems under Mac OS X, but, being owned by Apple, it’s clearly in a privileged position as far as resolving issues with Mac OS X. And Apple, naturally, has more interest in enabling its own products than helping other companies compete against them.
I, for one, hope Apple’s efforts with Mac OS X and Logic are aimed at re-establishing the Macintosh as the premiere platform for producing digital music, promoting a healthy industry, and enabling a variety of solutions both from Apple and third parties. Otherwise, Apple may well find itself the king of all the lone and level sands it can survey.