It’s been a few days since I posted the last instalment of this three part review of Logic 9. This time I’m going to be looking at Software Instruments and Logic’s native plugins. Creating Software instrument tracks follows the same process as creating audio tracks (see last blog). In most instances, you’re only going to be able to make effective use of them if you have a MIDI controller keyboard of some sort (if you’re strapped for cash, try the Korg NanoKey 2 – it won’t make you weep with joy but it works). Alternatively, you can use the Piano Roll window to enter MIDI notes manually. This can be a good way of using the samplers to arrange a chopped sample but is a bit counter-intuitive if you’re looking create, for example, a piano progression.
An instance of Ultrabeat
Logic includes a number of core plugins to provide virtual instruments. For those that don’t know, a software or virtual instrument is a digital-based tool that allows you to play “instrument” sounds within your PC. They generally have three formats: synthesised, which operates as a software version of what you would find in your normal hardware synthesisers; sampler style, which allows actual sounds to be recorded and played back over a ranged of notes (pitch shifting sounds to fill in the gaps); and ROMpler style, which is based on recorded sounds like a sampler but which provides you with specific sounds to use rather than letting you provided your own recorded sounds – they sometimes combine ROMplers and synthesis elements in one instrument. An example of a ROMpler would be something like Native Instruments Kontakt.
In terms of synthesisers, Logic has eleven options ranging from old style and traditional synthesis through to synthesisers that emulate particular instruments. Here’s a run-down of the various synths:
This is an FM synthesiser. In short, that means that it generates sound through the esoteric process of frequency modulation. It’s a decent synth and a fair emulation of your generic FM synth but I find it a bit harsh and tiring to listen to for extended periods. This is, for me, a little characteristic of FM synthesis in general.
This is an ensemble synth that aims to provide a one stop shop for synthesis of “synthy” strings. Some people love strings. Some people love synthesised strings even more. If you’re one of these people, then you’re sure to be happy with the ES E. For me, this is probably my second least used synth. It’s decent for providing a little body to organic, sampled or recorded strings but (like synthesised horns) I think synth strings just sound bad – even when they’re good.
This is a really simple little synth that takes on the world of Monophonic synthesis. In other words, it only allows you to play one note at a time – just like a MiniMoog. Whilst it bears no resemblance to the Moog, the aim with this synth is to allow users to make Moog-ish basslines. It’s not too bad either but it has pretty limited options and the oscillators always sound a little to “squelchy” (when the resonance is lifted a little) or otherwise to “flat” (when the resonance is off) for the music I make. Nevertheless, with some creative effects you can often get a decent sound out of this synth.
The ES Monophonic synth
Another simple synth, this time taking on the world of Polyphonic synthesis. Again the emphasis here is on basslines but you can get some good sounds out of this for melodic elements or sound effects. It allows you to mix together a variety of wave forms before running them through frequency cutoff, resonance, envelope generator, chorus and distortion. You can also put the sound through vibrato or wah to varying degrees and at varying speeds – when combined with the resonance knob, you are able to drive the synth in to self-oscillation territory.
This is the first of the generic, all-purpose synths. Rather than emulating particular types of synthesis or particular eras of synthesiser the ES1 just tries to provide a useful tool. And it does. It has a fair few features (and LFO, Modulation routing etc) but is pretty straight-forward to use and has a lot of potential for producing good basic synth sounds (and some more complex ones). My only minor gripe is that it can sound a little too simple – it doesn’t quite have the flair that one looks for in a good synth.
The ES2 is by far my most loved “synthy” synth in Logic 9. It is similar in concept to the ES1 (an all around work horse) but it is much, much nicer to use and to listen to. There’s too many features to list but it is still relatively intuitive to use. The ability to run Oscillators 1 and 2 in series or parallel is a probably my favourite thing about this synth. Very, very good.
The EVB3 is a tone-wheel organ emulation and a damn good one at that. I love this synth. Easy to use, with some great options for creating a more natural organ sound (drawbars, key click emulation on press and release, cabinet control, rotary speaker emulation etc). Whilst it lacks the temperamental nature of a real Hammond B3 (or such like) you can still create a pleasant character and tone with this plugin.
The EVB3 Tonewheel Organ
The EVD6 is a clavinet emulation. And it is very, very funky. If I could play “Superstitious” by Stevie Wonder I would lose many hours of my life on this synth. However, much like the clavinet itself, this synth is a bit limited in usefulness. A great and flexible emulation of a clav but, really, how many songs do you really need to put clav in?
