Logic Express or GarageBand?

I’m in the process of transferring posts from the GarageBand Meetup Singapore blog to here. Decided not to maintain that blog, since the group is largely defunct.

The meetup group didn’t really take off. Few people I know are interested in remixing. Or those who play/ sing/ compose aren’t really into recording their own stuff. But the blog will still be there; it just won’t be updated. The GoogleGroup is still available for people to join, though the last time anyone posted messages was back in Oct’09.

Anyway, I’m reading this post about whether to get Logic Express or GarageBand and Jam Packs. The question from Jason, in Mar’08:

I’m currently deciding between Logic Express 8 or GarageBand 4 + 1 of the Jam Packs, and am leaning towards the latter because I think I will get more loops and software instruments at a cheaper price? Do you have any advice that might tip the scale to Logic’s side?

(Incidentally, its now Logic Express 9 and GarageBand is probably two versions up)

Out of curiosity, I decided to tackle Jason’s question. To see how I would respond, given what I know today.

I’ve been using GarageBand extensively since then. Not Apple-qualified, but confident enough to do show-and-tell with ease, plus share mixing and mastering tips and tricks. I’ve tried upgraded versions of GarageBand, and I’ve bought a World Music Jam Pack. Three days ago, I bought and installed Logic Express 9 (pictured on the right, below).
GarageBand & Logic Express

Jason asks for reasons to tip the scale towards Logic Express, so I’ll give it to him.

Get Logic Express, because the difference in cost is just under SGD$40 but you’ll get more from your money’s worth in terms of the Logic Express software instruments, effects and features.

First, let’s talk about cost.

  • Logic Express would cost you only SGD$39 more, compared to buying a GarageBand upgrade and a Jam Pack.
  • GarageBand comes with the Apple iLife suite, which means you have to buy an upgrade for iLife. That’ll set you back by SGD$78. Add the cost of one Jam Pack (I’ll take the high end price of $SGD201), your total cost is $SGD279.
  • Logic Express costs SGD$318.
  • Your price difference is SGD$39.
  • Even if you decide to get only the Jam Pack (in which case you can wait till you get a new Mac, with the latest OS and iLife suite), you’ll be forking out SGD$201 already. For SGD$100 more, you’ll be getting a heck of a lot more from Logic Express.

Which brings us to features. I’ll start with the loops/ instruments and features in Logic Express. You’re getting a lot more than the default list in GarageBand. Just consider the piano instruments. GarageBand ’11 has maybe 8 or 9 (the additional ones you see are from my extra Jam Pack):
GarageBand '11 - Pianos and Keyboards

Now let’s look at Logic Express’s default list: I count 22 piano instruments alone. There’s the “Acoustic Pianos” and “Keyboards” folder, with various sub-folders:
Logic Express 9 - software instruments library Logic Express 9 - Acoustic Pianos Logic Express 9 - Electric Pianos

That’s only the pianos. Here’s a screen shot of the Logic Express Software Instrument menu, with the right pane showing the expanded list of Logic Instruments:
Logic Express - Software Instrument Library

There’s more: here’s the EXS24 Sampler interface:
Logic Express - EXS24

Here’s a video that better illustrates how the EXS24 Sampler works:

OK, with that video you’re probably thinking, “Woah woah, feature-overload!”

That’s what I felt too. But Rome wasn’t built in a day. Learning how to make the best use of Logic Express will take time too. That’s the point, right? Getting your money’s worth?

What I’ve discovered with Logic Express is that while I could get the same MIDI track editing features in GarageBand, it’s a lot more efficient in Logic Express (i.e. less repetition, get the same work done faster). Believe me, it makes a lot of difference. Plus, Logic Express has a better set of Mastering tools (I’ll save that for another post).

In summary, Jason’s question suggested that he’s looking for value-for-money. Seems to me Logic Express is a good choice in this case.

If Jason is reading this, would he be convinced? 🙂

Fake movie poster: Legend of Red Hill

Discovered this very cool website called BigHugeLabs. Tried out the movie poster maker feature. And created this:

Fake movie poster: Legend of Red Hill

Neat, eh? 🙂

The image was from a set of illustrations I produced in 2005, for the opening of Bukit Merah Public Library (then known as Bukit Merah Community Library).

