Ableton Live 10 Review
Berlin’s finest is back with its biggest release yet
The pace of change within music technology is frightening at times. In a good way, of course. One minute we’re bashing out takes on our trusty four-tracks, the next it’s fully digital, automated mega-studios housed within a computer we can throw in a backpack.
Ok, that’s probably a bit over the top, but the point stands. Music tech has taken advantage of huge advancements in consumer electronics – even implementing certain features for itself -and we, the humble users, have benefitted hugely.
One particular advancement has been the growth of digital audio workstation (DAW). At the forefront of the DAW explosion has been a software house based in Berlin called Ableton. It’s ‘Live’ software application has been the go-to guy of innumerable studios, artists and producers for well over a decade now.
But while the music tech world has changed, Ableton risked getting caught in the slipstream. It’s flagship software hadn’t been up-issued since 2013 – although, in the interest of fairness, we should point out that Ableton does indeed release regular and extremely generous updates for free. But a new version? Nothing. Until now, that is.
In February 2018, we were graced by the newest edition in the Live canon. Ableton Live 10 arrived, promising a host of workflow advancements, new features and a big serving of shiny newness that we all know and love. Let’s take a look at some of those improvements in this Ableton Live 10 review.
Once you’ve gone through the licence update/registration process, which is smooth and pain-free as you’d hope, you’re greeted by a familiar screen. Yep, save for a slightly different font, Live looks much the same as Live ever did. Which is no bad thing; why reinvent the wheel when it turns just fine, thanks all the same. There are some new themes present to aid those using the app in dark environments, but otherwise experienced users will find little to complain about here.
First launch provides us with the familiar right-hand sidebar that points out some of the new features in Live 10. This is worth poking your head into, even if just for a cursory glance at some of the new toys.
Chief among them are the new synth instrument, Wavetable, and the new effects. We’ll come onto these more shortly, but it’s good to see the innovation continuing apace. The other main addition is the integration of the superb sound-mangling experimentalist’s dream Max For Live. Anyone who’s delved into Max knows the potential (and potential learning curve) on offer but it’s nice to see this unique tool given more prominence.
Ableton, as we know, has diversified in the time since Live 9. We’ve seen the arrival of two different iterations of its complementary hardware accompaniment, Ableton Push. If you’ve not had chance to play with Push yet, we’d highly recommend doing so. It essentially takes everything that makes Live so useful and transplants it onto a sleek hardware unit with which you can control, perform and produce your masterpieces.
Over time, Ableton gradually added more functionality to Live 9 which enhanced how it worked with Push. Live 10 takes things further. By specifically designing certain features so they work with Push, the harmony between hardware and software is evident in some amazing ways. For example, a new step sequencing layout displays notes on the two screens, meaning it’s now a serious contender for the crown previously hogged by Native Instruments’ Maschine devices.
Every software generation brings with it new toys to tinker around with, and Live 10 is no different. Of particular note is the new wavetable synth device. This takes waveforms from analog-modelled sources and allows an unprecedented amount of control over everything. It’s pretty in-depth – certainly more so than Live’s previous internal instruments – and the creative potential with it is clear to see.
Elsewhere, there are three new effects to discuss. Drum Buss is a hugely useful tool for anyone looking to sculpt individual drum mixes into something more coherent. The new Echo plug in offers a slightly different flavour to the traditional delay effects. And there’s a new plug designed to mimic the effect of a guitar-style overdrive pedal. We’ve had a play with this and can confirm it works well on guitars, but also as a tool to spice up vocal recordings or give a bit of extra hair to your sub-mixes.
The over-riding point to make about Ableton Live 10 is that it’s still the Live we all know and love. It’s still going to be used in all manner of interesting, exciting and creative ways, and the new additions give us the opportunity to continue exploring the outer limits of musical experimentation.
What’s perhaps more significant is something that alludes to a point we made earlier on. That being, Ableton is extremely generous with its update schedule. Buying into Live 10 means you stand to benefit from a consistent programme of interesting and unique additions in the future, all (at the time of writing) for free. That in itself makes Ableton live 10 a serious contender for your cash.