Ableton Live 9 review

8 May 2013

Mature and rounded, but Ableton still knows how to push technical and sonic boundaries

Price when reviewed 
338
5

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.

Ableton Live 9

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.

Ableton Live 9

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.

Details

Price ex VAT £282
Price inc VAT £338
Overall rating 5
Ease of Use rating 5
Features & Design 6
Value for Money 4
Software subcategory Audio production software

Operating system support

Operating system Windows Vista supported? yes
Operating system Windows XP supported? yes
Operating system Mac OS X supported? yes
Other operating system support Windows 8