I know I said I’d like to keep the blog free of discussions of software or hardware. But then, I also wanted the blog to enrich Internet with original content valueable to newcomers and professionals alike, or something like that, so that’s my excuse.
Besides, people constantly ask the versus questions, which fuels all sorts of flame throwing. I’m using both DAWs equally often now, so I’ll try to give you an idea why/when you’d use one over the other without all the “Logic just sounds better” crap.
UPDATE: Now that I’ve used Logic for quite some time, I have a bit of an update.
I have to admit it – the only reason I got a copy of Logic Express was because of Mac OS. Right now I’m using a MacBook for most of my composing, which has XP installed on a separate partition via BootCamp. I have Cubase SL3 installed under Win, and since it’s not a universal binary, I’m forced to load up Windows whenever I want to use Cubase. I’m almost done saving up for Studio 4, but it’s pretty much the same software as SL3 anyway, so my comparison should still be valid.
LEARNING CURVE. The first thing new users want to know about is how hard it is to use the software. Now, this is one of the weirdest myths about Logic. If you do a bit of research like you should, you will find people saying that Logic has a very steep learning curve. That’s actually the biggest lie about Logic I have ever encountered. If you talk to those people, 9 out of 10 times they will admit that Logic was their first DAW. So, what you really need to be learning here is something else:
Bigass thousand-dollar Digital Audio Workstations have steep learning curves.
Having learnt Cubase fairly thoroughly and used things like Live, Reason, Fruity Loops and even trackers (omg, I totally have to make a post about those!) Logic did seem a bit intimidating at first. No more than any other new big piece of software, though – after reading a fairly accessible book on Logic on the bus to school or work, you will probably be writing your first tunes in a few days or sooner. Not to promote the author or anything, but the same guy who wrote that book also has a DVD available which provides you with the exact same information but in a much more concise and visual manner. I’ve actually watched the DVD one slow evening, and then bought the book afterwards in hopes of learning even more – had to return the book, it was the exact same stuff.
Anyway, there would be two ways of going about mastering any DAW on the market – starting from the basics, and learning everything, from how MIDI works, to send and insert FX, to audio editing; or, alternatively, just clicking buttons randomly, enjoying the mysterious and dangerous sonic trip, and learning as you go. Really up to you which approach to take, as long as you make tunes while at it. I started off just clicking everything I see, and later, when I’ve actually read a book on Cubase after about 2-3 years of using it, I found a few time saving tricks as well as a few things that I did more efficiently than the book suggested.
By the way, Logic has a much nicer manual than Cubase, which is targeted towards humans a bit more but still confuses you quite a bit.. If you have no idea how DAWs work, try that Training Series book on Logic, or one of the books from the Power! series on Cubase. Oh, and check with your local library – they might have something too.
INTERFACE. One thing that Steinberg did change in the latest Cubase 4, which is now relatively bug free from what I’m reading over on Cubase.Net, is the interface. Logic, however, hasn’t changed very much since the early versions which certainly made it easier for the long-time users to upgrade. The interface is a highly personal preference though, so I can only go so far to compare the two. Both programs are quite sophisticated, so there is always a way to do whatever you want in either one (except for gardening – I just can’t seem to find it in the manual).
First of all, Logic’s layout uses muted dark colours along with a clean concise layout. Compared to Cubase, everything looks less cluttered and easy to navigate around. I haven’t used the earlier versions much, but v.7 feels quite in line with the rest of the Apple products – clean, slick and professional. Oh, and the dark interface is a Godsend if you’re like me, and get your best ideas at about 3 AM (and of course you hate them in the morning). Cubase really makes my eyes water sometimes, even after tweaking the colour preferences.
Next, Logic features a nice screenset feature, which Cubase now has too apparently. A screenset is the layout of your current windows saved and mapped to the number keys on the keyboard. Example to decypher that – you have the arrange window open with all your tracks. Press 2 on your keyboard, close all the windows that show up, and open the track mixer. Now if you hit 1, you’ll go back to the arrange window and everything you had open. Hit 2 again – and you see your mixer. You can instantly switch between your workspaces like that. Very handy if you don’t have a huge display. Cubase can do it too now, but you have to map the sets to weird two/three button shortcuts which is pretty lame. That’s because in Cubase the number keys are mapped to all the tools (Pencil, Eraser, Line Tool etc.) which is handy in its own right. Some people might say that you can completely remap the whole keyboard to suit your workflow. I personally don’t have that much free time, and besides, learning the default layout means that I can go to someone else’s place and feel at home straight away (especially if there is alcohol in the fridge; and blue cheese).
MIDI. Logic is often called the best software for MIDI. Again, I don’t feel that that’s telling the truth entirely. Logic is very flexible for routing and configuring MIDI. In certain scenarios when you have tons of outboard gear it indeed gives you a very straight forward and customizable environment to set up your MIDI paths. But then I don’t feel like it’s something very many home composers will want to do. Plug-ins are getting better by the day, dayjob wages aren’t. A lot of musicians have a keyboard, and maybe a synth or two if they’re really nerdy. Frankly, I’m not sure if I like editing MIDI in Logic as much as in Cubase. It’s kind of a love-hate thing.
