Music software for OS X?
August 4, 2005 8:07 PM   Subscribe

OS X equivalent to Windows program Fruity Loops?

I have a friend who's in the market for a new computer. He's thinking of switching to a Mac. He's asked me about music software--something I know nothing about. He loves playing with something called Fruity Loops on his XP machine. What is the OS X equivalent? Also, how does the Mac program compare to FL? What are the pros and cons of each?
posted by You Should See the Other Guy to Computers & Internet (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
(First part of your question)

posted by jeremias at 8:16 PM on August 4, 2005

Reason? iDrum? Garageband comes with the machine (if he buys new) and does have drum loop Jam Packs..
posted by mrg at 8:32 PM on August 4, 2005

Having used FL quite a bit and dabbled in GarageBand: the FL interface is vastly superior (not to mention the increased functionality). GarageBand feels like it was designed by an eccentric 8-year-old (that is, it's impossible to figure out how to execute even the most basic tasks).
posted by rxrfrx at 8:39 PM on August 4, 2005

He's played with Garage Band and I believe he didn't think too much of it.

I have never heard of the other programs so thanks for those. Please keep them coming!
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 8:46 PM on August 4, 2005

I'm not a music guy, but I think Apple's Logic might be more like what your friend would like.
posted by Scoo at 8:52 PM on August 4, 2005

Logic is a completely different tool than FruityLoops. Reason is probably the closest you can get to fruityloops on the Mac.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:04 PM on August 4, 2005

Ableton Live?
posted by O9scar at 9:20 PM on August 4, 2005

GarageBand is ass, especially if he's used to the rampant tweaking that Floops allows.

Reason has a steep learning curve, but it's unbelievably powerful. The new Prodigy album was done entirely in Reason.

Ableton Live, I haven't played with yet, but is apparently similar in terms of learning curve, but with a much broader functionality set.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:14 AM on August 5, 2005

Reason plays loops but doesn't create them. If you want to create loops, you're looking for Recycle. If you've played around with hardware synths, Reason is pretty easy to learn.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:37 AM on August 5, 2005

doctor_negative : Recycle doesn't create loops either - it slices them up into smaller parts, and you can then load them into the DrRex player in Reason (or any other .rex compatible software).

Reason is a superb piece of software. It's efficiency of CPU use never ceases to amaze me. It's definitely the nearest equivalent to Fruity Loops for the OP I think.
posted by coach_mcguirk at 2:34 AM on August 5, 2005

FruityLoops is sort of a poor-man's sequencer with included software synthesizers. It originally started as a simple beat machine, but has had more and more features tacked on as it plows through versions. I know some people who use it with great results, but it's generally looked down upon as being overly obfuscated (you have to create a new sequence block thingy anytime you want even a slight variation on an existing sequence, the number of vertical sequence track things quickly spirals out of control, etc).

Making the switch from FruityLoops to any other sequencer may be painful, but I can say with reasonable confidence that your friend will enjoy using a differently styled application once he's accustomed to it.

Here are the major sequencers for OS X:
Mark of the Unicorn Digital Performer 4.6
Apple Logic 7
Digidesign Pro Tools
Ableton Live 5
Mackie Tracktion 2
Steinberg Cubase SX/SE/SL 3

A breakdown of each package:

Digital Performer, an audio-engine-included extension of the MIDI-only Performer, is the Mac sequencer I currently use and have the most experience with. It can host the newer AudioUnits and the standard software plugin formats. The original Performer was sort of a rival to Opcode's Vision, one of the earliest MIDI sequencers. The two battled neck-and-neck for years over features – as soon as one got a new feature, it would only be a short while before the other copied it as well. Eventually, Opcode crumpled and Vision was discontinued. Digital Performer includes both a MIDI sequencer and an audio engine that can mix audio streams and host software plugins.

