Apple continues to modernize and streamlined its flagship Logic DAW. And for anyone fearing it would turn the app into GarageBand, what you’re getting is quite the opposite – Logic features added to GarageBand, and some ongoing pro-oriented improvements to Logic itself. (Don’t worry: no EDM presets or fake drummers in this article. So read on, if you’re not into that sort of thing.)

GarageBand: Alchemy, mobile recording for Logic

Let’s talk GarageBand first. The big news here is baking Alchemy, the synth Apple acquired, into GarageBand on iOS. That will do little to comfort Alchemy fans who previously had access to this synth anywhere on desktop, as a plug-in. And it seems that you’re limited to Apple’s presets, though – I’m curious to find out if it’s possible to port your own parameter settings, because that’d make this a great mobile performance solution for Alchemy fans.

Alchemy could be a new reason to download GarageBand on iOS.

Alchemy could be a new reason to download GarageBand on iOS.

Also, Apple has unveiled iCloud sync for projects. This lets you open (apparently stripped-down) Logic projects on your iOS device, lay down new tracks on the go, and then see those recorded tracks appear automatically back on your desktop machine running Logic.

If GarageBand is a mobile recording tool, even for pros, then it’s significant that the new release also updates recording functionality. There’s Multi-Take recording, plus a re-vamped Audio Recorder with built-in effects (including pitch correction, plus distortion and delay). Of course, in these regards, Apple’s biggest competition may be the array of third-party tools on the iOS App Store.

What’s interesting about both these announcements, though, is that they subtly change GarageBand’s role in Apple’s music ecosystem. From the beginning, Apple had positioned GarageBand as a kind of gateway drug to Logic for newcomers – start with GarageBand, graduate to Logic. And accordingly, the two have always shared a code base and functionality, not to mention being managed by the same people.

But now, GarageBand is also more clearly a mobile satellite to Logic, both with Alchemy and the recording features.


A new look for Logic

Apple has been updating all its creative apps with a new UI, and for once, reviews have been pretty overwhelmingly positive.

The changes in Logic aren’t radical this time so much as aesthetic. But aesthetically speaking, they’re a lot clearer – and look gorgeous on Retina displays. UIs are bigger, flatter, and crisper, generally.

Here’s a comparison, just looking at one track / channel strip.





Now, at last, Apple has finally gone through its ancient UIs and given them a refresh, too. That applies to almost every old Emagic-era (pre-Apple) plug-in, too.

Welcome to the future. Klopfgeist (aka my favorite plug-in name ever) has never looked better.

Welcome to the future. Klopfgeist (aka my favorite plug-in name ever) has never looked better.

Not every corner has been covered. A small handful of synths retain their original look.

I spy with my little eye a really old Emagic UI.

I spy with my little eye a really old Emagic UI.

But it’s pretty astonishing having watched Logic’s slow evolution under Apple – with the ongoing involvement of some of the Emagic personalities who first created the tool. What impresses me is that now people talk about how “easy” they find Logic and its UI. Ten and fifteen years, you would hear people joke about even the word “logic” being in the title.

There are still a lot of choices in DAWs, and I hardly find Logic perfect. But maybe what’s encouraging is that a big, legacy DAW can evolve.


Obligatory Touch Bar support

The Touch Bar on the new MacBook Pro now gives you the option of moving through arrangements, accessing Smart Controls, and even playing instruments and drums, in addition to keyboard shortcuts.

Now, if you’re on a train or bus or airplane, I can imagine using it. We may get a review unit at CDM for a longer-term test.

But I have to observe, I think Logic Remote, the iOS control app, is still a more versatile option, by definition. It gives you multi-touch, lots of real estate and touch area, and reasonably expressive music input, plus the same Smart Controls mapped to the Touch Bar. Also, since it’s wireless, it’s going to be more convenient in studio situations when your laptop may be some distance away.

Also, while the very public feature is the Touch Bar, interestingly Apple have added a load of new keyboard shortcuts. So if you have a Touch Bar, you won’t have to learn them, of course – you’ll just discover them. But even if you don’t, you get a bunch of new shortcuts you can use on any machine. This combination might wind up turning out to be an unexpected bonus of the Touch Bar, that it causes some housekeeping in the shortcuts of apps. (See the notes.)

Editing, mixing, and arranging see improvements

It’s not only skin-deep. The new Logic also has some big production improvements.

