Ableton Live, like most DAWs, supports 3rd party plug-ins; software instruments and effects developed by companies other than Ableton, released in standard formats such as VST (Mac and PC) or AU (Mac only). Live also hosts its own type of instruments and effects known as Live Devices. These are devices generally made by Ableton (excluding Max for Live Devices) which can only be used in Ableton Live.
Each version of Ableton Live (Lite, Intro, Standard and Suite) includes a different collection of Live Devices, however, there are quite a few which are included with every version of Live, including Live Lite (which itself is bundled free with various MIDI controllers and audio interfaces). This list includes the powerful Simpler Instrument and fan favourite audio effects such as Beat Repeat and Auto Filter, and also the Audio Effect Rack device.
The latter follows in the footsteps of its Instrument counterparts: Instrument Rack and Drum Rack, employing the simple concept of taking multiple devices and combining them into one device, with a unified set of controls. The main difference here being Audio Effect Rack only works with audio effect devices, but this includes third-party plugins, not just Live Devices.
Thoughtfully, Ableton has included a comprehensive selection of custom Audio Effect Rack presets populated with their own Live Devices, ready for use in a wide range of applications such as mixing/mastering, guitar amp simulation etc. You can find all of these under ‘Audio Effect Rack’ in the Utilities category of Audio Effects in Live’s Browser.
If you haven’t explored these presets before and have only been using Live’s Audio Effect Devices individually, I strongly encourage you to have a browse. The number of presets you’ll find here will depend on which version of Live you own. Live Suite for example includes a huge number of Audio Effects, thus includes a larger number of Audio Effect Rack presets compared to Live Intro or Standard.
Making your own Audio Effect Rack is simple. Just drag an empty instance of Audio Effect Rack into your Live Set (again located in the Utilities category of Audio Effects in Live’s Browser), then drag any desired audio effect devices into the area that’s labelled ‘Drop Audio Effects Here’. You can chain as many audio effects as your CPU can handle into a single Audio Effect Rack and save them a single Effect Rack preset. If you’d like to make multiple chains of effects, you can even drop an Audio Effect Rack inside another Audio Effect Rack!
Of course, this is just the beginning of what Audio Effect Racks are capable of. The left border of an Audio Effect Rack houses several buttons for showing or hiding its various components. The button with the circular dial shows/hides Macro Controls which allow you to interact with the various device parameters within an Effect Rack as though they were all from one single device. Macros have also been given some nice new functionality with Live version 11.
Opening the Macro Controls section reveals 8 dials. Each can be mapped to any device parameter you’d like for convenience, but you can also map multiple parameters to one Macro control, so one dial can control many parameters simultaneously.
Clicking on an Audio Effect Rack’s Map button will highlight all the device parameters which can be mapped to a Macro. Just click on the desired parameter, then click the Map button beneath the Macro control you’d like to map it to (for third party plugins, you may need to open the plugin’s interface and click on a parameter first, after which they should all appear highlighted in the Device Area). Keep in mind that Macros assume full control over any mapped parameters, so those parameters can only be tweaked via the Macro dials, not their respective devices.
Once mapped, Macros are named according to their mapped parameter. You can continue to map additional parameters to the remaining Macros in this same fashion, or you can stack multiple parameters on a single Macro by selecting an already assigned Macro. Note that the Macro’s name will revert back to ‘Macro x’ when mapped to multiple parameters, but they can be renamed by right clicking and choosing ‘Rename’.
Selecting an Audio Effect Rack’s Map button also reveals the Macro Mapping Browser which temporarily replaces Live’s Browser. There you can see all mapped parameters and their associated Macros, and also specify minimum and maximum values for each parameter. This provides a tremendous amount of flexibility and fine control, particularly when multiple parameters are mapped to a single Macro.
As an example, an Audio Effect Rack may be housing Live’s Auto Filter effect as well as a third-party plug-in like Arturia’s Chorus Jun-6. Interesting results can be achieved by mapping a Macro to control both the Auto Filter’s Cut-off Frequency, and the Chorus’ Rate parameter, so as the filter opens, the Chorus rate increases (or vice versa, but more on that later).