EVOC 20 PS
Okay. Let me be honest. I’ve never used this synth. It’s a vocoder and, since I have a MicroKorg, I don’t need it. Additionally, I really don’t like vocoded sounds very much. So…
This one is an absolute gem. It’s always my starting synth when I’m putting together ideas (and not just because it’s the default synth when you add a new software instrument track). It’s an electric piano emulation and it is just plain beautiful. With a little coaxing and some careful manipulation of the various parameters you can produce anything from thin melodic tinkling to rich warm Rhodesy chords. Of all the synths, this has the most useful and well made presets, too, which will always give you a decent starting point to work from.
EVP88......... I love you.
When Logic 9 was released there was a great hoo-hah about Sculpture. The hoo-hah was probably justified because this is a powerful, stringed instrument modelling synth (i.e. it uses synthesis to replicate what occurs when you play plucked, bowed or strummed stringed instruments). However, I just never use this. Partly it’s because I rarely need stringed instruments for my music. Partly it’s because, like horns, violins and pianos – synthesised guitars always sound second-rate. And lastly, if I do need some small guitar part I’ll (clumsily and with an excruciating lack of skill) play it myself. Oh, and this is an insanely complex synth to use well.
Whilst the above synthesisers all have their uses, they probably only make up a small percentage of the sounds I use in Logic (except the EVP88 which I use all the time). Most sounds that I reach for are delivered by Logic’s two excellent samplers, Ultrabeat and the EXS24.
This is a drum sequencer and sampler. It is set up as a ROMpler at first glance, with a bunch of different drum kits that can be used in its sequencer window. However, one of those kits is called “Drag and drop samples” and this one allows you to import your own drum sounds and save your own kits. So it is, in fact, a sampler. And it’s a great sampler, too, though it has some niggling limitations. On the plus side, it has a bunch of options for treating, pitching, EQing, LFOing, envelope shaping etc each individual drum sound that you import – an excellent range of useful options but I wish they were laid out better. On the minus side, it has a 16 part step sequencer that allows you to arrange drum patterns and apply swing but there is no way to push or pull individual hits (IF YOU KNOW HOW TO DO THIS, PLEASE COMMENT!!!!!!!). The minus is only a niggling problem though as you can always copy the pattern into your arrange window as a MIDI region and then push or pull individual drum hits in there.
Probably the best thing about Ultrabeat is the ability to load it as Multi Outputs (8 x Stereo, 8 x mono). You can then route the individual hits to their own channel in the mixer window and EQ, compress etc each of them separately. Before I figured that out, I pretty much thought that Ultrabeat was useless, now I use it on probably 40 to 50% of my tracks.
This is your traditional software sampler. Again, it acts as a ROMpler with a big range of pre-made sampled sounds. However, you can create an EXS sampler instrument from any number of regions in the arrange window (actually it’s a maximum of 128 regions I think), and thus it is in fact a sampler. The limitations of this tool are found only in your imagination. That said, it is not always the most intuitive thing to use. Creating loop points for multisample instruments is a pain in the ass, and the routing options are fiddly. Since I have a couple of MPC’s I rarely use it as a sampler (though I have done so before and it is quite useful). Mostly I use it as a ROMpler based on the packaged sounds or multi-samples that I’ve acquired myself over the years. Make note – this thing eats RAM. If you have less than 4gb RAM and an i5 processor (or top of the line Core 2 Duo) you may as well give up before you begin.
As for effects, Logic 9 comes with a full range of delay, modulation, dynamics control, EQ, utility, filtering, stereo imaging, pitch-based and reverberation effects. The beautiful thing is, with the exception of one or two, they are all excellent quality and highly useful. I’ll just mention a few of my favourites in passing.
This is a well-featured plugin that allows you to control all the normal features of a compressor – attack, release, threshold, ratio, knee etc. It also has a limiter on the output which can be turned on or off. Interestingly, it also models popular compressor types such as Opto, FET, Class A_U and Class A_R – these all have distinct characteristics (though I’m not really convinced that they are faithful emulations). Generally, you’ll find one type that best suits your style of music and then you’ll stick it it. I leave it on Platinum mode which I find to be perfect for most sound sources. Compressors are so necessary for producing music that I had to include this on the list simply because it just works.
