Ableton Review: Is It Worth The Money? (Cons & Pros)

Is Ableton Really Worth The Money? (Should You Buy It?) | Integraudio.com

Ableton is still one of the big names when choosing a DAW. Today we’ll go through its specifications so you can decide if it’s the perfect match for your projects.

The core of every producer or engineer setup is the DAW, the operation center for all the project stages. Some developers have focused their software on specific tasks without leaving the basic functionalities of a DAW behind.

Therefore, you might find that some are better than others for sound editing, others have extended mixing functionalities, and some have better sound design tools. With all the choices available in the market, you might ask yourself:

Is Ableton Really Worth Money Today?

Ableton is designed for live sessions and MIDI-based productions. It has three versions: Intro for $99, Standard for $449, and Suite for $749. Even the basic version offers a broad set of tools for expressing your ideas on the spot, so if you’re a spontaneous producer and need to portray your ideas smoothly in no time, Ableton is a good investment

The software updates are free of charge unless there’s a version change that usually comes with many unexplored features that will enhance the workflow and help your creativity flow

Also, there’s nothing about basic recording, mixing, and mastering applications that other DAWs can do but Ableton can’t. Ableton users can be proud of its audio editing tools like Warp, which are vital differentiators since they save a lot of time when syncing different recordings and matching transients to the actual beat.

Moreover, the EQ, compression, and reverb stock plugins are straightforward and deliver exceptional results. The virtual stock instruments are perfect for sound designers and allow multiple synthesis options. Additionally, its native platform Max for Live expands the possibilities since it will enable you to create custom devices like synthesizers, samplers, sequencers, audio effects, and a lot more to enhance your productions and live performances.

Overall, the price of Ableton’s most complete version might seem a little high, but keep in mind that the price offers a whole world of possibilities and the choice to customize your experience that you’ll only get when working on Ableton Live.

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Brief History of Ableton

Berlin-based software company Ableton developed Ableton Live. Its first version was released on October 30, 2001, as an instrument for live performances

Later on, with new releases, Ableton evolved into a complete DAW with tools for recording, mixing, and mastering. Since then, the software has had a lot of changes and exciting additional features, instruments, packs, and effects that led to its latest version Ableton Live 11, released on February 23, 2021. The software has gained popularity thanks to its clean interface and unique workflow consisting of two signature views: Session and Arrange view.

How Do You Get Ableton?

You can purchase Ableton from its official web page, where you’ll need to create a user account to register the serial number and download the installer. There are three editions available for this software that vary in its features, instruments, packs, and effects:

  1. The “Intro” edition comes with the essentials of Ableton and prices at $99.
  2. The “Standard” edition with extended features prices at $449.
  3. The most complete “Suite” edition with everything that Ableton offers is $749.

The software is available for Windows 10 and macOS 10.13 or later. For minimal installation, you’ll need 8 GB RAM and approximately 3 GB of disk spaceIf you want to get the additional sound content available, you’ll need up to 76 GB of disk space.

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Source

What are the Pros and Cons of Using Ableton? 

With all the DAWs available in the market, it’s understandable that these workstations have performance differences to carry out a project. If you’re still hesitant about getting Ableton Live, let’s dive into the advantages and disadvantages of this DAW.

Pros of Ableton Live

  • Intuitive workflow
    Besides the clean user interface and the helpful Info view, Ableton has one of the easiest workflows to digest. The Session View offers an intuitive alternative to build the project and organize the sections of the song, which often leads to faster results.
  • Live performance usage
    Ableton is the only DAW perfectly customized for live performances, so if you’re a producer and want to take your music to the stages, Ableton is the perfect choice for you. Also, Ableton can be the ideal complement for already performing musicians to organize your setlist better and get an additional virtual member of your performance.
  • Custom mapping
    The controls can be easily mapped using the Key Map mode and the MIDI Map mode, allowing you to customize the trigger of any parameter on the interface as you please. This is a highly appreciated feature for recording automation and giving a more human touch to your projects since you don’t depend on the mouse or the default keyboard shortcuts that might hold you up sometimes.
  • Out-of-the-box plugins instruments
    Multiple synthesis methods and accurate physical modeling technology are just some of the features of the instruments that Ableton has to offer. The architecture behind the instruments and the algorithm that runs in the background makes them very attractive for sound designers from all experience levels.
  • Detailed documentation
    If the Info view isn’t enough for you, the documentation available on the Ableton official website has a very detailed description of what its effects and instruments work. Also, they give you tips for your production and how to get certain effects using their plugins, so make sure to check out their documentation to master the software entirely.

