Ableton vs Pro Tools

JMC Audio Engineering student Dom compares digital audio workstations (D.A.Ws) / software tools 'Ableton livevsableton2.jpgLive' (Version 9.1) of 2014 against 'Pro Tools' (version 11.1), which was also released at the start of 2014.

Find out his thoughts on the two tools based on; midi functionality, recording audio, audio processing, user interface, editing features & value for money...

Before we begin please keep in mind that these & most other D.A.Ws work similar to each other and the below comparison is based off my experiences over the last 2 years with over 200 hours of using both applications.  
Let’s say you’re just starting out as an audio engineer or producer, which D.A.W should you purchase?  

Price: The first thing you’re going to notice will be the price tags (2014);

  • $550 for Ableton Live standard version 9 *(2015/Now $529) [USD] 
  •  $699 for Avid’s Pro Tools version 11. *(2015/Now $599 + $99 a year for software upgrades - “Or, for a much lower initial out-of-pocket expense, you can subscribe to Pro Tools for $29.99 a month or $299 a year”) [USD]

Tight on cash? Here are some other effective tools;

  •  $320 for Logic Pro X, which I also highly recommend except it’s only available for Mac OS X
  • Free – Audacity: Due to it being freeware it is limited in terms of functions, features & Processing power. (Available on both PC & Mac)

Computer Specs: The next big factor I ask people is about their computer, how much memory (Hard Drive Space) & processing power (RAM) do you have?
Have a look at the graph below showing Ableton on the left and Pro Tools on the right; 


Although Pro tools require a lot more RAM, it does take up less Hard-Drive space. Ableton takes up more memory because it offers you the options to install a wide variety of extra sounds & instruments (specifically synthesizers for lovers of MIDI & electronic music productions).

The Mix Session Views;



Pro Tools


In terms of which software is better, unfortunately, there is no answer. Most D.A.Ws work similar to each other and it really comes down to personal preference in how its user interface & workflow makes sense to you. However, some D.A.Ws are preferred for specific tasks & situations more than others. 


Pro Tools – Referred to by most as the “industry standard”, audio recording & mixing in Pro Tools is easy & fun, be it in the studio or on the go. Although the MIDI and post-processing aspects could be a bit more intuitive, audio recording, mixing & mastering is where this D.A.W shines. Pro tools offer loop-recording functionality making it very easy to record & store multiple takes. It has come a long way in terms of performance, user interface & functionality. The interface grows on you with practice and can be daunting to beginners but after a few tutorials & some time, it will all make sense. 
Some key & unique features of the software below:

  • Offline bouncing: Exporting/bouncing a track up to 20 times faster than real time!
  • Low Latency Input buffers allow you to monitor tracks without hampering plugin performance.
  • Improved interface & audio engine for a faster & easier workflow.
  • Score editor (for those who prefer sheet music or are classically trained)
  • Tempo Changes without altering the pitch of a sound (with elastic audio)
  • Elastic audio + pitch – Accurate warping/transposition of audio.
  • Auto Save function (Tell Pro Tools how often you want it to automatically save your projects in case it or the computer crashes).
  • Beat detective – Detect transients & realign (quantise) audio to be in time with the tempo / to beat grid lines. (Good for automating a drummer)

Ableton Live- The simple & stable performance gives this D.A.W points in workflow & speed. As the name suggests “Live” is its speciality with performance, processing & triggering samples. Automation & audio manipulation is easy with a lot of tools made accessible with a single button click. Ableton Live is also a challenge to begin with due to its unique layout & colour scheme but with some guidance from tutorials or videos, it all makes sense quickly. If you’re ever lost or curious as to what a button, feature or function does there is a help/dialogue box on the bottom left corner of your screen that describes how it works as you hover your mouse over it. In the words of 1 of my lecturers, “If you’re ever lost, when in doubt – Right Click!” This will open up a menu with the available options you can perform on this field. 
Some Unique & Key features are listed below:

  • Anything on screen can be mapped to a hotkey and further mapped to an external controller.
  • Simple Audio to MIDI Conversion & vice-versa along with other time consuming task made easy with a click of a button.
  • Transposing (re-pitching) audio made easy with a single dial on your chosen audio clip.
  • Fast & easy access search function to sort through samples & plugins.
  • Quick search function to find any sound, effect or plugin.
  • Helpful dialogue box open & ready to teach you what a function does.
  • Plugins, effects & windows are always within your sight or put away with an arrow-tab.

The bottom line:
Have a go at the trial or demo version of both applications before making a purchase if you’re starting out. Again I heavily emphasise that each D.A.W can be used to perform similar tasks but would recommend Pro Tools for studio work, recording bands/instruments and mixing audio. Ableton Live I would recommend more-so for Electronic Music, either as performing with samples & MIDI or producing Electronic tracks due to the functions and fast workflow.

Some Tips! (Top 5 shortcuts for each Application):

Ableton Live: (CMD or CNTRL/Mac or PC)
CMD + SHIFT + ‘U’ = Quantise Menu.
CMD + ‘T’ = Insert Audio Track.
CMD + SHIFT + ‘T’ = Insert MIDI Track.
CMD + ‘L’ = Loop Selection.
CMD + ‘E’ = Split Clip / Section.

Pro Tools: (CMD or CNTRL/Mac or PC)
CNTRL + SHIFT + ‘N’ = New Track
CNTRL + ‘F’ = Create Fades
Shift + ‘S’ or ‘M’ = Solo or Mute
‘B’ = Split Clip / Section
CNTRL + SHIFT + ‘L’ = Loop Playback

- Dom Petranovic

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Bibliography: http://sound-editing.softwareinsider.com/compare/32-53/Ableton-Live-9-vs-Avid-Pro-Tools
Sound-editing.softwareinsider.com,. 'Ableton Live 9 Vs Avid Pro Tools - Audio Editing Comparison'. N.p., 2015. Web. 18 Nov. 2015