You can use Track Alternatives for switching between sets of regions and edits, to try what-if scenarios with an edit.

You can also bounce selectively – rendering a combination of plug-ins to audio by selection.

And in a big workflow time-saver, you can apply fades across multiple regions at the same time (finally). The UI itself offers new improvements – for instance, you can at last see waveforms and MIDI content while trimming, for easier visual edits.

(See the Logic site for some videos with this in action.)

The mix engine is updated, too, with a 64-bit summing engine and true stereo panning. Maybe more exciting for CDM readers: you can directly assign Software Instruments as sidechain sources. (Oh, boy. I’m now ready to do something really weird with Sculpture.)

Also, Apple says you can use up to 192 buses and … if someone can explain to me who that’s for, I’m all ears. (I did once get a complaint on a review of Logic I wrote for Macworld, in which a reader griped that he was unable to individually record 128 tracks reliably, which was how he was recording a symphony orchestra. I think I may have replied that I didn’t have access to that sort of test environment.)

Oh yeah, and – Music XML import, for notation users.

All the updates are available now via the App Store.

And release notes for Logic Pro X 10.3:
New in Logic Pro X 10.3

Oh, PS, I wouldn’t read too much into this, necessarily, but — for the first time, Apple quotes Susan Prescott who’s vice president of Applications Product Marketing. We’re more accustomed to hearing from Apple’s music product people.

  • Dubby Labby

    I sold my mac mini and old iPad 3 to take over garageband live loops and now I have Alchemy too… if just Apple let live loops being midi learnt… every iteration is going better (even not perfect).

    My wonders are for Mainstage… will Apple integrate it into garageband for iOS or just don’t care about it anymore?

    • oscar

      Yes, where’s the Mainstage update? Big updates for Logic/Mainstage always used to come along with each other. I hope they don’t abandon Mainstage. It is such a powerful tool.

      • Dubby Labby

        Let’s hope Apple has something special for Mainstage. Fingers crossed.

  • pinta_vodki

    A welcome update! Though gotta say, it looks pretty crappy on my non-Retina display. Especially the thin fonts and borders. For some reason the new Final Cut doesn’t look that way. Oh, and the realistic track icons (guitars, amps, etc.) look really out of place. I suppose they will redraw them in a later update.

    And of course the perennial question: what about MainStage? New design? Ableton Link? Some sort of loop support (maybe taken from iOS Garageband)?

    • Ah, okay – there’s our answer.

      Yeah, MainStage seems not to have an update, though I think remains fully compatible with this version.

  • This is _also_ the point at which Logic goes OSX 10.11 and up. I had an update waiting for me the other day (I’m on 10.10), and now it’s gone, because Logic no longer works with my OS.

    Just a heads up!

  • jaja

    So first Cubase and now Logic. Seems like there is some life left in the old dinosaurs after all.
    Life-long Cubase user here, never tried Logic: Any big differences I should know? Is it worth it switching from Cubase to Logic?

    • Danny Valentino

      I use Logic and really love it but if you’re happy with your DAW, keep using it. If you know it inside out or at least comfortable and at ease with it, I’d say keep it. I haven’t used Cubase, but everything i’ve read suggests that it is a top notch DAW just like Logic, Pro Tools or Ableton. No need to have to learn a new DAW when you’re pretty good at another very good DAW.

  • rene

    track alternatives puts audio editing / comping vocals into PT territory which is nice. however EXS needs an update badly. not just graphically but also under the hood. take some notes from Ableton on this one. also when are they going to give apple loops a refresh? you should be able to browse non-apple loops (i.e. drums loops) in song tempo a la Ableton. i could give a shit about the touch bar.

    • I second that. Geeez, how long has it been since EXS was somewhat at the top of the game? It seems, Apple leaves the synths and sampler plugins market to other software vendors.

    • I second that. Geeez, how long has it been since EXS was somewhat at the top of the game? It seems, Apple leaves the synths and sampler plugins market to other software vendors.

    • Yeah, I’ve complained about the absence of an EXS update for some time now.

      The EXS is pretty deep in Logic. The developers tell me it actually has gotten regular attention. I think there’s just a lot of work to do – and because of that integration level, it’s not only legacy code but intertwined with the rest of the code base.

      So, I agree but — I imagine actually Apple’s developers may agree, too. 😉 Having given them a pat on the back for refining the UI over the years, keeping legacy DAWs up to date with everything we want from them is obviously a slow task, not only for Apple but their competition, as well.

