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The upcoming version of the popular Ableton Live digital audio workstation for music production brings almost a hundred new functions. We looked at the most important news in the beta version of Live 10.

After long rumors, Ableton made it official at the end of last week: Live 10 should appear in the first quarter of 2018 - the first major paid update in five years. Not that the Berlin developer has been inactive since the introduction of Live 9. On the contrary, customers received regular free updates, such as synchronization via Ableton Link or the support of Retina displays.

Live 10 therefore doesn't bring a revolution, but it does bring a lot of small improvements that simplify day-to-day work. For a few days, Ableton has also been inviting external testers to its beta program. We were among the first and were able to get an overview of the new products. Result: The current Build Live 10b144) runs stable at least under macOS 10.12 and makes a mature impression, even an English manual is already finished. It explains the almost 100 new functions in detail, including the new wavetable synthesizer, the drum bus plug-in, the new group function, MIDI editing, the new stereo panner and improvements for the push controllers. In the following we will go into more detail on the individual areas.

Interested users can apply for the beta test; Ableton plans to invite new testers from time to time. They then receive a beta key that is valid until the full version of Live 10 is released.

New interface and browser

Live 9 connoisseurs will find their way around straight away. Ableton replaced the font, which now looks a bit more delicate. Under Windows, fonts on HiDPI screens should no longer look so crumbly, but we couldn't test that. The same applies to the new pen mode for operation on touch screens and tablets. In addition, the color surfaces were coordinated a little differently. You can choose between four light and dark gray tones or use the old 9 gray - simple and functional. Another detail: If you have adjusted a controller, it goes back to its starting position with a double click; that saves a lot of fiddling.

The browser has basically remained the same, but you can now find seven different colored favorite groups at the top. Their tags can be used to mark frequently used instruments, plug-in effects, samples and patches (right mouse button) so that they can be found again more quickly. This is particularly helpful if you are working with push, as it has been very tedious to browse through the sometimes very large directories. The seven categories can also be renamed. Overall, a good approach, but seven drawers are a bit small - especially if you want to sort the numerous Max-for-Live effects and patches in the suite.

The new installation routine for other Ableton content packs is practical. Now you can install it directly in the live browser and update it as soon as new versions are available.

In contrast to Bitwig Studio, Live 10 can only open one project at a time. After all, individual tracks and, more recently, groups of saved projects can be selected in the browser and dragged into the current project. This makes it relatively easy to import clips from one project to another.

Setup improvement

If you operate Ableton Live 10 with large audio interfaces, for example to hardwire your hardware synthesizer in the studio, you can now label the inputs and outputs in the setup. Then you can always see immediately which device is being addressed during routing and you don't have to remember which channel the Sub 37 is on.

The output in MP3, which is created parallel to the Wav file (or AIFF, Flac, Wavpack) when rendering a song, is also practical. This saves the hassle of converting in iTunes when sending. The bit rate is fixed at 320 kbps CBR, which is sufficient in practice. If you want, you can also upload your work from Live to Soundcloud.

The undo history is no longer deleted after saving - but I've never missed this feature, because most of the time you only save a project when you have finished a work step anyway.

Incidentally, Live is very reliable when it comes to reconstructing projects. If it should crash due to an unstable plug-in (unfortunately this is not caught in a sandbox), it will restore the last state the next time it starts up - even if you had not saved it beforehand. In five years it may not have worked for me in two incidents - otherwise it always worked reliably.

Live 10 is also supposed to load samples faster and not take as long to close a project. Under Live 9, that sometimes took what felt like half a minute. Larger projects will show whether Live 10 is actually faster here.

New plug-ins at a glance

New instruments and effects

Those who work longer with DAWs often have a whole bouquet of additional plug-ins on the hard drive and may hardly use the internal effects. So it doesn't matter that Live 10 brings very few new instruments and effects (most of them in the suite). But the new effects are noteworthy even for users who already have everything in their collection.

Above all, push users benefit, because the internal plug-ins are much easier to use with the controller than external ones. For example, the old EQ8 was put on, which now also shows the frequency curve via Push 2 so that filters can be set more precisely. The same applies to the compressor, which now shows exactly when it is lowering on the Push 2 display. With the operator synth you can also see the course of the envelope curves on Push 2, which somewhat simplifies the setting of the parameters for attack, delay, sustain and release. In addition, the new wavetable synth and the echo effect for Push 2 have been integrated so that they can be easily set directly on the built-in displays.

