Tag Archives: software

Review: 2015 iMac 27″ 5K

In early 2016 my 2008 MacPro still showed no sign of aging and already had been my ‘faithful assistent’ for so many years especially when it came to processor intensive tasks when doing music or video projects. For the sake continuity it nevertheless seemed like a good idea to make the move to a new MacPro computer and keep the old MacPro on spare. This upgrade was not so easy because in a moment of corporate madness Apple in 2013 decided to axe its powerful Mac Pro’s based around an all in one model. For some time I hoped Apple would return to form with a machine that you could easily expand and exchange equipment to suite your own needs, but by late 2015 it was clear that this was not gonna happen anymore for the foreseeable future. Instead Apple offered its professional customer base in 2016 as a MacPro a strange small, rounded model with little to none possibilities of expanding inside. In my all-in-one MacPro I could typically house 4 hard drives, 2 USB cards in the PCIe slots and an Apogee PCIe card to hook up my Apogee Symphony I/O. So without a suitable all-in-one model and because being locked in to the Mac platform, because of software and hardware, I choose to go for the late 2015 iMac 27″ with 5K Retina screen. Based on reviews I read that this Mac was more than capable for heavy music and video production and the advantage of the built in screen (less cables) was also of consideration. Because I have so many devices attached to my Mac I also had to invest in:

  • An OWC Thunderbolt dock, enabling me to connect more Thunderbolt and USB devices;
  • An Apogee Thunderbridge;
  • A G-Technology external hard drive;
  • a Thunderbolt to DVI adapter to connect a second monitor to the iMac.

Because the internal memory of the iMac is 8Gb, I also bought 2 16Gb modules, ensuring that the iMac can handle the music and video tasks with ease. Upgrading the memory is a task that you can easily do yourself and gives you the power you will need for more intensive computing tasks. Other than the internal memory there is nothing else to change to your iMac. So I guess, just hope and pray all components inside will still work for years to come.

Unboxing and installing the Mac went for the better part trouble free. I manually moved the essential data on the external hard drives from the old MacPro to the new external hard drive. Then I put the Migration Assistant to work (connected the Macs over Ethernet) and counted my blessings to what would happen. On a previous occasion (moving from a 2004 MacPro to the 2008 MacPro) I had some bad experiences with the Migration Assistant, forcing me to reinstall the MacPro from scratch. But this time it all went smoothly. Strangely enough my Mail was not migrated, so I had to trace that down by searching the Mac in the system file area and manually moved it. The thing for me is that I have lots of music software all with their own protection schemes and it is just so much easier if you can transfer everything from one machine to the other without reinstalling. And that really went well: I could transfer Native Instruments Komplete, U-he Zebra, Reveal Inspire, FAW Circle, Gforce’s Oddity and M-Tron, VSL with little to no effort.

The iMac itself is a wonderful machine. The Retina 5K screen is gorgeous, sharp and very rich of detail. The iMac is really quiet, although in fairness I should mention that I have not yet been putting it on a lot of stress with processor intensive music or video projects. The placing of the external ports (4 USB and 2 Thunderbolt) on the lower (curved) side of the back is cumbersome, especially if you regularly need to change cables.

With the iMac came the new Trackpad and the new keyboard. Both work over Bluetooth and the big plus is that they do not require batteries to work but can be charged by using the same lightning connector from your iPhone. The keyboard was a step down for me from the previous one which contained an extended numeric keypad. But to keep the number of cabled devices to  minimum I will give this keyboard some time to get used to. Especially the up and down keys are extremely tiny and takes some time to get used to. Also I noticed in some situations that the fingers from my left hand rested on the ‘esc’ easily causing in some cases a loss of data.

The iMac comes with Apple’s latest OS, El Capitan. I can only say it has been extremely stable for me: not one crash so far. Compared to Yosemite there have not been too many changes, so you will find yourself spending too much times on new functions. A big bummer for me nevertheless was that Aperture, the photo organising application from Apple was phased out and replaced by a new app named Photos. Photos already was introduced with Yosemite, but with El Capitan Aperture is not available anymore for download in the App Store. Although I only worked with Photos occasionally so far, it is clear that Photos is an application with a lots of features missing from Aperture. I probably will have to spend some time to see if I really can like Photos or have to search for alternatives. Another thing I do not like is that in Safari the ‘Top Sites’ option is not working anymore like it used to work in previous versions. Until I not have managed to get back the screen I came to like so much to navigate to favourite websites.

Final verdict:

The iMac is a beautiful machine and fun to work with, largely because of the wonderful 27″ 5K screen. But I will not easily forgive Apple for taking away the choice of an all-in-one machine, because my set up has definitely become more clumsy and messy with cables going everywhere and adding an extra price tag to the computer .

==The Hague, February 14th 2016==

Logic Pro X review

Apple really put Logic user’s patience to the test by working 4 years on a new release of their professional audio application, Logic Pro. But last week, without much hassle or rumble, suddenly appeared a new App in the App Store: Logic Pro X.

Logic Pro X

Logic Pro X new logo

If I should in one sentence characterize what the assignment of the developers was, I’d say: “Simplify the application in such a way that Garageband users can make the transition to a more complex application without a steep learning curve for the new application”. As an occasional Garageband user I can say that they lived up to that expectation, but also put at risk the loyalty of the regular Logic Pro user.

