Live 9 is out; how good is it?


The blog is slowly picking up some of the pieces again. Last months have been a little rough on me. First I got ill; even up to a point where it affected my hearing (and you can hopefully imagine how awful that is for someone passionate about sound), then I hit a very rough spot with work. But we’re still pretty much alive.

Live 9 has been released and needless to say that we also dove right into that. It certainly introduces many strong points but unfortunately also leaves quite a few issues open for improvement. This becomes immediately apparent when you’re upgrading from Live (or Suite) 8; what is that Live 8 library doing inside Live 9? But turning to the included (PDF) manual won’t help you with those kind of questions, which feels sloppy.

But that’s where comes into play 😉

The upgrade to version 9

At the moment of writing every Live 8 user is entitled to a nice discount when upgrading to Live 9 which in my opinion is something to seriously consider, even if you’re not that much interested in a new Live version. Because Ableton are throwing everything but their kitchen sink at this beast to make it work, or so it seems. Stuff like their Orchestral Instrument Collection for example. 4 Live packs worth roughly E 485,- when purchased together, yet included with the Suite version of Live 9. And the nice part is that you can also use these Livepacks in Live 8, should you so desire.

If you like using orchestral scores then this should be a no-brainer in my opinion. Not merely because you can get expensive packs at a lower price, but because those Orchestral packs really are as awesome as they seem. Though please keep in mind that this is obviously merely my opinion. But the Orchestral collection really sounds as full and bright as advertised (YouTube video link).

So how does this upgrade work?  Unfortunately there isn’t much official word on the entire process and as mentioned before the manual also isn’t of much help here. SO lets start by looking into the upgrade process itself.

Upgrade vs. reinstalling

The new browser in Live 9Live 9 changes a lot when it comes to workflow, and you can see a good example of that when looking at the new browser window to the right.

However Live 9 has also made some drastic changes to the way it handles its media files; such as samples and presets. Previously every ‘system’ package which you installed ended up in your Live library. Also every preset or instrument you made yourself ended up in there as well.

Live 9 changes this behaviour by setting up a clear separation between the standard instruments and effects; these are now part of the so called Core Library, the livepacks which you can install as enhancements (the ones which you can purchase or download from the Live ‘package page’) get installed to a separate folder and finally every sample or preset which you make yourself ends up in the new user library.

This basically means that Live 9 needs to re-construct a completely new library from scratch; when you install Live 9 you only have the so called Core Library available; this gets installed in Live’s program folder itself. And if you upgraded from Live 8 your previous library will also be accessible from Live 9 (as can be seen in the screenshot). Though accessing your sounds and presets from there will be a lot more tedious. For example; the contents from your previous library won’t show up in the new ‘Sounds’ and ‘Drums’ categories (more on those later).

However; what many people don’t realize (also because this doesn’t get explained as clearly as it should) is that by installing your livepacks again you’re basically duplicating a lot of contents. Livepacks which you installed in Live 8 and re-install in Live 9 will actually end up twice on your harddrive. For presets that isn’t such a big deal; but who wants to have a sample library installed multiple times on his harddrive?

Yet simply removing your Live 8 library also isn’t an option here because if you made or saved a lot of presets (or maybe Max for Live devices) then those would be gone as well. Live 9 does not import of all that content into its new structure, you need to do that yourself. Another important detail is that Live 9 doesn’t seem to provide everything which was available in Live 8. So now what ?

Don’t remove Live 8 before installing Live 9!

As silly as it may sound you really don’t want to remove Live 8 before you’re completely settled. Even if you don’t plan on using it any longer. Because keeping Live 8 around for a while can save you a lot of precious diskspace. Its simple; the moment you have several soundpacks (re)installed in Live 9 (for example Solid Sounds) simply start Live 8 again, go to the preference window and select the ‘Library’ tab. Here you get an overview of all the installed livepacks in Live 8.

Now its easy: find the livepack(s) you installed in Live 9 and uninstall them from here. Don’t worry: this will only remove the livepack from the Live 8 library, which is merely accessible from Live 9. It won’t affect your new Live 9 environment in any way.

What this will do however is making sure that Solid Sounds is only installed on one place: the Live 9 library, thus saving precious disk space.

It is possible to manually import everything else from the Live 8 library into Live 9 as well, but I’m going to get into that in a future post (not meant as cliff hanger; I want to make sure this post doesn’t turn into an endless essay ;-)).

So what does the Live 8 library DO ?


The option to access the Live 8 library (also called the “Legacy Library”) is merely there for your own convenience. Live 9 doesn’t automatically extract all your own contents and presets, it doesn’t “migrate” the Live 8 library into Live 9 in any way, and even the term “imported” is a bit far fetched in my opinion. Because Live 9 doesn’t really import your Live 8 library; it merely allows you to access it.

As such; if you merely want to start clean you can simply remove the old library in its entirety, Live 9 will continue working as normal. However, do think this through before hitting delete.

Live 9: solid but sloppy at the same time

Live 9 'Glue' compressorI’ve been using Live 9 for 1.5 days now (today I spend most time of the day on Live 9) and my overall impression is quite positive. Live 9 provides several new features which are in my opinion worth diving into. One can be seen here; the Glue compressor.

I’m honestly very tempted to add this to my default live set thus have it on my master track for every project I work on.

Live 9 supports both compressors
The new and ‘old’ compressor effect.

