Ableton Live is one of the most powerful DAW softwares in the world. Since launching in 2001, it has become a cornerstone of many modern music producers, and is also embraced by live performers and DJs thanks to its powerful and innovative performance-friendly workflow. Some of the key features that make Ableton Live a market leader are its exceptional audio engine, (virtually) seamless hardware integration, pioneering audio and MIDI manipulation tools, and a range of built-in plugins that few DAWs can rival. So are there any must-have plugins for Ableton Live?
That said, there are occasions where external plugins can achieve extraordinary results. While Max for Live allows users to create their own (often wild) audio and MIDI manipulation tools, some of these tasks are better attempted with help from 3rd party plugins to ensure a fast workflow.
Let’s take a look at some amazing third-party plugins which will enhance your sound, turbo-charge your workflow and elevate your music.[the_ad id=”8176″]
FabFilter have become one of the most heralded name in VST Plugins. A first-choice for many professionals, their plugins offer an intuitive workflow, sleek design and comprehensive range of applications. Put simply, if you want to create an effect, a FabFilter plugin might be the fastest and most intuitive way to get there.
Rather than attempting elaborate analog emulations, FabFilter focus on sound quality, usability and multi-disciplinary appeal. Their Pro-Q EQ is clean, responsive and easy to use. Pro-R is a reverb plugin capable of delivering a breathtaking range of reverb responses. Saturn is a world-class saturator/distortion effect that can emulate classic sounds or create wild new textures. Meanwhile, Pro-G might be the easisest to use Gate on the market. Add in a world class delay in Timeless, a simple and powerful Limiter in Pro-L and some exciting filter and rhythm tools like Simplon and Volcano, and you have a bundle of plugins that any producer would be delighted to own.
And I haven’t even mentioned Pro-C, their incredible compressor. It’s powerful, clean and has one of the simplest interfaces imaginable. Hitherto complex side-chain and Mid/Side compression operations are a piece of cake!
The word ‘legend’ is often abused, but in Roland’s case, fully deserved. Their range of classic synths have literally transformed the sound of music since the early 80s. It’s impossible to overstate the impact that synths and drum machines like the the TR-808, TR-909 and TB-303 had on music. In fact, these three examples almost single-handedly generated entire genres; Hip-Hop (and Techno), House and Acid respectively. And the list goes on: The Jupiter 8 and Juno-106, along with Yamaha’s DX-7, defined the sound of 80s pop. The SH-101 and JX-3P did the same for the 90s dance scene. And all of the above are still used in countless tracks to this day.
However, the original synths will set you back a few thousand bucks each. With so many producers desperate to access these legendary devices, Roland decided to create a new range of neo-classic synths. Using their own ACB technology to closely resemble the originals, the AIRA range of digital, hardware synths was born. And that was how to achieve classic Roland sounds, until some bright spark thought up Roland Cloud.
Now, thanks to an affordable subscription service of $19.99 per month, you can access the same ACB engines as the AIRA range in VST form. It’s a staggering arsenal of sound-creation that will instantly inspire you to new, magical recordings!
In a sense, the RX7 from Izotope isn’t really a plugin. It’s more of an in-DAW application, through which you can repair, extract and re-balance audio with a truly staggering degree of accuracy and control. It is the industry standard for sound designers, foley artists, TV & movie audio engineers and many more professionals. Ideally suited to both production and post-production, RX-7 comes loaded with some unique and remarkable features.
If your audio has issues, you can fix clicks, pops, hum or noise effortlessly with Repair Assistant. Music Rebalance allows the separation and individual level control of vocals, bass, percussion and other instruments within the same single audio file. This means you can re-balance existing pre-masters – even with no multi-track available! Or, strip away parts from existing songs to create vocal acapellas, instrumentals or stems to use for remixes, mashups or DJ sets. There really is nothing else quite like RX7.
Writer’s block? Need to find inspiration? Or simply lack the keyboard skills to play the music that’s in your head? Captain Plugins by Mixed In Key is your new best friend.
You can throw ideas down super fast by selecting chords, generating melodies and basslines, jamming with all out-of-scale notes removed, or crafting beats with per-channel rhythm templates to aid inspiration. Whether you’re a music theory expert or not, Captain lugins is a unique, fun and fast way to improve your workflow, allowing you to spend more time on what matters most, making music.
There are many reasons to love Valhalla’s plugins range. For starters, they’re kind to your wallet: Every plugin is priced at just $50, except for a smattering of equally brilliant ones that they give away for free!
