Ableton Live 9: What’s new ?

ableton_logo-new

Leave it up to Ableton to come up with exciting news like introducing Ableton Live 9 while I’m lying sick in bed (see last post). But for me it’s not much of a problem to cover this a little later. First I never jump on the news as soon as its out, and taking a little extra time will also get you all the details.

The announcement of Live 9 went quite chaotic; because Ableton revised their entire website, including their logo, as well as the user forum.

Nothing wrong with that perse; if only the information on the site would have been correct right from the start…  It makes the whole thing feel a bit hastened and somewhat unprofessional. When looking at Live 9 itself it becomes quite clear that Ableton is throwing everything they have at it to make this work, but how exciting is the new version really?

Ableton Live 9 and Push

The Ableton Push MIDI instrument
Ableton Push MIDI instrument.

Apart from Live 9 Ableton also announced another new product: Push, you can see the picture to the left. The Push is a MIDI controller (though Ableton likes to call it a MIDI instrument) which was designed by Ableton and developed by AKAI Professional. It’s made to allow you to play and setup your liveset right from behind the controller.

In a way this provides a workflow which is comparable to that of Maschine.

Push gives you full control over Live; it allows you to add tracks to your set or select existing ones, add instruments or effects to tracks, provides options to quickly select tracks, devices or clips, and even specific presets and device parameters. And of course the 8 x 8 grid of coloured and touch-sensitive pads allow you to play Live in any way you want. And the addition of a touch controlled pitch slider is a very interesting touch as well.

It provides options to simply play your instruments, comes with an embedded step sequencer as well as the option to navigate through several parts of your liveset. I’m not so sure if it also allows you to launch clips and such like you can with the APC controllers, but of course Push isn’t so much aimed at controlling Live but more at playing Live.

Push will be sold on the Ableton website, but will also become available through local distributors. So while it might be very tempting to order a Push right now on the Ableton website it might be a better idea to have some patience. When looking at Maschine you’ll see that its actually more expensive to buy this from Native Instruments directly; instead you’re much better off purchasing it from a local reseller.

The back of the Push MIDI instrument
The back of the Push device.

 

New in Ableton Live 9

Live 9 browerWith Ableton putting so much attention to their new Push controller you’d almost forget that it’s essentially about the new software which is getting released. After all; without Live 9 you also won’t be able to do much with the Push controller.

But here is where the excitement seems to tone down a little. There are quite some new features to be found in Live 9, its just that it seems as if Ableton has put more effort on rehauling and extending the interface instead of designing specific new features for the program.

To me Ableton Live 9 is more about catching up than setting and defining new standards.

A good example is the new live browser which you can see above. Instead of a few small icons which indicate the instrument browser, plugin browser and the three file browsers we now get an individual window which clearly separates the different sections. This should make it easier to find your presets and instruments, but of course also gobbles up more space on your screen.

Even so, some changes really make sense; like the ‘Sounds’ and ‘Drums’ sections (allthough I don’t understand why they separated those, considering that drums are sounds too). Still, this is really a big improvement since it allows you to look for a sound type without having to pay attention to the instrument being used.

If you wanted to select a pad in Live 8 you could do 2 things; search for ‘pad’ presets using the search feature, but that would take a very long time. The search feature really isn’t all that great. So instead you’d go over all the instruments; expand the Operator presets and look for pads. If you didn’t find what you were looking for you’d move onto Analog, Sampler (or Simpler), maybe a Max instrument or perhaps an Instrument Rack, and so on. Tedious since this takes up a lot of time.

The only thing I do hope for is that you can preview the sound when you have it selected. Otherwise it would still be tedious to use; add sound, try sound; nope. Remove and then on to the next sound. That doesn’t sound like much fun either…

According to the website they provided some previews, I quote: “Instant preview: all Ableton Packs come with instant audio previews“. I’m not really sure what to make of this; did they include audio files which should give some kind of preview sound or can we actually test the preset as soon as it’s selected?

But as interesting as this new feature is, its not really new. Propellerhead’s Reason has the “Create Instrument” feature for years now. And this also allows you to preview the sound as soon as you have it selected in the browser; so select the sound, hit the keys on your keyboard and you hear what you have selected.

Glue compressor

Live 9's new Glue compressor

One of the new devices in Live 9 is the Glue compressor. This is a compressor which is (quote:) “Modelled on a classic 80s console bus compressor“. It was designed in collaboration with Cytomic and as you can see in the screenshot it has all the controls which you’d expect from a master compressor.

Next to what you see here it also allows for both external as well as EQ sidechaining (either using a signal from another track, or a signal which has been send through the EQ section first. EQ input can be very helpfull to setup stuff like de-essing for example).

