Synthtopia

10 Ways To Improve Performance In Ableton Live

Today’s computers blow away the computers that were available in 2001, when Ableton Live was first introduced.

Back then, if your computer had a 1 Ghz CPU, 256Mb of RAM and a 20GB hard drive, you had it pretty good. Now, processors are 30-40 times faster, computers have 100 times as much RAM & terabyte hard drives are common.

But, as computers have gotten faster, our DAWs have added features and our expectations have gotten higher. So, even with today’s faster computers, you’ll still run into situations where you need more power than your computer has to give.

In this article, guest author Doug Beney offers 10 ways to improve performance in Ableton Live. And, if you want even more information, we’ve included a collection of resources at the end of the article that you can check out. 

Introduction

After you use Ableton for a bit, you might start to wonder why everything starts to run slow when you have a lot of tracks. Maybe you’re wondering why there are audio-drop outs every time you press play.

In this article, I will talk about ways to fix these problems and, hopefully, make music production a much more enjoyable process.

Easy Tweaks to Improve your Speed

Loading audio clips into RAM

Loading clips into RAM will pre-load the clip into RAM, instead of doing it in real time. This can help with speed problems, especially with laptops with slower 5400 RPM hard drives, but a decent amount of RAM.

To enable this option, click on a clip. You will see an option appear in the clip view that says “RAM”. When you click that, RAM view is enabled.

Note: Don’t abuse this! RAM is a limited resource and Ableton uses a lot of it, doing many processes. You might run into “Out of Memory” errors if you abuse this.

Enable Multi-core Support

Most computers nowadays are multi-core. You are going to want to take advantage of this with multi-core support. Doing this will noticeably improve the performance of Ableton.

You can find this option in Ableton preferences, under the CPU tab. This option should be enabled by default, but it is worth a check to verify.

Collect all and Save

This option of Ableton will take all the outside files (drum samples, effects, audio clips), and it will save them into your project.

This is good because it minimizes the work Ableton has to do to find all the files. Everything is right in one folder. This is especially useful if you are planning on moving the project to another computer.

You can find this option  under File >> Collect All and Save.

Note: Using ‘Collect All’ won’t make a huge difference, but it’s just good practice.

Use Return Tracks

A powerful tool for minimizing the overhead of effects is to use Return tracks. Creating return tracks is great not only because they minimize CPU load, but because they let you apply the same affect consistently to multiple clips.

This is especially useful for reverb – because it’s common to want to put sound into a shared ‘virtual space’. Instead of using a reverb on each channel, and having the overhead of multiple reverbs, Return Tracks let you use a shared reverb, lowering your CPU use and making it easier to tweak settings.

Another common use is for delays. If you want to use a rhythmic delay on multiple elements – say a synth line and several percussive elements – using sends & returns make it easier to do it consistently and efficiently.

You can create a return track by right clicking and selecting “Insert Return Track”, as shown above. Then you can add effects to the Return Track, just like you would with a regular audio track.

Note: The Return Track doesn’t do anything by itself, it just gives you the option to ‘Send’ multiple tracks to a shared effect.

You can adjust which tracks send audio to the shared Return Track using the Sends controls, right, which show up above the Mixer section in each track.

If you don’t see the Sends section in your Live Set, select View >> Sends.

Download and install Asio4All (Windows only)

If you are using Ableton on a Windows computer, you may want to use the audio driver Asio4All. It’s a free download.

Asio4All is a hardware-independent low-latency ASIO driver for WDM audio devices. Asio4All can be useful to those who experience driver issues and have tested their manufacturer drivers without success.

Using Asio4All is simple. Download it from http://www.asio4all.com/ and follow through the installation.

Then in Live, change your Driver to Asio4All:
Preferences >> Audio >> Driver Type.

Adjust Sample Rate & Buffer Size

Sample rate and buffer size are two items to consider that can significantly affect performance.

Sample rate refers to the number of audio samples carried per second. Sample rate is measured in Hz or kHz. In general, higher sample rates will deliver better sound quality – but also diminishing returns the higher you go above CD quality (16-bit at 44.1 kHz).

Ableton’s default sample rate is 44100Hz (Found under Preferences >> Audio >> Sample Rate). For many purposes, this is ideal, because it’s CD quality and many people have a tough time hearing improvements above this.

The downside to using higher sample rates is higher overhead.

So why would producers use any higher options?

48 kHz is the standard audio sampling rate for professional video. And 88.2 kHz and 96 kHz are high-end options, which double the sampling rates of the 44.1 kHz audio standard and the 48 kHz audio for video standard.

