Using hardware synthesizers with Live

  • Live Versions: All
  • Operating System: All

Live allows for seamless integration of MIDI-enabled hardware such as synthesizers, drum machines and samplers.

If you are using CV-enabled hardware, see How to use CV-enabled hardware with Live.

If you are using external effects, see Using external audio effects.

Step 1 - Requirements

In order to integrate hardware effectively with Live, you'll need the following:

  • A MIDI interface (many audio interfaces include MIDI ports).
  • An audio interface.
  • A MIDI cable (or USB cable if it supports USB over MIDI).
  • An audio cable.

Note: Some newer devices may support audio over USB, in this case you won't necessarily need to use a dedicated audio interface.

Step 2 - Connect your hardware

  1. Connect the MIDI out of your MIDI interface to the MIDI in on your hardware using a MIDI cable.
  2. Connect the audio out of your hardware to an input on your audio interface using an audio cable (or pair of cables for stereo).Screen_Shot_2017-05-23_at_15.58.59.png
  3. If the device supports MIDI or Audio over USB, then connect it to your computer using a USB cable and install the necessary drivers (which can be downloaded from the manufacturer's website).

Step 3 - Configure Live's audio preferences

  1. Open Live's Preferences → Audio.
  2. Click "Input Config".
  3. Enable and name the inputs which are connected to your hardware:
  4. If using a device which supports audio over USB, then select that device as the audio interface.

Step 4 - Configure Live's MIDI Preferences

  1. Open Live's Preferences → Link/MIDI.
  2. Enable the "Track" switch for the corresponding Output MIDI port to send both MIDI note and MIDI CC data.
    Note: Not all devices respond to MIDI CC messages. Check the specifications page for your device to see if that is supported.
  3. In order to sync an external device with a built-in sequencer, LFO or effects, activate the "Sync" button for the corresponding Output MIDI port.
  4. Leave the "Remote" button disabled for the Output MIDI port.
    Note: For a detailed explanation of these functions, please check Live's MIDI Ports.


Step 5 - Use External Instrument (recommended)

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 software instrument or plugin.

Note: External Instrument is only available in Live Suite, Standard, and Intro. If using Live Lite, see step 6 instead.


  1. Choose the MIDI output port, channel and the audio input port(s) which are connected to your hardware.
  2. If the audio sounds out of sync, adjust the Hardware Latency slider.


Step 6 - Use a pair of MIDI and Audio tracks (Optional method)

In case you don't have External Instrument, or prefer this method:

  1. Create a MIDI track.
  2. In the IO section, choose the correct MIDI output port.
  3. Create an audio track.
  4. In the IO section, choose Ext. In and the correct audio input port(s).
  5. Switch the monitor to In.
  6. Make sure that Reduced Latency When Monitoring is active in the Options menu.
  7. Adjust the track delay on the MIDI track until the audio is in sync with the rest of the set.


Step 7 - Recording the hardware into Live

There are a few different methods of recording the output of your hardware as audio in Live.

Method 1 (Recommended) - Record directly to another audio track

  1. Create a blank audio track.
  2. Set Audio From to receive audio directly from the External Instrument or Audio Effect track.
  3. Choose between Pre FX, Post FX and Post Mixer. We recommend recording Pre FX to capture pure audio from the hardware, in case you want to further process or adjust any effects afterwards in Live.
  4. Keep the monitor of the recording audio track set to Off.
  5. Arm it and start recording into a blank clip slot.


Method 2 - Render the individual track

  1. Choose Export Audio/Video from Live's file menu (Shift + CTRL/CMD + R).
  2. Select just the track(s) monitoring your hardware.
  3. Choose your required settings, then Live will render the track in real time.
  4. When that's done, drag the exported audio back into an audio track in Live.


Method 3 - Freeze and Flatten the track

  1. Right click the track and Freeze and Flatten it.
  2. This will convert the track to audio and delete any devices and MIDI patterns used.
  3. 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 render the entire set.

  1. Choose the Export Audio/Video command from Live's File Menu.
  2. Export the Master track.

Note: If you need to make tweaks to the arrangement or mix-down, you'll need to re-do the whole recording all over again.

Step 8 - Further options when using Hardware

1. Using hardware as a MIDI controller

Many synthesizers have keyboards built in, these can be used as controllers in Live.

  1. Connect the MIDI out port of the synth to the MIDI in port on your MIDI interface. Or use a USB cable if that is supported.
  2. Enable the Track button for the Input MIDI port.
  3. Enable the Remote button if you wish to map knobs and dials on your synth to controls in Live.

Note: See also Local Control below.

2. MIDI Channels

Standard MIDI supports 16 channels per port. You can change the MIDI channel within the hardware's setup. This is useful if you want to control multiple different devices chained and connected to one MIDI port.

Note: MIDI data transfer rates are limited, so it's better to use dedicated ports per device where possible.

3. Program Change Messages

You can switch patches, patterns or presets by sending MIDI Program Change messages. These are added to the Pgm Change fields in MIDI clips and are sent when the clip is launched. Only one program change message can be sent per clip. The program change standard can vary a little between synths, so you might need to experiment until you find the right format depending on your device.


4. Local Control

Some synths have a feature called local control. If local control is disabled, then playing keys or tweaking knobs will not affect the synthesizer directly, but those messages will be sent 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 (this could be called something else depending on the device).

5. Multitimbral devices

A multitimbral device (also known as Multi Mode) allows you to play multiple different patches at the same time via different MIDI channels.

If your synth comes with separate multiple audio outputs, you can use several instances of the External Instrument device. Follow the instructions above (Using External Instrument), but set a separate MIDI channel and audio input for each External instrument device.

If your synth only comes with a single (stereo) output instead, we recommend using separate MIDI tracks for each timbral part, and one audio track to monitor all the sounds. When recording, you'll need to solo one MIDI track at a time and record one by one.


Step 9 - Potential issues when using hardware

1. Latency when monitoring

2. Audio is in sync when monitoring, but the recording is out of sync.


If you're recording directly from an external input (and not internally from another track in Live), then the recording might be out of sync. This can be solved using Driver Error Compensation.

3. Doubled sound when monitoring

If the monitored audio sounds like it's being doubled or phasing, there are two possible reasons:

  • The audio might be monitored through the audio interface's control software at the same time as through Live. Mute the output channel in the audio interface's control software to avoid this double monitoring.
  • If you're playing a synthesizer with its own keyboard and monitoring both the MIDI and the audio, then this MIDI will be sent back out to the synth with a slight delay resulting in doubled notes. Either disable monitoring on the MIDI track (switch it to Off), or disable local control (see above).

4. Dropouts in the recorded audio

Ableton offers these in-depth help and learning resources: