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Review of GarageBand

The Killer App of the decade?

By Tweak, revised for GarageBand 3

Alas, when we buy a computer, we are used to getting simple little applications like stripped down wave players, picture grabbers, and calculators.  Windows XP upped the ante last time by offering a rather full-fledged Windows Media Player.  Oh boy, we can listen to MP3s without forking over for some other program.  The Apple came out with iTunes and they really blew the WMP away, with legal downloadable music.  Now they have stuck the knife in and twisted it with GarageBand.  Sure, passive entertainment like listening to music is important on a computer, but active entertainment is much more vital. Up till now, freebie active entertainment on a computer has been playing games, writing letters and books, drawing pictures, online chat and maybe making a photo album.  Apple has upped the ante.  You can now create your own music, out of the box, without buying another piece of software.  This changes things, and is this sense the inclusion of GarageBand is a revolutionary event.



You can't buy Garage Band by itself.  it is part of the iLife '06 bundle that comes free on new Macs and under a hundred bucks for those who are already registered Apple users.  This is a no-brainer if you own a Mac.  It is almost impossible for me to think of a reason not to get it, aside from poverty.  Even then, all the more reason to get it as the results can rival those made on Logic and Digital Performer.  To be sure, all the bells and whistles are not here in Garage Band, but the important ones are here.

What GarageBand is Not.  Its not a dorky little freebie application that you will use once then put aside. Sure it looks simple and it is simple to use.  But the results are outstanding and are right up there with what you expect, audio wise, with a full-fledged sequencer.  It also doesn't sound as bad as most garage bands I played in.


What GarageBand is:  

  • It's a Sequencer that applies full MIDI editing for software instruments
  • You can construct songs with Apple Loops, Software Instruments, or Audio tracks
  • An Audio recorder with as many tracks as you want
  • An effects generator with plenty of onboard plugins and the ability to use 3rd party Audio Unit plugins
  • An Audio renderer that pipes your song files right into iTunes (where you can burn them to CD)
  • A soft synth engine with several tone generating models which is also capable of using 3rd party softsynths and samplers just like the big boys.
  • Its easy to use and it sounds excellent. Repeat that one, OK. 


InstrumentsGarageBand supports drag and drop importing of audio files/loops from any directory on your Mac. You can also record and overdub quickly, and monitor through effects processors if you want.  With an modern audio interface, there is very little latency, as you would expect.  The supplied audio instruments come from a variety of sources.  Peeking in the GarageBand library reveals Logic EXS instruments and samples at the core of many of them. Other instruments are based on different tone "generators" (synthesizers) such as modeled analog and digital (FM) synthesis, electric piano, clav, and tonewheel organ models.  Very Cool: You can even program your own sounds from these models and save them as presets.  Don't like the supplied analog synth patches?  Well, dude, roll your own. I imagine soon the web will be flooded with GarageBand presets to exploit every nuance of these generators.  I have not figured out how to add EXS instruments to GarageBand, except through Kontakt, which will import them in its engine. GarageBand can use the Kontakt, Battery, Atmosphere, Reaktor, FM7 engines and I think any softsynth that adheres to the Core Audio (Audio Unit) standard. This was quite a pleasant surprise.

Built-in effects

  • Auto-Wah
  • Amp Simulation
  • Automatic Filter
  • Bass Amp
  • Bass Reduction
  • Bitcrusher
  • Chorus
  • Distortion
  • Flanger
  • Overdrive
  • Phaser
  • Speech Enhancer
  • Track Echo
  • Treble Reduction
  • Tremolo
  • Vocal Transformer
  • Compressor
  • Echo
  • Equalizer
  • Reverb


The supplied instruments range from OK to excellent.  Some of them have that GM-like ring to them, which is not surprising, but others sounds fantastic.  The Grand Piano is very nice and the EPs and Clavs are phenomenal, and sound like there may be an EVP88 and EVD6 hidden in the background.  The loops sound really good too.  There are the now obligatory dance and trance loops and various others.  While you get enough to get started, there's not nearly enough for serious loop composition.  You can import acid loops.  However to get the most mileage out of acid loops you may want to first convert them into Apple Loops.  That way, they can be entered into GarageBand's easy to use database making them a snap to find.  


