June 21, 2024


Sapiens Digital

Apple Logic Pro X (for Mac) – Review 2020

14 min read

For electronic music production, Apple just made a huge leap. Long before the company purchased Emagic, Logic first emerged from the combination of C-Lab’s late 1980s programs Creator and Notator on the Atari ST. Today, Logic Pro X offers pro-level audio editing at a bargain price for multitrack recording, film scoring, sound design, and post. Now with newly acquired, non-linear electronic music composition and live performance chops, version 10.5 puts tremendous pressure on its well-established digital audio workstation (DAW) competitors. Unless you need Avid Pro Tools for compatibility with other studios, or you want to stick with another one simply because you’re more familiar with it, Logic Pro remains the top choice for DAWs, and it earns another Editors’ Choice award.

Setup, Installation, and Interface

To get started with Logic Pro X 10.5, you’ll need a recent Mac running OS X v10.14.6 (Mojave) or later and 6GB of free space for the base program. To install everything, including all of the packaged synths, instruments, loops, and effects, you need to set aside 72GB. As always, Logic Pro X doesn’t require hardware or software copy protection; as long as you’re logged into the Apple Store with your account, you can download, install, and run it seamlessly.

For this updated review, I tested Logic Pro X 10.5 on a 2019 MacBook Pro 16-inch with a Core i9 processor, 1TB SSD, and 16GB RAM running macOS Catalina 10.15. I tested the program with a second-generation Focusrite Scarlett 6i6, and as expected, I ran into no problems. I also used an Apple iPad (2019) to test the new plug-in support with the free Logic Remote app.

Logic Pro X 10.5 supports the new Mac Pro and up to 56 processor threads; the Core i9 MacBook Pro I tested on had 16 available threads. If you don’t have such an extravagant setup, the program can be set to “only load plug-ins needed for project playback” for conserving CPU power in larger projects in a seamless fashion. In a single project, you can run up to a whopping 1,000 stereo audio tracks, 1,000 instrument tracks, and 1,000 auxiliary tracks, and use up to 12 sends per channel strip. Apple continues to do a ton of tweaking underneath the surface to improve system performance on lesser machines. 

Live Loops, Remix FX, and Step Sequencer 

At first, it appears Logic Pro X’s main view doesn’t see many changes in 10.5. The transport is located at the top of the screen. The Library contains all available media content; it’s on the left and easily collapsible. The top right contains the Tracks window, which is where you do most of your composing and editing. Below the tracks is a multi-mode window that can display the mixer, a piano roll, a score editor, or a sample editor. The left and right sides can pop up useful windows for the event list, the track inspector, or the instrument library whenever you need them. 

Look closely at the main interface, though, and you’ll see a tiny new icon across the top of the Tracks section. It’s small, but it contains multitudes. Click it to open the Live Loops view, an all-new view that consists of columns of “cells” for composing and arranging music in real time. In this view, you can drag loops, samples, or recorded audio into the grid, and then trigger the cells in different combinations in a non-linear fashion to experiment with ideas. Unlike as in the Tracks view, the Live Loops view doesn’t force you to cut and paste regions into different tracks first or even to loop sections of the song.

Logic Pro X Interface

Once you find groups of cells playing together that you like, you can then arrange them in song sections called scenes—still without worrying about how long anything will play. Right-click a scene and you can change how it’s queued up or what note or beat it drops in on (via Quantize Start), and it offers duplicate, insert, and set-scene-trigger options. You can also perform with all of this on stage, as it’s equally adept live as well as in the studio (hence its name). This new workflow gets at the heart of what Ableton Live’s Session view offers, except that you can still transition to Logic’s existing Tracks view afterward with all of your newly composed regions intact. You can also see the Tracks and Live Loops views simultaneously and go back and forth between them while working. 

Another easy way to get started with Live Loops is to dial up one of the 17 pre-loaded scenes, which are available as templates when you first make a new project, and experiment with those or delete the cells to create your own with the suggested instruments. The possibilities seem endless.

