Ableton Live 11- Is It Worth the Upgrade?

When I think of Ableton Live, it inhabits a different space in my mind to the more ‘standard’ DAWs for recording, arranging and mixing music. I consider Live as more of an instrument combined with DAW – somewhere that the process of recording is creatively applied to shape the music more directly and strongly. Typically, if I’m writing electronic-style music, I’ll start in Ableton, and I’ll head over to Logic to mix and finish the track.

Has this changed with the big update to 11? Is this the point where I can finish the mix in the same place, without having to change DAWs? I’ve had the update to 11 for a few weeks now, and had the chance to really dive in and experience the new tools for myself.

There’s a large list of new additions and upgrades to Ableton Live 11 – including workflow updates, and new tools. The list is too large to go over in detail in this article. I’ll just address the ones that I feel improved my creativity and efficiency as I’ve worked with Ableton Live 11 over the last few weeks.

Splice Rent-to-Own

Comping

This is the big one for me, but perhaps not for the expected reason. The lack of this is one of the missing elements that has definitely put me off mixing any big projects in Live. Linked with this (pun intended of course) the Linked tracks update means you can lock tracks together to edit phase-locked audio – useful for drum edits for example. I still don’t think it’s at the same level as other DAWs in terms of tools for mixing. But… it’s a giant step forward. What I actually love about these new elements, is that in typical Ableton fashion, it’s very easy to use the comping tool for non-mix, and more creative methods, which is awesome. Being able to flick between several different loops to create an entirely new loop is very very quick, and very inspiring. There’s also a cool little drop menu that enables crossfading between selections if you want, so there isn’t incessant clicks and pops. Brilliant.

I also like how you can also comp midi tracks – so I can just jam over the session loop, and go back over it later to decide what works best.

MPE

MPE – or midi polyphonic expression is an evolution of synth control. It’s a method of synthesis that uses multidimensional control from touch – a big step from pressing keys and buttons. MPE enables you to control pressure, slide, and pitchblende PER NOTE – which poly aftertouch cannot do. Current tools that use MPE are, for example, the ROLI seaboard, the Linnstrument, the Madrona Labs Soundplane, Sensel Morph and so on. The list of tools is finally starting to pick up pace in its growth, as are the software applications that support this protocol.

This is a very burgeoning advancement in performance expression, and it’s only really at the beginning stages of mass adoption. But I imagine it will be eventually. The potential for expressivity is too great. Ableton has made a statement to the importance of MPE with the addition of MPE control for native synths within the software – so you can control several elements of Wavetable, sampler, simpler and arpeggiator with one touch on your MPE controller. Ableton have included a couple of midi plugins so you can dive deeper into how the MPE messages affect the parameters chosen. There are also automation lanes for MPE information, so you can adjust post-playing, or even write in curves yourself from scratch.

Hybrid Reverb

I’ve never really got on well with the stock reverb that always sits on the first return track. I probably didn’t work it well, but I couldn’t get it feeling like it had any character. This reverb, while not really replacing the stock reverb, is quite different from the other reverbs. To sound a bit cliché it’s a creative reverb – alongside the cool algorithms of different rooms and algorithms you can blend between, I really like the way you can import samples, and use the characteristics of those samples to create the reverb. Excellent stuff – super useful for sound design. I also like the vintage button that craps up the tail somewhat, giving it some nice, er, vintage character.

Spectral Time

Using FFT to process your sound. It reminds me of GRM tools, which I use a lot. I liked the freeze mode that can be turned on and off with the tempo. A very Ableton style creative way of freezing audio. And it looks gorgeous!

Macros

up to 16 macros now, and you can save the settings of every knob as variations. These variations are then automatable which is killer awesome for sound design and mashing your sound about in a controlled way. Really like the evolution of this feature.

Splice Sounds

Probability, Randomisation and Generation

I feel this is following the modular crowd slightly in the addition/expansion of these tools. But they are extremely welcomed on my part. They can be subtle, in humanising drum parts, to totally random, creating new melodies, etc. These are fun tools for messing about with and being judicious about what you throw away, and what you keep. Inspiration tools! In midi, there’s a probability lane below the velocity lane – you can set probability for playing notes, velocity of notes, and so much more. There’s a random button to shift it all around.

Conclusion

I probably haven’t even covered half of the upgrades and updates that move Live 10 up to 11. For those of you who are already using Live and looking to upgrade, it’s a no-brainer. The additions are well worth the money, and I doubt you wouldn’t find something extremely useful here. However, if you’re new to the whole idea of writing music with DAWs, I would still spend a bit of time deciding how you want to write your music.

If you’re looking to write and record singer/songwriter, or band stuff, and you’re not that interested in using soft synths, or live backing tracks, I would look at other, better and cheaper options for your money. If you’re all about experimental, electronic, or especially hybrid live instruments combined with computer-as-instrument, then I don’t think anything else comes close. Most DAWs nowadays offer a trial or lite version anyway, including Live 11 (for 90 days!).

For more info check out the Ableton website.

Live 11 comes in three levels – intro at £69, standard at £319 and Suite at £539

if you already own an earlier version, then you’ll have a specific discount in your account for the upgrade.


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