Review: Apple Logic Pro X 10.4

Logic Pro X 10.4 is packed full of new features, upgrades and enhancements and it's free for existing users. Joe Albano finds much to like in the latest update to Apple's flagship DAW.  

As everyone certainly knows by now, Apple recently released its latest update to Logic Pro X—version 10.4, which brings a host of new features and enhancements. There’s a lot of stuff in there: sitting down with the release notes and a nice cup of coffee should make for an informative read, especially when it comes to the many smaller improvements and bugfixes. But the new features are what most people will be excited about, and some of them represent a significant step forward in the development of Logic. Let’s take a look at those new additions.

Smart Tempo

No doubt the biggest thing in Logic 10.4 is the introduction of Smart Tempo, a major update to Logic’s handling of all matters that relate to Tempo, including beatmapping—conforming Tempo to audio—and conforming audio to Project Tempo. As the name suggests, Smart Tempo is designed to take much of the onus off the user when it comes to those often-fiddly tasks, putting the responsibility on automatic tempo analysis of recorded/imported audio files. 

Logic 10.4 offers three Project Tempo modes: Keep, Adapt, and Automatic. Along with a few related Preferences, these control how Logic will behave when audio files are recorded or imported into a Project. Keep maintains the current Project Tempo, and audio recordings that have been set to Flex & Follow will conform to that Tempo—this is pretty much the way it worked in previous versions. Adapt mode will—depending on relevant Preferences—automatically create a Project Tempo (Map) for a new audio recording, and/or automatically conform subsequent recordings or imported audio files to the Project Tempo. 

Automatic mode makes the choice for the user as to how to approach tempo—create or conform—based on the presence or absence of an existing “musical” Tempo reference. So for example if there’s already a Tempo reference in a Project (Metronome or audio recording) or section of a Project, Logic will conform additional audio to that Tempo; if no reference is present—as when recording the first track in the Project—Logic will automatically create a Tempo Map based on the musical reference of that performance.

It’s great watching Logic follow a rubato performance (with the Metronome off)  and have a matching Tempo Map in place as soon as that recording is done, or dragging in audio files and having them automatically match the current Project Tempo with no muss or fuss. And just in case the automatic analysis/beat-detection needs a little manual help, Logic 10.4 provides a new audio editing display, the File Tempo Editor. This displays the Tempo information embedded in the selected audio file, which can be edited by dragging Beat Markers around—the implementation is similar to the way Flex markers are edited, but here you’d be tweaking the analyzed bar & beat reference points in the audio file rather than changing the audio timing. Smart Tempo has quite a few additional options and features, but there isn’t room to get into too much detail here, so I’ll move on to the next new feature.

Articulation Handling

For users of more sophisticated virtual instruments that feature multiple performance articulations, Logic 10.4 implements a new approach to handling its own Articulation ID feature, in the process extending that feature so it can be made to work not only with Logic’s own VIs but third-party VIs as well. This new approach adopts the use of keyswitching—using low (mostly unused) notes on the keyboard to select the different articulations (when available) which is well-established as the industry-standard method.

The new Articulation Set Editor lets the user set up and save Articulation Sets, which define a set of keyswitch notes (or other MIDI messages) and assign them to select specific articulation layers (via Articulation IDs); a new MIDI Remote feature (seen in a new Smart Controls Keyswitches panel) lets articulations be selected in realtime during performance/recording. 

Logic’s Articulation ID metadata—attached to each MIDI note—ensures that the correct articulations will always be selected in playback without having to deal with any additional stray note (keyswitch) or controller data in the MIDI file, but previously this feature was only available for Logic’s own VIs. The new Articulation Set Editor makes it possible to set up keyswitches to not only to create the embedded Articulation ID metadata, but also to map that data to trigger whatever notes or controller messages are used to select articulations in third-party instruments—this lets those instruments take advantage of the elegance of the Articulation ID feature. While setting up an Articulation Set from scratch for a particular instrument can be a bit complex, it only has to be done once, and already there are third-party companies marketing Sets for many of the most popular articulation-based VIs out there. 

New Virtual Instruments

Quite a few of Logic’s own instrument patches (EXS) already have articulation layers set up, and two new instruments in 10.4 utilize them to excellent effect: Studio Strings and Studio Horns. These are the latest additions to Logic’s comprehensive stable of VIs, and they take Logic’s Instrument design to a new level. Both Studio Strings and Studio Horns are heavily-multisampled instruments (sections and solo instruments) consisting of multiple performance articulations, which naturally come set up to work with the new Articulation features. 

Studio Strings includes Violins, Violas, Cellos and Basses; multiple articulations are included, incorporating extras like trills in addition to the usual bowing and pizzicato options, and there are options for such niceties as automatic handling of legato transitions—the kind of features usually found only in high-end third-party sound libraries. 

Studio Horns includes multiple Saxes, Trumpets, and Trombones. Once again multiple articulations are provided, many of which utilize the special features of the new Articulation handling, like the ability to momentarily trigger a performance effect (like a doit or falloff) directly from a keyswitch, in addition to the more traditional persistent selection of a particular articulation. 

Various new patches take full advantage of these new instruments, including suitable Track Stacks for setups like horn sections and the like. The samples are solid—you’ll want to fatten them up with the usual mixing tools, but (except for a little grit in the high strings) they’re clean and full, and the performance variations are well-executed and implemented. It may take a little practice to get the most out of these VIs, but they can deliver; hopefully they represent a trend in Logic’s instrument development. 

