Okay, Ableton lovers, Berlin has been busy again: Live 5.2 is in beta now, with a final version set to ship next month, including bugfixes and Mac Intel support. Around the corner, Live 6 is due in the third quarter of the year, with improvements Windows users will care about, too. Here’s a look at the details: it’s mostly good news, unless you’re a Mac user on a tight budget and want a new Intel machine.

Updated: A reader points out in comments that you do get you upgrade price refunded when you upgrade to Live 6, so Ableton is being quite reasonable here — that’s something I don’t expect Apple will do with their fee for the Logic update. Still, you should consider the full cost of upgrading if you buy an Intel machine. More on this over the coming weeks as we learn more about the general state of Mactel audio. -PK

The good news (for Mactel early adopters): Live 5.2 is in beta now, one of the first apps to be available for Apple’s new Intel-based machines. The upcoming Live 6 will deliver full multicore/multiprocessor architectural improvements for bigger performance gains on chips like the Core Duo.

The bad news (for Mactel early adopters): Mac users will have to upgrade VST plug-ins to VST 2.4 versions; using incompatible plug-ins is not recommended. (The same is true of Audio Units and any other Mac hosts: you need Universal binaries of everything.) So this could be a pretty bumpy and/or expensive road, depending on how many plug-ins you own. And every indication is that you won’t get your upgrades for free; Ableton is charging Intel Mac customers US$49 for Live 5.2. (PowerPC-based 5.2 upgraders and anyone who bought Live 5 after Apple’s Macworld Expo announcement on January 10 do get a free ride.) That in itself isn’t such bad news, but if all your plug-in developers charge $50 or more for an upgrade, that could add up fast, I imagine.

The good news (for PC users): Multicore/multiprocessor improvements in Live 6 will benefit any of these systems, including those from Intel and AMD. (And the one thing I will say for the PC platform, as usual, Windows users have a lot more choices in hardware, like the smoking new AMD CPUs.) So PC users have plenty to look forward to, all without being forced to upgrade their software and plug-ins — sorry, Mac users.

The really good news — for everyone: You know, I’m pretty happy with my PowerPC-based Macs and my PC, as I’m sure are many of you, so let’s get to the really juicy stuff — Ableton is promising to ship Live 6 in Q3 2006. No word yet on new features (other than multiprocessor/multicore optimization), but previous versions have indicated Ableton likes to give its customers things they’re asking for, so I look forward to finding out what’s in there. In the meantime, while 5.2 has no new features, it does have some decent bugfixes and tweaks, so non-Mactel users will want to watch for the final release next month.

Intel-Mac support announcement from Ableton, with 5.2 and 6 details [Ableton.com]