October 22, 2014

Ableton Live 9 Review: Upgrades Aplenty

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Over the last few years, Ableton Live has emerged as one of the leading DAWs and performance tools for electronic music. Its ability to time-stretch loops “on the fly” is unparalleled, and with the recent release of version 9, Ableton has pleased many of their users by including some important features in both workflow and functionality.

When you first launch Live 9, the most obvious user interface (UI) difference is the browser. For years, Live worked off a three-window browsing system, allowing users to assign certain folders to any of the three folder browsing windows. Now, it’s up to the user as to which folders they want to add to the browser, by adding them to the “Places” section. At first, this new UI change threw me, but once I settled in, it made sense, and now I find it much easier to navigate my hard drives than in the previous versions.

Audio to MIDI is now possible, which is a huge addition.  For those of you who may not be familiar with this function, it allows an audio loop to be converted to a MIDI loop, giving the user access to the MIDI data. For example, if you happen to like the notes being played in a bass audio loop, but you don’t like the sound, you could use the audio-to-MIDI function to create the bass line into MIDI notes, and then choose your desired bass sound. The same process can be applied to drums, opening up endless possibilities for creating beats and drum loops, as well as editing.

When it comes to converting a drum loop to MIDI, it’s a similar process. Select “Convert Drums to New MIDI Track” from the Clip’s pull-down menu, Live 9 will analyze the audio file, and then create a MIDI track, with the different parts of the drum loop (snare, kick, etc.) now being played as MIDI notes.

Among the new plug-ins, there’s a new master bus compressor called Glue. This will most likely find a permanent home on your master fader, as it really does glue the mix together. Other studio effects have been improved, in terms of their displays, functionality and sound. Users now have the ability to record automation into Session View clip, which should make those of you who use Live as live performance tool very happy.

Max for Live is now included as part of the Suite edition, and it gives users the power to create their own devices, and share them amongst the Live community. Users can build their own devices from scratch, like sequencers, audio effects and samplers. But it also should be noted that there are dozens of Max for Live devices included in Suite 9 and function as if they were native Live devices—no need to build or edit, unless desired.

Ableton continues to raise the bar on its flagship software with version 9, and I believe that the current Live users out there will love this version, once they settle into it. For those of you who have never used Live before, do yourself a favor and give Live 9 a test drive.

Prices on the Ableton site break down thusly: Suite complete integrated studio with full feature set, 3,000-plus sounds, nine instruments, 40 effects and Max for Live ($749 list); Standard with full feature set, 1,100-plus sounds, three instruments and 37 effects ($449 list); and Intro with limited feature set, 700-plus sounds, three instruments and 26 effects ($99 list). Check Ableton’s website (Ableton.com) for upgrades and crossgrades. (Just at presstime, Ableton released its Live 9.1 update, which allows users the ability to open two windows simultaneously on one or two monitors.)

And check with Making Tracks next month, as Wesley Bryant-King reviews Push, Ableton’s new instrument/controller.

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