Functionally, Digital Performer has an extremely powerful piano roll interface. Writing notes, MIDI controllers, program changes etc is a breeze and very precise. All commands are customizable and there are tons of great MIDI editing features. The Sequence view lets you line up multiple tracks of both audio and MIDI next to each other in one window for inspection and editing, and the normal piano roll view lets you quickly switch between tracks or overlay as many as you like. You can open as many copies of any window (mixers, audio editing windows, plugin windows, staff views, console windows, MIDI even lists) as you like and customize each one, combine several into one window, and other spiffy things. The newest version (4.6) includes realtime pitch correct/modification and audio to MIDI conversion from the sequence view, much like Melodyne Studio.

One thing that can trip up a lot of new Digital Performer users is the lack of defined subsequences ("clips" in Cakewalk and other sequencers; a chunk of MIDI that you can drag around in an arrange view and expand for detailed editing in a piano roll). Most arranging will be done from the sequence or piano roll views. You can do editing/arranging from the tracks overview in Digital Performer, but I mostly use it to manage tracks on a larger scale. Digital Performer's powerful clippings system takes care of a lot of the typical subsequence gruntwork – drag any selection into a clippings window to save it for later use; you can drop it back in as many times you want to wherever you want. Anything can be a clipping, be it audio, MIDI, control data, whatever.

If you're doing work with a lot of outboard gear (or software plugins), Digital Performer is a great way to go. The interface is butt-ugly, though.

Logic, formerly from emagic, is now owned and maintained by Apple. Logic 7 comes in both Pro and Expresss versions. The Express version limits the number of tracks you can create, and doesn't include as many plugins. That's pretty much as far as the differences extend. The interface for both is very clean, and it performs pretty decently on computers of lesser power. The piano roll is good, the audio clips/arranging is excellent, the AudioUnit/plugins support is okay but not great. I always hear of more plugins having trouble with Logic than any other sequencer, but usually only after the problem is resolved, usually as a "what's new in this version" thing. You can do some pretty powerful routing stuff in Logic, and the graphical interface for doing so is very nice. Logic breaks the "virtual studio" paradigm in a lot of places – the last time I used it, I had trouble routing several MIDI channels into one plugin. Some aspects are also more intuitive for those who haven't spent a lot of time with more traditional sequencers. The different types of tracks were a little confusing, but that likely stemmed from the fact that I hadn't used it before. Next time I'll read the manual. I don't think the switch from FruityLoops to Logic would be any more painful than any other sequencer I've listed here, and the Express version is pretty powerful for the price. There are some pretty extensive videos covering the use of Logic on Apple's website, I would recommend checking them out.

Pro Tools is the 500-pound gorilla of audio workstations. It requires special-purpose hardware to run, because it doesn't leverage your computer's CPU to mix audio. The only affordable solutions for the hardware part are the Mbox or an M-Audio device. The Mbox with Pro Tools LE (which isn't very limited at all, actually) is around $500. Note that the Mbox doesn't include a MIDI interface, so you'll have to get one separately if you want to use outboard gear or a keyboard. Lots of newer MIDI keyboards/controllers actually include USB interfaces (the Edirol PCR series, for example), so you might not have to.

The other option is to get an M-Audio device and buy Pro Tools M-Powered, which is $350 and not included with any of the devices. M-Audio's firewire device support for OS X is abysmal, in my experience.

As for the Pro Tools itself.. well, it's Pro Tools. It can leap over buildings, lift trains, and dam the Three Gorges all with a slightly clunky interface. It will run phenomenally on any computer that works with the hardware, so you can use it with even an iBook or whatever without having to worry about running out of power. The piano roll is similar to Digital Performer's, though I don't think it was quite as elegant when I used it a while back. Nothing much to say here, Pro Tools has been a standard for a long time.

Ableton Live, however, is very non-standard. It's geared towards live performances and improvisational creation, though there's no reason why you couldn't do full production with it if you have the right plugins. It's a laptop sound junkie's dream, and its popularity grows with each version. I've only used it briefly, so I don't have much to say about it other than it ruled. Check out the website, there are videos.

