How to record external instruments in Ableton Live?

by | May 27, 2016

Ableton Live almostĀ gave me a headache the first time I tried to record an external hardware synthesizer into an Audio Track. I put an External Instrument device on a MIDI Track in Live and played the synthesizer with a MIDI clip. After that I created a new Audio Track and recorded the audio directly from my ASIO soundcard to the Audio Track. Sounds logical, right? While playing along Live’s build in Metronome the recording appeared to be out of time and completely off the grid! Fortunately, I found a solution for this timing problem on Gearslutz: route the audio from the MIDI Track with the external instrument device to the (armed) Audio Track.

Read on if you are still puzzled about how to record your synth with hardly any latency in Ableton Live. For the purpose of this article I recorded a four on the floor kick drum from the Bass Station II synthesizer into an Audio Track. First I created a MIDI Track with an External Instrument device and programmed a MIDI clip. The External Instrument device settings are as follows:

External Instrument device settings

The External Instrument device sends the incoming MIDI to the Bass Station II synthesizer and receives the audio from channel 2 of the audio interface. After recording the audio directly from the soundcard (Buffer Size: 64 samples) into the Audio Track, the kick drum is clearly playing out of time. See the picture below. The waveforms should begin at 1.4 and 2 in the timeline of the audioclip, but they start way too early:

Audio clip is out of time

Now here’s the trick to get the timing almost dead on the grid. Route the audio from the MIDI Track to the Audio Track, see the Audio Track’s In/Out settings in the picture below. In the Audio From drop down menu you select the MIDI Track with the External Instrument device:

Audio in time - correct routing

Now the recorded kick drum clip is almost dead on the grid. Here’s the resulting (stereo) clip with the same 64 samples Buffer Size:

Audio in time - clip view

The timing is clearly much better now. Do you still feel the timing is not right? Then you can always put a Warp marker in the middle of the audio clip and delete the Warp marker at the beginning of the clip. Now hold down Shift (on PC) and click drag on the Warp marker. This will slide the audio clip to the direction you need to go to snap to grid (or your groove) and it will sound great.

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