Using external hardware with Live
- Live Versions: 8 - 9
- Operating System: All
Working with hardware devices
Live allows for seamless integration of external gear such as synthesizers, drum machines and samplers through the use of MIDI.
This step by step guide shows various methods of working with external hardware in Live.
- Step 1 - Connect your hardware
- Step 2 - Configure Live's audio preferences
- Step 3 - Configure Live's MIDI preferences
- Step 4 - Control the hardware from Live
- Step 5 - Using Hardware Effects
- Step 6 - Recording the hardware as audio
- Step 7 - Minimizing Latency
In order to control most hardware using Live you'll need to have the following:
- A hardware device with a MIDI port (if not MIDI enabled, a suitable convertor is necessary - for example MIDI to CV/Gate)
- A MIDI interface or free MIDI port (to send MIDI signals to the device)
- An audio interface (to monitor and record the audio signal)
- MIDI/Audio over USB: If your device supports either of these protocols then a USB cable can be connected to your computer and used in place of either a MIDI interface or Audio interface respectively
Connect your hardware:
- Connect the MIDI out of your MIDI interface to the MIDI in on the hardware device
- Connect the audio out of the hardware device to the input on your audio interface
- If your device also has a MIDI out port, then you can connect it to Live if you wish to record MIDI data from the hardware. Connect the MIDI out port of your device to the MIDI in port on your MIDI interface.
- If the device supports MIDI or Audio over USB, then connect it to your computer using a USB cable
If you are monitoring hardware within Live (in order to process its sound with effects and/or record it):
- Open Live's preferences to the Audio tab
- Enable your audio interface and click "Input Config":
- Then enable the inputs which are connected to your hardware:
- Note: To avoid sound being doubled, you'll usually have to mute the output of that channel in your audio interface's control software (if available). Otherwise the audio plays both through the control software and through Live
If using a device which supports audio over USB, then you can select that device as the audio interface in Live's audio preferences.
Note: On Mac it's possible to select two different devices as Input and Output Device. On Windows this is not possible - you'll need to select the same device as both the Input and Output Device.
MIDI Output Ports
- Open Live's Preferences' to the Link/MIDI tab
- Enable the "Track" switch for the corresponding Output MIDI port. This allows you to send both MIDI notes to your hardware device to play notes and MIDI Control Change (CC) messages to automate its parameters such as the Filter Cutoff, Resonance, ADSR and everything else that can be tweaked in realtime.
Note: Not all devices respond to MIDI CC messages. Check the specifications page for your device to see if that is supported
- In order to sync an external device with a built-in sequencer, or if your device has MIDI sync-able elements, activate the "Sync" button for the corresponding Output MIDI port
- Leave the "Remote" button disabled for the Output MIDI port
Note: For a detailed explanation of these functions, please check this article on Live's MIDI Ports
MIDI Input Ports
- Enable the "Track" button for the Input MIDI port if you wish to receive note and/or MIDI CC data
- Enable the "Remote" button if you wish to MIDI map functions in Live using the controller
Local Control: If using a synth with a keyboard, 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. Check the synthesizer's manual to find out how to disable local control (depending on the manufacturer this might be called something else).
There are two methods of controlling and monitoring hardware from Live.
Method 1 - Using External Instrument
The External Instrument device is the most convenient way of using hardware in Live. It allows you to play and control your external gear in a similar way to using any Live Instrument device. MIDI and audio are combined into a single channel and the device is controlled through MIDI clips. MIDI effects and Audio effects can be added to the same track.
Note: This device is only available in Live Standard or Suite. If using Intro or Lite, please use Method 2 below
- Set both the MIDI output port and the audio input port(s) which are connected to the hardware device.
- Live will try to compensate the audio latency when using the External Instrument. Depending on the actual hardware device you are using, some additional latency might be introduced. You can fix this by adjusting the "Hardware Latency" slider on the External Instrument device until the audio is in sync with the rest of your set.
Here's Live controlling and monitoring a Korg Volca Bass using External Instrument:
Method 2 - Using a pair of MIDI and Audio tracks
In case you don't have External Instrument, or prefer to use this method:
- Add a MIDI track configured to send MIDI to the correct MIDI output port
- Then add an audio track configured to receive audio from the correct audio input
- The audio track's monitor should then be switched to "In" in order to monitor the sound
Note: When using this method "Reduced Latency When Monitoring" should be activated in the Options menu. Adjust the timing manually by adding a negative track delay on the MIDI track until it's in sync with the rest of the set. Normally the total amount of latency listed in "Overall Latency" in Live's audio preferences should be entered as a negative track delay, e.g. -6.49. In case there is additional latency in the device itself, you may need to adjust this amount further by ear until it's in sync.
Here's the same Korg Volca Bass being controlled by a separate MIDI and audio track, and with a track delay added to keep it in sync with the rest of the set:
Synchronizing External Hardware with Live
In case you only need to synchronize your hardware and you don't need to monitor or record it in Live, you can synchronize Live via MIDI.
Controlling Multitimbral devices (Multi mode)
If your hardware device supports Multi mode (also known as Multitimbrality), 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 accordingly.
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.
This way, all sounds will be merged into one track.
