Ableton Live is a powerful digital audio workstation for live performances. Ableton provides a stable DAW that is ideal for creatives looking to experiment and build audio projects. It has an extensive sound library, a long list of plug-ins, and it's on par with industry standards for cost and level of service. There are three different versions of Live 9 – Intro, Standard, and Suite – and Ableton Live 10 is expected to be rolled out within the next three months. Don't worry though: If you purchase Live 9 now, you can automatically upgrade to Live 10 at no added cost once it's released. While Intro and Suite come with varying features at two different prices, Ableton Live Standard comes packed with everything a musician or business owner needs to produce music or audio projects.
Ableton Live is equipped with all the features needed for producing music and supporting musicians during a live performance. It also includes Ableton Link so you can collaborate with other musicians on the same project from multiple devices. For that reason, this digital audio workstation earns our best pick for Live Performance.
Ableton is available in three price points (at the time this review was published) with varying features and sounds: $99, $449 and $749. The Standard version is the main version we reviewed and is ideal for individual musicians and small business owners looking for a DAW that can support them during a live performance. The $99 Intro version comes with four software instruments, more than 1,500 sounds and almost 30 effects. The $749 version has more advanced features, like more than 50 effects and over 5,000 sounds.
Live 9 Standard is on par with other DAWs of its size and power. In some instances, it's even packed with more features compared to other offerings, especially when it comes to supporting musicians during live performances. For those on the fence about Ableton, the company offers a 30-day free trial.
While Ableton Live's focus is on live performance, there are other features that make it an ideal DAW for recording and mixing audio. Its included sounds and effects add another great aspect to this program that make it a good choice for uses beyond live performance. Live comes with a built-in feature that matches two selected audio clips. This allows musicians to quickly drag and drop different sounds and have them automatically sync up.
- Ease of use. Ableton's design is intuitive and easy to navigate. While Live 9's interface looks dated compared to competitors, it's still a powerful tool that's easy to understand. Expect a facelift once Live 10 is released. What separates Ableton from competitors, however, is its session view. The session view is divided into columns instead of rows and doesn't follow the standard left-to-right timeline. This unique view adds another dimension to Ableton's service – users can easily experiment and save work without even pressing the Record button while in Session View.
- Sound library. Live 9 Standard comes with five software instruments and over 1,800 sounds. While it features less instruments compared to some competitors, Live 9 syncs with all main file types so you can add more sounds with ease. Also, while the sound library is substantial, it's not the main draw of this program.
- Plug-ins and effects. There are 34 audio effects and eight MIDI effects included in Live 9 Standard. Users can also add plug-ins and effects. Ableton Live does not support the VST3 plug-in format, however.
- Support. Live is backed by Ableton's support system. Users can troubleshoot in Ableton's online community, forum or frequently asked question sections. There's also a YouTube channel with Ableton Live tutorials and other how-tos. The company also offers a direct line for both customer service and technical support. The company has offices in the U.S. and Europe, so both technical support and customer service is available from 3 a.m. to 1 p.m. PST. Ableton also offers certified courses to learn how to use the software.
- Live doesn't integrate with VST3 plug-ins.
- Phone support isn't offered after 1 p.m. PST.
Ableton Live's flexible interface and dynamic session view allows musicians and business owners to create music on the fly. Its sound library and wide range of effects makes it an ideal DAW for users looking for support during a live performance. Live was tailored for musicians looking to quickly create music and bolster their sound with a DAW, and its list of built-in features reflects that.
Ableton offers reliable support and an extensive knowledge base so you can learn to use the program easily. Expect to see the new version of this software, Live 10, in early 2018.