Review: Ableton Live v2.0







    In december (2002) Ableton came up with a major upgrade of Live to version 2.0. Since the introduction of version 1.0 (and the upgrade to 1.5, both reviewed earlier in AudioMac), Live has concurred the world of live performance artists, studio professionals and post production technicians. This could happen because of the great ease of use by introducing a new concept (and not trying to renew the old), the reason we gave this product a well deserved 10.

    The new version offers enhancements to the performance and jamming features. But the major renew is -without doubt- the addition of multi track recording and editing with -what Ableton describes as-"Elastic Audio". Elastic Audio refers to Live 2's capability of independent control over tempo and pitch. This allows tempo to be set at anytime during performance and playback, and during recording as well.

    Multi track recording and editing turns the Arranger view into a full blown multi track recording and editing suite. Major features are real-time effects (including VST), dynamic parameter automation and unlimited undo. Recording can be initiated directly from the Arranger window.

    The Tap Tempo feature allows you to tap tempo during recording and playback. Tempo changes are recordable and editable as a continuous curve. This increases flexibility and creative efficiency for looping, synchronizing, improvising and recording. Ableton managed to program this in a very smart way, which brings you the benefit of fast processing. This is not only convenient while working, but is also convenient for your studio finances. It reduces production times significantly. Very good.

    You can drop in recordings, loops and complete songs that will play in sync, direct from disk. Live 2 makes it possible to synchronize loops and recordings of any length at any time. Also, time stretching is no longer limited to loops but can now be applied to any audio material. Furthermore, time stretching algorithms have been optimized to produce the best fidelity for rhythmic or melodic material.

    AudioMac was maybe the first to state that Live is a great tool in professional studio's. You can read this back in the 1.0 and 1.5 review. Ever since, a lot of studio pro's told the Ableton company the same, and said that Live would even be a greater studio tool when multi track recording features would be added. Well, it seems that Ableton listened to these guys (and hopefully us too). It's there, and it works fine.

    Mixing samples with your own singing or playing is easy and makes quickly adding your stuff to e.g. an existing mix a snap. The multi track recording feature makes Live 2 a good and easy tool for production transportation between studio and stage. You even can record live sound of your enthusiastic audience at the dance party while performing on stage if you like. Preserved your Mac or PC is strong enough, and has a lot of hard disk space of course. You can "arm" tracks for recording, and start the recording at any moment you like while performing. Live records incoming audio on all armed tracks. It records session clip playing, and mixer and affects changes, as well. All these can be edited afterwards in the Arranger. Very flexible.



    * The new "arm track for recording" switch opens a whole new world of flexible and editable mulitracking functionality within Live.

    Other new features.
    Other new features of version 2 are advanced automation handling, DJ-like cross-fading, Relative Session Mapping, assignable scene up/down and track launch buttons, tempo and transport controls can be mapped to MIDI-keys, presets to save and recall effect settings. Plus two new effects: Gate, and Redux. On Ableton's website, we found a more detailed feature list:

    Elastic Audio:
    - Selectable warping modes for clean stretching of all types of audio
    - Recordable tempo changes and a continuous tempo envelope
    - Tempo tapping
    - Ability to bypass time-stretching for individual clips or recordings
    New Comprehensive Studio Tool:
    - Easy, tape-style multi track recording with punch in / out and metronome
    - Super-fast arranger navigation
    - Better handling of non-looping clips
    - Improved automation handling and editing for fast parameter access
    - Enhanced file management
    Smarter Jamming:
    - Relative Session Mapping
    - DJ-mixer-like cross fading between tracks
    - Full screen mode allowing more space for Live
    - Improved Prelisten / Solo functionality
    Effects:
    - Presets can now save and recall effect settings
    - Loads of ready-to-go presets for all Live effects
    - New Gate and Redux effects
    Other:
    - New Bus View with input gains and mono/stereo selectors
    - Improved mixer UI - makes more tracks visible on screen
    - Dedicated Input Monitoring / Recording buttons in each track
    - Map Tempo and Transport controls to MIDI or keyboard
    - Reception of MIDI from multiple ports
    - Bug Fixes and performance optimization

    To get an idea of the user interface, we have two links for you. When arrived at the Ableton website, just point to the various parts of the interface image. All info will pop up automatically.

    Jamming.
    Arranging.

    The Gate and Redux plug-in.
    Ableton added two new plug ins to come standard with Live 2: Gate and Redux. Gate does what every gate does, no further explanation needed. Something special is the Redux plug-in. Redux enables you to recall sweet audio quality memories like the sound quality of Ensoniq Mirage, Fairlight CMI, or Commodore-64 computer. Redux returns us to the Dark Ages of digital by reducing a signal's sample rate and bit resolution. The Downsample section has two parameters: "Samples,'' and an unlabeled Mode switch.


    * The new Gate and Redux plug ins.

    If (in Redux) samples is set to "1,'' every input sample passes to the output and the signal does not change. If set to "2,'' only every second sample will be processed, so the result sounds a bit more "digital.'' The higher the number, the lower the resulting sample rate, and the more "deconstructed'' the sound. Downsampling is like applying a mosaic effect to an image: there's a loss of information, and sharp edges occur between the blocks. The mode switch defines if the downsampling either interpolates over a smaller range ("Soft,'' down to 20.0 samples) or doesn't interpolate over a larger range ("Hard,'' down to 200 samples). In the screenshot, the switch is set to "Soft". A nice plug in you can use to create "audio classic effects" in your production, but also to put in weird effects in e.g. dance productions.

    Conclusion.
    With version 2, Ableton has enriched Live with even more functionality and flexibility than was the case in the already so strong previous editions of this software. Now, Live is not only a very strong performance machine with studio capabilities. The flexible multi tracking turns Live 2 into a strong multi tracking environment for for the professional studio. The enhancements and new functions turn Live 2.0 into a true heavy weight audio production environment, that can be put on a portable and be used on party location at the same time. Fit for both studio and stage, a unique combination. Version 1 already was a revolution, version 2 is yet another one. A refreshing and strong concept.

    In our opinion just a few minor minors: Live still does not support the SD II audio format when rendering to disk. SD II is as we all know widely used in studio environments. Would be nice to see this in the next upgrade, thus making Live even more of value for those studios where SD II is in every day use. And the MP3 support, we asked for in the previous review above, still has to come too. MP3 has become a widely accepted audio format for professional productions as well, e.g. for displaying your musical work on a website on the Internet, or for delivery of productions to radio stations that stream on the net. We not still have to use a separate MP3-convertor, which is no disaster but not very convenient either. And maybe another idea: support for Dolby Surround 5.1 On the PC platform, it was just announced by Sonic Foundry under Acid 4. On the Mac platform, we are still waiting for this enhancement. So, guys in the programming department: like we said before, back to work ;-).

    The 10 we valued Live earlier stands once again. Ableton delivers strong value for a reasonable amount of money. No doubt about that.

    A demo version of Live 2.0 can be downloaded at following URL:
    http://www.ableton.com/download.

    Pricing and availability info can be found at that manufacturers website:
    http://www.ableton.com/.

    All reviews in AudioMac.net are written by Peter J. Bloemendaal. All rights reserved.

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    20-12-2002