For instance, Logic will remember the last velocity you’ve used for a note, and automatically apply it to the next one you create. Can be very handy, but can also be a pain if you’d rather prefer it created all the new notes with the same default velocity. Parameter automation is a bit tricky too – unlike in Cubase which divides the Piano Roll window into two parts, letting you edit the controller data in the lower one, in Logic you have to open up a separate editor to, for instance, change the behavior of the Modulation wheel. I don’t touch my wheel very often, thankfully, but some people may want to add vibrato to fake FM guitars, and edit it later. Which will actually be a very modest price to pay for using fake FM guitars in a song to begin with.
Apart from a few quirks, which may not even bother some people, the two DAWs are both very well MIDI-equipped. There are a few things Logic is more advanced at, but it mostly deals with ‘low-level’ MIDI programming. If you’re interested in that, you can stop reading right here and go buy Logic. But finish the math homework first. We shall move onto audio meanwhile.
AUDIO. Now audio is something Logic kind of sucks at.
Instead of dwelling on all the differences, it’s best to decide on the kind of music you’d like to compose. If it mostly involves live instruments, or heavy audio file manipulation, Cubase will probably be better for you. That’s not to say that the audio features in Logic aren’t terrible – Cubase just has a lot of little things that you’ll grow to appreciate after you’ve assembled a library of takes of each instrument in the band that you need to be able to quickly navigate, pull particular takes from, splice different takes together to build a ‘perfect’ one, and then join it all seamlessly into one audio file with effects printed. And trust me, if your studio time isn’t limited, and you have to record a band, you will appreciate those features at the end of the day when you have hours worth of recorded takes.
If, on the other the other hand, you mostly compose with virtual instruments and MIDI, occasionally recording vocals, some guitar, or bagpipe, Logic’s audio capabilities will probably be more than sufficient for you. Press record, lay down a take or two, trim it a bit, and you’re done – that’s the sort of thing you’d want to do in Logic.
SOUND. Oooh no, you d’int! Everyone knows that Logic sounds better! Well, that’s kind of partially true. I have conducted tests comparing how the two sum audio up, and in the end realized I’ve wasted time – both sound identical. However, the plug-ins Logic comes with are fantastic. I didn’t believe it until I heard them – they’re very sweet. Almost too sweet sometimes. Basically that means that in case of Cubase you could get by with what it comes with, but you’d get a better bargain with Logic. Cubase, even version 4, comes with pretty boring synths, while, for instance, the dead simple monosynth in Logic sounds a lot like a Minimoog.
Some argue that Cubase comes with pretty decent plugins, but I personally can’t make them sound good. I tried, I really did. At one point my faith in Steinberg was so huge I challenged myself to make a track entirely with the standard plugins. It was a bit of a torture as all the synths sounded pretty dull and dry. This might start another flame war, but once you’ll play with a good analog hardware synth, you’ll know what I mean.
Speaking of EQ, some people say the Cubase one is fine. Here is an easy test – open up the EQ, and boost the very top and bottom ends of the range. A comparison photographers would easily get – it’s like comparing negatives with digital. In Cubase, doing that seems to just bring up the dirt. In Logic though, all of the sudden you get sweet but not brittle brightness in the highs, almost as if an exciter was applied, and the lows get more defined, as opposed to transforming into muddy thumping. Oh, and the compressor.. The list goes on. The plugins rock, that’s as much as you need to know. And everyone needs plugins, whether you record a band, or that weird synth+bagpipe project of yours.
OTHER STUFF. First off – on the topic of support. Logic is now under Apple’s wing, so it gets all the chicks (or geeks?) and all the special treatment. There is a new OS update, a new Mac coming out, a new iPhone with a 20″ screen – Logic is going to run on it, and you know it. Cubase – not so fast. Steinberg is a fairly small German company which has indeed achieved great heights with Cubase (and is now under rather invisible supervision of Yamaha), but still can’t directly compete with Logic as far as support goes. On the other hand, I haven’t seen any major updates for Logic in a long time, while Steinberg is constantly thinking up of new ways to make our lives easier and our wallets emptier (and our heads more bald as Cubase goes *poof* for no apparent reason).
Cube is also available for both Windows and Macs, which makes it pretty much the only choice between the two if you own a PC. Still, it gives you more flexibility, and transitioning to Mac easier, as your Mac friends will inevitably drive you to switch over sometime soon.
VERDICT. I grew up on Cubase. I’ve used it for quite a few years now, and when I found out that Liam Howlett used it for the album, I almost peed my pants. But I also got a Mac now, and would really like to say bye-bye to Windows. My next step is to upgrade to Cubase Studio 4 which will run on the MacBook, and I can probably get rid of the Windows partition for good. I think I like both programs, and as far as I know it’s not illegal, unlike having two wives. Works for me!
As to you, the summary of features would be as follows:
- Cubase: Great combination of audio and MIDI, for PC and Mac, but fairly shitty plugins. Made in Germany though.
- Logic: A pleasure to work in, great plug-ins, but alright on the audio side. Totally ready for that day when you win a million dollars and buy tons of external gear though.
If you own a Mac, I’d probably say go with Logic. Or Garage Band even, it uses the exact same audio engine. And buying certain audio gear will get you Cubase LE too, which is still better than nothing.