Ableton Live vs Reaper – Which is Better? (2021)

Ableton Live is a powerful DAW that can be used for recording and for live performances. The session view on Ableton Live uses a more modern grid-based layout and is great for triggering MIDI or audio clips live. Reaper is a traditional DAW, with a nice design, while being extremely affordable when used for personal use. It works seamlessly, particularly on Windows machines, and is known for its efficiency when it comes to C.P.U. usage.

What really matters is how these two DAWs are very different from each other in terms of accessibility, functionality, and user experience.

Major Differences

  • Ableton Live’s session view is very well suited to live performances whereas Reaper doesn’t have this type of functionality out-of-the-box.
  • Reaper is very CPU efficient. Ableton Live 11 has come under some criticism for being relatively heavy on CPU.
  • Ableton Live supports Mac and Windows, while Reaper supports Mac, Windows, and Linux.
  • Ableton Live has great dedicated MIDI Controllers (such as Ableton Push and AKAI APC40), whereas Reaper works more like a traditional DAW.
  • Ableton Live is great for sound design and arrangement, whereas Reaper is more suited to recording and mixing.
  • Reaper’s has only one version, whereas Ableton Live comes in 3 main versions. Reaper has a very affordable licence when used for personal use. However, it’s more expensive when used commercially.
  • Ableton offers amazing stock plugins and far more sounds and samples than Reaper. So it’s easier to start designing sounds and making music right out of the box with Ableton Live.
  • Reaper is very light and takes up very little space on your computer.
  • Reaper can load 32-bit plugins in it’s 64-bit version (using Bridging)
  • Ableton Live has Max for Live, which is a great way to get into deep synthesis and you can even design your own devices.

Ableton Live was developed by Ableton and first released in 2001 and the current, latest version is Ableton Live 11. Reaper, on the other hand, was developed by Cockos and the first commercial release was in 2005.

Ableton Live 11 Standard

Reaper

Interface & Workflow

Ableton Live is unique because it has not one but two different views. The session view and the arrangement view. While the arrangement view is the traditional horizontal visual interface, the session view uses a unique clip-based interface that is designed to be triggered for live performance or to aid in composing and arranging the structure of your music. You can also toggle between the two using the ‘tab’ key on your Mac or Windows computer. 

Reaper has a more conventional horizontal interface. But this is perhaps not such a bad thing because it is a lot easier to understand if you have previously worked on any other DAW. 

In terms of workflow, Ableton Live allows you to jam on your music and work out kinks in the session before you decide to record. This can be especially helpful during writer’s block. However, if you already know what you are looking for and need a simple, no-frills DAW to record, then Reaper might be a better bet. 

Customizing Your DAW

Ableton Live does not offer much in terms of customizing your screen. At best you can change the appearance by picking out a skin that fits you best. You can go to ‘Preferences’ under the ‘Live’ menu and change the theme under the ‘Look/Feel’ window. 

One of the highlights of Ableton Live is definitely Max for Live. This is a very helpful tool for granular and modular synth enthusiasts who want infinite customization in their sound. 

Reaper, on the other hand, is known for its endless customization options. You can customize your menus and toolbars by going to the ‘Options’ menu from the main window and then selecting ‘Customise menu/toolbars’ to add elements you want access to and the order you want them in. Having such a simple but integral function can affect your productivity and workflow. 

Sometimes it’s easy to forget keyboard shortcuts, this can be a helpful tool on Reaper. 

Using MIDI Controllers

Almost all MIDI controllers are compatible with most DAWs these days. Users recommend Arturia, Nektar, or Akai controllers for Reaper and these also work on Ableton Live.

Ableton Push 2 is a dedicated controller for Ableton Live and integrates seamlessly with the DAW since it was built by Ableton. The Push has received great reviews from users for its functionality not just for live performance but also as an incredibly handy instrument to have for recordings. If you buy a Push 2 (the latest version) then you get a discounted price on Ableton 11 Intro, Standard, and Suite.

Ableton Push 2

Dedicated Controller for Ableton Live
View Price at SweetwaterView Price at Amazon

What’s Good For Which Genre?

Since Reaper is a more traditional DAW, it is incredibly versatile and good for any genre if you are looking for something you want to record on.

Ableton Live, on the other hand, is known for the advantage it gives to electronic musicians and music producers. From the stock synth and drum sounds to the level of detail you can achieve by tweaking them, Ableton Live has many plugins that emulate analog machines and you have endless sonic and tonal options. You can also use Max for Live to build and design your own custom effects, drum racks, and arpeggiators. 

Performance

Ableton Live was designed for live performances as much as for recordings. The 11th release of Ableton Live has gotten some negative press about being a bit CPU intensive, this may vary based on your setup.

Running a lot of plugins or VSTs can take a toll on your computer and cause distortions when playing sounds. This means that you need to have an extremely powerful computer if you are planning to use it live and run many VSTs simultaneously. A good way to avoid this, however, is to resample your tracks to audio in case you are running something that is generative and of course, increase the buffer size if you are only playing back sounds. 

Reaper has a stellar reputation for being very C.P.U. friendly and is known for being very reliable and not crashing often. You can record multiple tracks without worrying about a program crash in the middle of a recording session. If your computer and audio interface allows it, you can easily record a band with a live drum kit. This is not a flex that many DAWs can proudly claim. 

Pricing

Reaper is not a free DAW (despite what you might read online!), It only comes in one version but it has a relatively licence if you’re using it for personal or educational use. But they charge higher for a commercial license.

Ableton Live comes in 3 main versions, the Suite Version is the most expensive and comes with all features (There is also a very scaled-down version with many limitations, known as Ableton Live Lite which comes free with some) Ableton also offers an education discount on all the Ableton Live versions. This can be very helpful if you are a student or a teacher.

Plugin Compatibility

VSTs are compatible with both Reaper and Ableton Live. AU plugins are compatible with the Mac version of Ableton Live. The Ableton Live stock plugins that come part of the DAW are also absolutely amazing, and serve as the big advantage for this DAW.  

If your plugin is 32-bit, then it will not be compatible with Ableton Live 11. You can download the 32-bit version of Reaper (read our articles on 32-bit and 64-bit plugins).

Conclusion

Ableton Live is an amazing DAW that works for both live and studio use, and it’s known for constantly making upgrades and fixes to its software. Reaper too is very reliable and known for users enjoy its efficiency in design and operation. 

If you are looking for a DAW to double as a performance tool, then you should definitely get Ableton Live. But it is not particularly cheap, especially for their highest “Studio” version. Reaper, on the other hand, is more affordable. You should consider getting it if you are looking for a solid DAW for recording purposes.

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