If you’re a music creator looking for a fun and effective way to create and record tracks all by yourself, you’re probably going to want to get into a Digital Audio Workstation or D.A.W. While the best D.A.W. could be literally anything, right now, most of the big creators working on digital platforms like YouTube are saying that Pro Tools and Ableton Live are the best D.A.W.s around right now. So, the obvious question is, which is better? As we will find out, it depends on you and your preferences. So, let’s get into it.
Pro Tools or Ableton Live: Which is Better?
There are many things to consider before we come to a final conclusion, and of course, the best answer is always going to be subjective and based on your needs, habits, and peculiarities as an artist. So first, let’s have a quick breakdown of the two.
Pro Tools & Ableton Live at a Glance
For the most part, the general consensus is that Ableton is best for electronica, techno, and genre music that is heavily based on electronically generated sounds, whereas Pro Tools tends to be more favorable for dealing with recordings of live instruments. Whether or not this is a hard and fast rule is yet to be seen. So, for now, let’s go over some of the broad pros and cons of each.
Pro Tools: Pros & Cons
- Easy to use interface: Many users find the interface to be logical, easy to understand, and easy to learn.
- Mixing: Many users say that the mixer is the best in the business. It lets you quickly see the levels that all of your tracks are playing at, which is unbelievably handy. It also emulates analog mixing, almost as well as the most expensive products on the market.
- MIDI sequencing and Soft-Synth: Most users speak very highly of the MIDI sequencer. The intuitive way it records and sequences MIDI notes makes it popular with artists who use this feature frequently.
- P.C. support: Being available only on Macintosh, those who port it to P.C. are going to be more or less on their own. You can find good answers on the forums, but they come with no guarantees and can take time to find.
- Configuring the windows: The windows that all of the tools are displayed in can be difficult to organize. It takes a lot of getting used to. There are sets of windows that can be set to appear in groups, which is handy. But if you build up bad habits by creating sub-optimal window sets, that’s a problem. If you want to create a professional setup, you need multiple monitors.
- Automation: There are some bugs that Pro Tools users have become familiar with because they have been around for a long time. For example, in some cases, you have to begin playback where the envelope begins in order for the automation to function properly. Otherwise, your plugins will carry the wrong values.
Ableton Live: Pros & Cons
- Quick navigation: Ableton is easy to get around in, making it easy to learn and easy to use.
- Live, clip-based execution, and synthesis: Its ability to support simultaneous processing is better than ever, correctly displaying a multitude of clips and recordings correctly. This makes Ableton a pleasure to use.
- Automation: Ableton’s automation is the best available in its price range, easily explaining why it is so popular with electronica artists.
- A plethora of samples: It’s one of the simple pleasures of Ableton to be able to browse through its extensive list of samples and have fun. It makes it ideal for beginners, which is a huge boon to anyone learning to use a D.A.W. for the first time.
- The new wavetable: Ableton Live’s new wavetable sounds amazing, frankly.
- Lack of track comping: It would be nice to be able to assemble comp tracks from numerous takes. But you can’t. You’ll have to find a workaround.
- Notation view: Not being able to see notations quickly is disappointing.
- Lack of pitch fixing: You cannot fix the pitch with Ableton. If you don’t care or can find a workaround, you might be okay with this one glaring hole in the product.
Pro Tools: Overview
Arguably, the greatest strength of Pro Tools is its robust set of super-precise audio editing functions. Only top of the line, and very expensive competitors, handle navigating across a timeline with the same amount of accuracy and precision as Pro Tools. At this price range, no other tool will let you zoom in on a waveform and pinpoint the minute level of detail that Pro Tools allows you to do. For that alone, it is amazing and well worth the price and the time it takes to learn to use it.
The Audio Suite tool that came out last year makes Pro Tools an even more appealing option for anyone who wants to pull off rapid edits on a clip without having to load a whole plugin.
For film editors and power-users, the H.D. portion of Pro Tools becomes even more versatile. With the option to connect to H.D.X. and access Dolby Surround tracks, you are getting something really special if you’re turning out high-quality audio-visual products.
The bottom line is the fact that Pro Tools is the industry standard for sound engineers. It makes it possible to bring a level of professionalism to the table that, frankly, you cannot do without if you’re doing competitive and professional-grade work as a part of a production team.
That being said, even if you’re a alone mixer working on uploading audio products to your own YouTube channel, there are enough expert-level users giving excellent advice on the Avid forums that you can work your way through just about any technical difficulty or other problem you may be having. That means it’s possible to rise above the standard YouTube creator or freelance mixer-DJ by learning the ins and outs of Pro Tools rather than phoning it in with Ableton.
That being said, Pro Tools still has its share of bugs and glitches. If you’re completely new to this type of toolset, they will throw you for a loop. However, once again, you will be able to use the forums to work through any problem you may be having. But it will take time, and you will not be able to count on technical support- at all.
Pro Tools is called Pro Tools because it is a set of tools for a professional or someone who is bent on becoming one. However, if the polish and shine of top-notch professionalism are not required for your style and your audience, then the rough, ready, and muscle-bound nature of Ableton Live make Ableton the better choice.
Ableton Live: Overview
Where Ableton Live stands out most is in its minimalistic, easy to use, and understand interface. It presents you with a few external windows, alleviating the problem of losing mission-critical information every time you highlight a new window.
Customization is also very good and contributes to the high popularity of the product. Users have access to custom color coding, custom shortcuts and have complete control over MIDI mappings. These are all core features of Ableton Live.
What other programs tend to require several clicks to do, Ableton Live can do by presenting you with a simple menu through which to access things like Quantization and Automation with a keystroke.
The way Ableton Live is laid out and organized makes using it very efficient. After you get used to the standard default settings, you can easily set up your own customized settings to make it even faster.
The virtual instruments might be the one thing that makes it the most enjoyable D.A.W. out there on the market right now. Just about anyone would enjoy playing with a virtual guitar enough to become competent with it and start laying down original tracks in no time at all.
Another ace up Ableton’s sleeve is its stability and reliability. Users can make changes to the interface and driver settings without having to restart the session. What’s more, fine-tuning the settings in the middle of a session can be an excellent way to find the optimal balance between stability and latency.
Ableton has been around since 2001, which makes it the junior D.A.W. to Pro Tools. As such, it’s safe to say that its creators learned some lessons second hand before building the foundations of the toolset. It took everything that D.A.W.s did well and streamlined them in a digital format.
For all these reasons, it’s easy to see why Ableton is the single most popular D.A.W. with electronic music creators, recording artists, and virtual instrument mixing artists. That’s not likely to change any time soon.
The Final Verdict
At the end of the day, what you are going to find is that where Ableton is strong, Pro Tools is weak, and vice-versa.
We don’t want to give the impression that Ableton is a toy or a gimmick for novice creators. It isn’t. What it is, is more like a sports car, whereas Pro Tools is something more like a high-end luxury automobile.
The short answer to the question of which is best for you is, the more analog instruments you are recording- the more likely Pro Tools is the right choice. If you are recoding very fine, classical level tracks on a physical instrument, Pro Tools is probably best. But you can still do these things with Ableton as well, albeit not with the same level of refinement.
In the final analysis, the best tool for you is the one you will spend the most time learning to use and enjoying.