New Instrument Features

Besides the studio Strings and Horns, Drummer has been augmented with two new drummers and kits—specifically Brush kits, a long-time request—along with the appropriate grooves. New Apple Loops and Alchemy presets are also provided.

Another new instrument (sort of) is the Vintage Mellotron, which of course provides a full set of lo-fi samples of the distinctive and popular sounds from that classic early tape-based analog sampler. A simple front panel makes it easy to select, layer, and tune the collection, which are among the better examples of Mellotron samples. 

I said “sort of” above because these sounds were previously available as an EXS instrument managed from a Smart Controls panel (still there), but the new implementation as a dedicated VI is much more straightforward and is a welcome addition.

Finally, to round out the virtual instrument features in 10.4, the well-established Retro Synth has been graced with several new Filter options, which should enhance its ability to provide classic synth sounds of yesteryear.

New and Improved Plug-Ins 

There are several new plug-ins in 10.4, along with some improvements to a few existing ones. Space Designer—Logic’s flagship convolution reverb—has had a makeover, which not only brings its design in line with the new Retina look of Logic but also enhances access to many of its features as well. But the bigger news on the reverb front is a brand-new algorithmic reverb plug-in with a spiffy display—ChromaVerb. 

This effectively replaces PlatinumVerb, which has been relegated to the Legacy menu, and it offers not only some very fine algorithmic reverb sounds, but a classy, colorful realtime display that illustrates the character/density of the reverb. A combination of different room/space algorithms plus a comprehensive set of programming features earns ChromaVerb its place alongside Space Designer as the flagship algorithmic reverb among Logic’s offerings. One caveat—as some users have discovered, ChromaVerb’s fancy realtime graphic display requires a video engine that’s only available in Macs from 2012 and on; thrifty Mac users with older models (2011 and before) will not see the graphics. This doesn’t affect the sound or performance, but it is disappointing to miss out on those slick colors dancing along with the music. 

Vintage EQs

To add to its wonderful collection of vintage compressor models, Logic 10.4 has added three new vintage EQ plug-ins—the Vintage Console EQ, Vintage Graphic EQ and Vintage Tube EQ bring the sought-after sounds of three classic analog EQs to the party. Each EQ emulates not only the layout and curves of the original it’s based on, but the analog “character” of the hardware as well, enabled from the output section at the left of each plug-in; you can even mix & match the EQ designs with different analog characters, for some potentially interesting results. Note: unlike Channel EQ, these EQs do induce a bit of latency, particularly the analog emulation feature (Drive) in the Output section.

Most experienced audio people will immediately recognize the original analog units modeled from the plug-in graphics. The Vintage Console EQ is a model of the classic British Neve 1073, closely mimicking its specific layout, broad “musical” curves, and, no doubt, the transformer-induced smoothness the original is known for. The Vintage Graphic EQ is clearly a model of the American API 560 graphic EQ section, known for its specific sound and the proportional-Q implementation of its bands (which minimizes interaction between bands, good for more precise/surgical EQ tasks). Finally, the VintageTube EQ emulates two classic tube-based Pultec EQs, the EQP-1A (top) and MEQ-5 midrange EQ (bottom). These EQs are famous for not only the specific response of the EQP-1A with its overlapping boost & cut design, but also for their highly-regarded tube warmth and smooth, silky character.

One other EQ addition to 10.4: the Proportional-Q implementation—obviously developed for the Vintage Graphic EQ—has been added as an option to Logic’s venerable Channel EQ, making that general-purpose EQ plug-in even more flexible.

Multi-FX

I’m running out of room, but I want to mention Logic 10.4 ‘s two new multi-FX plugins: Phat FX and Step FX. Each of these incorporates about a half dozen individual effects, which can be chained in any order, making them one-stop solutions for rich tones. They’re apparently based on two effects from Camel Audio, which was taken over by Apple a while back—Camel Phat and Camel Space—but of course enhanced with the Apple treatment. 

The effects can be controlled by MOD sources (Phat FX) or step-sequenced (Step FX) for a dizzying array of creative possibilities. I’m running long, but for a more detailed look at these cool toys, you can check out this recent Ask.Audio article—Exploring Logic Pro X 10.4's Step FX & Phat FX

Wrap Up

As I said, there’s a lot more to be found in this update—this has been just a brief look at the most significant new features. Logic 10.4 seems to be fairly stable—especially for a .# release—and despite the fact that it requires Sierra (10.12) as the minimum Mac OS version, it’s well worth it for all Logic users, especially those that have been longing for some of its welcome new features.

Price: 10.4 is a free update for Logic owners. Logic is $199.99 as a new purchase. 
Pros: Significant new features, effect and instrument plug-ins; many small enhancements and bugfixes.
Cons: Requires macOS Sierra (10.12) or above; some graphics missing on older Mac hardware.
Web: https://www.apple.com/logic-pro/
https://support.apple.com/en-gb/HT203718

Watch Logic Pro X video tutorials: https://ask.audio/academy?nleloc=category/audio/application/logic 

Joe is a musician, engineer, and producer in NYC. Over the years, as a small studio operator and freelance engineer, he's made recordings of all types from music & album production to v/o & post. He's also taught all aspects of recording and music technology at several NY audio schools, and has been writing articles for Recording magaz... Read More

Discussion

ivandub
For Mac users, Logic Pro X was already one of the best values in a DAW available considering its cost and the vast number of features and virtual instruments it offers. With this latest release, it's a no-brainer. Anyone who fancies him/herself as a music producer would be remiss not to have this on their Mac. That doesn't it has to be your only DAW, especially if you're in to live performance, but it's probably the best deal you're going to find out there!!

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