Ableton is unlike any other DAW you can get your hands on these days. Many producers are drawn to it due to its impressive functionality and efficient workflow. It helps the user to explore the bounds of their creativity and dive into new musical ideas. For this reason, Ableton is among the most powerful DAWs on the market today.
The plugins that are included in Ableton Live are a great starting point for any music producer, but there are tons more plugins that can be combined with these to really enhance your production process. We’re going to look at what we consider to be the best plugins for Ableton to add to your collection.
Top 9 Ableton Plugins
- Xfer Records Serum (Best Synthesizer)
- FabFilter Saturn (Best Saturator)
- Waves H-Delay (Best Delay)
- SoundRadix SurferEQ2 (Best EQ)
- UAD Classic Limiter Collection (Best Compressor)
- Waves Center (Best Stereo Spreader)
- Valhalla VintageVerb (Best Reverb)
- Waves Smack Attack (Best Transient Shaper)
- Dadalife Sausage Fattener (Bonus)
Ableton Live has a pretty good selection of VST instruments and synthesizers, but you may want access to a bigger collection of sounds. If that’s the case, you should check out the Xfer Records Serum wavetable synthesizer. It got a lot of attention when it was first introduced years ago because of its unique ability to minimize aliasing. If aliasing is not a term you’re familiar with, just think of inharmonic artifacts that come along with digital audio. With the Xfer Records Serum, you can avoid the unfortunate high-end distortion that virtual synthesizers typically give you. This means you end up with a much more realistic sound than you’ll get with the majority of VST synths currently available.
You’ll find A and B oscillators that you can see in 2D or 3D with the help of an advanced wavetable engine. You have the ability to blend these waveforms through the use of spectral morphing, standard crossfading, or harmonic morphing. If you are a synth aficionado and like to develop your sounds from scratch, you’ll appreciate this tool.
This plugin has a number of exciting features, including a filter module, a third oscillator for sub sounds, an editable graph display to manipulate waveforms, a variety of modulation sources, and a massive collection of editing options. The interface is beautiful and will give you a great visualization of how different sounds affect the mix. There’s also a crazy collection of over 450 presets to choose from. The Serum gives you nearly unlimited possibilities when it comes to shaping your sounds, so it’s definitely a handy wavetable synthesizer to have at your disposal.
- A great selection of modulation options
- An impressive library of presets and effects
- Flexible, morphing oscillators
- Takes up a lot of CPU
The Ableton Saturator is sufficient for when you want to add a little warmth and distortion to your signals, but if you need a saturator that offers more flexibility, we recommend checking out the Fabfilter Saturn. This multiband saturation and distortion plugin is one of the most flexible saturators available today. Its versatile modulation routing technology will enable you to saturate your signal down to the finest detail.
Saturn acts like a single band frequency analyzer as it helps you visualize how your signal appears when coming in and when pushed. The display is very hands-on, enabling you to work with your multiple bands right on the interface without having to mess with knobs or sliders. You simply create a band, choose from 16 distortion or saturation options, and then push or pull that band however you like.
The Fabfilter Saturn offers incredible functionality and flexibility. You can use it for warm, subtle tape saturation or complete sound decapitation—and everything in between. You’ll be able to drive a portion of your signal, pan it, utilize M/S processing, and then blend it in with the use of the wet/dry knob. If you want to take it to a higher level, you can explore everything the modulation system has to offer, including envelope followers, the modulation step sequencer, and much more.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better multiband plugin with so many customization options and a user-friendly interface. If you are in need of a saturation plugin, this one won’t let you down.
- Unique modulation system
- Making crossovers is a breeze
- Awesome range of sounds
- Lacks real-time modulated parameter visualization
No matter what genre you’re working with, delay is an essential part of most modern productions. When looking for a delay plugin, your focus should be on flexibility and low CPU usage. The H-Delay from Waves has you covered in these areas, even if it does lack versatility. If you want a go-to delay plugin that can get you where you want to go quickly, this is a great choice. And its analog tone makes it a great choice for electronic music.
