Ableton Live 9 review
Mature and rounded, but Ableton still knows how to push technical and sonic boundaries
Review Date: 8 May 2013
Reviewed By: Ben Pitt
Price when reviewed: £282 (£338 inc VAT)
Features & Design
Value for Money
Ease of Use
When you’ve a reputation for being a maverick, it must be a bit of strain maintaining it, year after year, but if Ableton is feeling the pressure nine versions in, it’s showing no sign. After starting life purely as a performance and remixing tool, Live has slowly evolved into a fully rounded music-production environment. This maturity has never come at the expense of innovation, though, and in Live 9 it continues to forge its own path, invigorating working methods and pushing sonic boundaries.
The big innovation in this version is audio-to-MIDI conversion. It’s a well-established concept and available in numerous other applications, but Ableton takes it further than its peers. There are three conversion algorithms designed for drums, melodies and polyphonic instruments. The Melody option is the simplest, with monophonic instruments or vocals going in and a MIDI part coming out. Conversion is quick, entirely automatic, and accuracy was excellent in our tests. However, it’s disappointing there’s no provision to convert vibrato or gliding notes into pitch bend data.
The Drum mode identifies kick, snare and hi-hat sounds and maps them to a drum machine on a new MIDI channel. Harmony mode tackles polyphonic instruments such as guitar or piano. It’s complex stuff, and we were amazed at its accuracy. There were quite a few missed notes, false positives and notes in the wrong octave, but the errors tended to make sense musically. And, while those looking for perfect conversion are likely to be disappointed, as a springboard for creating interesting sounds it’s a huge success.
In fact, all three modes have enormous creative potential, especially for sampling other people’s music and rebuilding it using other sounds. If nothing else, it’s a handy way to get around copyright clearance (provided you don’t lift a recognisable melody), and it also makes the process much more creative. Audio-to-MIDI conversion also frees users up from the restrictions of using a MIDI keyboard for note entry. Using your voice or a guitar generates material that’s unlikely to be created via a keyboard. The same goes for turning beatbox performances into MIDI drum parts. Further creative mileage comes from mixing audio and MIDI performances together, such as combining MIDI drums with a heavily processed beatbox performance.
Most of the other new features are workflow improvements, but there’s just as much ingenuity on show here, too. The snap-to-grid function is much more sophisticated than before, delivering all the options we could hope for without the need to grapple with lots of different modes. This used to be one of the downsides of Live’s aversion to having complex toolbox options and dialog boxes, so it’s great to see it remedied here.
The browser for picking samples, instruments and effects is vastly improved, with search results as you type, and the ability to preview instruments before loading them. The Hot Swapping function for replacing a particular sample, preset, instrument or effect now has a shortcut key, and the browser jumps to the relevant section to show relevant alternatives.
- Google reveals why it thinks we'll buy smartwatches
- Windows 8.2/Windows 9: release date, features and free cloud version
- Apple's top reasons for rejecting apps
- Raspberry Pi unveils HTML5-optimised browser
- Apple and FBI "actively investigating" celeb photo hack
- Swatch Touch smartwatch in development
- Did iCloud flaw lead to celeb photo hack?
- Microsoft refuses to hand over customer emails
- Apple signs up credit-card companies for NFC payments
- Apple bans developers from selling your health data
- 20 years of PC Pro: our best covers
- Why we've closed the PC Pro forums
- How to turn off Google Location Tracking
- 20 years of PC Pro: our greatest review mistakes
- 20 years of PC Pro: our first A-List
- Wikipedia's "right to be forgotten" protest hits the wrong note
- 3D printing hits the high street for plastic selfies
- 20 years of PC Pro: What amazed us in our first issue
- How Google Glass ruined my lunch hour
- Smartphone battery packs: can a USB power pack beat the festival battery blues?
- Best of IFA 2014: what smartphones, tablets, smartwatches are expected to launch at IFA this year?
- How to uninstall a program on Windows: remove unwanted apps from your PC
- How to format a USB drive on a Mac or Windows
- What’s the best 4G network in the UK?
- How to set up a wireless hotspot for your business: give customers free or paid for internet access
- How to download YouTube videos: save YouTube videos to your iPhone, iPad, laptop or Android device
- How to access iCloud on a PC
- Nexus 5 vs Moto G 4G (2014 model)
- Chromecast vs Roku Streaming Stick vs Apple TV: what's the best TV streaming device?
- The 8 best small tablets of 2014: what's the best compact tablet?
- How to sell more ebooks on Amazon
- 10 ways to make your business more secure
- Top five VoIP mistakes
- How to add in-app purchasing to an iPhone, Android or Windows app
- Remote-control ransomware: TeamViewer and software hardball
- Why laptops with serial ports matter to the Internet of Things
- Make your mobile battery last longer
- Small steps into handling Big Data
- Nexus 5: does it really run stock Android?
- How to get broadband to a garden office