And if you’re like me a couple of years ago and are now wondering “Why would I need another compressor?“; it really makes sense. Different compressors can give different results. And a compressor which is fully aimed at usage on the master track as a ‘master compressor‘ can really make a big difference.

Still.. Although this is a big addition for Live its also not something very new. Several master bus compressors have been available as VST effects; and other DAWs, Reason being my main example here, have already ‘paved the way’ so to speak.

Don’t get me wrong here; this is a very interesting and welcome new effect. Its just that its not as ground breaking as some of us may have been hoping for. It certainly doesn’t redefine standards for example. IMO Reason came closer to that when they added Record to their main Reason program, and this also included their dedicated mixer section. One which is fully modelled after the SSL 9000k analog mixing console. The impact even goes so far that if you try to search for SSL 9000k images on Google or on Bing you’ll also come across screenshots of Reason’s mixer section.

Automation recording in clips

…and its curved too!

Another new feature is the ability to record automation in session clips. In Live 8 session view clips can only influence an automation setting through use of the clip envelopes. For example; in the automation (as seen in the arrangement view) you can define the value of the track volume. Any change you make in the automation will reflect directly on the value of the track volume.

In a clip however you can only influence the setting. Meaning so much that you can never raise the volume higher than as set by the automation in the arrangement; you will always operate within the set limits by the arrangement view automation.

While this setup can provide some really interesting effects it can also make it harder to use the session view. For example; if you have a clip in the arrangement view which also has automation assigned to it then you can’t simply drag that clip into a clipslot on the session view. That is; you can drag and drop it, but you’ll lose all the automation settings.

The new toolbar in Live 9

Ableton Live 9 changes this by introducing the option to record and define full automation directly into session view clips. The new Live ‘toolbar’ has two new options for this: the ‘session automation arm button’ which you can see selected in the screenshot above, and the ‘session automation record button’ which sits to the direct left of the ‘NEW’ button. When you use these options you’ll be able to record audio or MIDI as well as automation data straight into a clip.

And if you’re going to edit this automation you’ll soon discover that Live 9 supports rounded curves too:

Live 9 clip automation
Automation in a session view clip; even with curves.

 

Audio to MIDI conversion

Ableton Live has had the “Slice to new MIDI track” option for quite some time now; this allows you to take an audio sample which will then be converted to several different slices. These are then loaded into a drumrack with addition of a MIDI clip which plays all the samples in the right order.

Now they added 3 new features: “Convert harmony to new MIDI track“, “Convert melody to new MIDI track” and “Convert drums to new MIDI track“.

The demo movie (which can be found on the Ableton website) sounds quite convincing but I’m still a little hesitant to call this an exciting new feature. After all; one must not forget that the sound sources in those demo’s have been carefully selected to produce the best end results.

It looks like a very interesting new feature, a truly new feature, but we’ll have to discover how well it works in the real world.

MIDI editor enhancements

Live 9's new notes section

The MIDI editor has also seen some enhancements. First the notes section in the clip view; this allows you to apply some effects on your MIDI clip instantaneously. Dividing the clip by two or multiplying it by two, reversing or inverting the clip, applying a legato effect or even duplicate an entire loop.

All of that can be done with one click of the mouse.

To be honest I am surprised to see that they removed the option to set the tempo for the clip.

Next to the Notes section the MIDI editor itself also has some new features to work with:

  • MIDI note stretch markers allow you to speed up, slow down or reverse your MIDI notes.
    • Envelopes in MIDI clips can also be stretched using these markers.
  • You can move the notes more easily on and off the grid (?).
  • Editing grids are ‘sticky’ which allow you to freely move notes around while still providing the option to snap them to a nearby grid line.
  • Audio clip automation is warped alongside the audio itself.
  • Its easier to edit automation and you can also add curves to it.

I’m not too sure what the audio clip features have to do with MIDI clips; but even so this is also how its presented on the main Ableton website (which is my main source for information right now).

Redesigned studio effects

Unfortunately this is where the excitement stops a bit. Most of the other new features in Live 9 consist of existing devices (or technologies; see below) which have either been redesigned or re-used in a different way.

Live 9's new compressor lookA good example is the new look of the Live Compressor, as you can see to the left. The interface now shows the audio signal in the main window and also shows the amount of compression being applied through use of a graphic.

Do note that this isn’t the only look; in the lower left corner of the main screen you can see that you have the option to select between 3 different views, this is merely one of them.

In a way the change makes some sense; I can see how it can become easier to get a good instant overview of the signal and the amount of compression that is being applied.

Live 9's new EQ8

With the new EQ8 it seems as if you can still decide for yourself if you want the sound signal to be visible or not, you can see as much by the yellow graph icon in the upper right corner. But other sound processing devices don’t seem to give you that choice.

