Home » Recording Resources » Featured Reviews » April 2024: Ableton Live 12

Mind Meld, Roar and More!


Review By David Blascoe

It’s that time again. Ableton is back at it with the announcement of Live 12. At the time of this review, I have spent a few months exploring and creating with an all-but-finalized pre-release, and it’s a doozy. Live 12 further refines some existing functionalities and introduces a few groundbreaking tools that significantly elevate the music-making experience.


Jumping right into what’s new, we start with MIDI. There are a handful of updates on how to implement MIDI, and the latest transformations in Live 12 allow you to reshape MIDI patterns with impressive precision and creativity.

Whether you’re adding musical ornamentation, drawing acceleration curves, simulating guitar strums or connecting successive notes, the possibilities are vast. The intuitive interface makes it easy for users of all levels to experiment with simple or complex variations, breathing new life into MIDI clips.

One of the standout features is the addition of MIDI Generators. You can effortlessly conjure up melodies, chords and rhythms by setting constraints and letting the Generator create original ideas. This feature generates loads of inspiration, offering a starting point for creative exploration and development.

I found this particularly useful when producing a track for a client. I was stuck on rhythm ideas and needed inspiration. The Generator quickly devised something I likely wouldn’t have landed on myself for the programmed drum track. With just a little experimentation, I had a unique hi-hat loop that added much-needed energy and movement to the track.

Live 12 also enhances MIDI editing capabilities by offering keyboard and mouse operations to edit MIDI in novel ways. From splitting notes to joining them together, the Note Utilities panel provides tools such as Fit Scale, Humanize, Add Intervals, and more, giving you much greater control and precision in your edits.

In Tune

Embracing and exploring different tuning systems becomes more accessible in Live 12. The update allows you to work outside the confines of 12-tone equal temperament, applying your preferred tuning to Live devices and any MPE-capable virtual instruments or hardware. While not a feature I would use often, it is a godsend for anybody who creates music that utilizes nontraditional tuning.

Next, staying in key has never been easier with the new Key-Aware transformations. Transform or generate ideas within your selected scale, and never play the wrong note.

Mind Meld

Live 12 introduces Meld, an MPE-capable synthesizer. Meld features two oscillators with options to utilize the usual suspects like Sine, Square or Saw waves, all the way to odd and playful sound generators like Squelch, Rain or Bubble. It’s as interesting as it sounds, and the possibilities for sound design are pretty deep. The Rain oscillator even features a little umbrella icon, which is whimsical and fun. The Bubble oscillator literally sounds like somebody blowing bubbles in a bucket of water. While these touches are humorous, they lend themselves to some intensive sound design capabilities, all of which, in my experimenting, remained musical, useful, and, most importantly, unique and personal as you dig in.

Meld has dual filters with 17 different pass settings each, plus an extensive modulation matrix that pops up to take over the upper part of the screen when opened. I lost a lot of time playing with Meld, and I expect you will, too.

Ableton Live - Screenshot 1

Ableton Live -Screenshot 2

Ableton Live - Screenshot 2

Hear Me Roar

Roar is a powerful new coloring and saturation device in Live 12 that offers three saturation stages for serial, parallel, or Mid/side and multi-band configurations. It features a built-in compressor, feedback routing, and a similar modulation matrix to Meld. You can dial in everything from subtle glowing warmth to almost comical levels of intense distortion.

I especially like Roar on snare drums and my master mix bus—yes, the mix bus. With the multi-band saturation capabilities, I was able to warm up the low-end punch of a Shure SM57 I had on my snare for a session and add just a bit of crisp bite to the sound as well.

I didn’t anticipate using a saturation device on my entire mix. Still, after messing with some of the built-in presets like “Mix Fat Tape” or “Mix High-End Sparkler,” I realized the usefulness of introducing some saturation to the entire mix, something I look forward to doing much more in the future.

Granulator III

The latest version of Robert Henke’s granular synthesizer, Granulator III, brings expressive control to the forefront. You can bend notes, add vibrato and glissando, and even capture real-time audio for immediate manipulation. This update enhances the sonic possibilities of granular synthesis within the Ableton Live environment. I used the previous versions of this synth a lot and have been enjoying all the additions and improvements.

Focus on Flow

Live 12 improves the Mixer in Arrangement View, allowing users to access more information and control without disrupting their workflow by moving to Session View. Toggling the visibility of each Mixer section enhances readability and feedback, contributing to a smoother production process.

Stacking Clip and Device Views provides a comprehensive overview of the track, allowing users to see the Clip Editor, automation and the Instrument or Effect being worked on simultaneously. This streamlines the production process and reduces the need for repeated switching between views. Traditionally, Live has taken an all-or-nothing approach to which mode you view at any given time. Now, I love being able to see the mixer and my MIDI information while in Session or Arrangement view.

It’s the Small Things

One minor update to Live 12 that I would be remiss not to mention, is the ability to zoom in on audio waveforms and make them bigger and easier to see. In previous versions of Live, this was only possible by turning the clip’s actual volume up. Seeing more delicate and soft audio files like a shaker loop is such a nice feature to have now, and like many things that came with this update, I don’t know how I lived without it.

Sound Similarity 

Live 12 introduces a tagging system that labels all factory sound content, including Packs, with instrument categories and descriptors. This is a useful addition and makes everything more organized and easier to find.

One of the most impressive new features for me is Sound Similarity Search. It uses a neural network to find additional samples and sounds similar to the one you are currently using. Just click on this new icon next to a sample, and almost magically, Live 12 finds everything on your computer with a similar sound signature. They are ordered from top to bottom, with the ones at the top being the most similar—it really is that impressive.

Say you have a bright snappy snare sample that you like but don’t think is just quite right. Sound Similarity instantly brings up loads of samples with the same overall tone and feel. I even tested this with very obscure and extreme-sounding synth presets, and again, Live 12 instantly finds dozens of others just like it. I have been using this feature constantly since I got Live 12, and it is a huge time saver.

Of course, with any DAW update, there is even more to be explored in Live 12.

In Conclusion

I have been using Ableton Live back to Live 8, and every update is always welcome—sometimes with features I desperately wanted and sometimes with ones I didn’t even know I wanted until I used them for the first time.

Live 12 is an excellent update in almost every way, and I can comfortably recommend that a Live user upgrade without hesitation.


Price: $99 Live 12 Intro; $439 Live 12 Standard; $749 Live 12—Upgrade Pricing Available

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