People often write me about the pros and cons of switching from another DAW to Logic Pro. People often write me about the pros and cons of switching from Logic Pro to another DAW. As I said in my last column, we spend a lot of time with our Digital Audio Workstations, spend a lot of time learning them, and spend a lot of time developing a workflow around them. I always advise people that there will always be things gained and things missed and that unless it will earn you more money or save you a lot of time in the long run, if you know your DAW well, I think you should stay put.
But the grass is always greener. So I decided that the best way for me to be helpful is to find out what people like and dislike about their present DAWS, since I do not use and know them all, only Logic Pro.
In no particular order:
Cubase certainly still is one of the most popular DAW choices of composers who write to picture and Steinberg has demonstrated it is in it for the long haul.
Users praise its stability, with some exceptions of course. Most praise its innovative Expression Maps feature, which allows you to control articulations and dynamics in a simpler way than its competitors. They like that Cubase still supports both 64 bit and 32 bit VST 2 and VST 3. It also allows for multiple controller lanes, preset searching ability, and the ability to have your count in to the meter you are going to with meter changes. Also, Cubase is cross platform and runs well on both macs and PCs.
By far, the most common dislike is that Cubase requires a dongle, the Steinberg key. A source of dislike, but also a like from some users, is the look of its interface, particularly its Mixer. Some called it cluttered, cartoonish, etc. Cubase does not have a hide tracks feature or region looping, both highly desired features by some users.
Logic Pro X
Like Cubase, Logic Pro certainly still is one of the most popular DAW choices of composers who write to picture but many people worry about whether Apple is it is in it for the long haul, because it makes so much more money from iPhones, iPads, and iPods.
Users generally praise Logic Pro’s stability. Logic Pro gets high marks for its included software instruments, Apple Loops, and FX, all at a bargain price now that it is sold as a downloadable product for only $199 from the App Store. Users also praise its CPU efficiency, with some exceptions of course. It has a solid score editor that is used by many who do not wish to use a dedicated score app like Finale or Sibelius. For power users, there are things that can be done in Logic Pro’s Environment that cannot really be done in any other app.
It is not cross platform. Dislikes include that you can only create batch fades by going to the Inspector, not with the Fade tool or by key command and the lack of quantizing with key command options. Certain long time complaints, like the inability to have the metronome beat dotted quarters in 12/8, count in at a new tempo, etc. that have never been addressed. But by far, the most common dislike is that Logic Pro X, as was true of it predecessors, is not very multi-timbral friendly. When a software instrument is armed, all the patches within get handled by the last core. So if it is a multi-timbral instrument with several big patches, that core will spike. Also, Logic Pro reserves volume (cc7) and panning host automation for the software instruments themselves and does not address these discretely for the patches inside. There are workarounds but it is frustrating for many.
Digital Performer 8
I was surprised that I did not receive more responses from Digital Performer users, since many high profile film and TV scorers use it, and it was one of the first sequencers for the Mac, and now there is also a PC version. However, it does not seem that it is widely used outside of the U.S.
Digital Performer is now cross platform. Of all the DAWs, Digital Performer arguably has targeted film and TV composers more than any other. First, users love its “Chunks” feature, making it very practical to have multiple cues in a single project, which is incredibly handy. It has a very flexible Conductor tack and will generate punches and streamers. Its built in ability to plot hit points is second to none in its users opinion. It has a feature called V-Racks that allows you to build virtual instrument racks that can be accessed by all the chunks in a project, so there is no reloading when switching cues. Like Logic Pro, it also does not require a dongle.
There has been no PC version until recently and I got no feedback from anyone using it on a PC, so the jury is out. Certain long time complaints, like the inability to mute notes, import data from project to project, and create MIDI groove templates have apparently not been addressed. In the past, it has not used software instruments as efficiently as Cubase or Logic Pro. One user complained that the time stretching algorithms were not on a par with some others. Another said the score editor lacked too many symbols to properly print out parts and scores, like accents, staccatos, percussion note heads, etc.
Pro Tools 11
It is frequently said that Pro Tools has always been the industry standard and that is true for client-based recording studios and post houses but has been far less true for composers, simply because for years it had no MIDI capabilities. But in recent years, the developers have been playing catch up in his area big time and have won over a fair amount of users who used other DAWS for MIDI while using Pro Tools for audio.
With an expensive Pro Tools HD system, the latency is the lowest of any DAW and probably the most bullet-proof. However, for this column I will be talking about the native version, so that we are comparing apples to apples.
Pro Tools is now cross platform. Every user who uses multiple DAWs told me the same thing: audio editing in Pro Tools is simply quicker and more intuitive than the others. Its playlists, Smart tool, and clip gain features make it very flexible and when your film/TV show/ is being mixed, it is probably being mixed in Pro Tools so going back and forth for revisions is simpler. Users like its VCA implementation for groups and easy.
It not only requires an iLok dongle, it requires an iLok 2.
Upgrades can be relatively expensive. While the MIDI abilities continue to be upgraded with each release, it is still missing some features available in most DAWs like keyboard shortcuts for transposing by octaves, legato, etc. Its MIDI playlists behave quite differently from its audio playlists. It has no dedicated MIDI drum editor.
Once again, I was surprised that I did not receive more responses. Perhaps it is not as widely used by film and TV scorers. Present users mostly said they continued to use it because it is intuitive, and they know it well and it does all they need it to do. Some previous users told me that there was nothing really wrong with Sonar, but eventually they tried a competitor’s DAWs and found that they did everything Sonar did, but better.
NOTE: X3 is now out but too recent for many users to have formed accurate impressions.
This is one of the new kids in town and is winning a lot of converts.
It is cross platform. It is cheap and does not require a dongle. It is highly customizable with lots of skins to make it look the way you want it to look. Users praised its small size, lack of ”fussiness” and for a new DAW, stability. There is no such thing as a MIDI track, audio track, or bus/aux track. Any track can be any of the above. You can route almost anything to almost anything.
It does not come with sample/virtual instrument content. It can be confusing to people coming from other DAWs since it does things in ways that are very different from most other DAWs.
I also got responses for Ableton Live 9, but it is not really a DAW suited for film scoring IMHO as it lacks things most of us need, like a score editor. The same with Presonus Studio One, which lacks step editing and linear tempo drawing, etc. A handful of users mentioned the Sequoia/Samplitude apps but too few for me to get a clear picture, and I have to end this column sometime :)