The wavetable synth

The suite's new wavetable synth is a real sound monster. Although it cannot process specially sampled wavetables, it has numerous waveforms in 11 categories from which new sounds can be tinkered: It includes saw teeth of all colors, formants, bells, noise, distortions, piano sounds, etc. Leave on a table they change seamlessly, so that a round basic sound, for example, is enriched with more overtones and sounds more aggressive. If you now periodically change the position on the wavetable with an LFO, rhythmically swirling sounds quickly emerge, which would not be possible with conventional subtractive synthesis. They can be used, for example, for typical wobble basses in dubstep, but also for other sound experiments.

The wavetable synth can superimpose two such wave tables as oscillators and underlay them with a deep sine for the sub-bass. The sound spectrum is then modulated with a multi-filter that can be switched from high to low pass, for example. Five different filter circuits are available, which can also be overridden with a slight crunch. A routing matrix is ​​used to determine whether the oscillators should be connected in series or in parallel and which parameters control the LFOs and envelopes.

Overall, the wavetable synthesizer is a very potent all-purpose weapon that can both imitate real instruments and create new sounds, sound carpets and drones. For better operation, the surface can also be zoomed in on the large upper window of Live.

Plug-in effects

Of the three new effects, the drum buss (sic! With double S) impressed me the most. It combines everything important for electronic beats on a very small user interface (included in Standard and Suite). Thanks to the new function "groups in groups", subgroups for several snare or kick tracks in a drum group can finally be created in the mixer, which was previously only a bit tedious with manual routing and did not look particularly nice.

The Drum Buss can set everything important for the entire drum section. With a drive control and switching from "Soft" to "Middle" and "Hard", it distorts the entire group. An additional Crunsh control distorts the mids and highs. He also brings a suitable compressor. It works quite aggressively and cannot be adjusted any further, neither with the threshold nor with the ratio. To soften hi-hats and crash cymbals and to push the set further back in the mix, a damp control can lower the treble.

A transients controller can also emphasize or dampen the attacks. Although it does not replace a complete transient designer, it is easy to use and very effective.

The highlight, however, is the "Boom" control, which underlines the kick at the bottom. Otherwise you had to couple a sine generator with a gate that is triggered by the kick. Three controls are sufficient to set the strength, pitch and length of the sub-signal. The drum buss even shows you the pitch appropriately, so that you can easily tune the kick to a certain note - very practical. For comparison with the unchanged signal, you can lower the output at the small gray triangle at the top right - otherwise you always think that the louder drum buss signal is the better. Incidentally, the drum buss is not frequency-neutral: even if you turn all the controls down, it raises frequencies at 200 Hz and 4 kHz by around 5 dB with a small Q, so that the mids around 700 Hz are around 4 dB quieter than the rest of the frequency spectrum. In addition, a limiter is always active to prevent overdriving.

Spacious echo

The new delay effect "Echo", which is reserved for the suite, is just as successful. He has tricks up his sleeve that other delays cannot do. As usual, he can set delay times separately for the right and left side, which can also be synchronized to the beat with different note values ​​- including triplets and dotted notes. The highlight, however, is that in addition to a left-right and ping-pong division, you can also divide it into middle / side so that the mono part of the delay has a different timing than the stereo sides.

Two filters can be used to cut the high and low frequencies of the delays. Their cut-off frequencies can be modulated using the LFO, as can the delay times. The built-in reverb for reverberating the echoes is extremely practical. A ducker can be set on the "Character" page, which lowers the echo as long as the main signal can be heard so that it is less muddy. Noise and wobble add the dirt typical of tape echoes. Even if the built-in echo is not quite as elaborate as the Soundtoys Echoboy or Native Instruments Replica XT, it still provides considerable echo landscapes that are particularly suitable for dubs.

Pedal and Utility

Finally, with the suite's new pedal effect, you can add typical floor pedal distortions such as overdrive, distortion and fuzz, which also add a good portion of snot to synthesizers.

Another practical feature is the extension of the Util plug-in, with which you can set the bass range separately to mono - as you know from some expensive Brainworx tools. Thanks to the built-in pre-listening function, the cut-off frequency can be set very precisely. In addition, signals can now not only be reduced by 35 db, but also completely - an indispensable little helper.

In Live 10's mixer, the normal balance control for the stereo tracks (with the right mouse button) can be converted into a split panner. With this you can finally align the right and left channels separately over the entire stereo panorama and can do without separate plug-ins such as the Flux Stereo Tool.

Operation, shortcomings, expansion stages

MIDI and audio improvements

Anyone who has ever jammed on the keyboard and got annoyed because they found a cool phrase but didn't press the record button in time, can breathe a sigh of relief in Live 10. The DAW permanently records all MIDI notes, even without activated recording. If you want to use a phrase or melody, simply press the Capture button and a clip will open with the last notes played - very practical.

