Ableton Live 7

Ableton Live 7

Live's interface is a single-window affair, clear and uncluttered despite its depth.


The market for audio recording software is vast, ranging from GarageBand to Pro Tools, with a lot of stuff in between. Now in its seventh iteration, Ableton Live started as a tool designed primarily for—surprise—live performances, but over the years, has morphed into a popular tool for studio and recording work as well. Ableton Live 7 is not revolutionary but evolutionary. With this latest version, Live has matured into a well-rounded, integrated environment with extensive automation and a unique approach to the musical process.


Live allows you to create songs by triggering MIDI sequences, sounds, loops, or mixes of multiple tracks on the fly, while providing an extensive toolkit for more traditionally minded musicians. The improvements to the latest version are all over the map, but let’s start with a core improvement: The internal mixing of multiple audio tracks now happens with 64 bits of precision. The additional horsepower makes the final mix positively sparkle, and the new dithering techniques for downsampling audio tracks to CD-quality, 16-bit sound are truly sweet. The built-in equalizer also offers a new high-quality mode that uses Live 7’s 64-bit mojo to make the most of pinpoint EQ tweaks.


Hardcore audio enthusiasts will really enjoy the new feedback compressor, which delivers a truly luscious vintage-style effect that works wonders on drum tracks, vocals, and most any other kind of acoustic material. Serious musicians will love the ability to insert multiple time-signatures into a Live project, opening up the doors to using the app for more complex musical compositions. These additions are just the beginning. Ableton has added many features in response to requests from longtime users, including tempo nudge, video export, the ability to edit multiple automation lanes, and hardware synths and effects routing—in short, more than we could ever hope to cover here.


Rhythm is the foundation of all music, and the new Drum Racks module beefs up the beat, allowing you to quickly set up a virtual drum machine with a full complement of sounds, percussion or otherwise (including instances of Audio Units or VST synth plug-ins), as individual drum-kit pieces. Everything can be controlled via your computer keyboard or external controller devices. We tried Ableton Live 7 out with the M-Audio Trigger Finger, with great success. You can import REX loop files (the native file format of Propellerhead Software’s Reason), analyze and perfectly chop the loop into single “slices,” and then drop them into a new Drum Rack as a playable instrument. There’s a must-see video on Ableton’s website that does a great job showing off the vast creative potential of Drum Racks (


The Suite version of Live includes an entire library of totally new instruments, but if you already have a decent selection of Audio Units synths, you’ll probably want to save some cash and go with the standard version. The issue we have with the Suite is that, for $800, it just doesn’t offer the amazing variety of sounds that can be found in Apple’s Logic Studio, which contains just about every soft synth you’ll ever need, for a lot less money.


The bottom line. If you’re looking for the best bargain in a well-rounded Mac MIDI/audio editor, Apple’s Logic Studio is still the best buy, and we can’t say we’d recommend Live as a replacement. That said, Live is a unique app that takes a very different approach to the creative process. There’s nothing quite like it, and once you’ve used it, you will agree. Existing Live users will find many reasons to upgrade to the new version, and for the curious, Ableton offers a downloadable 14-day demo version on its website.


COMPANY: Ableton


PRICE: $499 (download), $599 (box, with Essential Instrument Collection library); Suite edition $799 (download), $999 (box)

REQUIREMENTS: G4, G5, or Intel Mac; OS 10.3.9; 512MB RAM

Noticeably enhanced audio quality. Totally bangin’ Drum Racks. Unique live tools. Universal binary.

Relatively high price for Suite bundle




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