Best Ableton Plugins – 2020 Round-up

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All DAW interfaces tend to provide you with specific features that excel for a certain music genre.

They tend to nail the workflow for a certain target group and if you’re all about house music and other EDM genres, we don’t have enough words to recommend you Ableton Live.

Our Top Picks for Ableton Plugins

  • Complete mastering suite
  • Master Assistant & Match EQ
  • Modern, detailed & intuitive
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  • Best wavetable synth
  • 450 presets & 144 wavetables
  • Advanced Unison mode
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  • Drum Machine workstation
  • 1,900 sounds in 180+ drum kits
  • Genre-specific MIDI grooves
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Comparison of the Best Ableton Plugins

IMAGEPRODUCT
  • Best mastering suite on the market
  • A.I. learning Master Assistant & Match EQ module
  • Modern, detailed and very intuitive
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  • Best wavetable synth on the market
  • 450 presets and 144 wavetables
  • Advanced Unison mode
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  • Versatile Drum Machine workstation
  • 1,900 sounds in 180+ drum kits
  • Dozens of genre-oriented patterns provided
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  • Best Ableton Chord Plugin
  • Over 200 chord and melodies
  • Chord voicing and substitutions learning tool
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  • Best Ableton Autotune Plugin
  • Numerous music scales supported
  • Can be used for live performance
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  • Best Ableton Synth Plugin
  • 900+ patches provided
  • Arpeggiator and double stepper modules
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  • Best Ableton Vocoder Plugin
  • 24-band parametric EQ plugin with Dynamic EQ mode
  • Unique Spectrum Grab and EQ match mode
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  • Best VST Plugin For Ableton
  • 16-step looping sequencer
  • 6 modules with 20 different step options
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  • Best Ableton Looper Plugin
  • 5 blendable modules and 7 stomp effects
  • Preset libraries made by major artists
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  • Best Ableton Noise Reduction Plugin
  • Bundle of noise, hum, click and pop removal tools
  • Adaptive and noise analysis modes
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What is Ableton? 

Ableton Live is a DAW software for macOS and Windows that has specific features designed to be used for live performances and is slightly more oriented towards DJ music production thanks to features such as beatmatching and crossfading. It also provides you with the most intuitive features for composing with the sample packs as well.

Its interface has a unique two-view approach - Arrangement and Session View. The Arrangement View offers a timeline more similar to the usual traditional software sequencer interface. It is used for recording audio tracks, manual MIDI sequencing, and manipulating arrangement and effects.

The Session View displays a grid-based view and allows you to arrange several audio files into Clips. “Clips” can be stored into Scenes and those are later triggered as a single unit in a sequenced order. 

It also comes with many virtual instruments (such as synths, bass, and drums) and various Audio and MIDI effects which total number is based on which version you bought - Intro, Standard, or Suite. Many effects, especially in MIDI Effects segments were specially optimized for electronic music creation.

Ableton also has a very active community and all of its features, tips and tricks are covered in blogs and video tutorials by now.

Are Plugins Hard to Use in Ableton?

Using plugins in Ableton is nothing more complicated than using them in any other DAW.

It all depends on the workflow you got used to and it may take some time to comprehend the environment and the structure of the Ableton Live interface, especially the difference between Session and Performance View.

But in most situations, you will be allowed to load your plugin directly into Ableton by simple drag and drop method directly on a track you wish to load it up. By dragging the plugin into space you will even create a completely new track. Based on the plugin type, the track will be generated as audio or MIDI. You may also select the track and double-click the plugin you want to use.

Bear in mind that some plugins like VST effects are designed to work with audio tracks, while others, such as software instruments should be loaded into MIDI tracks.

However, using plugins Ableton is just one thing. Depending on how serious you want to get into music production, it may take some time to learn how to apply plugins properly and it may require serious learning devotion and learning some music playing skills. 

When Might Plugins Be Useful in Ableton?

While Ableton tried to provide you with the complete solution for your music production and got it pretty well, here are some situations where using third-party plugins might be even more useful:

Virtual Instruments

With so many plugins out there delivering wonderful software instruments, we find it wrong to limit yourself only to the instruments found at Ableton. Sure, these may suffice, but if you compare the synth sounds provided by the best Synth VSTs out there, Ableton plugins feel like a second choice regarding sound options. The same goes for other instruments such as bass or acoustic and drum machines.

