Ableton Live 5.2
You could say that Ableton Live is lucky to hold the middle ground between entry-level music makers such as Apple's GarageBand and high-end professional products such as the venerable Logic Pro, but Live got there by making its own luck. This excellent music-editing, remixing, and tweaking app has earned its top spot by forging its own path and catering to a high-end hip and creative following of producers and DJs. All but owning the music-editing prosumer space, it expands its lead with version 5.2, which offers a dripping handful of new goodies to all its followers--whether they're pros looking for a light app to have fun with, amateur DJs looking for new ways to warp the beat, or interested newcomers trying to join the loop- and sample-infused club. Listen for yourself to this sample track created by Live.
Live's well-designed interface provides an enormous amount of functionality in a tight space. A browser at the top left lets you choose your samples, filters, effects, and more, and it displays your sonic creations in a viewing pane to the right. You can toggle to see either the Session view (which is more like an instrument) or the Arrangement view (which is completely editable), depending on whether you want to focus on particular loops or instruments or see how it all flows together. Along the bottom of the screen, you'll see the effects and filters that you've added to your loops. We like that Live reserves the lower-left corner for the optional Info view, which explains whatever part of the interface your mouse is hovering over. Live's creators, in fact, constantly go the extra mile to explain what could be a confusing app and get newcomers in on the fun; Live comes with a seven-lesson built-in tutorial, and the Ableton Web site has four excellent QuickTime movies.
Hard-core users can employ a variety of MIDI hardware to more easily control the Live interface. Check out some examples.
Of course, Live includes new effects to please its dance, trance, and hip-hop following (maybe we're wrong, but it's hard to imagine Nashville wannabes sitting down with Live). The new Beat Repeat effect lets you create interesting repetitions of a track; it includes full controls so that you can adjust it any way you want or leave it random. Phaser and Flanger provide classic guitar effects, while the impressive Saturator adds extra warmth. The new Arpeggiator creates arpeggios (phrases with raising or decreasing volume), which you can then adjust or repeat.
Remixers will love that Live can now import any MP3, Ogg Vorbis, Ogg Vorbis FLAC, or FLAC file on your hard drive, giving you a simple way to play with much of the music in your collection. Note that Live doesn't work with DRM-protected files, so if you've bought music online, you'll need to burn it to a standard audio disc and reimport it.
Other highlights include Complex Warp mode, which lets you change tempo and pitch separately, and Live Clip Storage, which lets you quickly stash a clip for use in other projects. Because the people behind Live know that every polished DJ or producer was once a kid trying to learn the ropes, Live 5.2 comes with improved built-in lessons. Live still doesn't have a history view that would let you undo changes out of order, which we think would be helpful.
In real-world performance, Live is just as impressive--and fun. We loved that we could hear the results of any adjustments we made right away, without waiting for the song to reload. Simply click a sound file to preview it, then drag and drop it onto the colorful Excel-spreadsheet-like interface. The app lets you apply effects and trigger individual tracks or entire sequences with the click of a mouse, a keyboard, or a MIDI controller. You can also--in real time--examine a loop and edit beginnings and end points to your liking. Once you've finished a session, you can go back to the Arrangement view, then tweak and edit the performance. The intuitive and responsive controls are ripe for experimentation, so you don't need to be a musician to come up with interesting songs, sequences, or patterns.
|Software requirements and specs|
|Platform(s): Windows 2000/XP; Mac OS 10.2.8 or higher|
|Processor: 600MHz or faster (Windows); G3 or better (Mac)|
|RAM: 512MB (Windows and Mac)|
|Sound requirements: Windows-compatible sound card (Windows)|
|Downloadable full version: Yes|