By default, the Macro will sweep both parameters’ entire ranges, which may not be ideal. The Filter’s maximum Cut-off Frequency setting sounds fine, but the Chorus effect’s maximum Rate setting can sound a little silly. Also, the Filter’s Minimum Cut-off Frequency value is 26hz which in low-pass mode will filter out almost the entire signal. As a result, when the Macro’s dial is in the fully counterclockwise position the signal is almost inaudible, and in its fully clockwise position, it sounds silly on account of the fast Chorus speed. By increasing the minimum value of the Filter’s Cut-off Frequency and decreasing the maximum value of the Chorus’ Rate, we can make sure the Macro’s dial will only sweep the practical ranges of each parameter.
You also have the option of inverting any parameter’s minimum and maximum values in the Mapping Browser, so the minimum value is higher than the maximum value. This way it’s possible to turn one parameter up, whilst turning another parameter down, all with one dial!
With each Macro being so powerful, you may not need the entire default serving of 8 available Macros, so one of Live 11’s new features is the ability to decrease or increase the number of visible Macros. This is accomplished using the plus and minus buttons in the Effect Rack’s left border to notch the visible number or Macros up or down in groups of two. You can even reduce it to just a single visible Macro if that’s all that is required. Keep in mind this is only changing the Macro’s visibility. Their mappings will still be retained, regardless of their visibility.
Live 11 also introduced Macro Variations, which adds a tremendous degree of extra power to any Audio Effect Rack. These are simply preset settings of any parameters currently mapped to Macros. Practically, this is nothing new. It’s the same as if you opened a 3rd party plug-in and found a list of internal presets, all of which operate same plug-in, they just set the parameters set to different values. But now with Audio Effect Rack Macro Variations, your presets can span multiple plug-ins/Live Devices, and can be changed instantly.
They’re also incredibly easy to create. Just click the Show/Hide Macro Variations button (the one that looks like a camera), tweak your Macros to achieve a particular effect, and click ‘New’. That Macro Variation will be saved and added to the list beneath. You can right click to rename any Variation or click the Variation’s camera icon to replace it with the current Macro settings.
Variations can be selected by clicking their names with the mouse or using your keyboard’s up/down arrows. To recall a preset, you will need to either press enter, or click the Launch Macro Variation play button. This way you can navigate to a specific preset ahead of time and activate it when ready.
For extra fun, you can use the Rand (random) button to randomize the values of your Macros and click New to save as a Variation if you like the results. To fine-tune the results, you can right-click on any Macro and choose to exclude that Macro from Randomization or Variations.
If you would like to create multiple chains of effects within a single Audio Effect Rack, there is an alternative to simply dragging in a new Audio Effect Rack. The Chain List can be viewed by clicking the ‘Show/Hide Chain List’ button. Initially, all of your current effect devices within your Audio Effect Rack are considered one chain and are listed in the Chain List view as ‘Chain’. By dropping new effect devices (including additional Audio Effect Racks) into the Chain List view’s ‘Drop Audio Effects Here’ area, you can create additional parallel chains of effects, each of which is effectively a new Audio Effect Rack. Whichever chain you select here will be visible in the Effect Rack area to the right.
In the Chain Select Editor, you can designate zones for each effect chain by dragging their edges left or right, then use the Chain Select Ruler to select which effect chain is currently active. If zones overlap, both chains will be active. You can even create fades by adjusting the white fade ranges above each zone. This makes it possible to smoothly crossfade between complex chains of effects. You can even map the Chain Select Ruler to a Macro, or automate it, or assign to it a MIDI controller… The possibilities are endless!
So hopefully this has opened your eyes to some of what’s possible using Audio Effect Racks. They’re extremely powerful and configurable, and the included Audio Effect Rack presets will turn the Effect Devices you already own into super-weapons for almost any application.
Tristan Malloch is a Certified Ableton Trainer