But this is not bargain-basement fare, not by anyone’s standards. Valhalla excel at reverbs and delays, and wild space echoes and crazy modulation. They make fun plugins that do things few others can.
I love their Shimmer reverb plugin on synths – even with subtle settings it adds a dreamy, ethereal sheen to synths and pads, as if you’d draped them in diamonds. Alternatively, you can get experimental with their FreqEcho plugin – it echoes while adjusting the frequency of the resultant echoes in a multitude of tempos and ratios (FreqEcho is one of the free ones too!) And then there’s UberMod, which blends reverbs and delays with chorus and flange until up is down, light is dark and you’re no longer sure which way up your brain goes.
Likewise, their delay game is tight. A simple interface, multiple delay styles, including the oft-overlooked BBD delay, and a broad range of characters – it won’t take you long to find the perfect delay for your sounds. Oh, and ValhallaDelay won Readers Choice: Best Plugin 2019 with MusicRadar.
Check out the range here.
It’s rare that a plugin makes your channel sound better just by inserting it, but Slate’s Virtual Mix Rack does just that. With it’s faithfully modelled analog Consoles, EQs, Pre-Amps, Compressors and much more, even with a default patch loaded, chances are your audio suddenly sounds bigger, warmer and more beautiful. Just by loading Virtual Mix Rack onto the channel. After that, you can go as deep as you like into the collection of industry-standard tools. And Virtual Mix Rack is just one compenent of the All Access Pass.
For $14.99 a month, you get a huge array of saturation, compression, pre-amp, console, reverb, EQ, amp emulations and a fabulous limiter. There’s more, too, such as ANA, their analog-emulating soft synth, and Kilohearts, a suite of multi-fx manipulation tools.
In addition to the all-powerful Virtual Mix Rack, my personal favorites are the Verbsuite reverb and the sweet-sounding Virtual Tape Machine saturator. The reverbs are clean, deep and warm, while the tape machine warms and glues sounds together just like a classic, hardware, and very expensive, studio unit would.
Mixed In Key Studio Edition analyzes your sample collection in real-time and enables you to match the perfect one-shot, loop, vocal or any other sample to your music production, remix or mashup.
It will instantly tell you the key, scale and tonality of any audio sample.
With Mixed In Key Studio Edition you can base compositions around a sample with total confidence. You’ll know exactly which notes are already present, giving you a great foundation for composition.
It’s the fastest and most intuitive way of matching incoming samples to your project![the_ad id=”8178″]
Possibly the simplest to use and most intuitive dynamic EQ ever made. Trackspacer is an amazing tool for separating sounds in your mix. Say you’ve got a guitar and synth line that are competing for similar frequency space… tradiotional fixes for this involve complicated side-chain compression, and careful EQ to keep enough of each but give them room to stand apart. With Wavespacer, you simply set the guitar as an input source on the synth channel, set the band-range you want to affect, and dial the knob ubtil it sounds perfect. Trackspacer’s advanced audio analysis means it only reduces the exact frequencies of the incoming signal. To give an even clearer example, imagine your snare is competing with your kick; when the kick and snare play togethr, the snare gets lost. With Trackspacer, simply set the snare as an input signal on the kick channel, and tell Trackspacer to reduce the frequencies of the kick drum, only where they coincide with the snare’s crest, and only when the snare strikes. Voila! Instant clarity with no loss of power.
Eventide make great plugins, from the legendary Blackhole reverb to the equally legendary H3000, H910 Harmonizers and some epic flangers, phasers, reverbs and compressors. Generally, Eventide’s plugins do things other plugins can’t, and ooze with character.
While I could have chosen one of several outstanding plugins, I’ve decided to vaunt Physion with particular gusto. It’s a multi-FX style plugin that boasts a unique Structural Effects processor. By splitting incoming audio into transient and tonal sections, it can work on both using separate effects, chiefly Transient Shaper, Chorus, Delay(s), Phaser, Gate and Reverb. By allowing this independent processing of different parts of the same signal, it’s capable of some fabulous effects on vocals, synths, drums and guitars.
Personally, I love using it on drums, and rarely need to look past the incredible presets. Throw Physion on your drum bus channel and try Sharpening… it’s like a magic trick – suddenly your drums are crisper, tighter, more dynamic and glued tight together.
It’s super easy to create your own ideas from scratch. Visit the official Chords homepage and see how it will help you explore music and write your own original productions.