Ableton Live 8 review

Price when reviewed

It takes a lot to convince musicians to switch recording software, but more than anything else Ableton Live deserves to win over a few defectors. While many of its competitors are pretty similar, Live is packed with features that are truly unique. Its operational simplicity and enormous scope of experimental production techniques, plus the fantastic bundle of instruments in Ableton Suite 7 is an alluring combination.

Live 8 and Suite 8 continue to take great strides, with innovative features that are both friendlier and smarter than those of its rivals. A prime example is Group Tracks. This is based on an idea found in analogue mixers, where certain channels, such as all the drum microphones, are sent to a group channel before going to the master output. This provides a way to adjust the overall drum level with a single fader and to apply effects to the drum submix.

Live’s flexible mix architecture already allowed any channel to be used as a group, but the new Group Track is more explicit and much neater. Rather than locating group tracks together at the far end of the mixer, as hardware mixers and other software mixers do, a Group Track creates a nest around the channels assigned to it. The group can be collapsed to hide the individual channels, making big projects easier to navigate. Best of all, Group Tracks include buttons to trigger multiple loops at once, enhancing the power of Live’s improvisation-oriented Session View.

The most ambitious new feature is the groove quantise engine. Similar features have been available in rival packages for years, but Ableton has rewarded its customers’ patience here with the best implementation yet. The concept is simple: take the rhythmical nuances of one loop and apply it to other loops and recordings, giving performances a natural feel but keeping all the sounds locked in tight synchronisation.

Live’s Groove Pool isn’t as straightforward as it could be, and we had to refer to the manual before we could get to grips with it. Its ability to extract and match the timing and volume nuances of both MIDI and audio clips goes way beyond most software, however, and trumps even Sony Acid Pro’s excellent Groove Mapping feature. It’s built on a new audio-warping engine that also makes it easier to re-time audio clips manually, but we found this wasn’t as successful as previous versions at automatically clocking long sections of audio to the master tempo.

There’s a healthy dose of new effects, including a vocoder, a guitar pedal-style overdrive and a ring modulator. The new limiter and multiband compression effects are particularly useful for processing complete mixes. Other new features include the ability to magnify the interface for use on stage, and to share projects online.

Ableton Suite 8 bolsters the main application with nine virtual instruments. Seven of these are unchanged since version 7, while Operator, an FM synth, has been given a major overhaul. The new addition, Collision, is our favourite to date. It specialises in tuned percussion such as glockenspiels and marimbas, but also covers various unpitched percussion and abstract sounds. It’s wonderfully rich and vibrant, and because it’s based on mathematical models rather than pre-recorded samples, the scope for sonic tinkering is vast. The downside is that you need a very powerful machine to run it successfully. With some presets, our 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo PC only managed a few simultaneous notes before audio glitches began to appear.


Software subcategoryAudio production software


Processor requirementN/A

Operating system support

Operating system Windows Vista supported?yes
Operating system Windows XP supported?yes
Operating system Linux supported?no
Operating system Mac OS X supported?yes

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