Percussa micro super signal processor

Time signatures in Live

It’s the little things that matter. Hallelujah, Live 7 finally allows time signatures in Session View. Want more complex rhythms? Want full sets of songs in a single Session? Now it’s possible. There’s also time signature support in Arrangement view, which while anything but revolutionary, is a big relief.

With various applications running roughly an annual release schedule, and lots of competition for attention, just what would it take to get me excited about an upgrade to Ableton Live? My list would look something like this:

  • Time signatures in Session View scenes, so you can create songs that switch meter or put sets of songs into one big Session file
  • The ability to nudge tempo up and down, for electronic music / DJing / changing tempo live for other reasons. (Not everyone wants to stay at 133bpm for four hours.)
  • Side-chaining for Compressor, Gate, and Auto Filter
  • Anti-aliased processing in Operator, Dynamic Tube, and Saturator, so when you don’t want them to sound glitchy and digital, you have an option
  • Export video (warped and unwarped) to files, so Live becomes an alternative video editor and a real scoring tool
  • View more than one lane of automation at a time in Arrangement view. (Come on, occasionally you must want to look at volume and a delay setting at the same time, yeah?

That actually basically sums up my wish list for Live, especially the ability to mix meters. I’m not just writing avant-garde music or doing Yes remixes, either; I’ve even heard DJs complain about that.

Is this the full feature list for Live 7? No way. Is this what you’d use to market Live? Absolutely not. Is this, item for item, exactly what I would wish for in a new version of Live? Heck, yes. I expect your list may look different, but personally, I love upgrades that address the little things that make a good tool into a great tool. I can’t wait to get my hands on the first beta to see how the implementation feels, and see if it’s as good in practice as it looks on paper … or pixels, anyway.

And in the “something I’d wish for if I had imagined to wish for it,” there’s also a new range of Live instruments based on Applied Acoustics’ fantastic physical models for analog synths, electric pianos, and plucked-string instruments. In the form of Analog Studio, Lounge Lizard, and String Studio, respectively, those represent to me some of the best-sounding software synths available, and unquestionably the best realistic physical models of strings that are commercially available. They’re reborn as Live synths.

Spectrum view in Live 7

Spectrum View is a powerful new feature for impressing people at clubs as they look over your shoulder; I’ll be mirroring my display and running it to a projector …erm… you know, doing serious Audio Things. Like adding Doubly.

The only potential disappointments: Ableton still isn’t talking about the fruits of their collaboration with Cycling ’74, though I expect we may hear that information soon. And Ableton’s timing isn’t so hot: they just introduced a bundle of all the new instruments with Live itself for US$999, calling it Live Suite. A month ago, that would have been competitively priced with Apple’s Logic Studio, except — whoops. Now Logic Studio costs just US$499. Ableton isn’t in the comfortable position of selling computers as well as software, as Apple is (to say nothing of phones or, erm, pods), but I imagine this will still make this a slightly tougher sell, at least on the Mac. I don’t think it’s a deal killer for Live or Live Suite, but I figured I’d mention it before you do in comments. (Okay, now, go ahead; tell us what you think.) On the other hand, hey, it’s Live, and Logic still isn’t Live. If you don’t need the extra instruments, Live’s cost is the same as it ever was, and the a la carte approach can absolutely mean you don’t wind up with things you don’t need.

And speaking of Live, there’s quite a lot more in Live 7 itself — some potentially more exciting than the new instruments. Here’s the feature list:

The host itself is improved:

  • New audio engine: 64-bit mix summing, POW-r dithering, optimized sample-rate conversion. (This could please those who said Live mixes were sounding flat on output, and brings Live closer to tools like SONAR — though SONAR has fully 64-bit processing, not just mix summing, I’m still happy with just this.)
  • New MIDI engine: more accurate timing for recorded MIDI. (You’ll still have to contend with your hardware MIDI interface and drivers, which can be pretty variable, but at least Live will be more accurate!)
  • New compression models for Compressor, including a vintage model.
  • Improved EQ Eight, also with a 64-bit mode.
  • Spectral eye candy: new Spectrum analyzer.
  • New automatic memory management for loading big sample libraries.

External MIDI in Live 7

External MIDI integration: Again, it’s all about the little things. Other softwares have had a crack at making it easy to integrate external MIDI gear into a setup, but Live 7 does it in a very … Ableton-y way. It looks lovely, and this being CDM, we’ll be doing something unnatural with it, like hooking up a Wacom tablet or robotic arm or Nintendo DS. Send your suggestions to the site staff.

