Ableton Live 8 review

Since Ableton Live appeared in 2004, it has become the Fender Stratocaster of the laptop music world, appearing on stage with bands and DJs across the world. Live’s selling point is that it’s so controllable.

It works rather like a massively extended version of GarageBand, with more features, more loops, and a very clever live performance option that lets you create ‘scenes’ from loops and MIDI clips and easily switch between them. You can create your own loops from raw sampled material, and can, of course, also use it as a plain old MIDI and audio sequencer for conventional mixing and arranging. And unlike GarageBand or Logic, it can record scene-based arrangements, so it’s easy to rough out the verse/chorus structure of a song and play with it in real time. It’s also perfect for mixing loops, beats, effects and sequences on the fly for dance and ambient music.

Live 8 is more of a refresh than an all-round update of the previous version, but it does include some interesting new features. Time stretching has been modified to sound smoother. (This comes at the cost of extra processor power, and generally Live 8 seems less efficient than previous versions – you’ll want to try the free demo to see if this is a problem for you.) Also in the box are some new effects, including a vocoder and a three-way multiband compressor, some optional new physical modelling synthesizers, and a new sound library.

Within the product range there’s Live LE, Live and Live Suite. The entry level Live LE hasn’t yet been updated to version 8, although it should be soon. You can choose a downloadable or boxed version – the difference is a paper manual and some interesting but non-essential samples on DVD. Live Suite 8 includes all of the new synthesizers in the boxed version. We’re not wowed by the extra value of the boxed copies – the paper manual isn’t essential, and you can get more and better samples elsewhere. But Live itself remains an impressively creative and powerful music tool.

OUR VERDICT

While the current early release is slightly buggy, this should settle down soon. Live is much deeper than it looks and more than capable of professional results. It’s not an alternative to Logic, which remains better for tape-style linear mixing. But for creative arranging and laptop performance there’s nothing to touch it.

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