Live 9's new gate effect

Like you can see here with the new gate effect. The sound source does look less detailed than it did on the devices above, even so I can’t help wonder how much extra CPU all of this will require.

Which also brings me back to the excitement of it all. Some of these changes make a lot of sense; on the compressor the new interface can really help you to see what is happening.

But on a gate device such as this it just doesn’t make much sense to me. Sure, I can see some advantages, but also quite some disadvantages when it comes to possible extra taxing on your CPU. And some livesets can already be quite demanding…  Even so; what was wrong with merely showing how much signal the gate was actually blocking? To me this feels like a change because of the change.

Max for Live included with Suite 9

This is a change which makes perfect sense to me, but even so one has to agree that this isn’t really something new. Granted; we do get several new M4L devices with Suite 9 but honestly… M4L was a development which has been around for quite some time now.

What is new however is that from Live 9 and up M4L will also be using the new Max 6 engine. Max 6 has been released for quite some time now but its use with Ableton Live 8 was never officially supported. So as of Live 9 we can now also enjoy the new features which come with Max 6; for an overview see the Max 6 product page.

This change makes sense to me since I strongly believe that M4L really enhances the way you can work with Live in a very big way. Even so; it still feels to me as if Ableton is throwing as much of their stuff at Live (‘Suite’) 9 as they can in order to make it as appealing as possible.

I can quite understand the ‘why’ behind it, but it also makes the new version somewhat less exciting, at least in my opinion, because a lot of it consists of already existing features.

M4L Convolution reberb pro
M4L Convolution reverb pro; one of the 24 new M4L devices in Suite 9.

 

New sounds

As could be expected we also get a lot of new sound material (‘Live Packs’) in the Suite 9 library. And here you can see even more examples that Ableton really are throwing some of their ‘Crown jewels’ (as I like to call it) at Live and Suite 9 in order to make it as appealing as possible.

For example; not all new Live sound Packs are only for Suite 9. Live 9 will be getting some very interesting additions too such as: “Grand Piano” (previously only available in the Essential Instrument Collection), “Drum machines” (previously only available in Suite), “Designer drums”, “Guitars and bass”. Even Live Intro 9 is getting spiced up with additions such as the previously mentioned ‘Designer Drums’, “Loopmasters Mixtape” and “Unnatural Selection” (no idea what this is; it lacks any descriptions).

But to really spice things up Ableton has also included their Orchestral Instrument Collection with the upcoming Suite 9:

Orchestral Brass logo
Orchestral Brass

Orchestral Mallets
Orchestral Percussion

Orchestral Strings
Orchestral Strings

Orchestral Woodwinds
Orchestral Woodwinds

I consider this to be a very interesting feature considering how these 4 Packs used to be sold either separately (price per pack roughly sitting at E 160,-, and E 130,- for the Percussion pack) or bundled in the Orchestral Collection which sold for approx. E 500,-.

Now owners of Ableton Suite 8 can upgrade to Suite 9 which includes this awesomeness at an upgrade price which is but a fraction of the original sales price. For which you not only get these 4 sound Packs but also a lot of new features in Live / Suite 9.

If you want to learn more about the Orchestral Collection then simply click one of the logo’s above and you’ll be taken to its product page.

But as exciting as this development is, it also shows us yet another example that Ableton is currently not really paying much interest to details. On the Live 9 feature comparison page where you can read up on what is going to be included in Live Intro, Live and Suite 9 you’ll see that they mention the Orchestral Mallets Pack. Quite odd indeed because if you go to its official product page you’ll see that the real name really is Orchestral Percussion.

Download or box: No more content differences

This is a change I really applaud. Because despite the warnings on the Ableton website many people got confused over what the exact differences were between the download version and the boxed version. With Live 8 the boxed version would include some extra’s such as the Essential Instrument Collection for example.

Ableton Live 9 puts a stop to all this; the boxed version will provide the exact same contents as the download version when it comes to the software. Additional contents in the box are: DVD’s containing the Live / Suite 9 installer and the sound packs, a printed manual and some stickers.

But no more confusion with extra material being provided in the boxed version, a really welcome change in my opinion because it puts an end to a lot of confusion.

A lot of confusion

Speaking of confusion…

As I mentioned before the introduction of Live 9 got combined with a new website and a new user forum layout. Unfortunately it seems that Ableton didn’t thoroughly test the new features on the website which led to a lot of confusion amongst Live users.

For example; when you’d go to the Ableton Shop you would originally be greeted with the new introductional promotion of Live 9: upgrade your Live 8 version (for example from Live 8 to Suite 8) with a 25% discount and get a free upgrade to version 9.

