Everyone’s favourite audio application is back with a brand new version and having spent some time putting it through its paces, I have to say, it rocks!
Often, when manufacturers release a new version of their software, it’s with a brand new interface, which is necessary because the old one sucked…not that the new interface is generally any better, it’s just different…and by the time you’ve finished learning how to use it…and all of its new and overly complicated functionality…the manufacturer has released a new version of the software…with a brand new interface…because the old one sucked…
Ableton, on the other hand, have got their interface right and are keeping it that way, which is why, at first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking that nothing in Live 6 has actually changed. Everything is exactly where you left it in Live 5 and still works in exactly the same way. While all of the new functionality is so characteristically easy to use, that you can be up to speed in under an hour…assuming you ignore Live’s manual, which continues to be its Achilles heel.
So what’s new? Well for starters there’s multicore and multiprocessor support, which because it can be toggled on and off, enabled me to run AB comparisons and let me tell you, it makes a huge difference.
Next up, is user’s most frequently requested feature, movie import. Simply drag any QuickTime movie clip onto the arrangement window, et voila. Of course, being Live, that’s not the end of the story, as you can process the movie’s soundtrack in exactly the same way as any other audio track and/or warp your compositions to picture, with the option to watch your movie full frame on a second monitor, whilst doing so.
‘Instrument Racks’ are another of Live’s new headline features. When I first heard about these, I was half expecting to find something akin to Reason inside (if only). Although racks don’t go that far, they’re not a million miles away from Reason’s ‘Combinator’.
Imagine a chain of devices connected to each other in sequence (i.e. the output from one, is patched straight to the input of the next). Place all of your devices in a self contained rack with 8 master knobs, each of which can be assigned to as many of the functions of those devices as you desire and you start to get the idea. Assigning controls is more complex than it needs to be (4 clicks for what could be achieved in one), but once setup, you have some serious tweakability, that is taken to the next level by Live’s new ‘automatic adaptive mapping’…i.e. out of the box support for a long list of popular control surfaces.
There are audio effect racks, MIDI racks and instrument racks (which allow you to combine audio effects, MIDI modules and instruments), the latter two of which offer velocity and key mapping zones, enabling you to quickly and easily create splits, layers and monster stacks. Of course, there’s really no need for three different types of racks. In a studio, there’s just one kind of rack, which can be filled with whatever you want, be it effects, MIDI devices, instruments, or bagels. Live’s racks would be more flexible elegant and simpler, if they followed suit.
Not that setting up a rack is complicated. Just drag an empty one from the browser, drop it on a track, then populate it with modules by dragging them onto it…or, if you want really simple, Live includes a stack of preconfigured racks.
But the most powerful aspect of this new feature is that each track can have multiple racks running in parallel, each of which can be independently muted, soloed and have its volume adjusted, thus combining (nee combinating) the power to create monster sounds, with the flexibility of creating alternates. When you’re not using racks, you can collapse them to a narrow vertical strip, leaving most of your screen real estate intact.
The session view mixer has been enhanced and is now scalable. As you expand it, the session view above becomes scrollable, allowing you to mix on a larger scale, while still being able to see what’s happening next. But although this is a step in the right direction, the mixer is still on the rudimentary side, as there are still only two sends, no mute buttons, trim controls, EQs, etc.
The ability to freeze tracks is hardly new. Most DAWs have been able to do it for a while now, but just to prove that it’s cooler than the average audio app, Live now lets you ‘deep freeze’ them. What’s more, you can continue to edit tracks, whilst they are frozen and flattening them (to transform resource hungry virtual instruments into far less resource hungry audio tracks) is now as simple as clicking a button.
On the FX front, ‘Saturator’ has been improved with the addition of a true analogue saturation curve, a user definable waveshaper and an optional saturator second output stage that ensures the output never exceeds 0 db. Meanwhile, brand new effects include ‘Dynamic Tube’, which does what it says on the tin and ‘EQ 8’, which replaces ‘EQ4’ and offers, unsurprisingly, double the amount of frequency bands, independent adjustment of left/right channels and more besides, whilst retaining backwards compatibility with its EQ4bear.
The boxed version of Live also includes ‘The Essential Instrument Collection’, which I can’t tell you much about, as it’s not included in the downloadable version that’s sent to reviewers.
Finally, there are some important enhancements that will leave you wondering what you did without them. These include project folders, the facility to set warp markers for all tracks at once (perfect for uniformly altering the timing of multitracked sessions) and to warp several tracks at once (e.g. a multitracked drum kit), hot swapping which allows you to quickly and easily swap the sound files in tracks and instruments on the fly, exporting of multiple tracks at once, ‘Audio Master Clips’ which allow any audio or video clip to act as a master tempo track, new filters and algorithms for ‘Operator’, Live’s FM soft synth, which has its uses, but which remains sonically limited because it only has four operators…and a demo version of Ableton’s brand new dedicated soft sampler…‘Sampler’. Designed from the ground up to integrate seamlessly with Live, it does just that, thanks to a common interface which ensure that anyone who is used to working with Live and with samplers will feel at home with it in minutes…I know I did.
All in all, a worthy update. The best just got better.
More info: www.ableton.com
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