The new Remix FX plug-in is another useful tool for electronic music producers. It lets you perform transitions, stutter edits, gates, virtual record scratching, and other little production tricks that you can control with the mouse or via Logic Remote on an iPad or iPhone. Nifty flare-style effects follow the mouse cursor (or your finger) as you open and close the filters or trigger stutters using the customizable pads. It’s beautifully animated and had zero lag in my tests. You can strap this one across the mix bus or on individual tracks. With Logic Remote, tilting the iPad or iPhone up and down lets you tweak the filters as you play. Remix FX debuted in GarageBand, but it clearly belongs here and it’s a ton of fun to play with. 

Logic Pro X Step Sequence

The other big piece for recording in 10.5 is the Step Sequencer, which supplements the existing, mediocre Step Editor (it’s still there, but it grays out once you activate the Step Sequencer). This new view evokes old drum machines and synths, but with an attractive, FL Studio-style interface with 150 built-in rhythm and melody patterns. It’s great for building beats—not just drums, but bass and melodic parts with multiple variations and even controller data automation. Maybe it’s less innovative than Live Loops, but it’s no less fun—which is the whole point. Like Live Loops and the Tracks view, the new Step Sequencer pulls someone like me out of the piano roll and score views I’ve been using for 30 years and into something fresh, even if I still prefer to play a MIDI keyboard when composing. This view can’t be accessed from Logic Remote, at least at launch.

Sampling and Virtual Instruments

The biggest news on the instrument front is Sampler, a ground-up, long-overdue reworking of Logic’s EXS24 workhorse sampling plug-in. Sampler now provides the core workstation-style sample set, including pianos, guitars, and other instruments, giving Logic a native plug-in that competes with Kontakt 6 and Halion 5 while remaining fully backward-compatible with EXS24 libraries. Sampler gives you a single window to create and edit sampler instruments in the zone waveform editor, run them through a filter section, and map the samples to different keys and dynamics levels. More importantly, you can drag and drop to it, and it supports Flex Time to preserve sample lengths regardless of pitch. 

Logic Pro X Sampler

And while Sampler becomes the new flagship plug-in, you may find Quick Sampler more of a go-to instrument. It lets you drop in single samples and immediately turn them into playable instruments from a file on your desktop, a voice memo, or another piece of audio from within Logic Pro X. You can also record directly into it with a microphone, and of course you can slice it up if you need to (the sample, not the microphone). This is another piece lifted from Ableton Live—in this case, that DAW’s Simpler plug-in. Apple also migrated Auto Sampler over from MainStage; it helps you automatically create a sampler instrument from a piece of hardware such as an external synthesizer. I couldn’t test feature this during the review period, as I sold my hardware synths long ago, but I may have held onto them if I had known this was coming!

The new Drum Synth serves up an intuitive, tweakable, 808- or 909-style analog-modeled drum machine with real-time controls. I don’t know about you, but I’ve long since had it with Ultrabeat, which not only looked dated but was always a bear to program. Using it felt like starting up and driving a jumbo jet 20 feet down the driveway to check the mail. The new Drum Synth now powers Drum Machine Designer, which also gets a big boost in that you can now apply effects and plug-ins on a per-pad basis and layer sounds together. The new Step Sequencer and Quick Sampler also hook right in, and there are a whopping 70 new Drum Machine Designer kits.

Logic Pro X Drum Synth

My favorite Logic Pro X instrument, though, remains Alchemy, a full-blown additive, spectral, and granular synthesizer originally from Camel Audio that competes well with the $500 Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2. Apple recently redesigned Alchemy’s interface, reworked the filters for a fatter analog-type sound, and added support for importing EXS24 libraries. Plenty of other excellent instruments remain in the bin as well. Overall, Logic Pro X now comes with 4,300 instrument and effect patches, 2,000 sampled instruments, 90 Drum Machine Designer kits, and 10,500 loops—including 2,500 new loops for electro house, hip-hop, and transitions and 1,500 new instrument patches. 