If you intend to record the various patches as separated tracks, you'll need to perform a number of audio recordings, muting all but one MIDI channel each time. Again, using this method no automatic compensation will take place - you'll need to adjust the track delays accordingly.
Program Change Messages
You can change between different patches, patterns or presets by sending MIDI Program Change messages using dedicated MIDI clips.
To do this, use the "Pgm Change" controls located in the clip's Notes box. Add the relevant Bank, Sub Bank and Program number and upon launching that clip, the hardware device will change the preset accordingly.
Note: the device might need a little 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.
Note: If you don't need 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.
For optimal results you’ll need an audio interface with at least two stereo outputs and one stereo input. It is entirely possible to do this if you have just one stereo output (two mono outs) and a single mono input - but in this case the effects will be purely in mono.
- Connect an audio output (mono), or pair of outputs (stereo), from your audio interface to the input(s) on the hardware effect
- Then connect the audio out of the hardware effect to an input (mono), or pair of inputs (stereo), on the audio interface.
- Note: To avoid sound being doubled, you'll usually have to mute the output of that channel in your audio interface's control software (if available). Otherwise the audio plays both through the control software and through Live.
Method 1 - Using External Audio Effect
The External Audio Effect can be used as insert effect or on a return channel.
Audio To selects the output(s) on your computer’s audio interface that are connected to the input of the external effect, while Audio From selects the input(s) on the interface that are connected to the output on the external effect. As with the External Instrument device, any latency in the hardware effect can be compensated for with the Hardware Latency slider. For further details about the External Audio Effect device, please reference its section in the manual.
Depending on your audio interface, you may also need to adjust the routings in the interface's dedicated control panel. Please refer to the manual or manufacturer's website for further instructions.
Note: this device is only available in Live Standard or Suite. If you are using Live or Intro, you'll need to use Method 2 below.
Method 2 - Using a return track and audio track combination
It's also possible to use external effects with a combination of a return channel, to send audio to the effect, and an audio track to monitor the effected audio. For this method "Reduced Latency When Monitoring" should be active in Live's Options menu.
- Create a blank return channel and set the Audio To to the same output(s) on your audio interface that are connected to the input of the external effect.
- Then create a blank audio track and set the Audio From to the same input(s) that is connected to the audio output of your hardware effect. Change the monitor to In. This is the track that will be used to monitor the effected audio from your hardware effect.
- In order to send audio to the device, set the Send dial on the track(s) to be effected to full, then adjust the level of the audio track which is monitoring the effected signal to balance the amount of Wet audio. In order to compensate for any latency you can adjust this by adding a negative track delay to the monitoring track.
- In this screenshot, Return A TO Effect is sending a copy of the signal from Analog to the effect, and the effected audio is returned to Live via inputs 1/2 on a blank audio track FROM Effect:
There are a few different methods of recording the output of your hardware as audio in Live.
Method 1 - Record directly to another audio track
- Create a blank audio track
- Set "Audio From" to receive audio directly from the External Instrument or Audio Effect track. You can choose between Pre FX, Post FX and Post Mixer. If you have put effects after External Instrument or Audio Effect in the Live device chain then we recommend recording Pre FX to capture the pure audio from the hardware, in case you want to further process or adjust any effects afterwards.
- Keep the monitor of the recording audio track set to Off
- Arm it and start recording into a blank clip slot
Here's a screenshot showing a synth being recorded internally within Live. The audio is tapped to record Pre FX:
Note: It's also possible to record directly from the external input of your interface. The advantage of this is that you can record in mono (by choosing one input only), whereas internal recording is always in stereo. However, be aware that if using multiple External Instruments or Audio Effects, adjusting the hardware latency on one (or more) devices will offset them in relation to the other devices. This results in all recorded audio tracks being out of sync with each-other, in which case you'll need to manually adjust the clip playhead position afterwards. For fully compensated audio recordings, we recommend recording internally as per our instructions above.
Method 2 - Export the individual track
You may choose instead to export the individual track. Choose Export Audio/Video from Live's file menu (Shift + CTRL/CMD + R). Once confirmed this will render the track in real time. When that's done you'll just need to drag the exported audio into its own audio track in Live.
Method 3 - Freeze and Flatten the track
Right click the track and Freeze and Flatten it. This will convert the track to audio and delete any devices and MIDI patterns used. If you want to keep those, then duplicate the track before freezing and flattening.
Method 4 - Export the entire set
You may also choose to keep the hardware entirely "live" until the moment you export your track. Choose the Export Audio/Video command from Live's File Menu.
Note: If you wish to make any subsequent tweaks to the arrangement or mix-down, you'll need to re-do the whole recording all over again.
While it's almost impossible to completely eliminate latency in a computer-based recording system, there are various strategies which can reduce it.
- Reduce the buffer size and raise the sample rate
- Use ASIO drivers on Windows and Core Audio on Mac
- Use a dedicated audio interface running native drivers
- Reduce the CPU load
- Use "Reduced Latency When Monitoring" if monitoring in Live
- Monitor through your audio interface if it supports direct monitoring
- Monitor through an external mixing desk
- Know when to use "Driver Error Compensation"
More information on all of the above can be found in our article about Latency and Delay Compensation.
Check our detailed article on Latency FAQs.