The H-Day gets its inspiration from the PCM 42, a piece of Lexicon Hardware. You’ll have access to just about any delay effect you can imagine, including slapback, phasing, ping pong, flanging, and others. One of the most critical parameters it offers is delay time, which allows you to set your delay to the host tempo or in milliseconds or BPM. The sound can then be manipulated through the Delay and Feedback knobs.
The onboard pitch modulation includes adjustable depth, which allows you to modulate LFO frequencies up to 6kHz. This will give you even more creative freedom when it comes to manipulating your sounds. The analog design ensures that you will end up with natural sounds, and you can further control your delay tone through the use of low and high-pass filters.
The H-Delay is a unique plugin from Waves that has all your delay bases covered. It’s very accessible for beginners but has enough effects to satisfy even seasoned producers.
- LFO range is wider than you would expect
- Super smooth parameter transition
- Intuitive interface
- Not able to bypass variable pitch
Ableton Live comes with an impressively versatile parametric EQ, so we don’t blame you if you just want to stick with that. However, if you want to explore other options, we recommend that you start with the SoundRadix SurferEQ2. You’ll have access to two filters and five frequency bands for equalization and pitch tracking.
Frequencies often shift in dense modern productions. The Surfer EQ plugin is able to analyze frequencies in polyphonic material to determine if they should be corrected. This is super beneficial because you won’t have to worry about your EQ for the verse negatively affecting the chorus. The SurferEQ2 will read your signal while the song plays to make the best EQ choices.
One feature we love is the sidechain, which gives you the ability to make space in a track for each instance a certain sound pops up. For example, if your synth pad is consistently overwhelming your vocals, you just have to sidechain it and then it will drop down whenever vocals come along.
The GUI is gorgeous and incredibly functional. It will combine well with the standard parametric EQ in Ableton Live to give you even more capability and creative freedom.
- MIDI pitch tracking
- Unique Spectral Gate
- GateHelpful Sidechain feature with pitch tracking
- Limited Q widths lessens its surgical capability
Ableton Live comes with a compressor that can pretty much get the job done. However, if you’re looking to add some more color and excitement to your mix, you should think about picking up some character compressors. We recommend the UAD Classic Limiter Collection.
UAD has a strong reputation for faithfully recreating some of the world’s best hardware compressors in software form. Bill Putnam was the designer of the original UA 1176 many years ago. It’s known for being one of the first true peak limiters with all-transistor circuitry. Its rapid FET gain reduction enables it to boost the grit and punch of whatever signal you’re working with.
The Rev A Bluestripe is included in the Classic Limiter Collection. It comes with many distortion characteristics and FET gain amplifier attributes. Another in the collection is the Rev E Blackface with low noise and linear compression straight from the 70s. Finally, there’s the 1176AE, which is UAD’s 40th anniversary edition.
If you’re looking for advanced sidechaining capabilities or multiple bands with various thresholds, you won’t find them here. But it still stands out as the best option for us because the sounds it produces have a quality that has yet to be matched by its competitors. Combined with the functionality of what you already have with Ableton Live’s compressor, this plugin will definitely take your mixes to a new dimension.
- Super detailed sound
- Three compressors in one bundle
- Drains processing pretty quickly
- Less flexible than other compressors
The beauty of the Waves Center plugin is its simplicity. But don’t be fooled—it’s still a more than capable stereo image manipulator. You can utilize a stereo spreader to widen signals or elevate your masters to a more professional level. The Waves Center is basically a signal splitter that gives you the ability to make sure the center and sides of an individual signal, multiple signals, or the whole mix remain balanced.
With Ableton Live you’ll find a Utility plugin, which can be used to separate the sum and difference of your stereo signal, the sum being a mono mix of both the right and left signals. With the Waves Center, on the other hand, you’ll get a “perceived” center rather than a mono sum. This gives you the ability to work individually with various parts of the stereo field.