Mixing and Effects

The main mix console offers fders, pan and other track controls, and as many inserts and sends as you need. There are 256 busses available, along with a true stereo p
anning option that lets you adjust the individual left and right levels instead of just attenuating either left or right signal. The mixer’s 64-bit summing engine sounds excellent, and there are welcome analog-style VCA faders available as well. If you want to try your hand at a modern mix (or remix) in Logic Pro X 10.5, Apple has bundled the full multi-track session for Billie Eilish’s 2015 breakout hit “Ocean Eyes,” complete with all the stock plug-ins and settings her and her brother/producer Finneas O’Connell used to make the song. 

One sticking point in Logic remains the on-screen faders and metering. You can switch between pre- and post-fader, toggle different panning laws, and Apple greatly smoothed out their responses in the past couple of point updates. There are also plenty of options for tuning their scale and release times. But on a purely visual level, the meters and channel strips themselves are still considerably smaller than what you get in Pro Tools, Steinberg Cubase, and other DAWs. Larger ones are available in Logic Remote, but then you can only see eight at once. More flexible channel-strip sizing and placement would also be welcome. Another quirk: In order to rearrange Aux buses, you have to enable automation to create lanes for them in the Track view and then move them around there, which is clumsy and clutters up the UI. 

Logic Pro X Chroma Verb

Some plug-in effects highlights: ChromaVerb delivers algorithmic reverb programs along with a colorful visual component, letting you see and shape the reverb tail. It offers lots of sweet-sounding patches, including Collins Gate (they’re playing my 80s song!) and a slew of useful vocal reverbs and ambiences for different tracking situations. It’s a good complement to Space Designer, Logic’s long-running convolution reverb. The vastly improved DeEsser 2 helps minimize sibilance on vocal tracks; I’ve spent hours and hours trying (with mixed success) to get good results out of the original DeEsser, and after testing I’m pleased to report the new one is a significant set up in sound quality and is much more forgiving to work with. 

My favorite effects plug-in, though, remains Logic’s main Compressor, with its VCA (transparent solid state), FET, and Opto (tube-like) modes that behave differently and provide exactly the kind of warmth and crunch you’d expect from actual vintage hardware. There’s a gorgeous paneled interface for each of the modes, including a dBx 160 emulation called Classic VCA and a lovely SSL bus compressor labeled Vintage VCA. In all, there are over 5,500 presets available across the various 103 bundled plug-ins, plus 660 sampled convolution reverb spaces in Space Designer. The Tube EQ added back in 10.4 has also proven very useful, with its Neve, API, and Pultec models. It’s tough to imagine a mixing situation these tools can’t cover. And while you can also master in the box, also have a look at the excellent Izotope Ozone Advanced, or even the ultra-high-end Magix Sequoia.

Audio Editing and Some Issues

Logic Pro X’s audio editing tools remain comprehensive, if not top of the class. Fades are generated in real time rather than stored as separate audio files, and you can apply fades to multiple regions simultaneously, which helps tremendously in sound design and other post-production tasks. As before, you can write automation to regions, which makes it much simpler to move around and arrange your project without destroying recorded fader and knob movements. There are Relative and Trim modes for adjusting existing automation data; you can use them to ride a fader and smooth out an edit.

Region Gain is sort of similar to Clip Gain, one of my favorite features in Pro Tools. It makes it easy to quickly adjust a region that for whatever reason is recorded at a different level, without having to resort to inserting a plug-in or a destructive edit. It requires a few more clicks than Pro Tools does, though, and you really feel it when doing several hours of edits on a lead vocal.

Flex Pitch and Flex Time make quick work of tuning vocals and fixing mistakes in recorded audio tracks. Flex Pitch in particular remains a great freebie if you’re used to working with an entirely separate app (such as Melodyne). I’ve used it extensively at this point, and with careful edits, I find it to be as transparent as you could possibly want, and I love not having to export and re-import tuned vocals each time.

Logic Pro X Vintage Tube EQ

Some fiddly bits in the day-to-day workflow remain. For example, you still can’t change the default folders for your projects and bounces, which is problematic on Macs with small internal SSDs. If you use a lot of instrument patches, you’ll end up with a cluttered project with extraneous aux buses. Logic combines reverb buses when possible, but you’ll still end up with 10 or more in every new project pretty easily. Clicking on Enable Patch Merging and disabling Sends stops this behavior, but you have to do that for every single project. New software instrument tracks always start with Classic Electric Piano unless you uncheck the Open Library box, and you can’t change the electric piano to something else.

