Ableton Live 5.2 review: Ableton Live 5.2

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.


New effects give you more ways than ever to shape a beat.

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.


You can now import MP3 tracks into Live 5.2.

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.

Ableton Live 5.2 performed beautifully in our testing. It loaded clips and effects quickly and never crashed. While first-timers and even those upgrading should look through the lessons to get up to speed on the interface or the new features (Live's controls are not always obvious; for example, you can always adjust numbers in a text box by dragging your mouse up and down, even though there's no scroll bar), you'll quickly be creating your own professional or just plain bizarre tracks. A large library of clips and effects allows you to jump right in, even if you don't have an instrument to plug in.

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
Ableton Live 5.2 is a complex program, so don't be shy about looking for help. Luckily, the company offers excellent support options. The program comes with a 376-page PDF manual and several fine tutorials built in. Look to the Web site for FAQs, tutorials, e-mail support, and even phone support. M-Audio provides the e-mail and toll-call phone support, the latter of which is available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. PT. We found the hold times short and the operators remarkably patient.

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