Cons of Ableton Live

  • Lack of simultaneous displays
    Ableton has a lot of versatility in some features but still doesn’t offer other competitors’ capabilities. For example, you can’t have the Clip View and Device View displayed simultaneously, meaning that you can’t modify the notes in the piano roll and the effects in just one window.
  • Split mixer
    When you’re in the Session view where the mixer is located, some users struggle to find the effects on the channel since they are in the Device view. This condition might seem a minor thing for some people, but sometimes those seconds searching for the effects you would expect to see directly on the channel strip can make an idea fade out.
  • Expensive
    Compared to other DAWs in the market, Ableton has a higher price due to unique features like the Session View and Max for Live. That doesn’t mean that these are bad features, but there are situations where Ableton exceeds your needs abruptly. If you’re not interested in the workflow and scene-based production of this additional view, or if you don’t need synthesis and sound design tools, you might find more affordable options.

Is Ableton Good For Beginners?

Ableton has one of the most straightforward and detailed workflows out there. Besides offering the conventional horizontal timeline, it provides the Session View, an intuitive alternative for music production with a soft learning curve so producers from all levels can portray their ideas in no time.

Furthermore, if you need to know what does a specific control does or what a section is meant for, the Info View provides additional information and makes your learning process as easy as it gets.

Is Ableton Good For Mixing & Mastering?

Originally, Ableton wasn’t designed for these purposes, so the new features mainly focus on sound design and live performances. Nevertheless, the DAW offers the basics for mix and master processes, so you won’t get stuck if you need to perform these stages, but there are cheaper alternatives.

However, you can find interesting and helpful stock plugins for mixing and mastering purposes. For example, Multiband Dynamics was designed for mastering, and Compressor offers versatile compression methods. But again, if you’re looking for a DAW for mixing and mastering, you can find a cheaper solution.

Ableton Interface & Usability Overview

When you first open Ableton Live, you’ll have a session with two MIDI channels, two audio channels, two return channels that have reverb and delay by default, and the master bus. The software is based on clips, which can be MIDI patterns, loops, or samples. The workflow is split into two main views: the Arrangement View with the classical gridded timeline with the channels aligned horizontally, and the Session View with jamming facility for live sessions and more dynamic compositions. 

From now on, we’ll take all the features available on the “Suite” edition to explore all the DAW capabilities.

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Top bar

In this section, you can adjust the BPM, time signature, playback position on the Arrangement View of your project. Additionally, you’ll find various controls for punch-in when you’re recording. At the right end of this top bar, you will see indicators for CPU load and hard disk overload so you can optimize your session to avoid issues with your computer. You’ll also see two switches to access different modes for customizing your experience.

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  • Key Map Mode
    By clicking the “Key Map Mode” switch, you will see that some controls will turn orange, meaning that you can assign that parameter to a computer key. For example, if you want to trigger the play button with a key of your selection, click the play button and then press your desired key. This function allows complete customization of your workflow.

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  • MIDI Map Mode
    This mode is similar to the Key Map Mode, but instead, you can map the controls with MIDI messages, for example, MIDI notes or modulation wheel on your controller. To do this, click on the “MIDI Map Mode” switch, and the controls highlighted in blue are the ones you can map.

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Arrangement View

  • Beat-Time Ruler
     In this section, you’ll be able to scroll through the project timeline and zoom in and out depending on how precise you want your view. Also, you can playback jump to a specified point by clicking in the scrub area.

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  • Workspace
    You’ll see the channels displayed horizontally in the workspace and the clips organized in a time grid. Here you can see that the clips with the same content will have the same color independent from the channel color for ease of use. You can modify the color by right-clicking a clip and choosing from the options.

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  • Track controls
    Next to the track display, you’ll see the track controls for choosing the input and output channels, monitoring, solo, mute, and arm recording. You only have options for mute, solo and pre/post fader functioning for the return tracks.

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  • Locators
    With the “Set” button, you can set a locator during playback or recording. You can also set it at the start of your selection or where the marker is at the moment. With the arrows below the “Set” button, you can jump between locators for easier access to song sections.

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  • Loop area
    When the “Loop” switch at the top bar is enabled, the section bounded by the “Loop/Punch-in” selector located below the Beat-Time Ruler will play in a loop. You can change the loop position and its start and end during playback.

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Session View

  • Clip slots
    When working in the Session View, the channels are displayed vertically, and they are organized in clip slots, which can hold one clip to be played live. Note that clips in the same track play exclusively, but clips in different tracks can be played simultaneously.

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  • Scenes
    Rows in the Session View are called scenes. All the clips on the row will launch simultaneously by clicking the “Scene Launch” or play button in this column. You can organize your scenes by sections or by crucial changes like time signature or BPM changes for your live performance or creative session.

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Mixer

The mixer accessible in the Session View has conventional controls like track volume, panning, mute, and solo button. Additionally, you can configure the input and output for each channel and sends to the return channels

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Clip View

In Clip View, you can see the properties of the selected clips. If you select audio clips, you’ll see the waveform and the audio editing tools available for the clip. You’ll see the MIDI notes and their corresponding editing options when working with MIDI clips.

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Device View

Next to the Clip View, you can access the Device View, where you drop your audio or MIDI effects for the selected track and create your effect chainFor MIDI tracks, you can also drag an instrument or a sample, and Ableton will create an instrument based on the sample you load.

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Device and Sample Browser

At the left, you will see the browser where you can explore the sounds, instruments, and plugins available in the DAW and the customized folders you create with your samples. If you need to search across all your libraries, type what you need in the top search bar, and you will see a list of the available options.

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Collections

Sometimes there’s an effect or sound frequently used in your projects, and it’s tedious searching for it every time. To avoid this inconvenience, you can tag samples, instruments, plugins, and effect chains to access them via the collections section at the top of the Device Browser.

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Info View

In case you forgot what a control does or you’re just learning how to use the software, the Info View displays a brief description and instructions of the element that the mouse is currently over. You can create custom texts for the elements you add for custom devices created in Max for Live.

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What Audio Editing Features Does Ableton Offer?

It’s vital to have a series of audio editing tools to achieve cohesion and organization. Ableton provides one of the most versatile tools out there with the Warp function, clip controls for its gain and pitch, and envelopes for different parameters.

Warping

Ableton has a unique ability to play samples in sync with a determined BPM and to offset some transients to stretch the audio or change the rhythm of the loops or recordings. Click the Warp mode toggle in the clip view to activate the Warp mode.

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  • Warp modes
    The DAW offers various Warp modes that are varieties of granular resynthesis techniques. Among these modes, you’ll find the Beats Mode for rhythmic audio, the Tones Mode for pitched audio, the Texture Mode for polyphonic or noisy audio, the Re-Pitch Mode for warping by pitch adjustments, and the Complex/Complex Pro Mode for full songs or complex sounds.

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  • Warp markers
    The Warp markers lock a point in the sample to map the sound’s key points so you can stretch and adjust it to the desired rhythm. You can place as many markers as you want, and with BPM changes, the software will take these markers to keep the tempo sync of the clip. These markers come very handily with clips with well-defined transients that indicate beat changes.

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Clip shaping

Besides finding the Warp controls in the Clip Parameter view, you have options to modify the clip’s gain, pitch in semitones and cents, segment BPM, and sample start and end. You can also see the clip’s frequency rate, bit depth, and the number of channels. Also, note that you can activate the High-Quality mode for pitch changes with less distortion but higher CPU consumption.

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Device and clip envelopes

You will see the clip’s envelopes to modulate clip, mixer, and device parameters by enabling the envelopes section. Besides modulating the clip’s pitch and volume, you can add modulations for effects like reverb, delay, and distortion to achieve compelling sounds.

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6. What Plugins Does Ableton Have?

Ableton features a vast set of effects and instrument plugins. These devices include mixing plugins like EQ, compression, reverb, and others, but Ableton’s strong advantage is its instruments and synthesis tools that offer a huge world of sonic possibilities. Let’s see some of the plugins available in Ableton Live.

Effects plugins

  • EQ Eight
    Ableton features a vast set of effects and instrument plugins. These devices include mixing plugins like EQ, compression, reverb, and others, but Ableton’s strong advantage is its instruments and synthesis tools that offer a huge world of sonic possibilities. Let’s see some of the plugins available in Ableton Live.

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  • Compressor
    Ableton’s native compressor is one of the most versatile out there. Besides offering the fundamental parameters like threshold, ratio, attack, and release, it provides Peak and RMS operation modes and three different visualization options so you can monitor the compression as you please. Moreover, the plugin offers an external sidechain and sidechain EQ to better control what triggers the compression. 

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  • Multiband Dynamics
    There are other compression/expansion alternatives designed for mastering purposes like Multiband Dynamics, a flexible tool for dynamic processes on up to three independent bands. With this great tool, you can apply de-essing to remove harshness or upward compression to add life back to over-compressed mixes.

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  • Drum Buss
    The plugin is an analog-style drum processor focused on shaping mid-highs and filling out the low end of a drum bus. The processes in the plugin include a compressor optimized for drum group balance and separate distortions for mid-high and low-frequency content.