It’s mostly little things like that—decisions that feel as if they were made years ago and were never modernized. I guess that’s to be expected of a 30-year-old program with so many included tools and possible workflows.

Still the Logical Choice

There are hundreds of other excellent features I simply don’t have the room to discuss here, many of which have been with the program for years. With the latest update, and despite the minor issues described above, Apple keeps Logic Pro at the forefront of the DAW market. Any quibbles with the program—and some are to be expected, given the sheer breadth and depth of what Logic Pro offers—pale in comparison with its virtues. For $199, Logic Pro X turns your Mac into a music studio that was simply impossible on this scale even just a few years ago, let alone that it’s the same software pros use on a regular basis. 

The competition is well established and fierce, but much of it costs more. Avid Pro Tools, MOTU Digital Performer, and Cubase—what used to be considered the other three major established DAWs years ago that are still around today—remain hundreds of dollars more expensive, and usually require either hardware copy protection, subscription fees for support, or some combination of those. Perhaps the most compelling higher-end DAW is Ableton Live, which commands a rabid following for its unique composition and live performance-oriented UI. But now that Logic has added Live Loops, Ableton Live suddenly has a new, fierce enemy. No fan of Live’s deep Max MSP and modular synth plug-ins will find what they want in Logic, but new producers with their eye on an Ableton Push 2 may find joy in Logic Pro X and Logic Remote instead. On the lower end, Logic also sees competition from PreSonus Studio One, the utilitarian-but-bargain-priced Cockos Reaper, and long-standing electronic-dance-music favorites FL Studio and Reason. 

Recently, I used Logic Pro X to mix folk singer-songwriter Sharon Goldman‘s sixth album Every Trip Around the Sun. The album was tracked at a Pro Tools studio, and my wife Allison Tartalia coproduced the album and provided string arrangements. I mixed the album entirely with Logic’s included plug-ins; I loved the sound I got out of Logic’s various compressor modes and ChromaVerb. To master the album, we hired Kim Rosen of Knack Mastering, whose credits include Aimee Mann’s 2018 Grammy-winning album Mental Illness. The result landed at #2 on The Folk Alliance International Folk DJ Chart in August 2019. 

At this point, Logic Pro X got some serious celebrity cred; Daniel Pemberton, the composer for Black Mirror, used the program to score Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, while top-notch producers like Stuart Price (Madonna, Coldplay) and Oak Felder (Drake, Rihanna) are on record as using Logic Pro X as well. Many commercial studios in the US remain committed to Avid’s Pro Tools. But it’s getting tougher to justify the costs, given how capable Logic Pro X has become, especially when coupled with high-end Apogee or Universal Audio hardware. The need for outboard processing gear (as you’d find with Pro Tools HDX) is basically gone except for the absolute largest of projects. And Pro Tools has a monthly subscription fee. Regardless of your opinion of Apple products and their pricing, it’s tough to argue with the value here: The company packs in a couple grand worth of plug-ins with Logic, easy. 

Logic Pro X is a stellar recording, editing, mixing, and post-production environment, and it’s an amazing value at just $199.99. If you have a Mac and haven’t decided on a proper songwriting, recording, or mixing program yet, or if you’re aching to upgrade from an earlier version of Logic or even GarageBand (project files from which still open seamlessly in Logic), Logic Pro X 10.5 is your best bet; it’s an Editors’ Choice winner for DAWs. That said, Pro Tools also wins an Editors’ Choice; it’s an excellent if expensive tool, and if you’re already invested in it, you may well want to stick with it. If you’re committed to working on a PC, it’s the clear winner, as Logic Pro is only available on Macs. GarageBand also wins top honors; it’s stunningly powerful for for a free app that comes with every new Mac.

Apple Logic Pro X (for Mac) Specs

Free Version Yes
Subscription Plan No
Audio Tracks Unlimited
Instruments 19
Effects 57
Bundled Content 63 GB
Notation Yes
Pitch Correction Yes
Mixer View Yes

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