Ableton Live 10 Review – The Best Update Ableton Has Ever Done

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Live 10 is here. Will it make new converts? Will it entice existing users to pay for the upgrade? Good questions – and Martin Delaney has the answers…

live 10

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Live 10 key features:

  • Wavetable synthesiser – sounds good, looks good, especially in full-screen
  • Revamped Live Pack content and handling directly from the Browser
  • Capture – recall the last MIDI phrase you played before you hit record
  • Push 2 integration – MIDI notes are viewable on the Push display
  • Max For Live fully integrated, no separate installation or startup, better performance
  • Multiple clip editing
  • Groups within groups
  • Push has a new melodic step sequencer

Ableton Live 10 is here, which has, of course, triggered the usual combination of celebrations and rioting in the streets. It’s five years since Live 9 popped out, but it’s not like the Berliners have been slacking since then; what with Push 2 and Live 9 itself receiving a number of point updates and free feature add-ons along the way.

Live 10 includes a new synthesiser instrument, new and updated audio effects, deeper Push integration and a pile of small workflow improvements. We reviewed the Live 10 beta a little while ago, and I suggest that you should go back and read that one as well, because now we’re moving on to talk about Live 10 in a longer-term use situation.

Before going any further, don’t forget the Live 10 demo is available now – so check the system requirements on these pages to see if your computer is up to it. They’ve cut off anything below Mac OS X 10.11.6 and Windows 7 – and Live 10 is 64-bit only.

A thorough interface refresh means that 10 maintains Live’s status as the cleanest-looking DAW around. What were previously ‘Skins’ are rebranded as ‘Themes’ and they mostly embrace the dark side, which is cool because Live 9’s disco skin has been so popular (it works particularly well for stage use).

There are too many little changes to list here, but for example, you’ll notice that buttons highlight when you mouse over them and you can mouse near the edges of an audio clip in Arrangement view to access the clip fade in/out handles – they don’t need to be enabled separately any more; tap ’S’ to instantly fold all Arrangement tracks; drag within audio clips to reposition the audio; the Chase MIDI Notes option means long notes such as you might use for a pad will resume correctly, so you don’t have to go back to the start of a clip to trigger them.

Beneath the waves

Wavetable is another literally titled Ableton synth, which adds a great new range of timbres, plenty of presets, pops out into a lush full-screen mode, and looks beautiful on Push 2 – that’s another 10-trend, the ongoing update of Devices to better use the Push display. There are also new audio effects – Echo, a tape-style delay; Drum Buss, which combines distortion, compression, and transient shaping into one go-to solution, and Pedal, which finally (in my opinion) brings a worthwhile guitar distortion effect to Live. Both Drum Buss and Pedal include dedicated sub controls – Live 10 contains a lot of low end!


Do I really need this?



Live 10 is one of the most versatile DAWs around, particularly for performers or those who are looking to take their mixes out of the studio. The integration with Push is seamless and the creative possibilities that its use can conjure is worth the price of admission alone. Aside from that, Live 10 is also a great studio DAW, with the new effects expanding the scope of what it can do.


Blast from the past

I’ve been running Live 10 through the betas since August 2017, on various Macs, with an assortment of audio interfaces and add-ons. It’s not advisable to use betas for real-world projects, because there’s no guarantee of stability or future compatibility.

Good advice which I ignored completely – as the beta progressed, I began to incorporate it into my projects, starting with a 10-year-old remix that came back to haunt me. I had a message: “Hey, have you still got the stems from that one?”. I keep everything, so I had the stems and the Live set, which would have been originated in Live 7, I think. The project opened without a glitch, and all the MIDI and audio material was intact.

I had to replace a few of the third-party audio effects that I don’t use now, but PSP Vintage Warmer was in there, and I still use that, it worked fine! Where possible, I replaced the previous effects with Pedal, Echo, and Drum Buss from Live 10. Other than that, all I did was make some tweaks to the track volume levels, and the automation, enjoying using ‘A’ on the computer keyboard to pop it all open in one action.

I rendered the stereo file, sent it off, and got a message back saying how much better it sounded than the original. It’s true – Live’s warping and general sound quality has improved greatly since then…based on my purely unscientific experience.

I also used Live 10 to originate a new project, with drum programming, guitars, and a two different vocalists. For the guitar amp and cabinet, I used the Line 6 Helix Native plug-in that we’ve reviewed previously, and when I wasn’t quite getting the dirt I wanted, I added the Pedal distortion device, which got me the combination of smooth and grunge that I needed.

I’m more confident than ever that it’s possible to get a decent guitar sound from Live’s native Devices, but I was curious to test Live 10’s compatibility with Helix and to see how Pedal could add diversity to the core Line 6 sounds. The project required around 10 tracks of backing vocals and each one of them contained EQ Eight, Waves Tune and Waves Vocal Rider – Live 10 handled them all perfectly on a late-2013 iMac.

This was also the first instance where I used group tracks within other group tracks to process each vocal separately, as well as the entire vocal structure as a single entity. This project was also the perfect opportunity to to make use of the newfound ability to name inputs and outputs. Live 10 was sounding crisp, and as I was memorising the new Arrangement View workflow tweaks, it was getting faster and more comfortable to use.


Improved Push integration in Live 10



It’s by no means compulsory to use Push with Live, but if you do (especially Push 2), you’re really going to enjoy the expanded integration between the two. Push squeezes a major element of the Live user experience out into a tactile interactive form, and Live 10 includes many Device updates which make the most of the colourful Push display. It really is possible to get a ‘don’t touch the computer’ workflow going – a useful setup to have when you’re in the heat of live performance, or if you’re in the studio putting together the building blocks of a new piece of music.


Other than these specific projects, I’ve been using Live 10 for any new programming and recording tasks that came along, including a lot of basic recording and processing of stereo mixes from hardware rigs. It’s worked perfectly – of course, everybody has different systems and workflows and places different loads on their computer; I’m also not a heavy user of third-party plug-ins, which is typically where conflicts occur.

The only issue I’ve found so far is that Live 10 opens more slowly than 9 on the iMac. I have a reasonable amount of outboard gear which I prefer to third-party synths and a couple of effects – and there were no problems getting Live 10 to recognise the routing presets I’d created in Live 9 with the External Instrument and External Effect Devices.

Push continues to insinuate itself into my working methods, and Live 10 has accelerated that; the new Devices – Wavetable and Echo in particular – look fantastic on it, and the controls are smartly laid out and more intuitive to locate, something which hasn’t always been true of Live’s older devices as they adapt to Push.

There’s been a programme of rolling updates to how devices appear on Push, and we’re seeing the benefits of that now; as devices are integrated from Day One rather than being retrofitted to work with the colourful display on Push 2.

Other than the Devices, we can also see the notes in MIDI clips on Push, which is a major enhancement, one of those ‘can’t do without it now’ features, for sure. Push also gets an extra MIDI-sequencing mode, showing playable notes in the lower four rows, and the sequencer section in the top four – this quickly became my go-to sequencing routine for Push.


Live 10 overview



1. Browser

The Browser is a happier place to be, with colour-coded Collections, curated content, and direct Pack download/update management

2. New typeface

Live’s interface already set the standard for clean interface design; 10 takes this further, right down to a new custom typeface

3. Capture

Capture is one of Live’s most important new features, though there’s nothing to see onscreen other than this little button

4. Wavetable

Wavetable joins the ranks of Live’s native synths, bringing more high-quality, out-of-the-box presets and sound-design tools

5. New devices

New audio-effect Devices include Pedal, Echo, and Drum Buss – these are going to see a lot of use

6. Less clutter

Ableton has mastered the art of adding more features while avoiding clutter, and there’s no better example than the improved Arrangement View


Pack mentality

There are the new Live Packs as well. I tend not to use off-the-shelf clips and content, or even presets, but they’re all very useful for beginners and teachers, or just folks in a hurry! However, with the themed-content Packs such as Build And Drop, and Punch And Tilt, Ableton has come up with material that still serves those people, but is also more likely to see wider use – so don’t dismiss them out of hand. These Packs include instrument-and-effect presets, MIDI clips and the individual samples; there’s a lot of raw material to be used, as well as the more obvious building blocks.