Another good example is the Compressor effect, which you can see above. The old compressor in Live 8 provided several compression methods; the commonly used FB (‘feedback’) model as well as the FF1 and FF2 models which were used in previous versions of Live. But as you can see above the new compressor can also support these modes perfectly.

People upgrading from Live 8 can simply drag a Compressor preset from the Live 8 library into their live set, which will give the above results (right side).

Live 9 really is a fine piece of work and in my opinion worth the upgrade easily. For the record: I’m not saying this with the Orchestral collection in mind, though I’ll admit being very excited about them. Live 9 is in my opinion a very solid program. BUT…

But having said that…  It still feels unfinished and actually a bit sloppy on several parts.

Live 9 core library

For example take the ‘Core library’, which you can see on the right; here you see the ‘Package’ “place” (I tend to call everything category) which lists all the live packages and their contents.

Which, as a small side step, is yet another advantage of Live 9. One of the most seen questions on several fora was “how do I know what Livepack “X” installed on my system?”. Using Live 9’s “Package browser” you can easily see a package contents, but also use it from here.

But the thing is; every Live user who dove a bit deeper into his library knows that Live provides demo livesets. Stuff to demonstrate some of the stuff you can do with the Live version at hand. Better yet; a “Suite” version (you can’t get more than that) gives you demo’s for all versions “below” it (intro & regular Live).

So like; where are those kept in Live 9?  As one could expect: in the so called “Core library” which gets installed in the Live 9 program folder. But why can’t we see those in this screenshot ?

Some of these livesets can be accessed using the so called “Help view”. But even so; in Live 8 ALL these demo livesets were accessible using the library. And here is the first problem…

Live sets in the core library
Several livesets which you won’t be able to load from within Live 9.

Here you see several livesets which reside in the ‘core library’, part of your Live 9 program folder. Unfortunately you won’t be able to access most of these from within Live 9. Simply because these sets don’t show up in the “Package browser” (see previous screenshot) but also because the Core library is completely separated from Live 9. Apart from the “Package browser” there is no way to access it.

Which I consider to be quite sloppy. Especially since this material provides very good examples.

Unfortunately there’s (much) more…

As you may have noticed in previous screenshots the sounds category lists all sound presets, and neatly stored on genre. From “Ambient & Evolving” right down to “Pads”, “Strings” and “Synth lead”.

Max for Live devices on one big pile...So why doesn’t Ableton provide the same kind of sorting for the Max for Live devices?

As you can see on the left they’re basically all piled up in one big heap of devices without any (easy) way of knowing which device does what. Sure; I can add an extra column behind this to show me what livepack provided the device, but that’s obviously not what I’m talking about here.

WHY is Ableton turning the whole thing around here?

Max for Live as it was; neatly organized.In Live 8 the Max for Live devices were carefully sorted into several folders (as can be seen in the other screenshot) so that you had a good idea as to what you were using.

Yet that separation is all gone.

And the reason why I think this to be very sloppy on the part of Ableton is that you can’t simply fix this yourself either. Don’t think you can easily make some folders and start drag/dropping presets yourself. Won’t work.

And since we’re on the subject of Max for Live; why doesn’t Live 9 provide us with the here highlighted Max for Live compressor anymore? (or the building blocks for that matter).

Sure; it wasn’t the best of compressors, I’ll easily agree there, but it still was a completely new and different kind of compressor. At the very least it provided a solid example for Max for Live programmers how they could build their own compressor effects.

Yet this is gone…  Why ?!  The only people who might have this are the ones who already had Max for Live on Live 8 (it should be obvious but the 2nd screenshot lists my Live 8 library). I really think this is a setback, as said; it might not be the best of compressors (though I kinda liked it to be honest) but it did make one heck of an example.

Now, don’t get this the wrong way. Live 9 provides some serious advantages over Live 8. Some of them oh so simple but oh so valuable. You start your DAW, and then come to realize your (USB connected) keyboard wasn’t turned on. With most DAW’s (including my other all-time favourite Reason) you’ll just need to shut down, turn on your hardware, and then start the DAW again.

As of Live 9 you simply turn on your (USB connected) hardware and watch it pop up in Live 9 too. THAT is progress…

Another issue which I really like is the user library. It takes getting used to, you’ll also need to take some effort to get your previous Live 8 library presets (or Max for Live devices) into this new library; but it is worth it (more in an upcoming blog post).

And, a totally personal impression, it really looks to me as if Live 9 is more responsive and faster than Live 8. My main comparison for now is my all time favourite Live Partner Instrument: The Japanese Taiko from Sonica. I can’t even drag the full set into Live (doubleclick works though). But it seems to me as if it loads a LOT quicker in Live 9 than 8 (I am going to time in the weekend).

But having said all that…  You open the manual included with Live 9, you go to chapter 25 (“Max for Live”) only to be greeted with outdated information. I quote: “In order to use Max for Live, you must install Live 8.1 (or newer) and Max 5.1 (or newer).” But uhm…  Trying to use Max 5 with Live 9 won’t work.

This should have said: “…you must install Live 9 with Max 6, available from your download section on the Ableton website”. I for one didn’t get Max 6 from the Cycling ’74 website…


In my opinion Live 9 is really a very good new version. In this post I only spend time on some details without even touching new features such as converting harmony, melody or drums to a MIDI track (I’ll cover those later).

But it also feels sloppy and unfinished. From the manual which doesn’t even cover the topic on how you can best upgrade, right down to several presets and Max for Live devices which are present in Live 8 but gone in Live 9.

I’m going to cover more of Live 9 in upcoming posts.