Ableton Live may be the most popular music production program on the planet right now, but how did it get there? Well, it’s been a long journey of updates and improvements from version 1 in 2001 up to the current version 11. Personally, I was sold on the various dark themes and tasteful font choices, but others are more practically discerning.
Fortunately for those, Ableton Live is so feature-packed it’s been divided up into three versions at three different price points, plus a fourth version which can be found bundled with 3rd party hardware. So what’s the difference between all these versions, and which is the right version for you? Read on to find out.
Live 11 Lite
Live Lite’s biggest drawcard is the fact that it is, well, free! At least free with the purchase of select hardware products such as audio interfaces and MIDI controllers. So whilst there is some cost involved, there’s no additional cost on top of what you were going to spend on hardware anyway.
If you’re just getting started in the world of music production, an audio interface and/or MIDI controller is a great first step, so it’s nice to have some serious production software thrown in for good measure (see below for our hardware recommendations).
Live 11 Lite gives you the legitimate Ableton Live experience, albeit in a limited capacity. Session View & Arrange View, Warping, Instrument & Drum Racks, and the amazing ‘Simpler’ instrument are all there. But, once you start really putting these features to work, you may find yourself hitting Live Lite’s limitations pretty quickly.
New in Live Lite Version 11:
- Up to 16 Scenes (not tracks), up from 8 in Version 10
- MPE Control
- Tempo Following
- New audio and MIDI effects
- Plus More!
See the full list of Live 11 Lite features here: https://www.ableton.com/en/products/live-lite/features/
Live Lite Limitations:
The important thing to know about Live 11 Lite is that you’re limited to a total of 8 tracks, e.g. 8 audio tracks, or 4 audio tracks and 4 MIDI tracks etc. If you’re counting individual song elements like drums, bass, pad, lead etc., 8 tracks may seem like plenty. After all, how many classic recordings from history were produced on an 8-track recorder (or less!). But one of the magical things about working with modern music production software such as Ableton Live is taking your productions as far as they can possibly go, and once the creativity starts flowing, those 8 tracks get used up pretty quick.
You also miss out on some more advanced editing features such as Comping (available in Live Intro and up) which we discuss later.
Final thoughts on Live Lite:
Live Lite is a seriously powerful production tool (particularly given that it’s free), but once you find your creative feet, you’re almost certainly going to want to break past that 8-track limitation. The cheapest route is to pick up a copy of Live 11 Intro, however, there is no upgrade path to Live Intro for Live Lite owners.
There are however discounted upgrade paths available Live Standard or Live Suite should you want to move up to the full version, so read on to find out more about these versions.
Noisegate’s picks for best Live 11 Lite Hardware Bundles
- Arturia Minifuse Audio Interfaces – Great sounding, super affordable audio interfaces with a great software bundle, including Live 11 Lite
- UA Volt – Universal Audio’s new range of affordable audio interfaces with Vintage Preamp Mode, and select models featuring the 76 compressor. Also a comprehensive software bundle including Live 11 Lite.
- Arturia Minilab MK2 – Portable and affordable 25-key controller keyboard with drum pads. Includes Live 11 Lite, plus Analog Lab Intro soft synth.
- Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol M32 – Portable 32-key keyboard controller with creative software bundle including Maschine Essentials and Live 11 Lite
Live 11 Intro
Live 11 Intro is the most affordable version of Live available on its own, and not part of a hardware bundle (excluding Push 2). If you already have a MIDI controller and audio interface and want to get into the world of Ableton Live without breaking the bank, Live 11 Intro may be the way to go.
As with Live Lite, Live Intro provides the sought-after Ableton Live experience with Session View, warping, Simpler etc. Unlike Live Lite which is limited to 8 total tracks, Live Intro provides up to 16 tracks. Whilst this may be restrictive for ambitious producers and composers, it’s going to be plenty for many.
As of Live 11 Intro, you’re given 16 Scenes to work with, plus Comping, which allows for the easy selection of the best takes (or parts of a take) from a recording, but is also a powerful creative tool.
New in Live Intro version 11:
- Up to 16 Scenes (up from 8)
- MPE Control
- Tempo Following
- Note/Velocity Chance
- New audio and MIDI effects
- Plus More!
Live Intro Limitations:
Live Intro’s main limitations compared with Live Standard are the 16 tracks/scenes and 2 sends/return tracks limits. For the less experienced, this is going to be plenty. But as experience grows, so too will ambition, and productions almost certainly will get larger and larger.
Whilst Simpler, Drum Rack and Instrument Rack are powerful tools, don’t expect to find too many premium instruments or effects here. Live Standard adds a slew of premium audio effects, although many premium instruments are reserved for the more expensive Live Suite package.
Final thoughts on Live Intro:
Intro is as it sounds, a great introduction to Ableton Live for those new to the platform. If you already own a Live Lite License and simply want to break past the 8-track limit, Live Intro will do the trick, but again there is no discounted upgrade path. If you’re getting serious about music production, it may be wiser to invest a little more and upgrade to either Live Standard or Suite (more on these below). Otherwise, you’re potentially just running into another limitation, that being the 16-track limit, as opposed to 8 tracks with Live Lite.