The larger sized poster can be viewed here.

How to convert CD/ MP4 audio files to MP3 using iTunes 8

As an update to this post, here’s how you convert your audio files to MP3 format using iTunes version 8 (hat-tip to Fiona for sharing the info!):

For a PC, it’s:

  • Preferences> General> Import Settings.
  • Choose “MP3” (or your desired format)
  • Then go to your song, right-click and choose “Create MP3 Version” (if you’ve specified MP3 in the earlier step).

For Macs, it’s:

  • Preferences> General> Import Settings
  • Select “Import using MP3 encoder” (or your desired format)
  • Then go to your song, right-click and choose “Create MP3 Version” (if you’ve specified MP3 in the earlier step).

If you’re using iTunes version 7, check out this earlier post.


Which wireless router should I get?

I wanted to get a wireless router for my HDB apartment (I was using a fixed LAN point) but I wasn’t sure which brand to get. So I asked my usual IT/ Mac gurus.

Within a few emails, I went from “almost clueless” to “confident buyer” — thanks to Lucian, Kevin and Siva.

I’m happily blogging this while connected to the wireless router I’ve successfully set up a few minutes ago. I bought a Linksys product, if you must know. I’ve used their product before and have found it reliable. Their customer service was also pretty good.

There are plenty of product reviews out there, but nothing beats receiving affirmation and second opinions from trusted and knowledgeable friends.

Since the guys were generous in sharing what they know, I’ve decided to compile my own FAQs on buying a wireless router. NOTE: Any mistakes in this post are mine alone.


Q: Do different brands (of wireless routers) make a difference? For instance, I had the impression that Belkin is top of the range.
Apparently they do. The differences lie with the WIFI chipsets from the different manufacturers.

For instance, Linksys seems to have a good track record of compatibility with Apple products, while Belkin was a “maybe” and some feel Netgear was a “less than safe choice” if you have a Mac.

Getting a good router means a better Internet experience. Invest in a good one!

Q: Some routers end with “B”, “G” and “N” in their name. What’s the difference?
They refer to the wireless networking standards.

The 802.11b (B-series) is older. The 802.11g (G-series) standard comes next. Then there’s the newer, faster 802.11n (N-series) specification which has been drafted but not made standard by the IEEE yet.

The G-series is sufficient for most uses. It’ll be your broadband speed that’s your bottleneck, rather than the router. 802.11n is probably good if you move a lot of files wirelessly between computers on the same network.

Q: I saw product claims like “5x faster” etc. Does the router really improve download speeds?
The answer is ‘no’ if you’re just using the router without using the manufacturer’s propriety WIFI cards.

“5x faster” probably refers to the G-series when compared to the older B-series. You usually need to use additional WIFI cards with the router to enjoy the faster speeds. The packaging might say something like “For optimal performance, you will need to use the following [brand name] products…”

Q: For a 4 to 5-room HDB flat, would a wireless router with a 400ft range will suffice? Do I need to get a booster?
The range would usually suffice if you can place the wireless router in the middle of your home. If that’s not possible, try moving the router antenna (p.s. I found that just shifting the antenna towards the direction of a previously less-than-favourable-reception area improved the signal by 10 to 15%).

Q: I tested my connection speed via speedtest.net. Why is it that upload and download speeds differ?
It’s usual to have faster download speeds than uploads (most users will download stuff rather than upload, so it makes sense to ensure majority of users are happy). The ISPs don’t expect home users to run servers. But this is slowly changing, as more of us do VoIP, upload youtube videos, host game servers, do remote computing etc.

I have Mac. Should I then get the Airport or can I use the other routers?
The wireless routers work the same (Macs and PCs are able to use either brands). Your final decision may be the cost, your trust in the brand, and the design (i.e. coolness) factor. Cost-wise, Apple products can cost up to SGD$100 to SGD$150 more than another brand that might adequately serve your need (all I needed was just to surf the net, and my usage isn’t that heavy).

Comment: I hope the sales guy don’t give me that “how come you’re asking me such simple questions” look. Most times, I end up feeling stupid when I try to buy IT stuff. It’s like these people expect customers to know the products already.
If they want your business, they are supposed to be answering “stupid” questions! And you will find out that lots of questions turn out not to be “stupid”.

