Ableton Live 11.1 Now Exploits M1 Macs to the Fullest

But the plugins haven’t caught up yet

Key Takeaways

  • Ableton Live now runs as a Universal app on Apple Silicon Macs. 
  • Live 11.1 also brings new updates to its built-in features.
  • Older plugins will not load on M1 Macs, but there’s a workaround.
An overhead shot of a laptop, connected to audio equipment, running Ableton Live on the screen.

Ableton

Ableton Live 11.1 is a huge deal for any musician who bought a Mac in the last year—it's now optimized for Apple's M1 chips

Musicians might be all leather jackets, Jack Daniel's, and sleeping past noon, but they're a conservative bunch regarding gear—especially software. The golden rule is to never upgrade a working setup unless you have to. But if you use Ableton Live on any recent Mac, you should run, not walk, to the update page. Now that it supports Apple Silicon, Live is faster and uses way less CPU. But it's not all good news—if you rely on old plugins for your music, you may be in for a disappointment. 

"So far, it's flawless. CPU meter seems much more stable and is sitting a good 20-30% lower in the more hectic parts of large projects," musician and Ableton user Evpat told Lifewire in a forum post. "I am also experiencing fewer spikes/dropouts while using other programs simultaneously. I like to listen to my tracks while doing other tasks, and audio dropouts used to be frequent when having a few Chrome tabs open and scrolling around, etc. but not anymore."

Live Fast

Ableton Live is one of the most creative Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) around. It lets you dig in and edit everything, just like Pro Tools and Logic Pro, but it is also geared heavily towards live performance, hence its name. Being able to run a complex project on a lightweight laptop is essential. 

“The performance improvement is very noticeable."

Live 11.1 can now run directly on Apple Silicon Macs without using the Rosetta 2 translation layer that lets M1 Macs run older apps compiled for Intel chips. The result of this is a massive performance boost. Live was already pretty snappy on the new Macs because they are so snappy themselves. But the word across the music forums is that the app is not only running smoother but is also using far fewer resources. 

That is, Live now idles the computer's CPU where previously it would rev the engine, even when doing nothing. "Base CPU usage in previous versions of Live was around 27%. Now it's 5%," says Ableton user and musician Badbass in the Elektronauts forum

This is good in abstract terms, but Live tends to encourage the use of lots of live effects and processing to create some wild music. The CPU reductions we're seeing reported are better than buying a whole new computer for many people. And on M1 Macs, this combines with the already-impressive power and long battery life to create perhaps the ultimate portable music studio. 

Plugin Perils

It’s not all great news, though. Ableton, like all DAWs, lets you use plugins, which are third-party music apps that run inside the main app. Many have been updated to run on apple Silicon, but many have not. And those will not load in Ableton Live 11.1. If you have a project that was running fine yesterday, and you update, then your project will be broken. That’s precisely why musicians like to hold off updating for as long as possible. 

But there is a workaround. You can launch Live in Rosetta 2, Apple’s translation layer mentioned above. The problem is that Intel plugins cannot run inside an M1 host. So if you relaunch Live using its Intel-compatible version, those plugins will run again. 

A screenshot for Ableton Live 11.1.

Ableton

That’s a good workaround until your favorite plugins are updated. You lose some of the performance boost, but not all. Musician and Elektronauts forum member v00d00ppl uses an older Intel Mac and still gets an impressive jump.

“The performance improvement is very noticeable. On my 2017 iMac Pro, I was getting 27-30% CPU on single tracks sometimes. Now I am running at 3-5% depending on what’s going on,” says v00d00ppl in the Elektronauts forum.

And Live still doesn’t support AUv3 plugins, which are the latest version of the Audio Unit plugins favored on Apple platforms. That’s not usually a big deal because plugin developers typically release their software in alternative formats, like VST, that are compatible with any host. But AUv3 is also the plugin format used on iOS.

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of great AUv3 apps on the iPad, and many of those apps can run on M1 Macs now. If you use Apple’s Logic, you can load those plugins, which is pretty wild. In Ableton, you cannot. 

But this is still a milestone release for Live. M1 Mac-owning musicians are going to be very happy.

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