How to achieve the highest sound quality from Ableton Live
Updated version of this article is in the newer DAW Tips section.

Many of the default settings in Ableton Live 8
are intended to optimise playback smoothness and keep CPU usage low. This is great for performance and working on a track but doesn’t provide the highest sound quality available from Live.

Perhaps you are at the final stage of a project and you wish to ensure you have the absolute highest quality playback and effects to bounce down a high quality recording. This is when you can tweak settings to achieve higher quality output. All these settings will increase the load on your CPU and you may want to freeze tracks before and after engaging the high quality settings.

What to change:

Audio Effects:
Several of the audio effects in Live have a hidden High Quality (Hi-Q) mode. This is accessed by right clicking on the title bar of the inserted effect, and selecting “High-Quality”. Tip: if you want these settings always to be on, save this as the default by also clicking “Save as Default Preset”.

High-Quality mode in EQ Eight effect menu.

High-Quality mode from the right click menu is available in the EQ Eight, Flanger, Dynamic Tube, and Saturator effects. Other effects have options in the right click menu - check out the “Crisp” setting in the Chorus. Note that the EQ Eight has the lower quality as default you may want to click “Save as Default Preset” after turning on the HQ mode; this way, the EQ Eight will appear in the high sample rate version every time you use it. High Quality mode uses a higher sampling rate which reduces unwanted artefacts and produces a much cleaner result, at the cost of a slightly higher strain on your CPU.

The standard
reverb effect has a option drop down box called “Global ... Quality” in the middle of the effect. Three modes are available, Eco (default), Mid and High. Setting this to High will improve reverb quality, using greater amounts of CPU power to create richer sounding reverbs.

Tip: rather than have loads of reverbs on many channels/tracks - which will place pressure on your CPU, consider using the effect sends and have one instance of a reverb running with the tracks pointing to this send channel (the A and B channels on the right).

Sample Clip Settings:

Enable the Hi-Q setting button in a sample clip to maximise playback quality, particularly of high frequency sounds. This should also be turned on every time you transpose a sample’s pitch. This is found in the Sample settings (double click a clip to reveal):

When multiple clips are selected the Hi-Q button is also available so you can alter the settings of many clips at once.

From the Ableton Live 8 manual:
Samples processed with the Hi-Q algorithm generate less distortion, particularly at high frequencies, when transposing a sample and/or matching an imported sample's sampling rate to the system's sampling rate. With this mode enabled, samples can be transposed roughly 19 semitones in either direction before aliasing is likely to be audible.

Note: As of Live 7 onwards, the Hi-Q mode uses an algorithm that produces even smaller audible artifacts than in previous versions. Although we think this has greatly improved sound quality, any Sets made in older versions that used Hi-Q mode may now sound different. For this reason, we have provided a Legacy Hi-Q Mode option, which is enabled by default in the Options menu whenever you load an old Set that has Hi-Q enabled for any clips. Simply disable this option if you wish to use the new mode.

High sound quality for Ableton Live:
  • Set audio effects to High Quality mode using right click menu
  • Set clips to High Quality playback
  • Leave plenty of headroom when recording audio at 24bit
  • Don’t set the audio buffer too small when at final bounce down stage of a project to avoid clicks etc.

Images from Ableton Live Suite 8, although these features are in earlier versions).

Updated: Oct 2012 UPDATED VERSION HERE Ableton Live 9