My home “recording studio” and equipment

At the April 2007 Songcraft Songwriting Circle meetup, Betty shared that she wrote a song for a friend as a farewell gift, which was recorded with help from a friend (who had professional recording equipment). That led me to described how I recorded and edited my music. Some of the participants seemed to want to know more — about the equipment used etc. I had a feeling they were thinking “It couldn’t be that simple”. But it is! 🙂

Basically, you need this sort of setup:

  • (A) Computer & software (i.e. your “recording device” and sound engineering studio)
  • (B) Input device (could be the instrument itself, like the electric guitar. Or a microphone, in the case of vocals or instruments without built-in pickups)
  • (C) Instrument (guitars, piano, your voice etc.)

(A) Computer & Software
My Macbook Pro
The computer is the heart of my “recording studio”. But it’s nothing without the software. The Mac comes bundled with GarageBand. You can use a free one like Audacity for Windows and Mac (though it’s way less sophisticated as compared to GarageBand).

Griffen iMic
You may or may not need a peripheral device like a Griffen iMic (a USB audio interface/ adaptor). It’s useful if you want to record more than one input device at the same time (e.g. vocals and guitar) and your computer only has one input mic jack.

(B) Input device (for vocals)
Earphone & mic headset
I’ve got nothing fancy. Just a standard microphone that came as part of a headphone set. The recording quality is quite acceptable. You can always enhance it with the software. Examples: “Lady of Shalott” and “Take Me Away“.

(C) Instruments
My ElectricsI tend to feature more guitars in my works. I’m a Joe Satriani wannabe, heh.

The one on the left is a Yamaha “Vester” with a Floyd-Rose floating bridge. Bought it around 1990. Some years later, I replaced the original pickups with EMG active pickups.

The one on the right is straight-from-factory Epiphone Les Paul Standard, bought last year in 2006. I’ve always wanted to own a Les Paul but I still find Gibsons beyond my price range. An Epiphone is more than good enough. Chapter 7 of this book says the same thing — that between a Gibson and Epiphone, the difference is quite subtle. Besides, I feel it’s the sound engineering aspect (which depends on the computer & software) that makes the real difference to the sound.

Another example of a home studio setup (from an earlier post)
Home Music Studio
[Click on image to see notes]

BTW, if you’re keen to find audio file hosting/ podcast services, check out Dave’s Imaginary Sound Space. It’s pretty comprehensive.

And if you have pics of how your home studio looks like, feel free to leave a link.

Freeware: “Burn” – Burning/ Copying application for Mac OS X

Thanks to Siva for the alert. I’ve never used Roxio‘s ‘Toast’, so I don’t know it compares to this open source alternative called ‘Burn‘. See: burn-osx.sourceforge.net

The other day I used it to copy photos of my Beijing vacation to CDs, and Burn (version: 1.62u) proved easy to use and worked without a hitch. I like how it shows how much disk space would be taken up for the files selected for burning. There’s also a drop-down list to let me choose the formats (Mac or PC).
Burn - Screenshot

I haven’t tried out the burning process for Audio and video files. Not sure how different is that. Also haven’t figured it it allows a “CD to CD” burn (has anyone tried that?)

What I’ve confirmed is that the software doesn’t support Multi-session burns. Disk Utility is still needed for that purpose if you want to perform multiple burns to a CD (note: Disk Utility multi-session burn doesn’t work for DVDs).

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How to do Multisession Burns with Mac OS X

[Originally posted at Rambling Librarian]

Update, 1 Sept 06: The steps below work only for CDs, but not for DVDs. See discussion in the comments section below.

Click on images to see larger-sized pictures:
1) Find and start the Disk Utility application. Look in the “Applications” -> Utilities folder
Mac Disk Utility application

2) Create a new Image: File -> New -> Disk Image from Folder
Create New image

3) Select the folder with the files to be copied, then click on the “Image” button. NOTE: Only folders can be copied, not individual files. Each time you want to copy the file, you might want to create a new folder and place the file in that folder.
Select Folder

4) IMPORTANT STEP: Select “read/ write” for Image Format (if not, the CD or DVD will be closed). Click on “Save”.