Beat lovers, rejoice, as you’ve got a delicious Beat Lovers’ Pizza coming your way:

  • New Drum Rack for easier management of drums, with sends/returns/submixes, individual routing to the mixer, and plug-ins / effects chains on individual drum pads. (Okay, that definitely got my interest — software drum machine ninjas, let’s fight back against those hardware snobs!)
  • Drag-and-drop REX files, and a new slicing feature that cuts up REX or audio loop files and loads them onto the Drum Rack. I’ve actually messed about with similar features on hardware from Roland and others; nice to see it integrated with Live.

The new Ableton Instruments are likely to become the banner theme of this release. But doing insane stuff with the Drum Rack could be what makes this version of Live really fun, and holds its place as a … erm … beat factory? Electro-machine? You know. Samplers and electronica fans alike are likely to really enjoy this functionality; in fact, it makes me thing of trying to simplify what I do with Session View and focus on putting samples and patterns into drum racks.

Now, about those instruments: as opposed to Simpler/Sampler, Operator, and Impulse, each of which was developed in-house, the new Live synths all involve some other collaborator. And with physical modeling in the AAS synths front and center, we should have the kind of organic sound that’s tended to be lacking in flatter-sounding (though fun) instruments like Operator.

First, there are the three synths I mentioned that use the AAS engine. Apparently, these have filters, modulation, and effects from Ableton. Exactly how that works out, we’ll have to see; I’m pretty familiar with the AAS synths so you can expect a full comparison.

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You, too, will be assimilated: Some software manufacturers just license plug-ins or buy out plug-in developers and re-release existing software. Ableton has done quite the opposite: the Applied Acoustics physical modeling sound engines are there, but everything else about these plugs screams Live. Is that an upgrade, a downgrade, or just something different? We’ll have to see.

  • Tension: physical modeling string synth, as found in String Studio; simulates pick, bow, and hammer excitation of a string.
  • Electric: models electric pianos, a la AAS Lounge Lizard. There’s recently been new competition from Digidesign, but this much I feel pretty strongly: modeled electric pianos tend to be more fun to play than sampled instruments.
  • Analog: models analog synths, a la AAS Ultra Analog, with alias-free oscillators, multi-mode filters, syncable LFOs, looping envelope generators, and so on — hooked up to Live’s pattern magic, this could be wild, and again, because it’s built into Live, you can drop your entire Live set into a ReWire host and still use it.

In soundware land are some new sampled instruments:

  • Session Drums: Multisampled drums … not unlike the library recently introduced with Reason, these “put you in the engineer’s seat” with samples from different mic locations, etc. (Okay, actually, I’m fairly certain Propellerheads even put that same phrase in their marketing, but the idea isn’t new, I suppose. Anyway, that’s been the opposite of the quirky samples that ship with Live, so it’ll be interesting to hear these.) This library comes not from Sonivox, but ChocolateAudio, makers of “Imperial Drums.”
  • Drum Machines: Yeah, enough already about realistic, studio-sampled drums. You want some retro-sounding drum machines? The gang at PureMagnetik, who have already created some terrific soundware for Live, can hook you up. And they promise it’s tweakable, so I’ll be tweaking.
  • Orchestral Strings, Brass, Woodwinds, Percussion, plus Essential Instrument Collection 2: These continue the soundware from Sonivox. The samples chosen for Live 6, honestly, were a bit uneven — it was one of my only criticisms of the last version of Live when I reviewed it. So, some additional soundware could help round things out.

Now, the details:

Availability

Q4 of this year, with a public beta coming soon. (Initial beta begins immediately, including me, and apparently I’m not under NDA, so expect some sneak peaks. I find using released software for music making boring. I love crashing onstage. So, count me in!)

Pricing

Individual instruments are available a la carte, though again, they’re not plug-ins, so they only work with Live. The AAS instruments are all US$159; the others range from US$79 for Drum Machines (heck, on eBay all that’ll get you is the broken shell of a 303) to US$249 for Woodwinds to $799 for the full Orchestral Bundle.

If you unlock Live 6 or the upgrade version starting October 1, you’ll get Live 7 for free, and discounts on the instrument bundles.

Live 7 itself remains $499 for the download version, or $599 list for the boxed version with extra sounds.

The Suite includes everything minus the orchestral library, for either US$799 download (not including the big multisample libraries, Session Drums and Essential Instrument Collection 2), or $999 (with all that extra soundware).

Upgrades run $119-159 for Live, and bundles for $299-$459 with the extra stuff, so existing users do get quite a nice price break.

Having made the comparison to Logic, now that Logic has set a new low price for this sort of thing, I think it’s worth saying that Live is a different program with a different way of working. If that way of working is what you want, the two aren’t really comparable.

We’ll have more on what’s in Live very soon; stay tuned.

Okay, that wasn’t actually all that quick.