Vintage Audio Effects

Let’s get this straight - Ableton audio effects are “okay”, especially for live performance. But, with the current trend of getting that authentic vintage vibe out of every track, other plugins are doing much better, especially regarding tape saturation or recreating that specific 80’s or 70’s reverb or delay sound.

Mastering Suites

This is a field where Ableton didn’t provide you with the proper plugins and where using other sources might come almost mandatory. Mastering is a very important process for all kinds of music production and it’s what makes your song sound polished, professional, and loud.

Quick Take: 
Top 3 Picks

Review of the Best Ableton Plugins 

Now, we’re going to suggest you what plugins may enhance your Ableton work further: 

PROS

  • Modern, detailed and very intuitive
  • Genre-specific Tonal Balance presets
  • Extraordinary Master Rebalance module
  • The most advanced mastering suite on the market
  • Machine-learning Master Assistant and Match EQ modules

CONS

  • Zoom mode would be welcomed for wave editing
  • Modules at this version can’t be used as individual plugins

Features and Specifications

Ozone 9 is a pack of dozens of plugins bundled into a single user interface. It comes with regular mastering plugins such as EQ, Dynamics, Imager, Maximizer, and Exciter. It also comes with several Vintage Modules such as Limiter, Compressor, EQ, and Tape emulator.

It also provides you with advanced machine-learning modules such as Mastering Assistant and Match EQ which simplifies the whole mastering process as it allows you to load a reference track and then match the sound of your track to the one you have provided.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Ableton built-in plugins lack some professional mastering plugin components and that’s why iZotope is set so high on our list. 

Ozone is one of the best mastering suites on the market and it can be very professional or beginners-friendly thanks to that Master Assistant that will simplify the complete mastering process and break it down into simple decisions you would tell a real mastering guy. 

While it was meant to be used as a mastering plugin, we don’t see any reason why you couldn’t use it in mixing stages for certain submixes such as Drum Bus for example.

PROS

  • Advanced Unison mode
  • 450 presets and 144 wavetables
  • The best wavetable synth on the market
  • Samples and wavetable import supported
  • High-quality FX rack that can be used as a plugin

CONS

  • No VST3 support at the moment
  • Wavetable synthesis may require some prior knowledge

Features and Specifications

The Serum has a very specific sound engine that allows it to playback wavetables without adding additional noise. It allows you to edit wavetables in a way no other software is capable of and can stack up to 144 wavetables per patch and allows you to import your own wavetables.

If that’s not dense enough, there is a 16-voice Unison Mode with so many advanced parameters at your disposal.

Effects panel contains 10 high-quality interchangeable effect modules and you can use them as an individual VST plugin to other audio tracks.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Ableton is probably the best DAW interface for EDM music. And we can’t imagine EDM music without a good synth and bass sound. That’s why software synth is placed on the top of our list.

The serum is one of the best software synths out there. While we can argue about specifics and have our personal favorites, the truth is that probably no other synth is so versatile like this plugin.

Its biggest trait is that it sounds so unique thanks to the wavetable options and the endless sound possibilities packed in a very intuitive and comprehensive user interface.

Best for the Money:
Arturia Spark 2

PROS

  • 1,900 sounds in 180+ drum kits
  • Advanced Studio and Modular tabs
  • Versatile Drum Machine workstation
  • Dozens of genre-oriented patterns provided
  • 16-channel mixer with dedicated drum-oriented effects

CONS

  • Tab-diving may slow down your workflow
  • Effects left us to want for mode detailed editing

Features and Specifications

Spark is an advanced drum machine workstation capable of creating any kind of drum sound you may need. It comes with 1,900 sounds in more than 180+ drum kits covering all kinds of drum sounds, both acoustic and electronic.

The sound interface is organized as a 16-track mixer with 2 editable insert effects per track and 2 Master (Aux) effects.

Every kit also contains dozens of pre-programmed patterns that can be used inside of the Spark panel or dragged directly into your DAW in both MIDI and WAV format.

Why it Stands Out to Us

You will agree that you can’t remember a good EDM song without a great drum sound. It’s what makes this genre moving.

That’s why we have to recommend Arturia Spark. It’s not just a great sounding drum machine, but if you check what you’re getting, it’s also a very affordable one as well.

And the best thing about Spark is that it’s packed in a workstation format so it can act as a groovebox with so many pre-programmed genre-specific patterns, load REX-specific sample files, and even apply a bunch of effects specially tailored for a drum sound.