5) Wait while the Image (.dmg file) is being created.
Creating Image

6) Once the image is created, you’ll see this screen. Select the image from the Disk Utility window and click the “Burn” icon.
.dmg file created

7) Insert the CD/ DVD. If this is a brand new disk, you will see this dialog box. IMPORTANT – select “Leave disc appendable” if you want multisession burning later on. Then click “Burn”.

8) Wait while the files are being copied to the CD/ DVD.
Files being copied

9) Follow steps 1 to 8 the next time you want to copy to the disk. When you reach step 7 and insert the previously recorded disk, you will see this dialog box. The difference is that now you see the “Append” button instead of “Burn”. IMPORTANT — Remember to select “Leave disc appendable” before clicking Append.
Repeat steps 1 to 4

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Corel Painter IX Art Gallery

Screen Capture - Corel Painter IX Art GalleryI hear so much about Photoshop CS2 nowadays, but someone reminded me that Corel Painter is a pretty cool app as well. I have Corel Painter Essentials 2 that came with my Intuos tablet, so decided to look up some resources on Painter and landed on the Corel site, specifically the art gallery. Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway) — impressive stuff:

Click on the icons to view the illustrations (it’ll open up a new window, with references to the artist’s website). See also these pages:

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How to convert MP4 audio files to MP3 using iTunes version 7

[First posted at RamblingLibrarian.blogspot.com, 10 Jun 06]


Here’s something I learnt — how to convert MP4 audio files to MP3 using iTunes version 7.x (OS X):
[The screens are for iTune versions 7.x. on a Mac. For iTunes version 8, the Import settings has been moved to the “General” pane in “Preferences”. You should see a “Import Settings” button, and then a “Import Using” options. Or check out this post.]

Background: I’d created my Saturday In May in GarageBand and it was saved as an MP4 audio file. Apparently some of my friends were unable to play in that format so I searched for a way to make the conversion. Kevin described broadly how it could be done via iTunes.

I’d also found this freeware called Switch (www.nch.com.au/switch), which worked quite well but I realised iTunes, while a bit cumbersome compared to using a software convertor, allowed more control over the conversion (e.g. setting the bit rate and overall sound quality). So here’s a step-by-step process of how a conversion could be done using iTunes (click on the images for larger sizes):

#1 – Open iTunes:
Convert MP4 audio to MP3 - step 1

#2 – At iTunes, select the song you want to convert. In this case, I’ve selected “Saturday In May” among my other song titles:
Convert MP4 audio to MP3 - step 2

#3 – Go to your iTunes menu bar, select Preferences (or you can press ‘Command’ and ‘comma’ keys, i.e. “⌘,”):
Convert MP4 audio to MP3 - step 3

#4 – At the Preferences window, select the ‘Advanced’ option:
Convert MP4 audio to MP3 - step 4

#5 – At the ‘Advanced’ section, click on the button that says ‘Importing’ and then for the part on ‘Import Using’, choose ‘MP3 Encoder’:
Convert MP4 audio to MP3 - step 5

#6 – Under Settings, choose ‘Custom’ (you can choose any of the options there, but ‘Custom’ settings ensures you set the right bit rate as you will see in step #7):
Convert MP4 audio to MP3 - step 6

#7 – If you’ve selected ‘Custom’, you’ll see this window; just check that your Stereo Bit Rate and Sample Rate are to your desired settings (sorry, I can’t give through explanation on audio settings. I just know that it’s safest to set the Sample Rate at 44.1 khz or else the audio file you upload might playback with a Sped-up High-pitched Chipmunk effect)
Convert MP4 audio to MP3 - step 7

#8 – Close the Preferences window; here I’ll just double check that I’ve selected the right song
Convert MP4 audio to MP3 - step 8

#9 – At the iTunes menu, select Advanced -> Convert Selection to MP3 and the conversion would start (note: If you’ve selected something else in Step #5, you’ll see that respective option. E.g. if you’ve selected ‘AAC Encoder’ under ‘Importing’ at Preferences earlier, you’ll see Convert Selection to AAC instead)
Convert MP4 audio to MP3 - step 9

#10 – Once iTunes has completed the conversion, you should now see TWO songs of the same title, like so:
Convert MP4 audio to MP3 - step 10

#11 – To confirm, select that song title and press the ‘⌘’ and ‘i’ keys to view the file information, and you should see a new window with the file details:
Convert MP4 audio to MP3 - step 11