So far, so good. But it became quite confusion when Suite 8 owners would also be greeted with “Upgrade to Suite 8 and get a free upgrade to version 9”. At the time of writing this bug has been fixed; now Suite 8 users get to see a message that Suite can’t be upgraded any further. Even so; it caused quite some confusion which I think is quite sloppy on the part of Ableton. Don’t they test these new features ?

Wrong prices

Unfortunately things became really bothersome when all of a sudden the upgrade prices for Suite 8 got raised quite heavily. So from the original $239,- upgrade to Suite 8 download and $277,- for the boxed version all of a sudden people got charged $322,- for the download and $359,- for the boxed version.

A statement was made on the user forum in which Ableton explained that due to a bug in their system the original prices were set too low. I guess there’s some good luck within bad luck here; consider the uproar it would have caused if it was the other way around…

Even so; this is plain out stupid. I mean; don’t they (double) check their facts before putting stuff online on the website? Apparently not, which doesn’t make things look very professional.

We can only hope that the launch of Live / Suite 9 will be better prepared than the announcement. Because I think the last thing Ableton needs is a repeat of the major controversy which overshadowed the release of Live 8.

Concluding

I think Ableton really is on the right track here, even though the majority of the new features in Live 9 seem more like a rehaul / feature extension than actually an environment which gets us lots of new goodies.

Still, that doesn’t take away that Ableton Live 9 / Suite 9 provides some very interesting enhancements over version 8. The new master ‘Glue’ compressor is a really useful new feature and some of the interface changes like in the Compressor also seem like a good improvement too.

And personally I’m very excited to see the Orchestral Collection being included in the upcoming Suite 9.

Even so; one can’t ignore the fact that we basically get a lot of existing stuff which merely gets added to Live 9. I’m now not only referring to the previously mentioned Orchestral collection, but also to Max for Live which gets included in Suite 9 and some of the sound Packs which now find their way into Live 9 and Live Intro 9.

But let’s also not forget about Push. The new MIDI ‘instrument’ which will provide a workflow which seems very comparable to that of Maschine. A feat which I consider quite impressive considering that Push will go a whole lot further than merely focussing on percussion alone.

And given the fact that all the pads on the Push are touch sensitive its bound to make an very interesting new enhancement for Live 9…

What I also consider to be a very smart move on the part of Ableton is that they didn’t all of a sudden start to think that they could make the hardware themselves (like Native Instruments did), but instead turned to a source which had already proven itself with the APC series: Akai Professional.

To me that somewhat guarantees that Push will become a decent piece of hardware. I think it will be of a much better quality than Maschine.

And there you have it…

To learn more about Ableton Live 9 you can visit its product page here, to learn more about Push; that product page can be found here.

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4 comments

  1. Excellent, perceptive analysis. I agree that this falls short of what one would usually expect with a full upgrade, and may be closer to version 8.5, but then they couldn’t charge for that. I suspect the release was accelerated to establish a stronger position in advance of the release of Bitwig, but we’ll see. Still, I plan to get it when it’s available.

    Was your lack of comment on the PDC issue intentional? That seems to be the main topic on many discussion groups at the moment, although I have not personally had a problem with that.

    On another topic: I know you are a strong supporter of M4L. Do you have experience with other modular development systems? I’m intrigued by Tassman, given the unique abilities and sounds of some of the AAS instruments in Live. Any opinions welcome!

    1. Sorry for a very belated response. I’ve had some issues to deal with and this didn’t have much time left for the blog (which is basically an hobby).

      I left PDC out of my comment because I simply lack the experience with that. I did read about ‘m but before I want to address such an issue I really want to be sure that I know what I’m talking about. And since I haven’t been beta-testing Live 9 I simply couldn’t.

      I have some minor experience with both Tassman and Reaktor and although I think both are quite good I simply couldn’t get to like them. Tassman felt very limited to me (in comparison to both Max & Reaktor) whereas Reaktor felt too “complete” (some pun intended here).

      Put differently: Max is a full blown programming language, whereas Reaktor is more aimed at providing a sort of “programmable instrument”. Its good, but in many cases doesn’t go as deeply as Max.

      But do keep in mind that in the end this is all but a personal opinion & impression. As you said yourself I am indeed a strong supporter of Max & M4l and as such its unavoidable that I’m also a bit biased towards those.

  2. Good stuff!

    Finally some info without having to go through how great or bad ableton is.

    didn’t know about that orchestral stuff either; interesting stuff.

  3. Hey!

    What do you guys think?

    Will it only be possible to record automations of the pre-chosen synth f.e. within the clip …

    …or will it be possible to record the position of the marker within a chain of instruments too to be able to have one track that has two clips playing two different synths?

    Or…just one synth per track but with different presets – what i mean is: does the clip “record” the fact that im choosing another preset from an instrument?

    I just dont get it after watching and reading the future feature lists..

    Thx and all the best,
    Philip

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