Ableton Live LEIf you’ve been waiting to take the plunge with Ableton Live but couldn’t quite shell out the cash, Ableton wants to talk to you: the new Ableton Live LE runs US$149-199 and includes a pretty significant portion of the features in the full version. This is not “Live Lite”, the stripped-down version that is bundled with many software interfaces (and has only recently started to catch up in version numbers). It’s a new version of Live apparently geared at first-timers.

That’s the good news. The bad news is, rather than reshape the program into an entry level program, Ableton has chosen to cripple certain features — and their choices may make some people pretty unhappy. Nothing to see here, back to the full-price version is kind of my reaction — not that that’s a bad thing, since the full version is pretty darned terrific.

Here’s the brief overview, feature-wise:

  • 64 audio tracks (instead of unlimited as in the full version), unlimited MIDI tracks (so no track count limits, as with Lite)
  • Full 32-bit/192 kHz audio quality
  • Built-in audio effects (apparently the full range, or close to it, of Live’s “delays, filters, distortions, compressors, EQs”, etc.)
  • Simpler sample-based instrument, plus Impulse sampled drum instrument
  • Time stretching and warping of AIFF, WAV, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC
    and MP3 files
  • Multicore, multiprocessor support as with Live
  • In the boxed version ($50 more), you get an LE edition of the Essential Instruments Collection sample library from the full Live, plus Unnatural Selection presets by Puremagnetik

So, what’s the catch? The big limitation is effects plug-ins: LE uses only twelve simultaneous built-in audio effects at once. It supports VST and AU, but you can’t use many at a time. Per project, you can simultaneously use:

  • 12 built-in audio effects
  • 8 built-in instruments
  • 2 AU/VST effects
  • 2 AU/VST instruments

And there’s more (see the comparison chart):

  • No clip envelopes or follow actions. (This one’s important, as it’s part of the Live experience.)
  • No track freeze or render (meaning those plug-in restrictions are really restrictive)
  • Audio I/O limited to 2 mono inputs (1 stereo pair), 4 output (2 stereo pairs)
  • No MIDI output to hardware synths
  • No MIDI sync
  • No support for ReWire
  • No video track
  • You can’t edit Live 6’s excellent instrument and effects racks, presumably because that would defeat the limitations

Live Session ViewThe ReWire thing is an especially big catch. A lighter version of Live might well be a good choice for people who want to occasionally inject Live into another host, like Logic or SONAR. But without ReWire support, that goes away.

I love Live; I recommend it to people all the time and they have always come back really happy. I don’t see myself recommending that people get this version, because I think even beginners will find the limitations frustrating at some point. A common beginner mistake, in fact, is to save money in this way and having a really bad experience when they hit a wall. Sure, there’s an upgrade path to the full version, but I’ve found people are often happy when they choose the tool they want at the outset and invest what they can.

There is one notable exception: I could see people on the DJ side being very happy with this version. They’re the least likely to need lots of plug-ins, video support, multiple audio I/O, external synth support, or ReWire. And for light remixing, this could also be useful.

For everyone else, though, I think if you’re ready for Live, ou’re probably ready for the full version. It’s worth the extra investment.

Live LE [Ableton Product Page]

Updated: How Are the Masses Responding?


The software gurus of KVR Audio are especially livid — or, at best, having some fun at Ableton’s expense:

Meffy quips:

Suggested ad campaign catchphrase:
A little.

Saturdaysaint (sounds like a good racing horse name) writes:

I’m normally an Ableton fan, but the effects limitations are a very bad joke. I would recommend every budget sequencer I can think of (P5, Garageband, Sonar Home Studio, Tracktion, Reaper, etc.) over this.

The Ableton Forums aren’t so pleased, either.

To me, though, this isn’t really such a new thing. The problem is, once you start taking out features, you have to decide what to take out, and it’s almost always impossible to make people happy with that.

  • Yeah, I saw this in the newsletter they sent out yesterday. More tracks are nice–but with these kinds of limitations on effects and ReWire, is it really worth $200 more than Live Lite, which basically comes free with everything (I've got six Live Lite CDs sitting around, I think, just from small hardware purchases).

  • Yeah, just save up your money and buy a used copy of Live 6 off craigslist, ebay or your work's internal for-sale list. got my copy for $200, from someone who didn't know what they were getting when they bought live 5.0,let it sit around the house for several months, and never activated it. Needless to say I bought it from him around the time they were doing the free upgrade to 6.0 and dagnabit I've got me a $200 full version live 6.0.

    I couldn't see using this version for real production or for that matter the kind of live performance i do using live. The live racks + chain selector is a boon to limitless creativity and CPU conservation. And only two instances of vst or au? Holy crap I'd have to chose two from gpo, kontakt, michael norris' spectral plugs, livecut, pluggo, etc… that's damn limiting for a $200 application.

    Now if this were free …

  • seb

    No support of midi sync and output for harware … weird !

  • I agree with you Peter, it would have been much more interesting/exciting had they actually built a reconfigured version of Live for beginners and casual users rather just take stuff out from the full version. Using Live Lite is a frustrating experience, but it is supposed to be. Shelling out $150, I might have lower expectations overall, but I would still expect those frustrations to be gone.