Live 11 Standard
Now we’re in the big leagues. Live 11 Standard is the full Ableton Live experience, with no restraints, just without the tasty extras included with Live Suite. But more on that later.
The biggest benefit to Live Standard compared with Intro or Lite is the unlimited audio/MIDI tracks and unlimited Scenes. Nothing aside from your computer’s processing power is stopping you from creating the biggest, most ambitious productions the world has ever heard.
To help mix these epic compositions, Live Standard also comes equipped with world-class audio effects such as the powerful Drum Bus effect, and the legendary glue compressor. If live (performance) recording is more your thing, Live Standard also ups the audio input count from 8 to 256. But it’s up to you to track down a 256 input channel audio interface.
New in Live Standard Version 11:
- Linked track editing
- Mood Reel Pack
- Plus much more, including all those mentioned in Live Intro version 11
Final Thoughts on Live Standard:
If you’ve decided to make Ableton Live your DAW of choice and don’t like the idea of being limited to 16 tracks, Live 11 Standard is a great package. Also, upgrade paths are available from both Live Lite and Live Intro, so it’s an easy step when you’re ready to take the leap. The most difficult choice may be deciding between Live Standard and Live Suite, so read on to learn why.
Live 11 Suite
When it comes to Ableton Live’s unique strengths, features such as Session View and Warping are usually the first to come to mind. But when it comes to Live Suite, these are just the tip of the iceberg.
Whilst Live does support 3rd party VST and AU plugins, it can also host Live Devices, which are instruments or effects made exclusively for Ableton Live. A whopping 17 instruments are provided by Ableton with Live Suite including classics such as Operator as Wavetable.
Live 11 introduced a host of powerful and creative effects which are also bundled with Live Suite. Hybrid reverb pairs a convolution reverb engine with an algorithmic reverb engine, both of which are full of creative parameters. Layering two different reverb types was not something I knew I wanted to do before Hybrid reverb. Plus Spectral Resonator and Spectral Time are two of the more unique and creative effects you’re ever likely to encounter.
For even more content, Live Suite includes 33 Packs covering acoustic and electric drums, synths, orchestral instruments and more.
Lastly (and my personal favourite), Max for Live is a visual programming platform for creating almost any kind of Live device you’d like (called Max for Live Devices), including instruments, audio effects, and even visual effects. Although the standalone Max application is available for purchase separately from Ableton Live, its Ableton Live specific variant Max for Live introduced it to a mass audience and has spawned a large, passionate user community. So whether you’re after some tips to get started creating devices, or just want to browse the enormous number of Max for Live Devices created by other users, (many of which are completely free for Max for Live owners), you’re never short of resources. A good starting point is maxforlive.com.
New in Live Suite Version 11:
- Hybrid Reverb
- Spectral Resonator & Spectral Time
- PitchLoop89 (collaboration with Robert Henke)
- New Packs including Inspired by Nature
- Plus more, including all new in Live 11 Standard and Intro
Final Thoughts on Live Suite:
Live 11 Suite is an incredible ensemble of devices and sounds, all neatly packaged as one cohesive production package. If it’s within your budget, Live Suite is absolutely worth the investment.
Of course, there are plenty of great 3rd party plugins available, but the Live Devices included with Live 11 Suite are so good you may never need anything else. And that’s before taking into account the expansive world of community-created content at your fingertips thanks to Max for Live.
If you need to choose between Live Suite and next month’s rent, then maybe consider settling for Live Standard or Intro. Also, keep in mind that Max for Live is available for purchase separately for Live Standard owners.
With Live Standard/Suite, you’re still getting the industry standard music production tools, just without the extra goodies, or in the case of Intro, a limited track count. But the extra goodies in Suite are pretty damn good, so if you do go down the Suite route, you’re not going to regret it.
Finally, let’s talk about Push 2, Ableton’s hardware controller. Push 2 is designed to seamlessly integrate with any version of Ableton Live, providing immediate hands-on control. Those who yearn for the classic MPC workflow will feel right at home with deep Simpler integration and intuitive sample slicing and drum/melodic sequencing. It’s also an adaptable keyboard instrument which can morph into any scale/key configuration making it accessible to anyone, regardless of musical training. The large colour display provides plenty of visual feedback, and of course, those colourful pads are great for launching clips in Session View.
The default Push 2 package includes a copy of Live 11 Intro, although bundles are also available with Live Standard and Live Suite, with upgrade options for existing Live owners.
New with Push in Live 11:
Ableton Live version 11 added deep support for MPE, for those with MPE controllers. This functionality also extends to Push 2 in the form of polyphonic aftertouch. Many Live Instruments such as Wavetable and Simpler were updated with MPE control over various parameters, and any reference to ‘MPE Press’, can be handled by Push’s now polyphonic aftertouch (pressure) functionality.
Final Thoughts on Push 2:
Push 2 is the ultimate accessory for Live, and makes the software feel like the world’s most powerful standalone hardware instrument. If you have the budget, consider picking up Push and Live Standard/Suite at the same time. It’s a great value path to acquiring one of the most powerful and unique music production platforms available today. Paired with a laptop and audio interface, and you’ll be all set for studio and live performance.
Now go forth and make some music! Regardless of which software you own (if any at all).
Tristan Malloch is a Certified Ableton Trainer