What is Ableton

Ableton

What is Ableton

The Ableton sequencer provides individual sound design solutions of all kinds: thanks to its modular Max for Live development environment, you can quickly put together your own patches - simply by dragging and dropping, without having to learn the basics of complex programming. If you dig deeper here, you will find a universe of possibilities for music production, your own instruments and plug-ins.

The DAW software is available for MacOS and Windows and is used by DJs for real-time production as well as in the studio. VST plugins can be easily integrated, so that the production of sounds with virtual instruments and effects is also possible.

Ableton Live can of course also be controlled with a MIDI controller. For this purpose, Ableton AG cooperates with the manufacturer Akai, which provides a range of special Ableton controllers: the APC20, APC40 and the APC40mk2.

You can see how such a controller can be used with Ableton Live in this video:

More information about the functions and the history of the Ableton software can be found in our special on DAW history: Game Changer Ableton Live!

Back to overview

Insights: Ableton Live has these features

No software in recent years has influenced the way electronic music is produced as much as Ableton LIVE. Not only intuitive arranging and lightning-fast modulation of all sound generators, but also complex routing setups are possible here.

The following feature is not obvious at first glance, but all outputs of a plug-in can be assigned to individual channels. To z. B. to use all outputs of the "Impulse", program your loop there and then open some audio channels.

In their I / O setup, switch to the “Audio From” channel on the Impulse channel and select the respective slot one column below. In order to hear the incoming signal, you have to activate “Monitor IN”.

So you have the free choice of effects for each individual slot of the Impulse and can now, for example, stagger sounds with different reverbs in depth. If you still want to compress your loop as a whole, create a last audio channel that serves as a subgroup after you have selected these in the individual tracks under “Audio To”.

Ableton also has a lot to offer when it comes to vocal recording. Vocals that were recorded with certain condenser microphones often show a certain overemphasis on the "S" sounds, which results in an uncomfortable sharpness of the sound.

In order to restore the natural sound of the voice, one works with a de-esser, which can also be implemented in LIVE using specially created device chains. Load an EQ Three into the affected track by deactivating Gain-Low (L) and setting Freq-Low to 5.00 kHz. Then you need a “Compressor I” with approximately the configuration shown in the screenshot. Shift-click the plug-ins to highlight them, then right-click them to group them.

This device chain is now in a rack and, once it has been dragged into the browser, can be called up again in later sessions. By clicking on the symbol of the horizontal lines on the left of the rack, an overview of the parallel operating device chains appears.

To create a second chain, drag another EQ Three into the chain field, this time with Gain-Hi (H) switched off and Freq-Hi set to 5.00 kHz. The vocals now run uncompressed through the chain for the low and mid range and the chain for the high range, in which the following Compressor I smooths out disturbing "S" sounds depending on the level of the threshold.

Back to overview

Which Ableton versions are there?

The Ableton Live versions usually come in three different editions: Intro, Standard and Suite. Each of the editions provides a package of functions that make the features of the respective versions more or less accessible: For example, the number of usable software instruments, sounds and effects is limited to a smaller number with Live Intro than with the full versions Standard and Suite .

Which editions are right for your purposes depends primarily on the size and complexity of your projects. The technical features of the Ableton Live versions, on the other hand, are independent of the editions. We are discussing the common versions Live 9 and Live 10 below.

There is one package we would like to specifically point out here: Ableton Live Lite. The Live Lite distribution contains a selection of instruments that at first glance appear to be sufficient for composing and producing songs. Live Lite contains all the basic functions of the respective version, enables work in the popular session view and can be controlled with tools such as Ableton Push 2.

Live Lite could thus be classified as a DAW with which the basic demands on such can be satisfied without having to invest a lot of money straight away. Often included with MIDI controllers or similar hardware, Live Lite offers an ideal option for testing the Ableton software.

Back to overview

Ableton Live 9

In its predecessors, Live's browser was divided as follows: Live devices, plug-ins and three browser tabs that displayed the last folder selected. The latter tabs have now completely disappeared. Instead, the material has been arranged more specifically: sounds, drums, instruments, Live's internal audio effects and MIDI effects, Max for Live, plug-ins (all third-party providers can be found here), clips and samples.

Under »Places«, however, packs, user libraries and other freely definable folders are listed directly. For example, you can register an external hard drive with your own sample collection here. Sets created in Live 8 opened easily, and all clips, scenes, and sounds were still in place. Sampler instruments also made reliable use of various libraries. Skeptical users can still find the well-known content under “Places”, where the “Live 8 Library” is specially created.

The revised keyword search, which searches for matching file names immediately after entering a few characters without confirmation, helps to find clips, samples and sounds quickly. Since the browser is divided into two parts, Live shows the relevant content of the selected tab in the right column. If you don't like the color scheme of Live 9, you can call up the old design called »Default 8« under »Options«.

