Ableton Live 10

Five years on from ver­sion 9, Live gets an up­date. But is ver­sion 10 lack­ing in ‘head­line’ fea­tures? Si Truss finds out…

Future Music - - CONTENTS -

De­spite once be­ing the young out­lier of the DAW mar­ket, Live’s pop­u­lar­ity – at least within the elec­tronic mu­sic realm – is now such that Ableton barely need concern them­selves with what their com­peti­tors are up to. Maybe it’s due to a lack of per­ceived threats, but Live 10 doesn’t feel like an up­date con­cerned with win­ning over new users. Com­ing nearly five years af­ter the launch of ver­sion nine, this it­er­a­tion is notable for its lack of head­line-grab­bing ‘game changer’ fea­tures, along the lines of Au­dio-ToMIDI con­ver­sion or Groove Ex­trac­tion. We do get new De­vices but, while th­ese bring new tools to Live, they’re hardly cut­ting-edge within the wider mu­sic tech­nol­ogy sphere. The same can be said about the work­flow im­prove­ments – MIDI re­call tool Cap­ture is a handy ad­di­tion, but sim­i­lar tools have ex­isted in other DAWs for a while.

Given a cur­sory glance at the press re­lease, you could be for­given for writ­ing Live 10 off as a bit of an an­ti­cli­max. In re­al­ity though, this is an im­pres­sive up­date packed with fea­tures that en­hance the over­all ex­pe­ri­ence – but you’ll need to spend a lit­tle time with it to truly ap­pre­ci­ate the full scope of it.

On the De­vice front, ver­sion 10 adds one new in­stru­ment and a trio of ef­fects. Wavetable is Live’s lat­est synth, which takes its name from its sound en­gine, based around two mod­u­lated sam­ple-based os­cil­la­tors. Wavetable syn­the­sis has been around since the ’80s, made fa­mous by the likes of PPG and Wal­dorf, but more re­cently used com­monly in the soft­ware realm as the ba­sis of plug­ins like Serum, Syn­thMaster and Mas­sive. Com­pared to those plug­ins, Wavetable is a rel­a­tively sim­plis­tic take on the con­cept, lack­ing ad­vanced fea­tures like user wavetable im­port. There’s still a de­cent crop of sound-shap­ing tools on­board though, in­clud­ing dual fil­ters, an ar­ray of os­cil­la­tor-shap­ing pa­ram­e­ters and a mod ma­trix which, while not mas­sively com­plex, makes it easy to add move­ment to sounds.

Ableton state that Wavetable aims to strike a bal­ance be­tween com­plex­ity and im­me­di­acy and I’d say they’ve hit the nail on the head in that sense. Thanks to a well-stocked li­brary of source waveta­bles, it’s ca­pa­ble of a solid cross-sec­tion of sounds – from au­then­tic-feel­ing recre­ations of ana­logue synths to evolv­ing pads and tex­tures – whilst still be­ing ac­ces­si­ble to those with­out an in-depth knowl­edge of its fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples.

The Wavetable in­ter­face is nicely de­signed too. I’ve never been a huge fan of Live’s in­stru­ment UIs – the likes of Op­er­a­tor and Ana­log feel a bit fid­dly and clin­i­cal to me – but with its an­i­mated os­cil­la­tor dis­plays, neat mod ma­trix and ex­panded view op­tion, Wavetable is more invit­ing and in­tu­itive than most of its sib­lings. So while it might not usurp your ‘power synth’ plug­ins, Wavetable is an ex­cel­lent ad­di­tion to Live’s in-built tool­kit. Since first get­ting my hands on the Beta, I’ve been reg­u­larly reach­ing for it as a source of quick, rel­a­tively CPU-friendly textured sounds to layer up with other synths or cre­ate pads and at­mos­pheres.

Of the new ef­fects, Echo is the high­light. This is a new stereo de­lay that com­bines a flex­i­ble mod­u­la­tion sys­tem with an ana­logue-style de­sign

loosely based on clas­sic tape echoes. While Live al­ready has sev­eral de­lay De­vices – in­clud­ing Grain, Fil­ter, Ping-Pong and Sim­ple va­ri­eties – un­til now users have had to look else­where to achieve those clas­sic dub/Space Echo sounds. Echo does more than straight ana­logue em­u­la­tion though – its LFO-pow­ered mod­u­la­tion sec­tion is great for ex­ag­ger­ated re-pitched ef­fects, while built-in re­verb, duck­ing/ gat­ing and dual fil­ters of­fer great tools for shap­ing drawn-out, am­bi­ent ef­fects. Not only does Echo plug a hole in Live’s cur­rent fea­ture set, it of­fers flex­i­ble cre­ative tools that can go toe-to-toe with some of the best third-party plug­ins. I see this be­ing a go-to ef­fect for a lot of Live users.

Be­yond this, Live 10 also adds Drum Buss and Pedal. Drum Buss is an in­ter­est­ing ad­di­tion, com­bin­ing sim­ple com­pres­sion, drive, up­per-mid tran­sient shap­ing and sub en­hance­ment in a sin­gle, straight­for­ward plugin. The com­pres­sion and drive el­e­ments are a lit­tle ba­sic, and you’ll prob­a­bly still end up reach­ing for ded­i­cated tools to fill those roles, but the rest of the De­vice’s func­tions are very ef­fec­tive. The up­per-mid sec­tion is great for ad­just­ing tran­sient punch, and can add a touch of crunch to those fre­quen­cies too. Mean­while, the sub-en­hancer – la­belled ‘Boom’ – can add a tuned res­o­nant boost to low-end fre­quen­cies, with a de­cay con­trol and the abil­ity to lock the fre­quency to the chromatic scale. Great for adding a fun­da­men­tal pitch to per­cus­sive and in­har­monic ma­te­rial.

