Cubase 12 vs. Ableton Live 11: Two Creative Powerhouse DAW Platforms

Cubase 12 vs. Ableton Live 11

When it comes to Cubase 12 vs. Ableton Live 11, the two DAWs have a lot to offer to artists. But which one is the right fit for you? Today we take a look at both, and go over the pros and cons from both a novice point of view, as well as the professional user.


Cubase 12 vs. Ableton: Two Powerful DAWs

We have been taking a seriously critical look at Cubase lately, and breaking down the DAW from multiple perspectives. Whether a novice or pro, choosing a DAW to work with in your production journey can be tough, as there are many options out there. New DAWs pop up from time to time, offering more tools and options.

But then there are the ones that started a long time ago, like Cubase, which saw the first inception of the program way back in 1989. Ableton is relatively new, only coming to the market in 2001. Both have been around long enough to have a significant cultural impact.

Choosing a DAW as a beginner usually comes down to how accessible it is from the very first time you boot it up. Some can be overwhelming for novice users, while other systems may be easy to understand from day one. This is what makes the Cubase 12 vs. Ableton Live 11 argument a little difficult, as they are so different, and one is obviously easier to learn.

Cubase is a professional DAW used by studios all over the world, and has nearly limitless potential. Ableton on the other hand has a simple UI, and is focused more on the home studio market. These DAWs are very different, and today we will look at both in comparison.

In the vast realm of digital audio workstations (DAWs), two titans have emerged as frontrunners, catering to the diverse needs of music producers across the globe – Cubase 12 and Ableton. These DAW platforms have garnered immense popularity, each bringing a unique, yet opposite approach to music production.

Whether you’re a beginner taking your first steps in the world of recording or a seasoned professional seeking innovative tools, Cubase and Ableton have something to offer. In this comprehensive article, we’ll delve into the features, advantages, and disadvantages of Cubase 12 and Ableton, examining their appeal from both a beginner’s and a professional’s perspective.

These two DAWs may be very different, but they also share features that can be useful for artists of any level. So let’s take a look at both, starting with Cubase first.


Cubase 12: A Proficient DAW for the Music Industry

Cubase 12 vs. Ableton Live 11

Many of the first DAW systems started out with one purpose. For example Fruity Loops started as a simple sampler and sequencer program, but has evolved into a full-on DAW. Cubase started with humble roots as well, first as a rather basic MIDI controller by today’s standards.

Cubase, developed by Steinberg, has been a stalwart in the music industry since its inception in 1989. It has continuously evolved, staying at the forefront of technological advancements. With the release of Cubase 12, the DAW has reached new heights of creative power, catering to the needs of both beginners and professionals.

Cubase is an industry standard in the professional recording world, and it has been a staple in big studios for decades. Cubase 12 is the latest and most powerful version we have ever seen from Steinberg, and this can be difficult for beginners to grasp at first. However, it has tons of features that are user-friendly:

  • Intuitive User Interface: Cubase 12’s user-friendly interface makes it easy for beginners to navigate through the DAW. With its organized layout and visual clarity, newcomers can quickly grasp the basic functionalities.
  • MIDI Editing: Cubase’s MIDI editing capabilities are a boon for beginners seeking precise control over their musical compositions. The Key Editor offers intuitive tools for creating melodies and chords, empowering beginners to experiment with different musical ideas.
  • Virtual Instruments and Effects: Cubase 12 comes bundled with a wide array of high-quality virtual instruments and effects, providing beginners with a rich palette of sounds to explore. From Synths to drums, Cubase has you covered.

While the initial shock of the UI may scare off some beginners, Cubase is actually a fairly easy DAW to learn. The user interface is simple when it comes to the basic layout, with various keyboard shortcuts that are easy to utilize.

But that doesn’t meant that Cubase isn’t also a great professional tool. I have seen many popular studios using Cubase these days, since the Steinberg ecosystem of plugins are so powerful. This means less 3rd party plugins are needed to finish a project, as Cubase has everything you need built-in.

