Supported Audio File Formats

  • Live Versions: All
  • Operating System: All

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Introduction

Live supports a large number of different audio formats and resolutions. To understand why certain files can’t be imported or played back even though they belong to a group of supported file formats, we need to have a closer look at the different file formats. The following four characteristics of an audio file determine if it is supported by Live or not:

  1. Codec: Many audio file formats are “wrapper” or container formats, which means that the file extension alone doesn’t tell how the contained audio stream is encoded. The audio stream in a WAV file for example can be encoded in a vast number of different compressed or uncompressed formats, it can even contain an audio stream encoded as MP3. MP4 and OGG are container formats, which can contain audio streams of different formats, as well as video streams, metadata and for example subtitles.
  2. Resolution: Basically all audio file formats support different resolutions. The resolution of an audio file is determined by two parameters, the sample frequency and the bit depth (or kb/s for compressed formats).
  3. Channels: Most audio file formats don’t only allow to store a mono or stereo audio stream but also multi-channel audio streams (-> surround).
  4. Other: Certain audio files, especially .m4a files purchased from iTunes may be DRM-protected. This is a form of copyright protection and as such, you won't be able to import these files into Live. Live doesn't support DRM-protected files.

Supported Audio File Formats

In general, Live supports audio files with 1 or 2 channels, with a resolution of 8, 16, 24 or 32-bit and any sample frequency up to 192kHz. WAV and AIFF (AIFF-C) are the only formats which Live can load without conversion. All other formats are converted into WAV when being imported. The converted file is stored in Live's Decoding Cache. (The locations of the Decoding Cache can be found in the Additional Information section of this article).

The supported audio file formats can be divided in two main groups, natively supported formats and formats which require an external codec.

Natively supported formats

This group involves all formats where the required codec is included with Live, so no additional software or external codec needs to be installed or accessed. The group of natively supported file formats includes WAV, AIFF, AIFF-C, FLAC and OGG Vorbis.

WAV/WAVE (Waveform Audio File Format)
The WAV file format, developed by Microsoft and IBM, is an application of the Resource Interchange File Format (RIFF) bitstream format and belongs to the family of PCM audio files. Live supports uncompressed WAV files with the following features:

  • 8-bit, 16-bit, 24-bit integer Little Endian (pcm, aflt, araw)
  • 32-bit float Little Endian
  • WAV files with an audio stream encoded as MP3 might open in Live after changing the file extension from .wav to .mp3

AIFF (Audio Interchange File Format)
AIFF is an audio format very similar to WAV. It was developed by Apple and belongs to the same family of RIFF/PCM audio files as WAV. Live supports AIFF and AIFF-C files with the following features:

  • 8-bit, 16-bit, 24-bit integer Big Endian and Little Endian (pcm, twos, sowt, s8)
  • 32-bit float Big Endian
  • AIFF-C files with the file extension .aifc can only be loaded after changing the file extension to .aif or .aiff
  • AIFF files with the file extension .snd can only be loaded after changing the file extension to .aif or .aiff

FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec)
The FLAC audio format is a free lossless compressed audio format, developed by the Xiph.Org Foundation. Live supports FLAC files with a resolution of 16-bit or 24-bit.

OGG Vorbis
OGG is a container format for video and audio streams which is most popular for containing a lossy compressed Vorbis audio stream. Both standards are free and developed by the Xiph.Org Foundation. An OGG container may also contain a FLAC audio stream (OGG FLAC). This combination is currently not support by Live. It only supports OGG files containing a Vorbis audio stream (OGG Vorbis).

Formats relying on external decoding

This group involves all audio file formats which require an external codec in order to be used in Live. All codecs of this group involve license fees. Live would get significantly more expensive if those codecs were included with Live. This group of file formats consists of MP3 and MP4/M4A (AAC, ALAC).

MP3 (MPEG-1 and/or MPEG-2 Audio Layer III)
MP3 is a lossy compressed audio format developed by the Fraunhofer Institute.

  • Windows: on Windows, Live encodes MP3 files either with the DirectX codec which is coming with the system, or with Apple QuickTime (32-bit Live only), or with a third party codec.
  • Mac: on Mac, the required external codec for MP3 files comes with the operating system, which means that those formats behave in Live like natively supported file formats.

M4A/MP4
MP4 is a container format for video and audio streams. M4A is the 'audio only’ version of MP4. The audio stream in a MP4/M4A container is mostly encoded either in the lossy AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) format, or in the lossless ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) format.

  • Windows: M4A is an Apple file format which is not natively supported on Windows. In Live on Windows M4A files can only be opened in conjunction with Apple QuickTime. Please note that Apple dropped support for QuickTime and that it is only available as 32-bit application and thus works only with the 32-bit version of Live. 
  • Mac: on Mac, the required external codec for M4A/MP4 (AAC and ALAC) files comes with the operating system, which means that those formats behave in Live like natively supported file formats. Apple Lossless files (ALAC) are supported on Mac in the 32-bit Live version with 16-bit/44,1kHz and with 16-bit, 20-bit, 32-bit in the 64-bit version of Live.
    Known issue: importing 24-bit ALAC files will currently cause Live to crash.

Additional Information

If you need further help troubleshooting an issue with importing compressed audio files, please refer to the article Why Can't I Import Compressed Audio Files Into Live?

Decoding Cache Locations

Windows XP: C:\Documents and Settings\[username]\Application Data\Ableton\Cache\Cache\Decoding\

Windows Vista, 7, 8, 10: C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Roaming\Ableton\Cache\Cache\Decoding\

Mac OS X: Macintosh HD/Users/[username]/Library/Caches/Ableton/Cache/Decoding/

The locations mentioned above might be hidden. For further information please refer to this article on how to access hidden folders on Windows and Mac.

How do I get detailed information about codec and resolution of an audio file?

VLC Player
Windows: open the file and make sure it is selected > press [ctrl][I] on the computer keyboard > Codec Details
Mac: open the file and make sure it is selected > press [cmd][I] on the computer keyboard > Codec Details

iTunes
Windows: open the file and make sure it is selected > press [ctrl][I] on the computer keyboard > File
Mac: open the file and make sure it is selected > press [cmd][I] on the computer keyboard > File

QuickTime
Mac: open the file -> press [cmd][I] on the computer keyboard

Note: Tests showed that the format information, especially the bit depth is not always interpreted correctly by the applications mentioned above. It is therefore a good idea to check the format with at least two different applications. 

Unsupported Format Features

  • multi-channel audio files (multi-channel FLAC files can be loaded but only the signal of front left and right will be played back
  • 12-bit integer PCM
  • 32-bit integer PCM
  • PCM files (WAV, AIFF) encoded with "PCM MU-LAW (mlaw)" and "PCM ALAW (alaw)"
  • WAV files encoded with "GSM Audio (gsm)" and "Microsoft GSM Audio (agsm)"
  • PCM files encoded with ADPCM, e.g. "AIFF G.726 ADPCM Audio (g726)" or "IMA WAV ADPCM Audio (ms)"
  • OGG FLAC (FLAC files in an OGG container)
  • Split Stereo files - Please save the file in another format such as stereo SDII (not split), WAV or AIFF. You can also drag each channel of the file into individual tracks in Live and pan the tracks hard left and right

Note: this is not a complete list of unsupported audio file formats. It only lists formats which belong to the group of supported files, but with unsupported features.