In this menu you can now even adjust the brightness and color depth steplessly. We also like the screen zoom that has just been integrated under »Preferences / Look Feel«, which freely scales the content of the live window between 50 and 200%.

Back to overview

Up until now it was only possible to distribute window elements to multiple monitors with the help of a special Max for Live patch, but now there is finally real multiscreen support directly on board. As soon as you add a second monitor, the first monitor shows the session view, mixer, device racks and browser, while the other houses the arrangement and clip editor.

The tab key continues to do its job and now only swaps the upper main part of the two windows. In addition, clips can be transferred between the two views without any detours. This is great, because you can work comfortably with two screens in the studio or at home, while on the go or at live gigs you only use the laptop in the usual one-screen mode.

A lot has also happened with regard to the writing of automation data. Previously this was only possible in the linear arrangement view. With Live 9 you can now record this control information directly into the clips in the Session View. The curves can then be seen in the device menu next to the modulation and are taken from one view to the other when a clip is transferred. From version 9.1 onwards, automation “per step” with push is also possible.

Back to overview

Another feature that is known in a similar form from Cubase ("Audio-To-Midi") is also available in Ableton Live from version 9, because in the context menu directly under the command "Slice to new MIDI track" you can now find the three commands "Convert Drums / Harmony / Melody to new MIDI Track".

This works great with simple drum loops, but as soon as the pattern plays several onsets at the same time - for example a more complex breakbeat with a continuous hi-hat - Live interprets a bit too freely. Long 808 kicks are noted twice, and the distinction between snare and kick is not always correct.

A big advantage, however, is that groove and velocity information are also taken into account, which means that the exchange or layering of drums works very well - without an additional trigger plug-in. The other two algorithms work with similar quality.

The monophonic "Convert Melody" algorithm swallows up a few notes in fast arpeggios, for example from an acoustic guitar, and the polyphonic analysis of "Convert Harmony" gives piano chords here and there additional notes. After a few runs, however, you quickly develop a feeling for which material Live gets along best with, without the need for manual corrections afterwards.

When it comes to “Max for Live”, a powerful development environment that Cycling 74 adapted especially for Ableton Live, people are often divided. While some live users show great reluctance to touch or dismiss this add-on as too »nerdy«, the fan base is growing continuously and supplies a steady supply of very simple, but useful, right through to absolutely wacky Max-for-Live patches.

You can open this yourself at any time in order to modify the signal flow and parameters or to combine pre-programmed modules from various applications into your own patch, like a construction kit.

Back to overview

You can - but you don't have to! The direct integration of "Max" in Live 9 (before Max for Live was optionally available) definitely lowers the inhibition threshold to at least try out a few of the plug-ins. Quite simply by drag & drop, as with other live devices. So don't be shy!

The included "Max-for-Live Essential Pack" contains 29 patches, or more precisely 13 instruments, six MIDI and ten audio effects. And who can say no to convolution reverb, step sequencer or drum synthesizer?

The integration of the in-house controller has also been improved. Push is set up automatically in Ableton Live, no driver installation is even necessary - neither under Windows nor on the Mac. When Live 9 is running, the connection is immediately confirmed by the red frame in the session view, as was already known from the APC series, even with a »hot plug«!

This frame can be moved in session mode with the four arrow keys on the lower right of the controller. Here all clips in the live set are represented on the pads - with matching colors. Of course, complete scenes can also be started. This is done by the eight Scene / Grid buttons in this mode.

Back to overview

With version 9.1 Live automatically carries out a firmware update in push, which is completed after a few moments. From then on, the new highlight is also available, the "Melodic Step Sequencer" - an extremely welcome addition to the very sophisticated drum programming functions in Push. But now you can also type in melodies and even chords (!) With the multi-colored running light display.

If you hold down one or more pads for a longer time, two options appear in the display: "Notes" and "Automation". In the first mode, the encoder not only gives you access to velocity, but you can also readjust the length in steps or very precisely with the fine parameter.

The note position can also be varied by ± 25% using the “Nudge” slider to give the pattern more groove. The second mode shows the automatable parameters of all plug-ins in the channel strip. Individual settings are possible for each step - the cut-off frequency of a filter, the amount of space or the mixing ratio within a layer sound can be modulated at lightning speed.

Back to overview

Ableton Live 10

The tenth version of Ableton Live also brings some innovations: a large software synthesizer as well as many new functions and optimizations. Improvements in compatibility with Ableton Push make Live 10 even more mobile. Max for Live is now also completely integrated, which makes your own sound design more practicable.

At this point we recommend the detailed test report of the Ableton Live 10 Suite by Axel Latta, who thoroughly checked the new features!