Integration with Logic Pro

GarageBand 3 the latest version as of this writing, works great with Logic.  If you have Logic 7.2, the conversion is fantastic.  With earlier versions of Logic you might get an alert that some of the newer GB plugins are missing.  Its quite nice to start a song in the easy GB interface then as the song gets more complex, load it into Logic where you have your advanced tools.  I have used GarageBand 3 with many different 3rd party audio unit soft synths and they all work and convert to Logic without a hitch, including the giant libraries like the East West Symphonic Choir, Kontakt 2, RA, and many more.  Even the presets you save on 3rd party synths show up in Logic's directories.  Nice.  All the Jampacks show up in Logic of course, so anything you create and save in GB is also available in Logic, whether it be a song, plugin setting, preset for a virtual instrument, or a directory of audio loops. 


New features in GarageBand 3

The big thing is the ability to make Podcasts, both audio and video, using the iLife '06 package.   New sound library that podcast makers will love is included.  Its a simple matter to import your movie files from iMovie or QuickTimePro.  Adding audio was never easier.  Naturally, you can use all of GB's virtual synths and effects to add spice to your composition.  It's so easy that those using Final Cut Pro and Logic might have to think twice on whether they might get the job done more efficiently with GB and iMovie.  Its a wonderful way to start as a newbie and a great option for a professional doing a short project. 

Apple iMac Desktop Computer with Intel Core (2.0GHz, 20 in.)
Rev up your digital life at speeds twice as fast as the previous iMac. Intel Core Duo and iLife ’06 raise the bar -- again -- of what makes a personal computer so personal. Enjoy everything you love about iMac, only turbocharged.


Problems with the Band

As of version 3, there are few issues that I can find.  Of course, loading huge software instruments like Atmosphere's Hollywood Studio Hybrid Strings (245 mb) will take several seconds to load, same for big Kontakt instruments.  Once they are loaded they do fine.  In the first version of GB, I did manage to invoke the "spinning wheel of death" a few times with GB, carrying out some intensive operations.  So I was left wondering if there are some leaks in what must be a vast underground series of audio pipes under the application.  The leaks appear to be fixed.  GB3 is strong and stable.   Waves plugins initialized aggravatingly slow in GB1.  I am happy to report you only have to endure this once in GB3, the plugins are cached to allow for speedy initialization.

There are some things you just can't do with GB.  You can't record and play external MIDI instruments; this is a software MIDI environment only (that does not require a MIDI interface if you don't want to play notes in with a keyboard).  However as of GB3 you also can now use multiple outs on your audio interface.  You can move your audio loops to different drives to free up space on the system drive. 


The Fun Factor

There is no doubt in my mind that is more fun to record in real time with GB than any other sequencer I have used.  Being able to monitor effects while recording is nice.  And there are killer effects.  Many of them have a familiar ring to them, and I suspect at least some of them are Logic's plugin technology in the background.  And there are some that Logic does not have, like some great guitar amp models that are 1st class all the way.  Plug in the guitar and you can wail, with no add-on boxes or V-Amps.  My wish is that there are more of these models.

Naturally, for those who want to expand their sound collection the easy way there is the GarageBand JamPack which includes more than 2,000 additional Apple Loops, over 100 new Software Instruments, more than 100 additional effects presets and 15 guitar amp settings.  Now we are talkin' serious.  I now have all 5 Jampacks.  They are all great, and I advise getting them all if you can afford to.  This is my personal favorite.

Apple GarageBand Jam Pack 4 Symphony Orchestra
With a symphony orchestra in tow, you just may have to spring for bigger quarters. But if you’re planning to conduct your own orchestra, you’ll want better acoustics anyway. Using Jam Pack 4: Symphony Orchestra and GarageBand (or Logic Express 7, Logic Pro 7), there are virtually no limits to the types of sophisticated music you can create. Taking advantage of the prerecorded Apple Loops (more than 2,000 in Jam Pack 4), you can compose everything from classical music to movie soundtracks. Or you may want to lend some symphonic power to your pop, rock or hip-hop arrangements.



I really like GarageBand.  Anything that makes the job of recording music in real time more fun and easier has my vote, and this statement is aimed at pros as well as newbies.  You don't have to enable tracks, set outputs, set inputs before your record, you just hit cmd/option.N to make a new track then press R.  Things have gotten too complex in the sequencer world, even for those who know what they are doing.  It is refreshing to have an application that simply does it and is built as elegantly as GarageBand.  And the price!  Who in their right mind can complain.  It's the music making deal of the decade for those who already run OS X on Macs.


Review of the GarageBand Jampacks

Review of iLife '06

Want to Talk about GarageBand?  Go to the Studio-Central Mac forums


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