Ableton Live 7: A Late Review

The Live 7 upgrade has been out since last November but due to a serious falling out with the 6 upgrade I had not bothered to check it out. This was a heartbreak because I loved to be in the application but I found it unusable for one simple reason: its render to wav file (which was always a bitch) had degraded to a shocking degree. In other words, I would work hours and days on a remix and the file that got rendered sounded nothing like it did when I played it in the application. Now I know that every DAW software has some issue here but I felt, with 6, they were out of control.

Then about a month ago I hit upon this white paper (PDF) from Ableton in which they claim to have “implemented a number of low-level improvements to the audio engine” specifically during the render to file function. The paper focuses on what they call “neutral operations” which is a fancy way of saying “not fucking with the sound.” Not every operation in Live is “neutral” (like applying effects) but they do spell out which are and when you stick to those operations “you can be sure that using these functions will never cause any signal degradation. Applying neutral operations to audio that was recorded into Live ensures that the audio will be unchanged from the point of analog-to-digital conversion… Applying neutral operations to files being exported from Live ensures that the quality of your output file will be at least as high as what you heard during playback.”

I stopped reading about half way through of the rest of paper, got out my credit card and downloaded the upgrade.

For my purposes there were several areas that I changed in the way I would normally work: 1) lining up the project, hardware and samples I use to the same bit rate (44k), turning off all dithering during rendering and 3) taking mastering completely out of Live.

I’ve been using this method for my last few remixes at ccMixter. Here’s one of the more successful mixes (this is playing through Flash but you get the idea):

They weren’t lying, if I pay attention to what is and what isn’t a “neutral” operation the render is worlds better. I still don’t get the pristine sheen on the mixes I’ve gotten out of FL Studio where I don’t have to pay any mind to ‘neutral’ vs. not but I’m encouraged enough to (finally) throw away FL after a love/mainly-hate relationship. I don’t know how they get such a great sound off their engine or how they can do $0 upgrades (“forever”) but I’ve been looking to dump their awful, incoherent user interface and terrible wav clip handling for years.

The fact is, I have fun in Live while FL always, always felt like work.

5 thoughts on “Ableton Live 7: A Late Review

  1. Marco Raaphorst

    had a terrible crash with Live7 on MBpro yesterday. that didn’t felt good. need to finish some things. workflow of Live has been the best. new compressor is very cool as well.

  2. fourstones Post author

    Funny you should mention that because I’m determined that my next daw (and every machine I ever buy from now on) will be macs and another pro for Live is that it gives me a bridge there (as opposed to cubase or FL)

    Live on xp has been rock solid. This is first I’ve heard of a crash on mac.

  3. Marco Raaphorst

    Got my money back from Ableton. Crash was bad. Second time I ran Live 7. On external instruments it happened.

    I never had problems with the exports under Live 6. When I make an export of a track, insert it in Ableton again and do an export both sound the same. Are you using some plugins which might cause the live running version to sound different than the exported versions?

  4. Marco Raaphorst

    forgot to mention: I have a MacBook Pro, it’s cool, but PC’s are faster. Check the Ableton performance test forum. Also: OSX 10.5 is far from perfect. Audio hardware support and software support is still very bad. Ableton Live works but a lot of stuff not. Logic is even having problems. And ProTools LE is a serious no-no on the Mac right now.

    An that annoys me about the Mac. Because choices are less, I was expecting everything to work perfectly, well it’s not. OSX looks great and works nicely. Slicker than XP, but for raw performance XP beats OSX.

  5. fourstones Post author

    ugh, you’re such a dream crusher ;)

    Well, my son just bought an imac yesterday because that’s all they use at his audio engineering) school for logic and PT so we’ll see how that works out for him.

    Meanwhile, you keep saying ‘XP’ which unfortunately isn’t being manufactured anymore and I’ve heard the same nightmarish anecdotes on Vista that you’re talkng about on Mac.

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