Best Ableton Chord Plugin:
Plugin Boutique Scaler 2

PROS

  • Intuitive chord and melody creator
  • Chord substitutions voicing learning tool
  • Over 200 genre-oriented melodic phrases
  • One-finger chords and melodies assignment
  • Over 200 chord sets from artists such as Carl Cox and The Temper Trap

CONS

  • No 32-bit version available
  • We hope the new version will bring solutions for song modulations

Features and Specifications

Scaler is a plugin designed to help you with the chord and melody sequences. It comes with over 200 chords and melody patterns that can be used with any VST instrument or hardware unit by simply dragging to your DAW MIDI track. In case you would like to hear it before transferring to your gear, there are 30 built-in instrument sounds. 

Chords are categorized by genre, moods, or variations and you can also assign strumming or arpeggio features, while Key Lock will allow you to shuffle through melodic solutions while preserving selected chords.

Why it Stands Out to Us

There was a time when you had to learn a thing or two about music theory before you go and compose your first track. 

Nowadays, there is software that can guide you through the complete process and not just help you out with the song composing, but you will learn a lot about music theory eventually in the best possible way - through examples and fieldwork.

Scaler is a great plugin for seasoned musicians as well. It may break your habits or shift your mindset towards a completely different approach and it may also help in the case of writer’s blockade. 

Best Ableton Autotune Plugin:
Antares Auto-Tune Artist

PROS

  • Can be used for live performance
  • Numerous music scales supported
  • Premium vocal correction software 
  • Natural and transparent pitch correction
  • All modules from the Pro version included

CONS

  • Auto-Key is not included with this version
  • In-depth editing requires may require some longer trial and error approach

Features and Specifications

Antares Auto-Tune Artist is a software used to correct your vocal performance in both technical (pitch correction) or creative (hard tune) manner. 

The Artist version of Antares Auto-Tune contains all the parameters found in the Pro version except for Auto-Key software (available as a separate purchase) and graphical editor. This means a lot because the core of this plugin lies in Flex-Tune and Natural Vibrato parameters and even The Retune Speed and Humanize controls are present.

It also has a very low latency so it is optimized for both offline and real-time situations.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Antares is a company that invented the Auto-Tune and this should be a reason enough to look no further. It will work great for subtle pitch corrections so you can focus more on getting the vibe and emotions of your performance right. It may even correct your lead guitar tuning as well.

And, of course, if you want a hip-hop Hard Tune effect, this plugin won’t fail you at all. But, if Hard Tune is the only effect you need at the moment, a stripped-down, but more affordable Antares Auto-Tune Access plugin might be a better choice for your wallet.

Best Ableton Synth Plugin:
Reveal Sound Spire Synth

PROS

  • 900+ patches provided
  • Arpeggiator and double stepper modules
  • 2 source and 4 target parameters for 15 Matrix Slots
  • Powerful unison mode that works independently for every oscillator
  • Polyphonic VA and wavetable synth with 4 polymorphing oscillators

CONS

  • No sample import option
  • FX section could be upgraded

Features and Specifications

Spire is made from 4 oscillators that combine VA and wavetable synthesis. Filters are organized in dual mode and contain both analog emulations and digital types.

It has powerful unison mode that can stack up to 9 voices for every oscillator and those can be organized in octaves or intervals. 

The core of the modulation is organized in 4 macro knobs and 15 Matrix Slots that can link 2 sources with 4 target parameters and the FX panel is made of the 5-module panel and master FX panel on the right side.

Why it Stands Out to Us

If you’re familiar with the EDM synth sounds, then the term supersaw should ring a bell to you. Spire is capable of creating not just supersaw, but hyper saw as well, so you can create any kind of house anthem on the fly.

Thanks to the very capable filters section, you will be able to create any kind of synth lead and the bass lines should make some serious rumble down there especially if you dial X­-Comp module to your sound. And thanks to a very active community, there are a lot of third-party presets available in both free and commercial versions. 

Best VST Plugin for Ableton:
FabFilter Pro Q-3

PROS

  • EQ Match algorithm
  • Supports Dolby Atmos 7.1.2
  • Unique Spectrum Grab mode
  • Ultra-steep 'Brickwall' filter slope setting
  • 24-band parametric EQ plugin with Dynamic EQ mode

CONS

  • Dynamic EQ would benefit from the larger display
  • Lacks saturation certain vintage hardware emulator may provide you

Features and Specifications

Pro-Q 3 is an advanced EQ plugin equipped with 8 different filter types and allows you to sculpt your audio track with up to 24 parametric bands. It comes with the EQ Match feature which automatically matches the spectrum of any external signal.

