Ableton Live 5 doesn’t ship with any new instruments; it’s limited to slightly-upgraded versions of its bare-bones sampler and drum machine, Simpler and Impulse. Both of those are great fun to use, but people longing for a deeper, playable instrument with an Ableton interface would want to consider Operator, Ableton’s a la carte synth. So is it worth US$149 for an Ableton-only instrument plug-in?

Basically, upsides: easy, minimalist interface, great FM and subtractive sounds, integrated with Live. Downsides: no built-in effects, no true syncable LFO, only runs in Live. (With Live 5, I don’t think you’ll miss the effects, though.) For more details, check the reviews:

My review for Keyboard Magazine: “It sounds absolutely fantastic, it’s exquisitely well-documented and easy to use, really versatile, and all in a single-window interface that takes up a tiny portion of your screen. It’s no match for Native Instruments FM7 in synthesis power, but that’s a good thing: In contrast to FM7’s complex routing setup and multi-screen interface, Operator is easy to suss out and navigate — at half of FM7’s cost.”

Greg Geller’s review for Future Music:
“With all these fabulous parameters to tweak, you would think you need to have multiple arms like Shiva, but that’s where Ableton’s Everything Must Be Automated, philosophy really shines. Almost all parameter moves can be recorded and this allows for detailed sonic manipulation.”

Jesse Terry’s review for Remix Magazine: “If you own Live 4, you probably already know about Operator and lust for it. If you don’t, it’s another reason to buy Live and add a great weapon to your sonic arsenal.”

Don’t forget the free sounds! The Ableton user forums have come up with not one but two volumes of free sounds for Operator; see a previous CDM story. (I just hope all our presets work with Live 5 — we’ll know soon.)

  • erichmond

    Covert Ops Vol 3 is out as well.

    Expect a Device Chain laden Vol 4 forthcoming as well 🙂

  • erichmond

    too many "as well"s. sorry.

  • theo

    I agree with your review except I do not think that Operator sounds "fantastic".

    I know its very subjective but the sound did not really grab me. Besides on a 1Ghz – G4 there was crackling on many of the presets. No crackiling on a dual 2 Ghz though.

    I ended up buying LinPlug "Albino"

  • admin

    Hi Theo — not sure what was causing your "crackling" problem, but I'm pretty sure it's not Operator. Unless you're trying for massive polyphony and maxing out your whole CPU (got lots of clips and fx running by any chance?), that is. I tested Operator on three machines: 1 GHz G4 PowerBook, dual-2.5GHz G5 Power Mac, and 1.4 GHz Pentium M Toshiba laptop running Windows XP. Flawless performance on all three. As with any soft synth, you may have to manage your CPU for complex scenarios, lots of polyphony, or balancing the instrument with other active processor load (like running lots of clips and fx).

    Of course, the sound is subjective, but my test isn't presets — it's whether I can quickly produce a sound, tweak it, and have something that's rich and cutting. For me, Operator has done the trick, and I think it's going to be all the more useful with Live 5's new audio effects and preset management. A lot of the new Live 5 features are actually going to make a big difference for Operator even though they don't impact it directly.

    Of course, Albino's good stuff, too!

    (enough of me — what do the rest of y'all think?)


  • Robdrums

    Hey guys,

    I checked with Ableton live support and I had major crackling sounds in live 6 running vista…. I also had it in xp pro. I asked them about it and they believe it's a driver issue, they will be working on updates to fix this issue. My reason 3.0 and Sonar run mint. YOu can get the new Sonar 6.2 update for free from cakewalks site.

    I was scared that Live would wreck my motu ultralite so I'm uninstalled it, til they fix this problem, I'll just use Sonar for now and reason, that's all I need