You can now mark several clips in the arranger and then edit the MIDI notes in a window. To distinguish between the notes, they are shown in the color of the clip. This is quite helpful to better coordinate rhythmic passages.

For a better overview, the notes of a MIDI clip are now also displayed on the Push 2 controller. This is particularly helpful with the new key layout, which shows the notes to be played at the bottom and a 32-step matrix at the top. This gives you a better overview of the notes played and allows you to add them to the step matrix. To edit the MIDI clips, it is still better to use the mouse on the screen.

With audio clips, however, less has happened. The most important thing is that you can now set fades directly in the arranger on the clip. To do this, you simply pull the breakpoints and the clip is faded out in a nice S-curve.

Since some users may easily overlook it, we would like to point out again the freeze function, which was taken over unchanged from Live 9. If the computer only stutters the music due to excessive processing load, you can freeze individual tracks (right mouse button "Freeze track"). The track with all plug-in effects is rendered in 32-bit and the plug-ins are then temporarily switched off. You can thaw them again later for further processing. If you want to insert the rendered track as an audio file, press the right mouse button again on the frozen track and select "fix as audio". However, all plugins and MIDI notes on the track will disappear. If you want to keep this, you have to duplicate the track beforehand.

Max for Live

The biggest advantage that the expensive suite version has over the cheaper standard version is the Max for Live (M4L) development environment. In Live 10 it is now completely integrated in the suite, so that it does not have to be installed separately and loads faster the first time an effect or instrument is called up. Ableton has also started to revise the representations of some effects and their sound characteristics. It starts with the drum synths, which can now be found under the name DW10 and comprise eight drum synthesizers. With them you can build an electronic drum kit in next to no time that you can adjust to your own preferences without samples. Their sound certainly knows how to please.

In order to automate any plug-in parameters, they can be linked with the M4L "LFO" and "Envelope" effects. This is not quite as elegantly solved as in Bitwig Studio, but it is very flexible and can be used with any internal or external plug-in. A new addition is the so-called "Shaper", the shape of which can be freely changed on a grid that is adapted to the beat - for example for rhythmic filter modulations. Here one can expect even more adjustments and revisions in the future.

What is missing?

The many small improvements make day-to-day work much easier, so that soon you won't want to be without them - just the "groups in groups" and the stereo panner were long overdue. But one would have expected some functions for the new update that have long been known in other DAWs. First and foremost is the support of VST 3. You can get all plug-ins on the market in VST 2, too, but some of them sometimes buck a bit. Mac users can switch to the AU version, but Windows users are pinched. Ableton should follow up on this soon.

Bitwig Studio would be only too happy to have the sandbox encapsulation of plug-ins and the modular effects with which, for example, you can put together frequency-dependent compressors yourself. With Max for Live, that's more fiddling in the Ableton Suite - if it's possible at all.

When routing in mixing, the number of 12 send-return tracks can be tight, especially if you want to use separate reverbs and compressors for each group. By default, these are routed to the master track. If you want to route them back to a normal track or group instead, Live chokes on large projects and gets out of step with the automatic delay compensation.

Live is completely unaffected when it comes to arranging and composing aids such as Cubase has in stock. Chord progressions can be tested out much more easily there. An integrated pitch correction, as it can already be found in many DAWs, would look good live. Of course, it can be supplemented via Melodyne, but it is not particularly well integrated.

Version comparison

Ableton offers Live 10 in three expansion stages. The slimmed-down intro version costs 79 euros as an online download. It is limited to 16 audio and MIDI tracks. In addition, you have to do without the powerful "complex" algorithm of the warp function and only have access to simpler methods. The instrument and effects arsenal has also been slimmed down, but can be supplemented with external plug-ins (AU, VST). However, it is highly recommended as an inexpensive introduction to loop-based music production, as you can already benefit from Live's sophisticated workflow here.In addition, the intro version can be upgraded later.

Unlimited number of tracks, the complex warp modes and most of the important internal effects can be found in the standard version for 350 euros, with which you can edit music projects without restriction. However, you have to do without the Max for Live development environment and most of the internal synthesizers.

The latter are only included in the suite for 600 euros. It is particularly worthwhile for users of Push 2, as the internal instruments are much easier to use than external plug-ins. Max For Live is essential for sound hobbyists, as they can find countless extensions for it; both free and commercial, sold by reputable developers such as the IRCAM institute. Especially when it comes to controlling external synthesizers, you will find countless MIDI tools here that make the Live Suite the currently most complex and extensive DAW for electronic music. (hag)