DJs love using the Waves Center to take out certain mono parts of a track like the vocals or the drums. You’ll also be able to rebalance the side and central elements throughout your mix. While we can’t tell you exactly how or why it works, Waves Center does give you an easy and effective way to adjust your stereo image.
- Has many different applications
- Unique stereo manipulation capabilities
- User-friendly interface
- Isn’t able to pan signals
- No one can really explain exactly how it works
The onboard reverb VST for Ableton does offer some flexibility, but if you want to get a true vintage sound, you’ll have to add something else into the mix. We recommend the Valhalla Vintage Reverb, which utilizes downsampling and modulation shaping to produce that distinct vintage sound. You’ll find nine different algorithms packed into this VST plugin, which all draw their inspiration from Lexicon. These include rooms, halls, ambient spaces, plates, and a few other unexpected options.
Check out the 1970s button if a warm, lo-fi texture is what you’re after. The 1980s button will give you a shimmery result, while the modern button offers a crisp digital version of the reverb sound of today. You can also add color to your individual sounds rather than having to destroy the reverb algorithms to elevate a sound. That’s one reason why this plugin stands out among its competitors.
There are a number of controls on this plugin that will give you all the power you want without overwhelming you. These include dampening controls that give you multiple shelving options, a Size knob for you to set the room size, a Decay dial that lets you set the reverb time, density controls to change up the early and late diffusion settings, and a bass multiplier to stretch out the decay time of various elements.
If you want to extend your reverb capabilities beyond what’s already included in Ableton Live without spending too much money, the Valhalla Vintage Verb should be at the top of your list.
- Super affordable
- User-friendly interface
- Great option if you want to add color to your sound
- Not an ideal option for simple room sounds
- Not able to sync pre-delay to BPM
If drums play an essential role in your mix, a transient shaper will help you achieve the best drum and percussion sounds. Smack attack follows in the footsteps of the Waves Trans-X, but there are several additional features that make it stand out.
Smack Attack gives you all the functionality you would expect from a typical transient shaper. It enables you to individually boost your transients on either the front or back end. This gives you the power to drive up the attack to achieve more front-end punch on your kick drum if you want. Or you can cut back the release to eliminate some unwanted decay. One feature we want to point out is the sensitivity thresholds. These give you the unique ability to set exactly when the plugin should get to work. This will help preserve the natural sound of the transients.
You’ll also find a limiter that will keep you from pushing your DAW past its limits. The Mix knob gives you the ability to mix in your transient-shaped sound. With the unique capabilities of the Smack Attack’s transient shaping technology, you’ll be able to easily achieve transparent sounds that will enhance any style of mix.
- Envelope shape controls
- Amazing transparent sound
- Protection limiter
- No multiband shaping
- Can take a while to figure out
We’ll be the first to admit that this plugin is a bit on the silly side, but it’s also way more useful than you would expect. Dada Life got a lot of attention when they introduced their own plugin to help up-and-coming DJs replicate their sound. But it was uncertain if the Sausage Fattener would live up to the hype.
The beauty of this VST plugin is in its simplicity. It has one primary function—to add thick, bold compression while also dialing in incredible distortion. On the interface you’ll find two knobs: Color and Fatness. Use the color knob to dial in some brightness to your signal. The Fat knob can add some weight to your signal. Another feature is the small gain parameter, which enables you to view the incoming level.
No, the Sausage Fattener isn’t going to blow your mind, but it is a different and fun plugin option if you want to add weight to your signals.
- Incredibly beautiful sound
- Limited flexibility
- Might make you hungry
Go to Another Level with Ableton Live
It’s easy to underestimate the plugins that are included in the Ableton Live Suite. The truth is they offer tons of functionality and will take your productions to the next level. That being said, as a mixer and producer, you never want your creative process to be limited. For this reason, you should experiment with as many plugins as possible and add the ones you like to your mixing toolbox. If you are looking to broaden your musical horizons, we suggest that you start with the high-quality plugins from our list.