Some prefer to sample audio at the highest rate possible, in order to maximize audio quality. For example, if you stretch audio, you’re effectively spreading the samples out over a longer period of time and reducing the sample rate. So, using a higher sample rate with your source material may deliver better sounding results.

Ableton recommends, for best performance and audio quality, that you avoid mixing clips with different sample rates within a single set. Do your sample rate conversion ‘offline’, outside of Live, to make them consistent with the sample rate you’re working at in Live.

Buffer Size is another setting that may be useful to consider tweaking.

So you’re making a song and adding a ton of tracks to your project. All of the sudden you start to hear crackles and audio drop-outs. Adjusting the buffer size can fix this.

Generally, you will want to select the smallest buffer size that you can use with a Live Set, without getting drop-outs.

The usable buffer size will vary, based on the complexity of your Set.

Freezing and Flattening Tracks

Any virtual instruments and effects that you use in a track comes with a cost, in terms of CPU usage.

“Freezing” a track bounces it to audio in the background and takes away the CPU intensive activity. This frees up your CPU so that you can do things like run with a lower buffer rate or use more tracks.

To Freeze a track, right click it (or control-click it) and choose Freeze Track.

When you freeze a track, your effects are un-editable until you un-freeze the track. When a track is frozen, you can still adjust the volume, panning, and sends, but can’t adjust the instrument or effects. This can be super useful if you are not sure if you are satisfied with a certain element in your track but you want to save some CPU.

When you are ready to fully commit, there is a flattening option. The flattening option bounces the track straight to audio. At this point there is no un-freeze. Doing this can dramatically improve the performance of Ableton.

VST plugins and audio effects and very strenuous on your CPU. I love using the freeze function, because I know I can always go back and un-freeze the track to make changes.

Upgrading Your Current Computer

If you’ve experimented with the suggestions we’ve covered above and are still running into performance issues, your Live Sets are pushing the limits of what your hardware is capable of handling. The next option is to look at upgrading your current computer.

This option may not be easy or cheap, depending on your skill level and wallet, but it can defiantly make a huge difference in your production workflow.

Upgrade your RAM – The first thing to look at upgrading is RAM. (RAM stand for random access memory, not a Daft Punk reference!)

RAM, just like a hard drive, stores data. The difference is that RAM stores it temporarily. Your computer uses RAM memory to process tasks such as opening an application, installing a program, or playing a game.

Live uses a lot of memory. Each audio effect and instrument that you use in a Live Site uses up a little of your available RAM. In Live, 4GB of RAM is really the minimum that you want to work with. The more you have, though, the faster your computer will run.

Note:

RAM is relatively cheap now, so if you’re not running with at least 8GB, it’s an inexpensive upgrade. If you’re comfortable with DIY upgrades, we’ve had good luck with using Crucial for both RAM and information on installing RAM in specific computers. If you know what you need, though, Amazon often has better prices than Crucial.

Get A New Drive – The next thing to consider is upgrading your hard drive.

Obviously you could just get a bigger hard drive and call it a day, but we’d recommend something much more effective – Solid State Drives (SSD).

An SSD is basically a hard drive that uses non-volatile flash memory instead of mechanically reading from a magnetic platter. The main difference that you’ll notice is it SSDs dramatically cut the load time for everything – your OS, apps like Ableton Live and even your Live Sets. You will notice your computer will boot very quickly and Live will open faster. An SSD can easily cut your DAW load time in half.

The big downside of solid state hard drives is their price tag. To put it in perspective, a 500GB standard hard drive will now cost around $50-65. A 500GB solid state drive can cost over $200. If you can get past the increased cost and treat this an investment in saving your time, a solid state hard drive upgrade could be a dream upgrade.

Again, we’ve had good luck with using CrucialAmazon for SSDs. With laptops, drive upgrades are sometimes fairly complicated projects, so make sure you find install details upfront.

Another option to consider is RAID arrays, which combine multiple drives to achieve both high capacity and high performance.

Summary

In this article, we’ve covered 10 ways you can improve performance in Ableton Live. Paying attention to these options will help you get the most out of your computer, no matter how new or old it is.

If you’ve already tried these things and you’re still not getting the performance you need, it’s probably time to look for a new computer.

We’ve included a list of resources, below, that offers more tips and details on getting the best performance with Ableton Live. If you’ve got other tips that have worked for you, leave a comment and let us know!

Resources:

Author Bio

Doug Beney is an Ableton user, guitar player, piano player and web programmer. Before using Ableton, Doug used Logic Pro 9 and FL Studio. Once he tried Ableton, there was no going back. He started Midi Lifestyle, a website dedicated to all things MIDI, in September of 2014. The website’s goal is to become a hub for all things MIDI related. The site has information on building your own MIDI controller and also has reviews of many different MIDI controllers.