Using Cubase as your main DAW in a professional studio can optimize your workflow, whether you are recording a solo singer/songwriter, or an entire thirty piece orchestra. Productivity is the main focus of Cubase, and it has the features to prove it:

  • Advanced Audio Editing: Cubase 12’s audio editing tools are a dream come true for professionals working on intricate audio projects. Features like VariAudio allow for detailed pitch correction and manipulation.
  • Mixing and Automation: The MixConsole in Cubase 12 offers a professional-grade mixing environment with comprehensive automation capabilities, giving engineers precise control over the sound and dynamics of their mix.
  • Orchestral Scoring: Cubase’s notation capabilities and VST Expression make it a preferred choice for composers and arrangers working on complex orchestral scores.

Cubase is a fantastic DAW for recording live instruments, whether one at a time, or an entire band at once. Mixing is also easy with the built-in virtual console options and various high-quality plugins. Mastering a project is virtually painless with the plugin tools like compressors, consoles, limiters, and even Dolby Atmos options.


Ableton: A DAW for Live Performances and Creative Exploration

Cubase 12 vs. Ableton Live 11

Ableton was a little confusing for me at first, and that is because the popular DAW does not follow the same rules as most other DAWs. Ableton is in a world of its own, offering a platform for artists to create in a way that is anything but traditional.

If you are acquainted with programs like Cubase and Pro Tools, then the outline that Ableton uses may throw you off. This is not a good or a bad thing, Ableton is just in a class of its own. This is a DAW that takes a very unique approach, and many artists find it easy to use.

Ableton, developed by Ableton AG, entered the DAW market in 2001, bringing a fresh and innovative approach to music production. Designed for live performances and real-time creativity, Ableton has captured the hearts of electronic music producers and performers worldwide. But that is not where Ableton started…

Ableton started in the 90s, just like Cubase, however it would be years before Ableton came to recent form. In fact, Hans Zimmer praised the software in early versions, espousing the virtues of looping, tempo change, and time stretching. Ableton was made to perform live with loops, unlike traditional DAWs like Cubase and Pro Tools, programs that focus on recording single tracks.

So this makes Ableton aimed at a different type of artist, and it can be very appealing to beginner musicians. Ableton can also be a great way to capture ideas quickly, with minor setup and tons of samples to get you started. There are a lot of features that make Ableton so magnetic for beginner producers:

  • Session View: Ableton’s unique Session View allows beginners to trigger audio and MIDI clips in a non-linear fashion, making it easy to experiment with loops and arrangements.
  • Real-Time Performance: The emphasis on real-time performance in Ableton appeals to beginners who are looking to perform their music live or create dynamic, evolving soundscapes.
  • Easy Clip Launching: Ableton’s clip-based workflow simplifies the process of launching loops and samples, making it accessible to beginners seeking to craft electronic music.

Since Ableton is more focused on building multiple elements into one performance, you rarely see it being used as a singular DAW in a professional studio. Yet Ableton can be a powerful tool in the studio when used in conjunction with other DAW systems:

  • Creative Audio Manipulation: Ableton’s warping capabilities and audio effects provide professionals with a plethora of creative audio manipulation possibilities. The ability to warp audio in real-time enables seamless integration of various musical elements.
  • Max for Live Integration: Ableton’s integration of Max for Live opens up a world of endless possibilities for professionals looking to design custom instruments, effects, and perform complex signal processing.
  • Live Performance Tools: The integration of Live Packs, Push controllers, and various MIDI controllers make Ableton an ideal choice for professionals who rely on live performances and improvisation.

Ableton Live can be used in the studio to capture some improvised moments, and then edit them down later to make the performance cohesive. Sometimes magic will happen in the studio when you are just messing around, and Ableton is the perfect playground to capture artistic spontaneity.

But does Ableton work as a stand-alone professional DAW? Well… yes and no. Ableton has a lot of short term recording solutions, but some users expect that a DAW should allow you to take an idea from a scratch track all the way to a fully produced song, ready to be streamed or downloaded.