I’m super-sceptical about bundled content, but these are done the right way. There are also new instrument Packs – Drum Essentials caters for your drum-machine needs, although it doesn’t add significantly to what’s already in the Live Suite library… although it does include some hybrid kits which are much more interesting and very adaptable, with tons of MIDI beat clips that you can of course use with any kits, while Drum Booth does the same for acoustic kits.


Synth Essentials includes presets for each of Live’s instrument Devices, as well as multi-sampled instruments derived from real hardware synths; the presets for Analog in particular are an improvement over the standard presets. Viewing and managing Pack content from Live’s Browser has expanded my use and understanding of what’s in there. It feels much more cohesive now, and easy to explore.

Max factor

While I was taking the time to live with and try the new Packs, I moved them all to one of the colour-coded Collections, so I could see them all in one place – separately from the non-standard Packs I also have installed, which was very useful. Let’s stay on the content theme, and observe that Max For Live has effectively disappeared.

Perversely, that means it’s working better than ever – it’s fully integrated into Live, and it’s running whenever Live is open (assuming you’re using Live 10 Suite). No start-up logo, nothing, it’s just there, loading faster, using less CPU, waiting for you to call on it. Max For Live Devices, including the new drum synths, load faster, work better, and feel more like part of the family than ever before.

Wavetable snuggles in beautifully with Analog and Operator, as Live’s go-to synth instrument collection. What really makes Wavetable come alive is movement in the form of automation or LFOs, just a few simple adjustments and assignments can sound great. As you use Live’s synths, you’ll quickly get a handle on what type of sound each instrument leans towards, and when to use them. I’ve always felt Analog is the poor relation, but those new presets I mentioned earlier are making quite a difference as examples of what it can do.

There are other features – I haven’t used the new ability to edit multiple MIDI clips together at all – it’s not something I need, and I forgot it was there until I came to write this. However, I know it was a hot one for a lot of users, so there you go! On the other hand, the new Capture feature has totally crept in; I use it all the time.

You may be jamming with Push, or a MIDI keyboard, or drum pads, whatever, then realise you’ve played a great little part. Argh! Should’ve hit record, but don’t panic. Shift-Cmd-C, and there it is – in a new MIDI clip. No need to break the flow to hit the record button. Simple and awesome.

Live’s interface is adjustable for colour schemes (the Skins/Themes, mentioned earlier), scale, brightness and colour intensity, so it can accommodate a range of environments, display hardware, and user eye problems (I’m including myself in that one). I understand the new typeface was controversial with beta testers before release, but for me, it’s clean and clear.

A few months into using Live 10, I’m even more convinced that it’s a great update. Live is always worth buying into if you don’t use it already, and for current users of Live 9 or older, this is a no-brainer. If you insist on talking about the more marketing-friendly features, then check out Wavetable, a fantastic synth in itself, and the new Live Packs.

But the real value is in the more subtle features, the workflows, and especially those in Arrangement view. Grab the demo and try it, you’ve got nothing to lose, except the price of the upgrade – and paying that out every five years doesn’t seem too demanding.


Alternatives




Apple
Logic Pro X £199

Logic Pro X is a weird one: sometimes it seems like Apple aren’t really interested in it any more, then suddenly it gets a ton of tweaks and new features in a free update. It’s not a patch on Live when it comes to using it for performance purposes.



Arturia
MicroBrute €299

You could always build a hardware rig. Companies like Arturia make hardware drum machines, synthesisers, and sequencers, and of course there are very trendy modular systems. Hardware is limited, but sometimes creativity will come from this.



10 Excellence

+ Wavetable synthesiser fills out the synth library nicely
+ Streamlined workflow, especially in the Arrangement view
+ Capture is simple, but genius
+ Pedal is a great distortion tool for guitarists
+ Input and output renaming is so useful

– No showboating, big and glossy gimmicks. Which, of course, could be a good thing…
– High cost of admission for the full Live 10 Suite/Push experience

Ignore the naysayers and the upgrade tightwads – this is without doubt the best update Ableton has ever done. It comes totally recommended for any current Live user and, indeed, for any creative computer musician.

  • 10
  • User Ratings (80 Votes) 5.3
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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.

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