Ableton Live 8′s New Warp Engine

By Jon Margulies

One of the things I love about Ableton is that improving the basic functionality of their product – even if it isn’t the most sexy and marketable feature – is a priority for them. Sure, Live 8 has enough newfangled whiz-bangery to excite any marketing executive, but thats not what I’m excited about today. I can’t wait to get my hands on Live 8′s new warping engine.

Firstly, Ableton’s engineers have revisited the issue of sound quality. Specifically, the Complex mode has been updated to use the Elastique Pro algorhythm. You may not have heard of Elastique, but you’ve probably heard their technology – they’ve provided pitch and time shifting technology to many products such as Bias Peak, Mackie Tracktion, Native Instruments Traktor, Steinberg Cubase and many more. In fact, like all of the products mentioned above, versions 5, 6 and 7 of Ableton Live use Elastique Efficient, a version that is lighter on the CPU than Pro, but also lower quality.

The CPU of Live’s current complex mode is already pretty high – about 10 times that of Beats mode – and the new version will increase that, but it’s worth it. For most of use, Complex mode is only necessary when warping material that is, well, complex. In other words, entire songs or samples with a wide range of tonal and percussive qualities. Most context don’t require that you have very many clips like this running at once, so generally this extra CPU hit shouldn’t be too hard to swallow given the increase in sound quality.

That’s not where it ends, though. The whole process of warping audio is about to change for the better. Live has always had an unusual way of visualizing time adjustments in the Clip View – instead of, say moving a late snare drum hit so it lines up with the beat, you move the beat so it lines up with the snare hit:

Now, it will be possible to move the snare hit, making this process more intuitive.

Enhanced beats mode also promises a new improvement in sound quality because Live 8 will do time adjustments based on transients (much like the famous beat slicing program ReCycle) which often produces fewer artifacts than the current method which goes according to a straight division of the beat (such as 1/16 notes).

So, in true Ableton style, not only will Live 8 bring us piles of new features, its going to make the old ones easier to use and better sounding. Sweet.