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.)