Tel: 905–690–4709 dk@tfwm.com - Darryl Kirkland, Publisher

Product Review: Ableton Live 7

With my recent discovery of Ableton Live 7, a vast expanse of my audio needs for ministry seem to have been met. Subsequently, this software has become a top pick for audio and MIDI in ministry for extensive live recording needs and studio work that includes creative audio and MIDI recording. It would be easy not to put Live 7 in contention for what we do in ministry if you simply based your buying decision on its general reputation as an audio “looping program or DJ-styled mixing application”. Believe me, it is much more.

In fact, every blue moon a software company comes along with solutions that work in a “why didn’t I think of that” fashion. That would be Ableton Live 7. For us in ministry, the bottom line for digital audio and MIDI is no different than any other. We’re looking for pristine audio that is the result of a capable tool that not only fits within our budget, but doesn’t require an engineering degree to use.

That’s the reason in reviewing digital audio workstation (DAW) software for ministry, the most important things to consider, in my opinion are the “big three”: versatility, usability and affordability.

I’ve already alluded to the fact that Ableton’s Live 7’s value for us in ministry is its versatility. With a hardware recording interface – the device that takes analog signals and converts them to digital audio captured by your computer – Live, could easily record every aspect of your Sunday morning worship service or it could be the chief digital organizer of all of your music tracks and sound effects for your next church theatrical production – a unique feature that no other DAW currently offers in this fashion, one of the top unique benefits of this software. Further, as a keyboard player in a church praise band, I see Live 7 becoming my favorite companion, taking on the essence of a “control center” for an array of soft synths – sounds coming from my laptop, driven real time by MIDI as I play my synthesizer. In Live 7, the soft synths could easily be ordered to match the instrumentation needs in the worship service and those soft synths could then be driven by MIDI played live from a keyboard.

In the Session View, one is able to organize musical elements in a vertical, column-type fashion. You’ll see small, stacked boxes, each with its own play button. For us in ministry, this view could, in fact, be the launching interface to play sound effects for a church drama – each audio element stacked in order for the production. Or it could be where the song parts for the praise and worship tunes are stored – verse one in a box, verse two with different orchestration in the box underneath, the chorus in the third box down. And get this: you can activate (play) these sound elements while recording those clips and the rest of the audio from the worship service into the software.

The same audio that is in Session View is contained in the Arrangement View, the more traditional look for audio recording software. If you’ve had any familiarity with digital audio workstation software, you know that the general layout on the screen is typically a linear timeline that shows the audio wave form spanning from left to right. Live 7 certainly offers that capability. Furthermore, in a folder hierarchy on the left side of the screen, you have access to all your audio effect plug-in’s such as reverb and compression, in addition to all your soft synth instrument plug-ins and other audio elements. Applying compression onto an audio track is as easy as clicking on the compression icon in the list on the left and “dragging and dropping” it onto the track of your choice.

As for usability, I can sum it up this way: Live works well! But to share a bit more detail with you, you’ll find that if you know how to select audio and MIDI drivers in the preferences window that you can go a long way with this application without ever having to pick up the printed manual. Manual? Did he say printed manual? I appreciate PDF’s, but there is nothing like having a printed manual and not one of encyclopedic size, mind you. Ableton Live 7 has a handy, easy-to-read printed manual. All DAW software companies should take note how this company supports its users, not with just a printed manual, but with free, invaluable on-line instructional movies available at www.ableton.com

The audio and MIDI routing features are as robust and user-friendly as I’ve seen in 20 years of working with these type programs. For example, as most real audio mixers can do, this software offers a solo feature that isolates a single instrument. However, in Live 7, solo can be set as a “cue” function, sending the audio to one’s cue speaker of choice using a capable hardware audio interface. Furthermore, “resampling” – the ability to play and record MIDI and then record its resulting audio real time – is a cinch to set up. In fact, if you can visualize what you want your end result to be with MIDI and/or audio, you can easily figure out how to set up the software’s routing.

Further, when I chose the MIDI drivers for my Mackie Control Universal (physical controller with sliders and knobs) in the preferences menu, the unit snapped to attention immediately, and for the first time ever in my DAW experience, the functions of the Mackie controller matched the majority of their software counterparts in Live 7. Sweet.

And just think, I’ve only covered a fraction of the features Live offers, but we are out of time. But before we go, let me assure you that Ableton Live 7 scores high on my affordability chart with Live 7 LE, a “Lite” version which can be downloaded for $149 or boxed for $199. Also, the full version – worth every cent, in my opinion, can be downloaded for $499 or in boxed form for $599. And yes, there’s a 14-day “try before you buy” demo version that can be easily downloaded from Ableton’s web site. I was extremely impressed with The Essential Instrument Collection 2, a multi-gigabyte library of sampled and selected instruments Ableton created in cooperation with SONiVOX and ChocolateAudio. The soft synth package offers a choice selection of acoustic and electric pianos, guitars, bass, drums, orchestral strings, brass, woodwinds and more – all very nicely done and top pick for sure.

The current version only allows audio to be saved (or rendered as the program calls it) as an .aiff (Mac) or .wav (Windows) file and unfortunately not as an Mp3 file. In addition, there are no capabilities for surround sound mastering, and the software does not do audio restoration for such cleanup efforts as pop or hum removal. Despite these limitations, when you examine Live 7’s features, advantages and benefits alongside our needs for audio in ministry, I believe you’ll quickly agree that this application wins on all three fronts: versatility, usability and affordability.

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