Ableton Live 10 Beta Preview – Our Early Impressions

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Live 10 has been announced! Martin Delaney’s been living with the beta for a while and in this preliminary review, we discover how it’s shaping up…



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Minimum system requirements

  • Mac: OS X 10.11.6, Intel Core 2 Duo processor
  • PC: 64-bit Windows 7, 64-bit Intel or AMD multi-core processor
  • Intel Core i5 processor or faster recommended
  • 4 GB RAM (8GB or more recommended)
  • Approx. 3GB disk space for the basic installation (8GB recommended)
  • 5GB to 76GB disk space for additional sound content depending on version installed

It’s over five years since Ableton released Live 9, which is a long time in DAW-land. Of course, that’s not the whole story – since then, we’ve enjoyed a stream of ongoing free updates and new features; Live 9.7 is quite a different beast from Live 9.0. You could also factor Push 2 into that timeline… oh yes, and Ableton Link, too.

So no, it’s not like they’ve been twiddling their thumbs in Berlin. But sooner or later, the big updates have to come, and Live 10 is on the way. It’s not available as a final release as I’m writing this, so bear in mind that anything described here can change, and we’ll be doing a full final review when the official release happens, probably after a long-ish public beta phase –but there’s no way we’re going to wait until then before taking a look!

Live 10 will be available in three versions, as before – Intro, Standard, and Suite. I’ve been running the beta since late August, so I’ve had time to get familiar with it (keeping it quiet has been absolute torture), and I guess what you want to know is, is it worth the wait and worth the upgrade?

Perfect 10

As soon as Live 10 opens, you know you’re not in Live 9 any more and you’re never going back. The interface, already the cleanest DAW workspace around, has been polished further, with improved clarity in all the right places. Live’s ‘Skins’ are renamed as ‘Themes’ – there are only five to choose from, and they’re more focused around the subdued end of the spectrum – which makes sense, because Live 9’s Disco skin is popular; it looks cool and works well on a practical level.

Ableton has had its own typeface designed as well, so text looks a little different. Buttons highlight when your pointer lingers over them, giving a little extra orientation assist.

Moving beyond the cosmetics, though, are the new and updated devices. There’s a new synthesiser instrument called Wavetable (yeah, it’s a wavetable synth). Tending towards more digital tones, it’s incredibly flexible and capable of producing a wide range of sounds, as evidenced by the factory presets, which include pads, leads, guitars and percussion. Wavetable is included in the Suite alongside Live’s existing synths, Operator and Analog, between them giving Live a really comprehensive array of ‘factory’ synth tools.

Wavetable’s interface is as approachable as a wavetable synth can get, and it’ll pop open into a gorgeous-looking full-screen mode (which looks fantastic on the Push 2 display). You could get going with just the default settings, then automate waveform selection using the LFO and the built-in modulation matrix, and it gets groovy straight away.


The rapture of capture




You can hardly tell it’s in there from glancing at the interface, but Capture, like Link before it, is a small thing that will change everything. Imagine the scenario – you’re noodling around with your drum pads, Push, or MIDI keyboard, then you realise you just played something perfect and amazing, but the moment’s gone. No, it hasn’t – tap the Capture button at the top of the screen and Live will load the last phrase you played into a new MIDI clip, complete with tempo detection; it does a pretty good job of identifying the start and end of what you’ve played.


Ableton’s designers have definitely been making the most of that colourful display; integration and visual feedback with Push is clearly a bit of a theme with this release. There’s more to devices than instruments, though – and while there’s no news regarding MIDI effects, there are a trio of new audio effects to talk about.

Echo is a new delay effect, and while Live already has two delays, this one offers far more options in sound-design terms, extending from clean digital sounds to much more characterful and analogue/tape type processing, including controls that let you dial in noise and tape wobble, as well as a filter, compressor, reverb, and gate.

The visualisations of delay time and feedback in the ‘Echo Tunnel’ graphic also translate beautifully to the Push display. Quality-wise, in terms of sonics and features, Echo’s definitely on a par with third-party delay plug-ins.

And in the same vein, the new Drum Buss device also looks set to give a few third-party developers sleepless nights, containing an all-in-one solution for drum track or group track processing, with compression, distortion, transient shaping, and some neat bass-management tools, too, courtesy of the fabulous ‘boom’ controls, with tuneable low-frequency enhancement.

This device covers functions that I’ve typically used third-party solutions for, so for Ableton diehards, it’s a good chance to keep everything in-house – it makes Live that bit more mix-ready out of the box. Of course, a device like this can be used on any type of material, not just drums, and could be especially useful for tweaking dynamically during live sets.

Finally, there’s Pedal, with overdrive, distortion, and fuzz options, each modelled on specific classic guitar pedals. Again, you can use this on any sound source, and it’s great on drums if you use the Dry/Wet mix control, but purely in guitar terms, this is a great addition, and I’ve already found that by using it with the Amp and Cabinet devices, I’m getting better guitar tones from Live than I have before. With the Sub and EQ controls, you can get anything from truly sludgy lows to sinus-exploding highs, and with a more organic vibe than the pre-existing Live drive effects.

Staying at the low end, the Utility device has been updated with Bass Mono controls, so we can set a frequency below which everything in the mix or track is mono. This is useful for studio or live use, or to clean up a stereo mix such as a live recording when you don’t have any separate stems. Plus, EQ Eight now reaches down to 10.0 Hz!


Ableton Live 10 beta overview


ableton live 10 beta

1. Live gets a new synth instrument device – Wavetable (as usual with Ableton, named after the type of synthesis it represents).



2. The entire interface has been discreetly refreshed, making it even more user-friendly, and employing a new typeface – Ableton Sans.