    If I had LE and chose to upgrade, I'd want to make that decision based on a desire to tap in to Live's full potential and access advanced functions, not because LE sucks for all the basic stuff that's missing and I should have known better in the first place. Software boards are going to see a lot "LE is driving me crazy/Upgrade to the real version of Live, cheapskate" threads from now on.

    This is just going to add class divisions among Live users, same thing happens in MPC circles, someone expresses problems with the 500 or 1000, someone comes along and says "get a real MPC, not a toy."

  • As mentioned with Live Lite that you can easily get with a modest hardware purchase, you bring the cost of Ableton Live down significantly. Ableton QUITE regularly has sales on Live usually knocking 50 bucks off it.

    I cannot recall the exact price I paid for Live when I upgraded from Live Lite but it was in the neighbourhood of $200.

    Jones around your local music instrument store. Some kind soul might even flip you a copy of Live Lite so you can get the hefty discount when moving up to the full version.

    Live is a truly remarkable problem and you don't want to use a crippled version of it.

  • ^^ Typo. That should read "Live is a truly remarkable program…"

  • Adrian Anders

    Jeez, LE is something that would be included in a box of cracker jacks (or an audio interface) that would only be good for a new user to give them a taste of the full DAW, before being thrown away or upgraded to something ACTUALLY useful.

    Weaksauce. If you're on a PC buy FL Studio Producer instead.


  • ehdyn

    $200 large for a host that let's you use 2 plug-ins. No-midi sync, or clip envelopes?

    Nice one ableton. My cheques in the mail.

    Project5 seems a much more capable enviornment for starters. Not sure about the new stripped back download though.

  • It's a really big shame you are limited to so few AU/VST instruments and effects! I do not think one can do anything rather serious with this at all.

    GarageBand comes to mind with virtually no limits on instruments and 2 AU effects per track (4 in version 4.0)… Not to mention GB supports scoring video. I am very surprised!

  • I didn't see an upgrade path price mentioned, that's another important part with these 'lite' versions.

  • Well, the title of the article suggests it's DJ friendly. Maybe that's the market for this product. Instead of buying the full product, when all your doing is crossfading beatmatched tracks and using a couple plugins. Sounds like LE would be perfect for that crowd. Maybe they thought there was a large market share in DJ software if they hit a lower price point. Maybe they should have called it Ableton Live DJ. But that's not a very good name. And they probably don't want to exclude non-DJs either. Well, maybe it'll be successful.

  • I installed live lite that came with my trigger finger with the express purpose of learning how to DJ with it – which of course you can only do with WAV files – can you DJ with this thing with Mp3s? but then in the comments here I read theres no midi support, effectively negating the usefullness of DJing with it..

    *heads back to technics decks*

  • ehhh… seems kinda lopsided you know?

  • Lost

    Gotta love being a student. Brand new full version of Live 6 for $250. 🙂

  • bliss

    Instead of calling it Live LE, they should call it Live Sliced. 😉

  • jon

    No ReWire? No thanks.

    Live is an incredible piece of software (or an incredible instrument, depending on how you use it), but this severely cripples it.

    I'd say you'll see folks using it in conjunction with their turntable decks (many that have EQ and effects built in), or just to make really basic mashups and wedding playlists. I think I'm going with the standard version.

  • sasarasa88

    Regarding the limitation in the number of plugins, on the PC side one can always use Xlutop Chainer. It works stand-alone or as a VST plugin and allows to host 10 chains of 10 plugins each. One can also recursively insert Chainer as a plugin in one of their own slots, allowing for a number of plugins only limited by your cpu power.

    FLStudio can run as a VST plugin as well.

  • sasarasa88

    Continuing with the above, Hermann Seib's VSTHost and its VSTHost Slavery Suite may also be useful to overcome the plugin limitation.


  • Sasarasa88: But then you still only get two instances of Chainer, or Phrazor, or whatever VST rack you use. It's nice to know that I could have two well-seasoned tracks instead of two single plugins, but it's still no replacement for a useful piece of software.

    Hell, you can get Cubase LE (LE, not SE, Peter) free with a Lexicon interface, or you can spend $100 on Sonar Home Studio, and either one will give you better options than this will, especially with a free copy of Live Lite ReWired in.

    It's a silly choice of restriction. I'd take fewer tracks, or less flexible infrastructure (no multicore support, fewer built-in effects), before putting a limit on the total number of plugins.

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  • when i saw the ableton newsletter in my inbox yesterday i was totally hoping for some announcement…. maybe about their C.74 partnership… but instead we got this.

    i admit that it's a cool way for people to get into Live for a slightly lower price tag but just not as exciting an announcement as i hoped.


  • Maybe the Ableton guys want to encourage people to use JACK instead of ReWire? Granted, no MIDI routing, but audio works as well if not better than ReWire, and it works with all (or more or less all) CoreAudio apps whether they know about ReWire or JACK or not.