Cubase 12 vs. Ableton Live 11: The Pros And Cons

As much as I like both DAW platforms, when it comes to professional studio use Cubase excels in almost every way. While Cubase does stick to the tried and true “basic” DAW platform stereotypes… it does so because that is what is needed in the studio.

If we look at Cubase as a fully-functioning virtual studio, it is easy to see the advantages that it has to offer. Cubase knocks it out of the park in almost every category, let’s break it down:

  • Comprehensive MIDI editing and orchestral scoring capabilities cater to a wide range of musical genres.
  • Professional-grade audio editing and mixing features offer precise control over the sound and arrangement. Cubase is used in professional studios all over the world.
  • Extensive documentation, tutorials, and a supportive user community make Cubase accessible to beginners.
  • The sheer number of features may initially overwhelm beginners seeking a more streamlined approach to music production. This includes the vast library of effects and plugins.
  • Higher system requirements might be a limiting factor for users with less powerful hardware. However, limited versions of Cubase are available.

On the other hand, Ableton is very inviting for less-traditional users that are looking for a new way to record. Ableton Live can be a very useful tool to make music “on the fly” and even more useful for artists that are beginners.

  • Ableton’s unique Session View and clip-based workflow make it exceptionally easy for beginners to experiment with loops and create dynamic performances.
  • The emphasis on real-time performance and live looping appeals to electronic musicians seeking a performance-oriented DAW. This also makes Ableton a great tool for solo artists.
  • Integration of Max for Live provides professionals with unparalleled creative possibilities.
  • Beginners who are more accustomed to a traditional timeline-based DAW may find Ableton’s Session View initially confusing. These features would also apply to seasoned professionals as well.
  • The focus on live performance may not be suitable for all music production scenarios.

Cubase 12 vs. Ableton Live 11: Wrapping Up…

Ultimately, I think that both of these DAWs will appeal to different types of artists. I have often seen musicians and producers use Ableton in conjunction with a more traditional DAW, and I can see why. We saw a similar comparison when looking at FL Studio.

Ableton really excels in capturing a moment of improv, or building loops with multiple samples. You can then export these stems into just about any DAW. However, Ableton falls a bit short when it comes to mastering and fine-tuning a finished project.

While Cubase is more of a traditional DAW in almost every way, and building loops quickly is not as easy. You can drag and drop samples, as well as trigger MIDI instruments in Cubase, but not in the same way that you would with Ableton.

But this is why we have many options for studio software, as Ableton and Cubase will have different appeal to artists. It is easy to see why Ableton’s accessible UI and live performance-based approach may be popular with novices. Cubase is a solid, yet traditional DAW that can take time to really learn proficiently.

Cubase 12 and Ableton are both exceptional DAW platforms, each catering to different needs and musical styles. Cubase’s versatility and powerful audio capabilities make it a top choice for professionals working on complex audio projects and orchestral scoring. On the other hand, Ableton’s emphasis on live performance, real-time creativity, and loop-based composition make it a favorite among electronic musicians seeking dynamic, “on the fly” music creation.

The choice between Cubase and Ableton comes down to your musical goals, preferred workflow, and the type of music you wish to create. Both DAWs offer trial versions, allowing you to explore their features and decide which aligns best with your needs. Whichever DAW you choose, the world of music production awaits, and both Cubase and Ableton will be your trusted companions in unleashing your creative potential.

Steinberg Cubase Pro 12
4.5

Used by everything from Hans Zimmer to Meshuggah, Cubase is an industry stalwart and a leading pioneer in the field of DAWs. Ideal for creating, recording, mixing, and mastering, Cubase has all the tools you need to create professional-sounding music at home. We love this software.

Pros:
  • Control Room: Unmatched recording and monitoring control for a superior mix.
  • Sound Quality: A 64-bit audio engine that delivers professional-level audio.
  • Plug-Ins: A wealth of high-quality plug-ins for any genre.
  • Score Editor: Ideal for composers with its sophisticated notation feature.
  • Customizable Interface: Adaptable to your workflow for optimal productivity.

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