3. Capture lets you retroactively commit the last MIDI part you played to a new clip – no need for a record button.



4. Use the new colour-coded Collections to organise your favourite material. Of course, they’ll show up on Push as well…



5. New devices include the Echo delay unit; Pedal, a guitar-type stompbox, and Drum Buss, a convenient drum-management tool.



6. There are many workflow tweaks, particularly in the Arrangement View, where you can perform some editing functions directly on the timeline

Max headroom

Max For Live – the tool that lets us build custom Live devices – is fully integrated into Live 10 Suite, so there’s no need to keep track of separate downloads any more, and the fact that the devices load faster and use less CPU is a bonus.

Max For Live devices can now use multiple audio outputs and have MIDI-port access for MIDI data such as SysEx, which is a real ‘about time’ moment for users of older MIDI hardware. New Max For Live devices in Live 10 include individual DrumSynths to get you started building your own drum rack, an expression control for modifying incoming MIDI values, and an envelope follower.

These are all great additions, but there’s one other new feature which I think is the absolute killer in Live 10. If I was ever going to use the expression ‘game changer’… which I’m not, but Capture is a new way to record MIDI – without having to hit record. So imagine you’re jamming out a new keyboard part or beat, and you suddenly knock out the perfect take. This is usually where you’d have to stop playing, hit record, then recreate the part.

But now all you have to do is click the Capture button, and Live remembers the last thing you played and drops it into a new MIDI clip, setting a tempo accordingly, and figuring out where the clip should start and stop. The full details are slightly mysterious: there’s no info about how far back it goes, but it seems to work on what it detects to be a ‘phrase’. This will work with Push, too; just hold down ‘record’ and ‘new’ to load the captured clip.

Having a new synth or effect device is all very well, but it’s the small operational things that make the software feel comfortable, fast and creative. There are lots of workflow improvements – I’ll give them more attention when we review the final release. But let’s pick a few standouts.



Live 10 creates automatic backups as you work, storing the last 10 in the project folder so you can go back at any point and recover an earlier version. The undo history is retained even after a project is closed and reopened, which is going to be a real godsend… Argh – the times I could’ve done with that in the past!

Multi-clip editing is a long-requested feature, and here it is. Select up to eight MIDI clips in either Session or Arrangement View, and you can view them overlaid on each other in the MIDI Editor, which could be useful for comparing parts during composition. Long MIDI notes can now resume playback from the middle of the note: great if you’re using long pads or drones and get sick of going back to the beginning every time you play those parts.

The Mixer has a new Split Stereo Pan mode within each track, and it’s now possible to rename audio inputs and outputs, which is so useful if you’ve got anything more than two channels on your interface! Group tracks can now be nested within other groups, and they can also be dragged into a new project from the Browser.

As well as the visual feedback from new devices such as Echo, and displaying MIDI clip notes, Push gets a new sequencer mode, showing the notes on the bottom four rows and the sequence at the top, which is similar to how sequencing works on Novation’s Circuit.

Live’s Arrangement View, which has often taken a back seat to the far more sexy and entertaining Session View, gets a fair share of the attention this time round, with a series of small-but-excellent tweaks… for example, you can select a section of an arrangement clip and pull it down to the drop area to create a new track and load the devices referenced in the original; audio clips can be warped directly in the timeline without having to go to the detail view, by holding down shift and dragging the edge of the clip, audio content can be moved horizontally within arrangement clips, and there’s a separate automation view, visible when you press ‘A’ on the keyboard, unfolding all tracks at once.

Live library

The factory sound library has been revamped, with new instrument collections, new packs including Electric Keys, Drum Booth, and Drum Essentials, and a set of Live packs that are organised around what Ableton calls ‘sonic themes’: sets of sounds and parts that aren’t specifically related to genres, but aligned to common classic sound sets.

The idea is to give you a quick start into getting something going, but hopefully avoiding the obvious cliches, and staying relevant a bit longer. It’s an interesting angle, giving accessible tools to the total newbie.

The Browser now includes a handy list of ‘available packs’ you haven’t downloaded yet, as well as any that have updates available. This is good for me as an Ableton Trainer, because students often aren’t aware how much content is available in their Ableton accounts. While you’re admiring the packs in the Library, you’ll also notice a touch of colour at the top. These are Live 10’s Collections – a colour-coded set of shortcuts to your favourite content. Naturally, Collections and their related colours also appear on the Push display.

That’s end of our Live 10 tour for now, but as I said, we’ll be back with a full review once the final release appears. Overall, it’s not a ‘sensational’ release, but if you want gimmicks for the sake of them, look elsewhere.

More importantly, Live 10 has features that you’ll use day to day, in the real world. Capture in particular is going to be the new default way of doing things with MIDI – and given its beta status, it’s actually working very well, and every time I have to go back using Live 9, I feel a bit sulky and resentful.

Verdict

It’s advisable to hold final judgements in reserve with a beta preview, but this is shaping up to be one of the all-time-classic Live updates, with a perfect balance of improvements and new features.


Alternatives




Apple
Logic Pro X £199

Logic’s been around forever (almost), and survives despite long periods where Apple doesn’t seem to acknowledge it at all. It sounds good, and has some great features, but lacks the immediacy and flexibility of Live. It is cheaper, but only runs on Apple hardware.



Propellerhead
Reason 10 €349

Another recently updated contender (look out for a full review next issue), Reason has charted its own glacial route to ‘normal’ DAW status, finally adding plug-in support after years of resistance – but don’t worry, its characteristic Racks are still there.



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About Author

Martin Delaney

Martin was one of the first UK Ableton-Certified Trainers. He’s taught everyone from musicians to psychiatric patients and has written three books about Live. Martin also designed the Kenton Killamic Mini USB MIDI controller and is the Editor of Ableton Live.London on Instagram.