      Not giving them an excuse, just saying – in large organizations, stuff goes slowly. So it’s not always a lack of prioritization but realization.

  • Dilz

    That thin font looks really out of place and difficult to read for me. In the design world those thin weights are usually used only for headlines and large type, not labels and body copy.

    • Remember, you’re not seeing it scaled correctly – a screen grab here isn’t quite the same as seeing the UI natively on the display.

      I haven’t seen it on a non-Retina display, but even on my 13″ machine — it looks good. It looks more legible than the old one.

    • (disclaimer – I’m not a designer 😉 )

  • Spankous

    No ipad 4 support for the Alchemy synth? Give me a break Apple

    • Where’d you get this info?

      • Spankous

        i updated it and couldn`t find the Synth in the menu. It is not there. So i asked here and there and some guy (who striked me as well informed) told me the compatibility. And ipad 4 wasn`t on the list.

        • Damn :-/

          So is it just the iPad Pros & Air 2 that Alchemy will work on?

          Anyone have a list of compatible devices?

          • Spankous

            this is what the guy wrote: according to Apple, the alchemy synth is available on iPhone 6 📱 or later, iPad Pro, iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 4. So you might need to upgrade your device

          • Much appreciated.

            I’m on an iPad 2 & it’s time for a refresh. Will check out the Air 2 & Mini 4.

          • Spankous

            Lucky you (in a way). I am not updating just for the Alchemy synth. The ipad 4 works wonderfully till now (knock on wood) and as long i can without problems use Arturia imini,iprophet,isem Tabletop and other supergood things i don`t see a reason. I would say buy the latest model possible so you are “safe” for a bit of time. And mini? Better the bigger one. I see the mini as too small for using an ios daw

          • I’ve been meaning to update for a while but it’s not been a priority – tbh Alchemy isn’t a priority either but might as well make sure it’s compatible as I’ve done some good stuff with that synth.

            Looks like I’ll wait a while…don’t want to fork out for a Pro & the Air 2 is > 2 years old or in Apple terms “soon to be obsolete”.

            Thanks again for the info.

          • Spankous

            sure thing. My pleasure

        • Damn :-/

          So is it just the iPad Pros & Air 2 that Alchemy will work on?

          Anyone have a list of compatible devices?

        • Chris Stack

          I have an iPad Air. Updated Garageband and Alchemy is nowhere to be found.

          • Spankous

            read my comment below. ipad air 2

  • Graham Thorne

    “I spy with my little eye a really old Emagic UI.” This made me smile 🙂 10/10 lol

  • Tormod Vold Mikkelsen

    Last time I tried logic, the deal breaker for me was being unable to rename busses on a per project basis. Is that different now? 🙂

  • Looks like I finally need to take the plunge and update from Yosemite. Some of these features have been on my wish-list for years…

    Anyone care to stop me before I jump?
    Upgrading always feels slightly terrifying.

    • Im still on 10.9.5 and have been considering updating! It really is terrifying!. So many plugs that could not work. Let me know if you do it.

      • So far everything’s fine but I’ve not had a chance to really put it through it’s paces and make sure everything’s hunky-dory

  • Nina DeCuir

    F*ck is that ugly!

  • Hey Peter,

    Re: the 192 busses.
    Busses get used as much as auxiliaries into logic, which means it might get packed when you have a 200+ track template running either Vienna ensemble instances or kontakt ones. Media composers quite often require more than 64 busses for their workflow.

    I tried to make a template with more than 300 tracks once and honestly 64 busses and auxes was nearly enough as most of the time many orchestral kontakt libs need to get sent to several reverbs and then placed differently in the stereo field to reproduce the instrument placement in the recording room, it’s almost a requirement when mixing up libraries. Then from there you need others busses to print the result to audio tracks.

    Imagine a film or game composer with a template running 2000 tracks, and you get the idea about how many busses and auxes they might need.

  • ja

    Never know when more busses become handy but what I really need is more than 8 sends….

  • ShirelyYouJest

    I just updated my 2013 MBP to Sierra ( to get this update) and now all LPX acoustic piano sounds are distorted/muddy in the bottom octaves-WTF?!? Just as a side note to potential updaters: ALSO now when my OSX screensaver kicks in OR I put my MBP to sleep, THE FANS IMMEDIATELY MAX OUT. Really?!