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  • Corpus
    This plugin uses physical modeling to emulate the acoustic characteristics of seven types of resonant objects. You can set the resonant frequency with an incoming MIDI note, an LFO, or manual input. Also, you can configure a broad set of physical variables to give the most accurate approximation to the actual resonant surface. 

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  • Delay
    The Delay in Ableton provides two delay lines for independent processing on the left and right channels. There are two delay configurations: the Sync mode matches the delay to the project’s BPM and allows choosing 1/16 note intervals for the delay. Then, if you prefer to set the delay time in milliseconds, you can use the Time mode. Additionally, you have a filter and an LFO to modulate the delay time.

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  • Reverb
    Ableton’s Reverb separates the reverb processing into three parts. First, the signal passes through the Input Processing section. It applies filtering and pre delay before entering the Early Reflections section, where you configure the earliest echoes to give an impression of the room. Lastly, the signal enters the Diffusion Network section, where you adjust the behavior of the reverberant tail.

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  • Amp
    The plugin uses physical modeling technology to emulate the sonic characteristics of seven classic guitar amplifiers. This plugin comes in very handy for guitarists who want to achieve exciting colors to their performance by using the unique character of the offered amplifiers.

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Instrument plugins

  • Analog
    Ableton’s Analog combines different features of vintage synthesizers and puts them into a modern virtual analog synthesizer. Analog implements a synthesis method that calculates the sound in real-time according to the parameter values, ensuring quality, warmth, and realism.

  • Drum Rack
    The easiest and most intuitive way to create drum groups based on your samples is with Drum Rack, which allows you to map up to 128 samples to the MIDI notes to play them with your MIDI controller. Here you can also modify the samples loaded, so all the rack sounds cohesive.

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  • Wavetable
    Wavetable features complex synthesis architecture within two wavetable-based oscillators, two analog-modeled filters, and an effective modulation system. This synthesizer aims to be an accessible tool for musicians and sound designers from all experience levels with endless sonic possibilities.

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Is Ableton good for recording vocals & guitar?

Since vocal and guitar recordings are raw processes and depend mainly on hardware gear, Ableton provides full compatibility with audio interfaces and all the necessary tools for recording, monitoring, and versatile punch-in to achieve the cleanest recording.

When you already have your recording, since the audio editing tools are available once the clip is done recording, you can instantly apply Warping and adjust the beats to the essential parts to ensure that it doesn’t sound out of sync.

Is Ableton Good For Making Beats & Hip Hop?

When doing hip hop or beat-making, you usually work with loops and combine to create the song, just as you would when using the Session View, so due to the clip workflow of the DAW, Ableton is your best choice for this approach

Additionally, instruments like the Drum Rack and versatile features like Warping modes will be your best friends when building up your track with various loops, and most likely, you’ll get faster results.

Is Ableton Good For Rock Music?

Rock is an organic genre that usually doesn’t require complex synths or loops, so you might go overboard with Ableton since you can find cheaper alternatives. But features like multi-track recording for drums or two guitarists are also available in the software.

Furthermore, Ableton doesn’t offer flexible routing for creating sub-mixes like other DAWs because it wasn’t designed for this purpose. Since many rock bands record simultaneously and the members like to hear different sources, this could be a problem.

Is Ableton Good For EDM?

Knowing that the genre is mainly synths and lacks organic instruments, Ableton is a superb choice for EDM projects. Instruments like Analog and Wavetable will be the best friends for achieving unique leads and effects for the most energetic tracks.

Besides sound design tools with many possibilities, Ableton also offers a lot of sound-shaping effects like Reverb and Delay, which let you automate unique parameters to get creative textures with the highly used effects in EDM.

Beyond that, it’s widespread that some loops on an EDM song are used in different sections. The clip-based workflow and Session view that Ableton offers can help you organize your ideas better and match all the instruments in scenes to maximize your creativity.

Last Words 

Ableton has been the number one choice for many producers and musicians for its unique building and tremendous synthesizers to achieve a signature sound. With the complete version at $749, it’s one of the most expensive DAWs in the market. Still, it offers a unique and straightforward workflow for making more creative choices, innovative effects and instruments, and a whole world of possibilities with its features.

At this point, you might have seen that the target demographic for Ableton is musicians that need to portrait their ideas right away or an extension for their live performances and sound designers eager to experiment with unique synths. If you meet those criteria, you won’t get disappointed with Ableton.

If you’re still hesitant about getting Ableton into after evaluating its pros and cons and features, you can always search for opinions from other users and evaluate other DAWs. Always be open to other possibilities, but if you end up choosing Ableton, you’ll master it in no time and will unleash your creative side.

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