Ableton Live 8 - a Review
A little about Ableton Live 8
Ableton Live 8 is pricey. At just under four-and-a-half crisp, one-hundred-dollar bills, you'd have to win Bozo Buckets five times to be able to afford it. For that price, any number of industry-leading DAWs could be your's. So why is it one of the most popular audio workstations this side of Pro Tools? As a new Live user, I recently found out.
Live is more than a workstation. It's a sequencer, a sampler, an instrument, and it can replace your band when your drummer sleeps with your girlfriend... and your bass player. Live will also cure your cancer.
Ok, Live can't cure cancer (though some would have you think it can). But it's a tool that no modern DJ should go without trying, because it might change the way you produce. The real advantage of working with Live is the creativity it can induce with its hot-swapability. Any effect, any midi clip, any loop can be swapped on the fly with another, potentially changing your arrangement into a completely different beast. This opens up the possibility of arranging beats on the fly and letting your creativity go wild, instead of just moving clips around in a sequencer.
As Live is marketed as a do-it-all godsend, you'd expect it to come with some pretty cool instruments. And it does. The drum kits are fantastic, and every sound can be manipulated with lazer precision. The effects are nice, too. The compressor, while not the best I've heard, has an almost-perfect GUI with visible gain reduction in meter and graph format. Reverbs sound authentic, but other modulating effects sound tinny and thin. I came away with an overall organic feeling, though, with analog-esque sounds running through my head.
As a new user, I like the help box in the lower left corner of the screen. Every option is well documented along with the keyboard shortcut for the applicable scenario. The look and feel of Live, though, will be foreign to some Windows users. The file explorer is rubbish, and some actions seem counter-intuitive to the way Windows works. Ableton Live for Windows, though, is a direct port from the Mac version, so a learning curve is expected. What wasn't expected was the delay between adding tracks and effects and seeing them on screen. Unfortunately, Live's methodology of allowing complex changes on the fly forces a long loading time for new audio elements. This may be a deal-breaker for those that don't work on the fly but rather like to try hundreds of different loops or effects before settling on one.
Another deal-breaker may be the look of the arranger. For some reason, Ableton gave audio clips a transparent background, so the only thing separating your bass hook and empty space is a little black waveform. Why they didn't give loops a white background is beyond me, but it's more than annoying.
Whether or not you buy Live should be based on how your produce. If you can be more creative while actually playing a beat, then Live might open up doors that would otherwise be closed. If you'd rather just arrange loops and midi clips, then I can think of 10 programs that are cheaper than Live (and a few that are better). Then again, if you're starting from scratch and don't have a huge library of instruments, the instrument pack alone is probably worth half of those crisp, one-hundred-dollar bills.