Fi­nally, Pedal is a fairly sim­ple three-in-one dis­tor­tion stomp box em­u­la­tion, of­fer­ing over­drive, dis­tor­tion and fuzz modes along with a three-band EQ. It does a de­cent job al­though isn’t go­ing to set the world alight; it mostly just func­tions as flesh­ing out Live’s vir­tual gui­tar chain, along­side the Amp de­vice.

While th­ese new De­vices grab the press re­lease head­lines, it’s the work­flow en­hance­ments and un­der-the-hood changes that make the dif­fer­ence. Th­ese range from a few ob­vi­ous changes to nu­mer­ous small tweaks that add up to an over­all im­proved ex­pe­ri­ence.

On the work­flow front, the two most sig­nif­i­cant changes are the

Once you fac­tor in ev­ery ad­di­tion, 10 is a qual­ity up­grade worth in­vest­ing in

im­ple­men­ta­tion of multi-Clip MIDI edit­ing and nested group tracks. Both of th­ese abil­i­ties al­ready ex­ist in ri­val DAWs, so it’s more a case of Live catch­ing up than break­ing new ground, but they’re still wel­come and have been well im­ple­mented.

Work­ing in the Ar­range­ment view has been over­hauled too. The big­gest change here is im­ple­men­ta­tion of hide­able au­to­ma­tion lanes – sim­ply hit the au­to­ma­tion but­ton (or A on the key­board) to show/hide au­to­ma­tion be­neath each track. There are nu­mer­ous small tweaks to track au­to­ma­tion be­hav­iour too, all of which help to clean up and sim­plify the process of work­ing with Ar­range­ments.

Be­yond th­ese big­ger changes, how­ever, lie nu­mer­ous small tweaks across the board, all of which add up to en­hance the over­all ex­pe­ri­ence. There are too many tweaks to list here, but some of my per­sonal favourites in­clude the abil­ity to name au­dio ins/ outs, the fact that projects now au­to­mat­i­cally save backup ver­sions (and main­tain the undo chain), and the abil­ity to re­verse any­thing in the ar­range­ment view by sim­ply se­lect­ing a re­gion and hit­ting R on the key­board. Some long-stand­ing De­vices have had sub­tle tweaks too – EQ Eight gets an ex­tended bass fre­quency range, which is handy for con­trol­ling sub fre­quen­cies (with vis­ual feed­back from the built-in anal­yser), while Util­ity gains a Bass Mono switch, for rein­ing in the stereo field be­low an ad­justable fre­quency point.

Visu­ally, Live 10 has been given a new look too, al­beit a rel­a­tively sub­tle one. Fonts have been changed and lines have been soft­ened to give the UI a slightly neater, more mod­ern feel. More sig­nif­i­cant are changes to the Browser, which adds a new Col­lec­tions list. This pro­vides a se­lec­tion of seven colour tags, which can be as­signed to any De­vice, plugin, sam­ple, loop or pre­set in or­der to cre­ate quick-ac­cess lists of favourites. On this sub­ject, it’s worth men­tion­ing Live’s crop of in­cluded sam­ples and loops, which has been ex­panded and over­hauled, and is now a truly ex­cel­lent pack­age of qual­ity, us­able sounds. The new browser makes it eas­ier to man­age and find th­ese too.

Push users ben­e­fit from a num­ber of en­hance­ments too, in­clud­ing added step se­quenc­ing op­tions and bet­ter views for sev­eral De­vices. While none of th­ese add fea­tures to Live that aren’t avail­able with­out Push, it does mean that Push 2 re­mains by far the nicest way to in­ter­act with Live.

The DAW still has miss­ing fea­tures – lack of proper MPE con­troller sup­port is notable. Given this has re­cently been awarded ‘of­fi­cial’ MIDI sta­tus, I’d be sur­prised if this wasn’t added in a point up­date soon.

Live 10 is not a cheap up­date, when com­pared to some ri­val DAWs, and will in­evitably get un­favourably com­pared to re­cent, gen­er­ous free DAW up­dates from the likes of Ap­ple and Bitwig. Live re­mains one of the best work­sta­tions on the mar­ket though, and – de­spite the lack of head­line-grab­bing fea­tures – once you fac­tor in ev­ery tweak and ad­di­tion, ver­sion 10 is a qual­ity up­grade worth in­vest­ing in.

Suite users def­i­nitely feel the ben­e­fit con­sid­er­ably more than Live Stan­dard users, who miss out on Wavetable, Echo and Max ac­cess. It still re­mains a worth­while up­date, but th­ese fac­tors might in­flu­ence whether you rush out to up­date or choose to live with a pre­vi­ous ver­sion for a few more months.

NAMED I/O BROWSER COL­LEC­TIONS WAVETABLE AR­RANGE­MENT VIEW The abil­ity to as­sign names to your au­dio ins and outs is very handy, par­tic­u­larly for those who use hard­ware in­stru­ments or ef­fects. This sys­tem of colour cod­ing al­lows users to cre­ate lists...

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