It’s equipped with the beautiful modern user interface that displays waveform graphics beneath the EQ layer based on either pink or white noise drawing and it can also work in full-screen mode.

Show Collisions highlight problematic frequencies when two or more tracks “fight” for the same spectrum.  

Why it Stands Out to Us

Good EQ plugin is a foundation for a great mix and Pro Q-3 is in our opinion the best EQ on the market at this moment. 

It provides you with so many EQ bands packed in a beautiful and very intuitive visual interface that will simply lure you to use it on every single track. And due to its very low-CPU consumption, nothing will stop you from doing it.

You can monitor frequency changes in solo and even adjust a specific peak in the real-time by moving the waveform with the mouse click thanks to the innovative Spectrum Grab feature.

Best Ableton Looper Plugin:
Sugar Bytes Looperator

PROS

  • iOS devices supported
  • 16-step looping sequencer
  • Dual FX processor included
  • 6 modules with 20 different step options
  • Intelligent Random mode with unlimited Undo/Redo

CONS

  • Left us craving for 32-step sequencer
  • FX modules would work better if both modules contained all effects

Features and Specifications

Looperator is organized as a 6-track sequencer with 20 ready-made effects per track. 

The input track automatically slices the audio track into 16 steps and allows you to rearrange the order. Loop track will repeat the audio using several creative modes including reverse playback while Envelope and Filter tracks control the audio signal in the usual way altering attack & release parameters or LP and HP filter cutoff and resonance.

FX1 allows you to apply stereo and Tonal Delay, Tapestop, or Distortion while FX2 handles Reverb, Vinyl, Stretch, and Phaser.

Why it Stands Out to Us

This plugin will enhance the arpeggio options Ableton comes with and will provide you a different creative approach with the samples you already have. This especially goes for  editable Randomizer mode available for every sequencer track 

And if you feel even more creative, you can even create up to four User effect layouts for each track.

We also have to emphasize that this plugin is one of the rare ones that support iOS devices such as iPad and that’s why we can see it as a logical add-on for your live performances with the Ableton DAW as well.

Best Ableton Vocoder Plugin:
iZotope Vocal Synth 2

PROS

  • Clean and very visual user interface
  • Preset libraries made by major artists
  • Inspirative and modern vocal processor
  • 5 blendable modules and 7 stomp effects
  • Extraordinary Vocoder and Talkbox effects

CONS

  • No reverb effect
  • Pitch correction ask for more in-depth parameters

Features and Specifications

Voice Synth 2 comes with five synthesis modules - Biovox modifies the shape of your voice, Vocoder comes with 10 presets and 3 vocoding types along with Shift and Scale controls, Talkbox works just like you would suppose to, Compuvox shapes your vocal tracks in a bit crushing way while Polyvox creates doubles and harmonies out from your audio track. 

Besides modules, pitch correction is also available and 7 stomp effects such as distortion, filter, delay, chorus, ring mod, transform, and very interesting sequencer-based shred which provide you with some step-based options useful for modern music.

Why it Stands Out to Us

You won’t use the vocoder effect every day. But, when you need it, it will have to stand out. And that’s why Vocal Synth 2 is so great. It provides you with the great sound variety, a lot of presets and it comes with the beautiful and modern user interface that will lure you to play around just a little bit more.

It may not be your typical vocoder, but from our impression, it has all the traits from it plus all similar vocal effects such as talkbox which many tend to mix up with the vocoder.

Best Ableton Noise Reduction Plugin:
Acon Digital Restoration Suite 2

PROS

  • Adaptive and noise analysis modes
  • 7.1.6 surround audio format supported
  • Bundle of noise, hum, click and pop removal
  • Listen to the removed signal by Solo Noise mode
  • Reduce unwanted noise with minimal audio track impact

CONS

  • Logic Pro users may experience some glitches
  • We would prefer if all those plugins were integrated into a single interface

Features and Specifications

Acon Digital Restoration Suite is made from 4 plugins that are used to preserve original sound quality -  DeNoise, DeHum, DeClick, and DeClip. 

