MacDirectory Magazine

Winter-Spring 2010 (#44)

MacDirectory magazine is the premiere creative lifestyle magazine for Apple enthusiasts featuring interviews, in-depth tech reviews, Apple news, insights, latest Apple patents, apps, market analysis, entertainment and more.

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106 MacDirectory REVIEW ABLETON SUITE 8 BOX EDITION In the world of digital audio workstations, Ableton Live occupies a unique position in that it is not only an excellent studio DAW, it offers a degree of control and flexibility that makes it one of the best live performance tools around. It is available in three versions: the full- featured Live 8 ($449 / $399 download), the capable Live Intro ($139 / $99 download), and Live Studio 8 ($699 / $649 download), which combines Live with an impressive bundle of virtual instruments and samples. While the download is cheaper, the box is worth considering both for the printed manual and, as described below, the additional instruments that accompany the Suite edition. Clip View In addition to its industry standard linear session view, Live's unique clip view offers the capability to spontaneously play any audio or MIDI clip in perfect sync, including the ability to record and play back clips on the spot without skipping a beat. This is particularly valuable when combined with an Ableton-specific controller, such as the Akai APC40 or Novation Launchpad. A producer or live performer can record dozens of song elements both live and ahead of time and then play and rearrange them any way imaginable on the fly and without missing a beat. This can provide a great advantage to small ensembles in search of an expanded live presence and is particularly well suited to DJ situations in both solo and band contexts. One of the issues one might expect from such flexibility would be the reconciling of tempo and pitch, or the changing of tempo within a song, but Live handles this beautifully via drop-in cue points that you can slide to change the note position without having any impact on the pitch. The overall pitch control is excellent and makes it possible to a clip or even individual notes without any noticeable artifacts or timing shifts. Instruments While the starter and mid-level versions include instruments, the full-blown Ableton Suite comes with a large of collection of instruments. This includes a very capable sampler with high-quality sound design tools, a great FM synth, a percussion instrument, an analog synth modeler, an electric pianos package, an unusually good string modeling synth, Analog (vintage synths), a classic machine emulator, and a 107 instrument latin percussion device). The boxed version also includes a nice multisampled drum instrument and a good quality selection of keyboard, guitar, and orchestral sounds. Interface The only issue of note with the instruments is one that relates to Live's interface. In general, it bears less the mark of a performer than a programmer. Its flat, starkly drawn knobs and sliders offer none of the visual finesse that one sees with some competing products. When you are working with a virtual instrument with a complex control setup this can take some getting used to, particularly when you need to make an adjustment in a live, distraction-filled environment. On the other hand, you can hide or reveal interface elements with a minimum of effort. Of particular value is the collapsible help panel that not only includes extensive and highly detailed information and tutorials but links to video instruction as well. MIDI mapping is easy and quite thorough and the user can add knobs and sliders to suit their needs, but cherry-picking additional controls is not an intuitive process. Expandability Live supports plug-in effects and instruments in a variety of formats including AU and VST and it also supports Rewire. Hit a scan button in the setup panel and you are presented with a list of all available keyboards, controllers, processors, external soft synths and effects. Select the desired items and you're ready to go. Conclusions Live is an impressive package that offers an excellent alternative to a hair-pulling DAW such as Logic and it offers more flexibility that just about everything on the market. Its live recording and triggering capability opens the door to a level of onstage spontaneity that simply cannot be found anywhere else. On top of this, it has perhaps the best help system of any application you are likely to encounter. It may not have the polished look of some of the competition, but it is a very attractive package nonetheless. If you are a novice eager to spread your wings or a seasoned pro looking to get past the rocket science and focus on the music, Ableton Live should be considered a must-see item. WORDS BY TREY YANCY Product Ableton Live Suite 8 Made by Ableton Price/Upgrade boxed set: $849/$419, download: $699/$329 Pros Offers a degree of control and flexibility that makes it one of the best live performance tools around Cons May not have the polished look of some of the competition Rating ★★★★

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