Ableton as an audio FX box only? Stable?

Trying to figure out how to make my setup a bit more economical (school bills and all that) and I definitely don’t want to sell my Digitakt or synths. I love working with hardware.

However, I do have close to a grand in FX pedals/boards, and honestly my Soundtoys plugins sound just as good. Is it feasible to just leave Ableton armed and running all the time with FX parameters for each instrument mapped to my MIDI controller? Outside of having to wake the computer up from time to time it seems like this might actually be a pretty cool setup! Not sure how this will work with Overbridge and whatnot, but curious if others have done it this way. Would this be stable/not a hassle?

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That is definitely possible and very easy to implement. You have to consider things like latency if youre gonna use tempo based effects, but other than that it should work fine. The question about stability is a bit more complex, as it is dependent on your computer and OS and such. But if you have the CPU overhead for the FX it should work. If youre gonna use soundtoys and other third party fx, and are using a mac of some kind, you might want to look into mainstage. It is designed for stuff like this, and is obscenely cheap. In fact, if you still want to use ableton, mainstage is worth it for Alchemy alone. Which the cunting guys of Apple stole from the cross platform world. Ive been writing nonsense for my masters paper for eight hours, so if this makes no sense, it makes no sense.

Edit: Sorry for the typo, I in fact meant “cunning”.


Haha, I got the sentiment. Thanks. Gonna check out mainstage!

Digging up an old thread. I wonder if anyone had any further advice for incorporating software FX into a hardware setup? I currently have an AR and OT sequencing a synth (Nord lead or SH-01A) and am using the OT FX to process the synth. I find the OT FX a little bland (I know others disagree) so I was thinking maybe I could use my vst FX. I don’t really want to use the laptop for anything other than as an FX processor (i.e. turn it on, set and forget). I use ableton live but I’m open to another solution if it is simpler than using live.

Works like a charm as suggested above. If you have issues with sync for time based effects then best not to sync ableton and your outboard and just set bpm manually


Thanks. What about audio latency? I really don’t want to end up in the mess that made me move away from the laptop in the first place…

I’m using Live often as FX processor on 8 audio tracks + send effects when I’m jamming.
Everyhing is connected to my audio interface anyway and I don’t have to go to my mixer and connect hardware fx or patch in hardware on the patchbay then - works like a charm. I don’t notice any latency. (Ofc depends on computer and audio interface. I have less then 3ms input latency, that’s basically not noticable, but it also worked on my old laptop where I had much more latency).

Any half-decent computer should work.

Thanks. Do you have your setup explained in more detail anywhere?

hello, I use a hybrid setup where rytm is clocked by Ableton (usamo sync box) and there are fx and sends for each rytm channel (analog in, no overbridge). Ableton controls transport, but I sequence the rytm from the rytm.
It’s very solid.

On top of this I usually add several channels for percs etc inside Ableton. My hardware synths get sequenced by Ableton or played and resampled into Ableton, chopped and arranged.

Same - I love sequencing Simpler with my
Digitakt (good for when you need time stretching) and I also route my MIDI channels through Ableton’s chord and scale functions to make songwriting easier. Lots of plug-in effects floating around as well, and those are are mapped to my MIDI controller. Master bus ties it all together.

I’m really not a fan of writing or arranging in Ableton and creating patches on soft synths is painful, but as an FX box/recorder it’s top notch.

Unfortunately no, but it’s pretty simple.

I have an eight input, six output audio interface which is hooked up to my patchbay so I can easily patch in hardware effects and other synths.

Octatrack’s main and cue outs are connected to inputs 1-4, Analog Keys to 5-6, Shruthi XT to 7 and Bass Bot v2 to 8.
I also have daw outputs connected to AK inputs for stereo analog filter goodness.

If I want to jam, try new ideas etc. and don’t want to hook up my mixer and hardware fx, I simply set up audio tracks in Live with software effects + additional send fx and map them to a midi controller.

Depending on the routing on my OT and AK, it could be a stereo input track for OTs main out, a stereo input track for OTs cue out and a stereo input track for my AK or maybe a stereo input track for OTs main out (OT is doing drums on tracks 1-4 which go through T8 as master track) and 2x mono input tracks for cue out L and R (OT plays single cycle waves, sampled fm basses or stuff like that on tracks routed through cue outs, tracks are hard panned for mono output).
Same with AK, sometimes I use a stereo input track in Live and use AKs internal send fx, sometimes I hard pan tracks on my AK, route into Live as 2x mono audio input and use different insert fx.
Shruthi XT and Bass Bot (or other synths I might have connected to inputs 7 ans 8 via the patchbay) also have their set of insert fx.

I also set up some send effects in Lives return channels and map important parameters to a midi controller.

Ableton Live’s looper is great for perfect transitions (midi clock synced and quantized).

I usually have an eq8 or channelstrip in each track in Live, then maybe a filter on the drum bus, modulation fx on pads and maybe a delay, depends on what I need ofc.
Live’s return tracks have two different delays, two different reverbs (one short room or plate and one huge reverb).

If you use many different effects and effect chains it becomes difficult to control them with a midi controller and follow what’s going on where.

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Thanks everyone. So I just gave this a try:

synth > interface > ableton FX > interface > OT in AB

I have the buffer set to the minimum and Ableton says latency is about 6 ms. Is this as good as I’m gonna get? Even this little bit of delay annoys me because I can hear it…

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I gave a response, but I withdrew it because I didn’t properly read your setup. 6 ms is not something you would really notice, even when playing. But that’s a pretty long chain, and I’m thinking those 6 ms ableton is reporting isn’t the true latency of the setup. I think it would work better if ableton was your last stage, but I’m guessing you want the fx before ot so you can get fx from ableton per track in ot?

6ms isn’t high and I wouldn’t have a problem with it. Ofc when I use Live as an fx processor in my setup, everything goes through my audio interface into Live so everything has the same input latency (+additional latency from software fx) and then it goes straight to my monitors.
Some people are more sensitive to latency then others, but 6ms is the delay you get when you’re standing 2 meters away from a sound source.

Like @anokah mentioned, not all audio interfaces report the actual latency, but you can test yourself. Simply plug a cable from an output to an input, place a short percussive sound onto Lives timeline, route the audio output to the output of your audio interface that has a cable into an input and record onto another track in Live and meassure the offset.

Make sure monitoring is off in Live.

DDMF Transport is a nifty tool to meassure exact values (ms and samples). Just drop it into Live and mark a distance in Lives arrangement view with the mouse, the plugin will show the values. More precise than what Live shows you when you zoom in.

If you can’t get a decent enough latency in Live, maybe try a vst host like VST Host or Gig Performer.

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Depends on so much. Latency of your interface (some are better/lower than others) and latency of chosen plugins, plus how they are arranged.

I use a MOTU Ultralite MK4.
At 48khz, 64 samples, round trip latency is 3.7ms
Add in things like Ableton limiter or compressor look ahead (1.5ms), Fielding Reviver (0.7ms). It starts to add up, especially if these are in a chain one after another. If they’re not chained and used on separate channels, then the fx latency is only as high as the channel with the highest latency fx + master buss processing latency.

Before ya know it, you’re at around 6ms, and that’s after paying careful attention to the tools you use and their settings. For this reason it’s best to record with plugins that have little to no added latency, and use the plugins that ensure more latency after tracking.

But remember. 6ms is the same amount of latency you get from stepping back around 6 feet further from your monitor speakers. So, it’s all relative.

If the 6ms delay really annoys you (because it’s probably more like 9-10ms when you factor in distance to monitors), using headphones will reduce the amount you “hear”.