Each of these plugins excels in removing certain types of noises, so, for example, DeHum removes hum and buzz caused by poor electronic equipment, while DeNoise will remove any noise caused by the wind or camera noise that may occur during field recording.

They all share a very descriptive visual user interface with optional M/S audio processing and offer a bunch of presets for a quick start.

Why it Stands Out to Us

The arch-enemy of any audio recording is unwanted noise. Thanks to the expansion of noise reduction VST this problem is so much easier to take, so many modern number 1 hit songs were recorded in a project studio environment or even in the bedroom. This suite should help you remove any kind of unwanted noise from your recordings, no matter how it was generated.

Acon software went a step further compared to typical noise reduction plugins. Thanks to dynamic noise profiles first it captures statistics from the noise amount and then estimates the most suitable noise threshold curve.

How Do I Add Plugins to Ableton?

Adding plugins to Ableton is quite a simple process. 

By default, every time you open the Ableton program will rescan predefined system AU and VST plugin folders and see if there is new content to add. So, most of the time all you have to do is to install your plugin and turn the Ableton on. 

But, in case Ableton is already opened, you don’t need to close it up during installation. Go to the Preferences tab, select File and Folder and click the Rescan button under Plug-in Sources and a new plugin should appear on your list.

If you have organized your plugins in a specific folder, you can add it up by using the same tab by turning VST Plug-in Custom Folder switch on and specify the location by clicking on Browse. 

However, bear in mind that you may have to enter your registration code or authorize your software when running up for the first time.

Other Products to Consider For Ableton 

Buying plugins is one step to the better sound. However, even if you buy all the plugins in the world, the game might not be over yet. Here’s what you should consider as well:

MIDI Controllers

Ableton Session View became a very useful interface for live performance as it allowed you to trigger a complete scene with a single button press. This allowed a certain balance between having a professional studio sound and having the ability to improvise and jam in real-time.

That’s why several manufacturers decided to design a MIDI controller in pad and keyboard format that comes with buttons specially designed to utilize this Ableton feature.

Studio Headphones

Listeners tend to listen to your music on the headphones very often. That’s why purchasing a proper pair of studio headphones might be even more important than buying a set of premium near-field monitors.

Sample Packs

Modern electronic music is heavily based on pre-made grooves and sample packs that are edited and processed further. That’s why you may consider specialized websites that provide you with such content. And the best part is that those samples are quite affordable. However, bear in mind that those sample packs are usually genre-oriented a lot.

Conclusion 

While all DAWs try to provide you with all the plugins you need for a quick start, it’s not realistic to expect they will cover all your needs. That’s why Ableton plugins are a great way to improve your Ableton DAW working experience and push your production at least one step up.

People Also Ask

Now we’ll cover some of the most usual concerns regarding using the Ableton Live software. We’re going to review how good stock plugins are and help you a little bit more about folder structure organization as it may not be so intuitive at first to all users.

Does Ableton Come With Plugins?

There are many software instruments, Audio and MIDI effects built-in with Ableton software. Depending on the version you purchase you will get:

  • Intro - 4 instruments, 21 audio, and 8 MIDI effects
  • Standard - 5 instruments, 34 audio, and 8 MIDI effects
  • Suite - 15 instruments, 55 audio, and 17 MIDI effects

Are Ableton Stock Plugins Good?

In general, Ableton effects are good enough for more than just a starter. You will probably have everything you need to create a song and it all depends if you like the logic behind their interface. 

However, at least for mastering and reverb effects, we would recommend you to buy some additional plugins.

Is Ableton the Best DAW?

Just like with every other DAW, it all depends on your personal needs. What we like about it is the ability to use it live thanks to the unique Session View. Also, it comes with some sampling features which may be more intuitive for people interested in creating electronic music.

Where Are Ableton Plugins Located?

Usually, all plugins are installed in a single plugin folder which might be different for 32-bit and 64-bit versions. 

But, if you have installed in a specific folder, open tab Options in your Ableton Live and select Preferences / Plug-Ins / Plug-In Sources and set 'Use VST Plug-In Custom Folder' On.

Can I Load Plugins From Multiple Folders in Ableton?

Ableton allows you to load only one folder for VST2 and VST3 plugins.

However, there is a trick to use multiple folders. If you put the shortcut of the specific folders where your plugins are located to the folder assigned in Ableton they will be shown on the next re-scan.