Using an External Synth With Ableton Live 9


I’m a big proponent of outboard synths.  I think machines built with the purpose of creating a certain sound are often richer than a laptop synth which is really running on a machine  built and designed for many tasks besides music-making.  Moreover, I’m a big fan of the richness of true analog, especially for bass and lead sounds.  My go to external synth these days is a Moog Lil Phatty and I like to mix analog sounds with colder digital sounds to create an amalgamation.  I like the digital coldness and even harshness as well and like the yin and the yang, these two sounds often balance each other quite well.

This is how to incorporate external synths into your Ableton Live 9 workflow. This is a basic example.  I will expand on this post in the near future with some pic and possibly a Dubspot video.

1. Firstly, you will need a synth with either a USB or MIDI port in.  This is pretty much any synth built after 1982.  You will need either a standard USB cable or MIDI cable. Finally, you will also need a Soundcard.

2. Connect the Synth to the computer with the proper cable.  General you can use a standard USB cable if the synth has a USB in or a USB to 10 pin MIDI cable, like this M Audio USB Uno: 

3. Set up two tracks In Ableton Live 9 – a MIDI and audio track. (Command T for an Audio Track and Shift-Comand T for a MIDI Track)

4. Insert the external instrument into the MIDI track and route the MIDI to the external synth


5. Connect the audio out of the synth to the computer’s Soundcard.

6. In the System Preferences, specify the Soundcard. Then in the track I-O menu, set the audio from the input channel of the Soundcard.


Dan FreeMan (CØm1x)
Dan FreeMan (CØm1x)

7. Now the MIDI from Ableton will be routed to the external synth. There you can do sound design and route the audio back to your laptop to be recorded as an audio file.  One thing I do a lot is mix sounds from analog synths like the Moog, especially the heavy bottoms, to sharper digital sounds like Massive or FM synths like Operator.