By far the effect that I use the most. This is a 4 band parametric EQ with additional, adjustable high and low band shelving as well as adjustible high and low band roll-off. It is extremely flexible and can do anything from gentle boost or cut a broad range of frequencies to brutally or surgically obliterate the frequencies in a sound. It’s rare that you won’t find this on a channel that I am mixing. Like most digital EQ’s, it can sound a bit artificial when you start boosting things in narrow bandwidths at high levels (though even analogue EQ’s start sounding dodgey then) but if you are reasonable in its use then it performs well.
This one is extremely simple but absolutely useful. It allows you to boost the gain of a sound below an adjustable cut-off point. When used lightly it can give crucial body to digital instruments and push them that little bit closer to “real instrument” territory. Great on kick drums, too, whether used as an insert on the kick drum channel or on a send buss as a parallel effect.
This one is a convolution reverb. Convolution reverbs are all the rage at the moment and I have to admit that I like them more than traditional digital reverbs (which all sound a bit tinny with the exception of Hyperprism’s HyperVerb which was an incredible sounding reverb). Basically, a convolution reverb recreates the reverb profile of an actual room through something called an Impulse Response. Basically, they play a sound in a room and they record the sound as it is heard in the room. They then deduct the original sound from the sound recorded in the room and what is left is a “template” of the reverb in that room. They can then apply that template to any other sound and it will sound as if it is being heard in that room. At least that’s the theory. It doesn’t quite work as well as all that but it does have the potential to create very natural sounding reverbs and I use it a lot. It’s best to set this one up on an auxillary buss and use it as a send because it tends to swallow a bit of RAM.
There are never really any bells and whistles when it comes to delays. What you want is one that does what it’s supposed and does it quickly and easily. Logic’s Stereo Delay does all that. With the additional benefits of being able to adjust the push/pull of delayed sounds and narrow the frequency bands that the delay effects – this is a incredibly useful for giving life you your mix. The only thing I would like which this plugin is missing, if the ability to adjust the degradation of the delayed signal (so that it becomes less bright as it decays/echos). If I really need to have that happen I usually turn to a free third-party plugin called KingDubby (look for my old blog entitled Free Plugins for Mac if you want a link).
The following effects get honourable mentions: Stereo Spread, for widening the perceived sound very effectively; Noise Gate, simple and effective; Pedalboard, an awesome collection of digital guitar stomp boxes (which I use on keyboard sounds mostly); and Match EQ, which allows you to create a frequency profile from one sound source and then create that same EQ profile in a different sound source (rarely used but really useful whenever I need it).
Other things worth noting
You can automate any feature of any plugin in Logic 9 by hitting the Automate button at the top of the screen and then clicking the Volume button that automatically appears in the Channel Header of the channel that has that effect in it. A list of plugins and instruments on that channel with appear – choice the feature that you want to automate from the relevant drop down menu and then draw the automation in on the channel in the Arrange window. Easy, right?
You can copy and paste your settings in most of Logic’s native plugins. Just look in the top right hand corner of the plugin’s interface. If it’s not there, try making the interface larger (grab the bottom right corner and drag it) – the copy/paste buttons may just be hidden.
You can also automate any Aux Sends (busses) that you have created. It works the same way as the automation I mentioned above, however, you will first need to go to the Mixer window (press ‘x’) and click on the Aux track you want to automate. Then, still in the Mixer window, select Options –> Create Arrange Tracks for Selected Channel Strips… A new track will appear in the Arrange window which corresponds to the Aux track in the Mixer window. Automate away!
Reviewing a DAW is like reviewing a 10000 head herd of cows. You can start checking them one by one but in the end you’ve just got to say “Yeah, they’re good cows” or “I’ve seen too many horses here to feel confident that his is a legitimate herd of cattle”. Confusing analogies aside, let me just say – Logic 9 is a wonderful DAW. Sure, it has limitations and there are some things that other DAWs do better, but it is incredibly usable for very high end recording and production anyway. Logic 9 will not blow you away with sleek styling and a sense of mysterious je nais se quoi – but it will always impress you with its limitless ability to get the job done and its conservatively guised grunt.
If Logic 9 was a car it would be a Volvo. A bit dull but will drive 300,000 kms without breaking down and you know you will be safe in all but the worst accidents.
If Logic 9 was a cow it would not be a horse.