Tracktion is also shatters the "virtual studio" paradigm, maybe to the point of inconvenience at times. It's a very new product that's still in its infancy with a lot of rough edges. It's inexpensive and kind of fun to use, and I bet it will become more powerful as it matures.

Cubase is pretty much exactly the same as it is on the Windows side. The SE and SL versions includes most of SX's power at a much smaller price. It's a very mature platform and has an excellent, clean interface. The bad news is that VST plugin development is largely Windows/PC centric. Nearly every plugin on the Windows side includes a VST version. Not so on Mac; most things are AudioUnit or RTAS. Since Cubase for Mac only supports VST plugins, you'll have to use adapters of dubious stability/performance to use anything other than VST. At least, I think so. Someone correct me if I'm wrong. If you decide to get a limited version of Cubase, do not get Cubasis. It's terrible. As long as it has the full "Cubase" in the title, it's good.

Reason isn't a full sequencing/production platform. It has no support for plugins, and its sequencer is extremely limited. That being said, it's an excellent tool when used in conjunction with a full sequencer, especially in ReWire mode – full external sequencing control over Reason's synthesizers/effects, and the audio is returned as an input into your sequencer. All of the programs I've listed above support ReWire. Reason's main advantages are an extremely efficient engine and rock-solid stability. Coupled with a sequencer and some plugins, you instantly have a full electronic music production environment.

doctor_negative, ReCycle doesn't create loops. It allows you to take existing loops and convert them into ReCycle format, which in turn allows for interesting manipulation (tempo shift without artifacts, per-hit effects, MPC-style slicing) when used with a compatible sampler/loop player, such as the one included in Reason. You still need a working loop before you can do anything with ReCycle.

on preview: yeah, what coach_mcguirk said :(
posted by tumult at 2:49 AM on August 5, 2005

Eep, tumult... you might be putting way too much emphasis on the sequencing angle, there. Fruityloops and Reason both handle sequencing, but they both handle audio generation geared towards electronic music: garageband does not do this and neither do most of the other sequencers named above, to my knowledge.

I'm taking a guess here that when you friend says "Fruityloops equivalent" he probably has electronic music creation in mind. The best bet is Reason. However, don't think of it as a switch, but a graduation. Reason is more expensive (probably by a factor of about 2.5) but much much more advanced and much less limiting.
posted by nthdegx at 4:52 AM on August 5, 2005

Reason is actually more limiting, as you can't use plugins or really control external gear. With all music produced digitally – not just electronic – you're either a) sequencing b) recording c) using a library of pre-recorded stuff, be it loops or whatever d) mixing e) mastering or f) any combination of the above.

Reason can't do b at all, and it does a and e very poorly. If you don't plan on doing lots of recording and mastering, don't plan on using third party plugins, and don't mind a clunky sequencer, then go for it – Reason rocks, and you can't really go wrong with getting it.
posted by tumult at 5:07 AM on August 5, 2005

I've played with most of the aforementioned software, and for a Fruity Looper, I'd second Ableton Live. Plus another nice thing about Live is that you can download a free fully working demo with no expiration date; the only limitation is that you can't save your files.

So I'd say download that and maybe find demos of a few others, then you can test drive before you buy.
posted by p3t3 at 5:26 AM on August 5, 2005

to tag onto this question if possible, does anyone know of some good websites/resources for a fruity looper that would like to try moving to reason/abelton/etc?

i know ive been trying to make the switch from fruity loops for a while but i keep hitting walls with the interface. and i could see this guy having the same problem.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 7:51 AM on August 5, 2005

I mostly use Live so I can't speak too much about online resources for Reason, but here are a few for Live:

The ableton site has a support section for tutorials worth poking around in.

O'Reilly also has a nice Getting Started with Live Tutorial, complete with project and sample files to download.

