Any music producers, especially Ableton Live users, may have heard of the long-standing urban legend called ‘the DAW wars:’ different DAWs sound better or worse than other DAWs.
Now I don’t know whether or not it’s true in all honesty. I’m not a professional programmer or sound engineer. I’ve just been producing music for roughly 5+ years and have trained my ear somewhat. We hear the ubiquitous argument that it’s objectively impossible; all DAWs operate on purely numbers and mathematics. So it’s impossible that any one DAW sounds better or worse than another. 2 + 2 = 4 no matter what. I can see how that may be the case, but there’s still a part of me that does buy into the idea that some DAWs sound better or worse than others.
Ableton is a whole beast of its own. It’s an incredibly thought out DAW that also functions for live performances, and in order to do so, Live has functions that lower sound quality to maximize CPU. So Ableton Live can definitely have lower sound quality if not set otherwise. Now does that fact prove the idea that some DAWs can sound worse than others? I don’t know but I could see it.
There are a few steps one can take to maximize the sound quality on Ableton to make it more of a studio DAW than a live performer. I’ll get into the basics that go a long way.
First, go to the preferences. In the ‘default SR & pitch conversions,’ click ‘normal’ to get to ‘high quality.’
This means Ableton will use the highest quality algorithm with recording and playing clips.
Second, there are high quality settings you can set to several audio effects. The EQ 8 has a high quality mode that’s now called oversampling.
Right click the EQ 8 to turn on oversampling. The audio is processed at twice the sample rate. So there is enhanced sound managing that will have less harsh transients and better frequency processing.
The glue compressor also has oversampling, which can be turned on the same way. Be careful with the glue compressor; with oversampling on, it may bring the level over 0db even with soft clip on. So just be careful that you don’t go too crazy with it (bro).
Reverb has a high quality setting, which I feel really enhances the sound of the effect. It’s very simple to turn on. Under the ‘Quality’ option, it goes from lowest to highest with Eco – Mid – High:
The Chorus audio effect has a high quality option, or ‘Crisp’ option, as well. Same idea – right click and select ‘crisp.’
Furthermore, the Saturator effect has a high quality option as well. No need for a screenshot since it’s the same idea – right click and select high quality.
Ableton’s Sampler has a high quality option as well. It’s interpolation – algorithms – which process audio, can be set to have the best sound quality. Set the ‘Interpol’ to ‘Best Interpolation.’
Since I use Ableton in studio form more than I do for live performances, I’ll save the settings to default. Doing so is virtually the same as setting to high quality initially, but just selecting ‘save as default.’ That saves time and energy and will prove to be a huge benefit to your producing.
Lastly, when exporting your audio, Ableton gives you the option to set sample rate and bit depth. For mastering, we want the best possible audio. It defaults to a 44100 sample rate and a 16bit. When you master and want to play your sounds on a CD you’ll have to get there, but you could set it to 48000 and 24 or 32 bit. Absolutely don’t dither yet. Only dither the final master. Dithering is a whole other game, which I encourage you to look into. Essentially it’s super low noise that allows your audio to go to a lower bit depth without adding quantization errors, or truncation distortion. Without dithering the sound could be unpleasant.
Doing all of this will start you off in a much better position to use Ableton Live in the studio. Remember that the high quality options will use more CPU, so make sure your processor can handle it. If needed, freeze a track in a ‘high quality’ version and use that audio instead of running all of the effects on the initial MIDI track. That should help if you have a lot of tracks running like I do when I produce. I hope that was useful; thank you very much.