  • I wonder…what's the point of having unlimited MIDI tracks and only 10 virtual instruments (8 built-in + 2 AU/VST) and NO MIDI output?!?

  • Paul, and they can use ReaRoute on Windows, too… 😉

  • In regards to using Mp3's, Live 'seems' to use Mp3's until users wonder why they run out of HD space and realize it simply renders it to wav in the default Live temporary audio directory.

    Also on the dj'ing front, this supports Midi control (input) just not output to hardware synths etc (as has been said).

  • boxguy

    This is only made for people to buy and later regret.

  • Yes LE has a lot of limitations, but I still believe it has a value proposition (not as good as everyone wants, including myself). I am very eager to start using Live for some hobby-ish DJ'ing stuff, up until now I was only using Renoise (and will continue to do so). But I'm just a low-budget amateur hobbyist, and the $500 price tag has really been putting me off.

    Also I don't know a lot of other people in the music biz. that might give me a Lite CD. When I go and buy my MIDI controller I don't want to be restricted to only choosing from those that bundle Lite. So for me this would be a perfect way to start.

    And Ableton will soon provide an upgrade path, which is perfect should my Live skills expand beyond the limitations of LE: "Upgrade. Upgrades from Live 6 LE to the full version of Live are coming soon. Subscribe to the Ableton newsletter to stay informed."

  • Kyran

    Even for dj's it's a bit limited. You only get 8 scenes. So you'll have to stack multiple audio tracks, but then you'll bump into the plugin limitation if you use anything but the live included ones (and even then you might run out fast, if you use an eq and a filter on each of your say 4 audio tracks)

    Also note that they left out one time-stretching mode, which I think will turn out to be the complex warping

  • "I wonder…what’s the point of having unlimited MIDI tracks and only 10 virtual instruments (8 built-in + 2 AU/VST) and NO MIDI output?!?"

    ableton's midi plugins are unlimited… so have like 900 different arpeggiators feeding to both of your external vst's and have fun.

    what would actually be kind of fun, is to have a challenge for us live 6 full users to make a track within the limitations of Live6LE. see how far we can take it.

  • Tricil, I like the way you think. 🙂

    Note on the routing stuff: inter-app MIDI won't work anyway, since LE can't receive MIDI clock or, evidently, transmit MIDI.

  • Toronaga: Consider putting an ad up on Craigslist. I guarantee you that someone has an extra copy of Live Lite that they can give you.

  • a.m. gold

    It's not just the limitations on effects. LiveLE's eight scenes are barely enough to write a complete song incorporating a break, turnarounds, coda, etc.–and no rendering. I've been waiting to upgrade from Lite, guess I'll keep waiting and saving.

  • I've been a Live user since the first release, and have shelled out quite a bit over the years to keep current with each new release. Do I mind? Considering it's now the heart of my laptop based setup, not one bit.

    Contrast this with friends (usually DJ's) who I turn on to the whole music software thing. While I don't endorse this move, more often than not, they start with a cracked version of Live to get their feet wet. Would a $150 version of Live convince them otherwise? In many cases, I'd say yes. Especially if the upgrade pricing offered a bit of a discount.

    If I'm not mistaken, the retail price for Live has risen a bit over the years – I certainly don't remember paying a whole lot for the original version. $500-600 is a lot to ask of a casual, first time user.

  • Street price is just under US$500. Don't know what the going rate is in other parts of the world. But yes, I agree that it makes absolute sense to have a $150 version.

    This is always a challenge, though. You don't want to cannibalize the sales of the main product. Maybe you don't have the development resources to build something new for the entry level (as Apple did with GarageBand, Steinberg did with Segue, etc.), and maybe you want to give them your main product anyway as a hook into the full version. So you start taking things out. What do you take out? If you don't take out things that really do have value, you endanger the higher-end product.

    Unfortunately, that does make these limited edition products far less meaningful, because they have what are essentially arbitrary limitations. It's not a problem unique to Ableton, either. And since their two major synths are already unbundled (Operator and Sampler), there wasn't so much to remove.

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  • poopoo

    Limitations are a good thing. Working within a set of constraints encourages creative solutions, besides 10 instruments and 14 effects is a LOT more than are used on many fantastic recordings.

    Small wonder KVRites don't like it, those guys are OCD on the VST

  • "Note on the routing stuff: inter-app MIDI won’t work anyway, since LE can’t receive MIDI clock or, evidently, transmit MIDI"

    Peter: that only applies to external midi

    you can't Ext MIDI OUT

    but internal, all day, hence 900 arpegiators

  • Right, but you can't transmit external MIDI to other applications, just as you can't transmit outside the computer (the inter-app driver will look like just another external device to Live).

    Assuming there aren't limitations on MIDI devices, though, you're absolutely right.

    I love the idea of an all-arpeggiator set. 🙂

  • Richard

    what are live scenes?

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  • Jesse

    Will LE work for me. I just want to use a MIDI external mixer to make DJ mixes at home. I also only have mp3's. Is it true you can only mix with WAV??

    Then I want to go back into the mix and make adjustments and possible make loops and edit for my final cut pro projects.

    Will LE work for me?