Ableton Live 6 full review

Since its launch in 2001, Ableton’s Live has wowed many a music maker with its seemingly magical ability to match up audio samples on the fly, making the creation of flexible grooves a cinch. No wonder, then, that the software has found favour among digital DJs, many of whom use it in their live sets.

Once a batch of suitable samples has been dragged and dropped into the Session View, they can be punched in and out on cue, warped with a host of signal processors and otherwise manipulated in real time to excellent effect. It’s a superb tool for live performance, hence the name, and the Arrangement View gives access to more familiar sequencer-style facilities for those seeking a structured approach to composition.

There’s no way to adequately cover all Live’s facilities here, so those unfamiliar with the package should load the demo and get a handle on the basics for an appreciation of how it differs from traditional music-creation tools, such as Logic Pro and Cubase. Whereas whisking up a tune takes forethought and planning with certain sequencers, Live’s emphasis is on instant results. So when inspiration strikes, or you just fancy mulching a bunch of sounds together to see what happens, the software doesn’t stand in the way. Slinging samples into the timeline is quick and easy, but with Live it’s possible to jam, activating and deactivating elements as the groove takes you.

Larger than Live
Seasoned users, of course, will be itching to know whether Ableton has succeeded in making a great performer even better. Well, there’s some good news and... some more good news. It now features multi-processor and multi-core support, distributing the load more effectively on newer Macs, which will prove a boon for those working on very large projects. Our test machine, a dual-processor 2GHz G5 with 2.5GB RAM, experienced not a glitch – even when Live was ReWired into Cubase 4 with Reason 3.0 running simultaneously. To further free up resources Deep Freeze makes it possible to render tracks but still apply certain edits. So, if there’s a CPU-hogging part that could do with freezing, you’ll still be able to cut, copy, paste, automate, duplicate, and more without having to thaw it.

Both DJs and VJs are now catered for thanks to QuickTime movie import. Clips can be dragged and dropped to the Arrangement View, trimmed and played back in a separate window, and the music can be warped to fit the visuals. Those seeking to promote their acts on YouTube or similar will appreciate this new feature, while video-equipped stage performers can look forward to incorporating eye candy into their live sets.

On the audio-manipulation front, there are improvements and additions to Live’s signal processors, including an 8-band EQ, which replaces EQ Four, a valve overdrive emulator in the shape of Dynamic Tube, yet more warmth from Saturator and a tool for quantising the length of incoming MIDI notes. Sound-creation wise, the optional Operator synth now has additional filter modes and new FM algorithms for yet more sonic flexibility. And there’s a new sampler instrument but only the demo is bundled, so it’ll cost you extra to download and unlock.

Live 6 offers new ways of managing projects, including the means to recall groupings of instruments and effects as Racks, into which any number of VST/AU devices can be loaded. There are also pre-configured Racks available covering common signal-processing and sound-creation tasks. At project level, a new folder feature lets you organise sets, clips, Racks, samples, and more to better keep tabs on complex works, while whole projects can be exported with lossless compression for transfer from, say, the studio workstation to the live laptop, or to a collaborator’s machine.

There’s a good deal else, including the addition of adaptive mappings for many MIDI control surfaces, multi-destination MIDI mapping, tempo warping, AAC import (non-DRM), more flexible mixer routing and, importantly, the facility to control Live’s instruments via a ReWire host. This last feature makes Live 6 an excellent adjunct to an existing sequencing setup, while all the extra features mean it’s an essential upgrade for those that rely solely on Live. Get it. You won’t regret it.

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