Also, I think it's on by default, but if not: make sure the Live help window is open in a corner - this is very useful for getting started early on; basically it displays a short description of anything you roll over with the cursor (it's nice becuase it displays in the corner, not over the cursor, so it's not distracting if you don't need it but helpful if you do).
posted by p3t3 at 8:04 AM on August 5, 2005

Another note to the original poster:

If your friend want's to see more about whats out there for Mac audio, there are a few portal sites devoted to audio on Macs - a couple worth noting are OS X Audio (forums) and
posted by p3t3 at 8:29 AM on August 5, 2005

Ableton Live is the software that matches fuityloops the best. It has a *somewhat* similar midi implementation and it in many, many, many ways a far superior program. It is also expensive.

A combination of Live+Reason would in my mind meet and exceed Fuity in virtually every way.

Live has been a revelation to me. I can't think of anything that would be better for almost any musician, no matter what they are doing, than getting into Live.

In my mind unless you are doing commerical work or doing pro studio type recording there is no reason to get into Logic or other "traditional" DAWS at this point. They are bloated, fantastically complex and while they do more they rarely do anything better than Live. I was a Logic user for 7 years before I saw the light.

There is a free limited time demo on Ableton's site that gives a very good overview and since Live is crossplatform your friend could start checking it out now. My guess is that if this person gives it a chance they will walk away in love.
posted by n9 at 9:31 AM on August 5, 2005

I am performing with Ableton Live 5 tonight (with my band). I have previously used Emagic Logic 3/4/5, Cubase, Nuendo, FruityLoops and Reason.

Ableton Live is my dream come true.
posted by basicchannel at 9:50 AM on August 5, 2005

I don't understand. Ableton Live *is* fantastic. It isn't anything like Fruity Loops in any respect.

"Reason is actually more limiting, as you can't use plugins or really control external gear. With all music produced digitally – not just electronic – you're either a) sequencing b) recording c) using a library of pre-recorded stuff, be it loops or whatever d) mixing e) mastering or f) any combination of the above."

Eh? Reason emultates synths. It *generates* sounds. You can twiddle knobs to the nth degree and make noises no one else with the software ever has. You use a piano roll and sequence and generate beats just like you do with Fruity Loops, but with much much more scope.
posted by nthdegx at 11:40 AM on August 5, 2005

No, I don't understand.

Ableton Live is the software that matches fuityloops the best. It has a *somewhat* similar midi implementation and it in many, many, many ways a far superior program. It is also expensive.

I didn't say they were similar, I said it matches "the best." There are no equivant programs to Fruity on the PC or Mac. If I were going to make the hop I'd hop to Live. Of course I'd hop to Live anyway as it sucks less than Fruity anyway. Additonally Fruity and Live are alike a lot of ways. They have a clip based composition system, they have grid based sequencer modules, they sequence, they play audio. etc.


Eh? Reason emultates synths. It *generates* sounds. You can twiddle knobs to the nth degree and make noises no one else with the software ever has. You use a piano roll and sequence and generate beats just like you do with Fruity Loops, but with much much more scope.

He said that Reason cannot control external gear or use plugins. He is right. Reason cannot make your hardware synths go beep, it won't allow you to bus audio out to your effects racks and back in and it won't let you use any of the hundreds and hundreds of VST/AudioUnit plugins that are out there. On it's own. It can work in conjunction with Live or other ReWire hosts. You note that it has built in synths and effects, which is also true, but I think you might not have grokd what was said about Reason. Many people find Reason's synths limited and the effects limited and the sequencer limited and because it won't let you use other synths effects or sequencers (unless you marry it to a ReWire host like Live) and FruityLoops lets you do all these things, someone was noting the difference. If you dropped in Reason as a replacement for Fruity you might be very depressed.
posted by n9 at 1:06 PM on August 5, 2005

Thanks everyone who answered! I've emailed him the thread. Thank you thank you. Thx.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 2:58 PM on August 5, 2005

I love the name "reason." Reminds me of Snow Crash.
posted by mecran01 at 5:29 AM on August 6, 2005

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