The interface has some dramatic changes, the transport bar is moved to the top of the screen and has been been simplified, although one can choose to make it more ‘Logic Pro 9’-like. The color scheme has undergone its most dramatic change since Logic Pro appeared on the market. I would say it has become more ‘American’ than ‘German’. The background has become more dark but there is an increasing use of colored and more skeuomorphism throughout the application, like the realism now visible in faders, buttons and rotary knobs. This does not always turn out to be a success: when placing black text on dark grey background I find things hard to read, something that never happened when I used Logic Pro 9.

The launch date of Logic Pro X seems rather odd. They did not make any real major anouncements and the introduction is a few months ahead of the launch of both the new OSX version (Mavericks) as well as the much anticipated new MacPro. In my case, using a 2008 MacPro with Snow Leopard (like probably most Logic Pro users) it makes it not easy to decide when to upgrade. Logic Pro X is only avalaible for the most current OS (Mountain Lion 10.8) although reports surfaced where people install it -with some manipulation- under the previous incarnation of OSX: Lion (10.7). But installation under 10.6 is a no-go. Installation of a new Logic version can be quite challenging. Not really for Logic itself but mainly considering you will have to re-install all your plugins, which can be a daunting task considering all the different protection schemes.

For the meantime I have installed Logic Pro X under a different partition on my MacPro to see what has changed and what is new. The full installation is so vast, if I remember well nearly 50 Gb, probably some alarm bells went off at my Internet hosting provider.
The first thing after installation I notice is that, despite the different lay out and new features, you will have hardly any interruption of workflow. You still can import your files from previous versions without a glitch and the workflow did not change in such a way that you will have to constantly keep the manual in reach. 32-bits plugins are no longer supported, luckily all my plug-ins have 64-bits versions. But as I progressed I would find that some elemental functionality like ‘Strip Silence’ has gone or is tucked away somewhere deep into the application.

The most important changes are:

This is a new way of making the routing and grouping of tracks easier. This could of course be done with previous version but as your number of tracks increased, it became a hard to keep all the routing under control. Also the folder option in the pre-Logic Pro X era was so clumsy that I never bothered to understand it. This has now all changed for the better.

OK, so you will from now on have a number of drummers at your disposal (and  each one has its own name, like ‘Gavin’, ‘Robin’  etc.). These drummers can lay down all kinds of patterns, fills and breaks, which you can influence by dragging sliders and where you can vary between things like ‘complex/simple’, ‘loud/soft’  as well as the intensity of the hits. ‘Drummer’  is something you can choose as you create a new track, so it is at the same level as ‘Software instrument’ or ‘Audio recording’. It does not take a scientist to see this will start a nice sub branch of all kinds of ‘people’  you will be able to ‘hire’  in future releases, like ‘Guitarist’, ‘Horn Section’ or ‘Percussionist’. At first the Drummer seems somewhat restricted, but the great thing is that you can drag the Drummer tracks to Software Instruments tracks and that opens a new world of possibilities. You are now able to do fine edits to the Drummer’s patterns or replacing the Logic drums sounds with those of your own instruments.

Midi FX
Those are now at your disposal through the channels, where you can easily add them to your tracks. No more complex handling through the notorious Environment window, which by the way is only available by setting a check box for ‘Advanced Midi Options’. personally I would have loved to have seen a Midi FX representing a grid where you can design patterns for your drum machine plug-ins (think about a generic form of what you can do with the Ultrabeat sequencer).

Pitch Editor
This feature was already expected through the rumours before the Logic Pro X launch. It only works on a mono channel, but it’s intuitive and makes the use of complex handling through applications like Melodyne in most cases superfluous.

Retro Synth
All the effects and synths that already were there in Logic Pro 9 have not changed. But with all those virtual analog style synths that recently were released (NI Monark, Waves Element, Uhe Diva to name a few) Apple could not stay behind and presents us ‘Retro Synth’. A very easy to use synth where you can switch easily between a 2-VCO analog, sync, wavetable or FM synth. It sounds pretty impressive to me.

iPad Remote App
Last but not least Apple is presenting us an iPad Remote app that has a plethora of functions to use with Logic. It has the more traditional (in the sense that there are other Apps that can do this) mixer window, but it also has a Maschine like button interface where you can add and edit your key commands. And it has screens where you can strum chords or make optimal use of the multitouch screen, for example by gliding through various scales, like Dorian, Blues etc.. Very reminiscing of what you can do with Garageband. The iPad Remote App even goes so far that you can edit the most essential functions of plug-ins and instruments through a new function named Smart Control. With Smart Control you can handle the most important functions of a plugin and can also be used within the Logic Pro X application itself.

Besides the above described changes and added features there are literally hundreds of little things throughout the application that make life a little bit easier. But only the main new features make the purchase of the new version more or less a no-brainer for ¢ 200  or € 180. We received more or less what was expected in the rumours advancing the laumch. Maybe one of the few things that popped up in those rumours and are not available in Logic pro X are the virtual modelings of mixing desks.

As an intense user of Logic Pro versions you may find that this upgrade was more aimed at enabling Garageband users to make the step to a more professional program. Some things that you were used to in the older Logic Pro versions may simply have been gone or moved.

Be aware that if you own an older Mac Pro and/or older operating system it might be wise to hold off the purchase until OSX Mavericks and the new Mac Pro have been introduced and then do one ‘big’ transition in one time.