Using external hardware with Live

  • Live Versions: 8 - 9
  • Operating System: All

Live allows for seamless integration of external gear such as drum machines, samplers and synthesizers. To use such equipment, it is important to correctly configure the MIDI ports and audio settings in Live.

This article explains how to do this and provides tips on how to sync your external hardware and on setting up different configurations, allowing you to not only capture and playback MIDI notes but also parameter and program changes.

Configuring MIDI Preferences

MIDI Output Ports

To adjust the settings for your MIDI ports, open Live's Preferences' MIDI/Sync tab. First, enable the "Track" switch for the corresponding Output MIDI port. This allows you to send both MIDI notes to your synth to play back melodies and MIDI Control Change messages to automate its parameters such as the Filter Cutoff, Resonance, ADSR and everything else that can be tweaked in realtime.

If you are using an external drum machine, or if your external synth has an in-built arpeggiator or LFOs, you can synchronize these to Live's tempo. To enable this, activate the "Sync" button for the corresponding Output MIDI port.

Leave the "Remote" button disabled for the Output MIDI port.

To understand all the possible routings in this Preferences pane, read our detailed description on how to use the MIDI ports in Live.

MIDI Input Ports

If your synthesizer also comes with a keyboard, enable the "Track" button for the Input MIDI port the MIDI Out of your synth is connected to. This will allow Live to both receive MIDI notes from the synth and to record any parameter tweaks on the synth as Control Change envelopes in a MIDI Clip.

In both cases, to avoid redundant messages, turn the synth's local control off.

This means that playing keys or tweaking knobs will not affect the synthesizer directly, but only send these messages from its MIDI Out to Live; these will then be sent back from Live to your synth through its MIDI In.

Please refer to your synthesizer's manual to find out how to disable local control (please note that, depending on the manufacturer, this might be called something different).

Configuring your external synth tracks in Live

If you decide to monitor the synth within Live (thus being able to process its sound with Audio Effects), there are two ways of configuring Live, depending if the synth is used in Single or Multi mode.

Single mode

If you are using a synthesizer which works in Single mode (only one patch or sound can be played at a time), it is recomended to use Live's External Instrument device.

This device lets you play and control your external gear in a similar way as you would with any Live Instrument device: MIDI and audio will be combined into a single channel.

Ext Inst.png

If your MIDI and Audio Preferences are configured correctly, the External Instrument lets you choose the corresponding MIDI port to send MIDI messages to the synthesizer and route the incoming audio generated by the synth directly into the same channel in Live.

Live will try to compensate the audio latency when using the External Instrument. Depending on the actual synth you are using, some additional latency might be introduced (for example, if you are using a digital synthesizer or a software-based synth on a different computer).

You can fix this by tweaking the "Hardware Latency" setting on the External Instrument device: by adding a positive value, you introduce a negative delay in the incoming audio, so it can get in sync again with the other tracks in the set.

Multi mode

If your synthesizer supports Multi mode, meaning that you can control more than one patch or sound at the same time via different MIDI channels, the setup will be a little different - especially if your synth or audio interface doesn't provide multiple outputs or inputs.

If your synth comes with separate multiple audio outputs, you can use several instances of the External Instrument device. In this situation, each patch on the synth will be assigned to a specific MIDI channel and will send audio from a dedicated analog output into a dedicated input of your audio interface. Load the External Instrument into each MIDI track and configure the respective MIDI and audio channels to send MIDI and receive audio.

If your synth only comes with a single (stereo) output instead, or if your audio interface does not have more than one stereo (two mono) input pair, we recommend using discrete MIDI and audio tracks as shown below.

Multi Mode.png

This way, all sounds will be merged into one track.

If you intend to record the various patches as separated tracks, it will be necessary to perform a number of audio recordings, muting all but one MIDI channel each time.

Furthermore, by connecting external gear using this setup, no latency compensation will  take place, and you will need to adjust the timing manually.

This can be done by adding a negative delay for the MIDI tracks: Show Live's Track Delays by clicking the "D" marble, then enter the same amount of time shown as "Overall Latency" in Live's Audio Preferences, preceded by a "-" (minus) sign, to the respective track.

Direct monitoring your synthesizer

If you intend to record your external synth and do not software-monitor it through Live (but directly via your audio interface or external mixing desk), you don't need to care about setting a track delay.

Just create an audio track, select the correct audio in and set the Monitoring to "Off". Now enable Record Arm on this track and start the recording.

Live will place the audio file at the right spot automatically. To ensure a perfect placing of the audio, you might want to initially read and perform the Live Lesson "Driver Error Compensation" (to be found in Live's Help View).

Reduced Latency When Monitoring

MIDI tracks with Monitoring active (set to "In" or "Auto" with the track being armed for recording) can be out of sync, as explained in detail in Live's manual.

To avoid this problem, you can activate "Reduced Latency When Monitoring" in Live's Options menu. This option will be saved with the Live Set.

While this setting will use the lowest possible latency, it might cause noticeable clicks when enabling the Record Arm button for a track, especially if you have set a low audio buffer size in your audio settings.

Using Program Change Messages

You can change between different synth patches or sequencer patterns by sending MIDI Program Change and Bank Select messages using dedicated MIDI clips.

To do this, use the "Pgm Change" controls located in the clip's Notes box.


If you create a clip containing MIDI notes and wish to play these back with a particular preset on your synth, you can simply adjust these settings to choose the correct Bank, Sub-Bank and Program Change number. Live will now send this to your synth once the clip is launched, resulting in the synth changing the preset accordingly.

Be aware that the synth might need some time to actually change the preset after receiving the Program Change message. If the clip contains notes right at its beginning, these might still be audible with the previous patch.

If you don't wish to play back MIDI notes, but rather want to use Program Changes to trigger new patterns (e.g. on a drum machine), you can create an empty MIDI clip with "Pgm Change" settings. When you launch this clip in Live, it will trigger the corresponding pattern on your external machine.

Please refer to the manual of your hardware device to see how Program Changes are implemented, as this differs from machine to machine.