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Logic Studio Shows Music on the Mac is Back

TMO Analysis - Logic Studio Shows Music on the Mac is Back

by , 8:30 AM EST, January 28th, 2008

Ever wanted to make music? Thanks to one of Apple's less-publicized revolutions, maybe now's the time for you to start.

Apple, Inc. sells a software product called Logic Studio. Maybe you've heard of it, but more likely you haven't. It's a package of pro audio recording, editing, processing, and publishing tools. It's basically the audio-focused sibling of the better-known movie editing package Final Cut Studio. Even among many pro musicians, it's unfairly on the b-list of audio software suites, in the shadow of the more commonly known ProTools, published by DigiDesign. Since Apple released Logic Pro 7 back in 2004, the software has offered an appealing alternative to ProTools and to Logic's other competitors. But with the September 2007 release of Logic Studio, Apple quietly announced a revolution in pro audio. Logic Studio is the most definitive evidence yet that musicians ought to embrace the recording studio's complete transition to silicon.

We've been reviewing Logic Studio for a couple of months now, and we're extremely impressed. For budding engineers and producers, no software provides a better value. For studio veterans, Logic 8 has the edge on the competition in flexibility, portability, and MIDI functionality. It's our experience -- though this is notoriously hard to prove or defend -- that among its competitors on the Mac, Logic gets better support and offers better stability. What's most extraordinary, though, is the way Apple sets the bar for accessorizing the basic tools of record, edit, mix.

Last week, we gave Apple a TMO Editor's Choice Award for Logic Studio. Why? Part of the reason is that Logic is emblematic of a revolution for which Apple deserves great credit. This revolution is far from its hyper-publicized revolutions in digital media, consumer electronics, and mobile phones. We should point out that we won't review specific features in detail. (If you're looking for a feature-by-feature report, we can recommend a Logic Studio review over at TweakHeadz Lab.) Instead, let's look at the tack Apple is taking, and the impact it's likely to have.

When in Doubt, Do it in Software
The conventional wisdom among geeks is that, if you're really serious about getting something done, you'll buy the right hardware. If Apple isn't the world-wide champion in fighting this notion, it's certainly one of the companies in the vanguard.

Logic Studio is truly a million-dollar recording facility in a box. In addition to the tracking tape, it's stuffed to bursting with Instruments, effects, a live performance rig, and mastering tools. Spend about $500 more on a prosumer audio interface, a small midi controller, and decent microphone, and suddenly you have few excuses for not producing music to compete with the best in the business. If you really get into it and your iMac can't handle the load, step up to a Mac Pro. Getting really serious? Throw some Xserves on a rack and expand your production capacity as much as you like.

The key to this do-everything-in-software philosophy is that all the tools are there from the beginning, along with some features (like track-freezing) that help out the horsepower-challenged. In theory, with Logic Studio you could produce world-class music on a Mac mini. And the software-only approach means every time Logic gets updated, your whole recording studio gets remodeled.

This approach isn't unique to Logic Studio -- Steve Jobs has said explicitly that the iPhone benefits from this design philosophy. Because the iPhone's entire interface (excepting three simple buttons) is in software, Apple can update, tweak, and revamp it whenever and however it wants. But Logic Studio and Final Cut Studio are remarkable case studies because they're seriously heavy-hitting software suites. It's one thing to see software take the buttons off your phone's facade. It's another thing to see it sweep the furniture right out from under the world's top artists.

When you compare this tack to the joint hardware-software approach of Avid and Digidesign, it's hard to imagine the software-only approach loosing in the end. For better or worse, as stock hardware gets more and more powerful, those ahead in the software battle are almost certain to win the war.

Software is a Selling Point, Not the Product
After Apple bought Emagic, it took Logic and a pile of additional audio tools that Emagic had been selling separately, bundled them together, and started selling them under the name Logic Pro 7. At the time, Logic users hailed the release of Logic 7 as a great deal. It was possible only because Apple's core business was hardware, so the company didn't need to make its money back on the sale of the software.

On the consumer side, Apple has been taking this tack for some time. The iLife suite of tools is the obvious poster child here: Apple might sell a few (hundred thousand) copies of iLife with each new version, but the bulk of the copies in the wild left Apple's door as free, "value-added" software on new Macs. Very possibly, most people never open GarageBand, iMovie, or iDVD. A sizable chunk might never open iPhoto. But the iLife apps get mention in ever review of every Mac I've ever read, and they've helped cement Apple's image as the consumer-friendly PC maker.

So iLife exists to sell Macs. But a heavy-duty Pro app -- really? With so much new code, and at US$500, this new Logic Studio won't be a cash cow. Likely, the new price will expand their market share in pro audio. But Logic Studio seems to be positioned in large measure to complete the picture for film production. It handles audio from Final Cut so smoothly that it could encourage some directors to go to an all-Apple-all-the-time workflow. In other words, one principal motivation for both Final Cut Studio and Logic Studio is that it will help sell more Macs.

Innovate Compulsively
Why did Apple dump the iMovie people knew and loved for the total redesign (and feature crunch) of iMovie '08? Why did Apple remodel the iPod nano and classic interface with a cover-flow option? And why the heck did they create Mainstage and bundle it in with Logic Studio?

Apple innovates compulsively. That doesn't mean they always do it to everyone's liking (on this score, go back over some of those iMovie '08 reviews from last summer), but the company is constantly updating, renewing, overhauling, or revisiting software that has already been accepted as solid or even exceptional. And once in a while, they create a completely new tool, even when there hasn't been an outcry for it, and even when they don't really have to. But here's the thing: Mainstage is a really good idea, and a lot of musicians are putting it to work in their live shows.

There are other innovations in Logic Studio. My favorite is the ridiculously cool Delay Designer; other users will find there own. The net effect of all these new features and the introduction of Mainstage, though, is what it says about Apple, the Mac, and music.

Commit to Your Products
The most encouraging news about Logic Studio is the message it sends to artists: Apple is committed to pro audio on the Mac. Apple has, in the past, released products only to let them languish. Airport Express is the most recent that comes to mind. With a 3 year lag between Logic 7 and 8, it was starting to look like Mac audio was suffering from serious neglect. But with innovative new tools and applications and a stunningly modest price tag, Apple is back.

The Mac is supposed to be the platform of choice for artists of all kind, and Logic Studio demonstrates a real commitment to their needs. This commitment is the primary reason Logic Studio received a TMO Editor's Choice award at the Macworld Expo. It's good to have Logic Studio in the wild, and it's a great time to be making music on your Mac.

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