This number “64” is important to some people making music. Here, we get to explain why, if you should even be concerned, and what it’ll mean to run Live in 64-bit. Photo (CC-BY-SA) shizhao.

Sung to the tune of the Beatles’ iconic “When I’m 64 [bit]…”

Do you need memory? /
Lotsa more memory? /
You want sixty-four.

Ableton Live 8.4 is available in beta, making 64-bit available to Live users, and thus making Live exactly two times more in the sound as the previous version.

Wait, no… that’s not right. Let’s try again: With 64-bit, you get twice as much of things as Live in 32-bit, because 64 is twice 32.

No… also not right. Let’s back up.

64-bit has been a surprisingly-anticipated feature in Live. But, while it’s a logical evolution for the software, its most significant utility is for people who need to consume lots of memory in their sets and sample libraries. 64-bit operation is something we’ve been talking about for a long time in audio; in CDM’s first year, we were talking about the advent of a 64-bit version of SONAR for Windows. (That’s the year 2005.) But actually seeing it has taken more time, as operating systems, drivers, software, and plug-ins have caught up. The important question is why you need it in the first place. 64-bit computation really boils down to one major issue: you can get a marginal improvement in performance (something Cakewalk’s engineers measured early on), but the real reason to do it is greater memory access.

If you are memory hungry, this is a bigger deal. Ableton Live, as a 32-bit application, maxes out at 4 GB — a bit less if you’re running on a 32-bit version of Windows. So, assuming you have a 64-bit OS and CPU and additional physical RAM, having a 64-bit app means you eliminate that RAM ceiling, with the ability to use up to 16 exabytes. (That’s not a typo. It translates to “more RAM than you can possibly have right now. It’s like seeing a speed limit on a highway that reads 50000 mph, when you’re driving an ordinary VW Jetta.)

There are also significant performance advantages to running 64-bit software; while you shouldn’t theoretically see two-fold gains (despite the increase in number), 64-bit computation has repeatedly proven to yield additional performance. And you get that performance “for free” – that is, you can do the same things with a lighter load on the CPU. Specifics vary depending on context, but that’s a good thing – once you ensure you have compatible software to make the transition. (Update: there are some very interesting anecdotal reports in comments, in which there is a halving of CPU load as indicated by the meter. That is actually better than should be happening, in theory, so I’ll be curious to hear what is prompting enhanced performance. But generally, performance improvements are a benefit of 64-bit computation on modern processors.)

The 64-bit Live 8.4 is still a beta, though, and there are some caveats. What works:

  • 64-bit plug-ins.
  • ReWire. (ReWire is now 64-bit, as are apps like Propellerhead Reason.)
  • Existing Live sets with internal instruments.

What doesn’t work:

  • Max for Live.
  • Video.
  • 32-bit plug-ins — without an adapter.

Max for Live and video support are coming soon.

Plug-ins are, for most people, the potential deal-breaker. There, we’ve got bad news, and some (better) good news. The bad news is, Ableton doesn’t include a built-in adapter for using 32-bit plug-ins in your 64-bit set. That’s something I very much hope Ableton solves by the time they ship their next major upgrade; most other hosts already provide something like that. (Even little-known hosts like Renoise and Reaper do that.)

But you can use your 32-bit plug-ins with the 64-bit beta. Adapters like jBridge on Windows make 32-bit plug-ins operate relatively seamlessly. An early version of Ableton’s FAQ suggested that you could only open 32-bit Live sets in the 64-bit version if you had 64-bit versions of any plug-ins you were using. I followed up with Ableton on that, though, and learned that – so long as you have jBridge running as the adapter – you can open that set, and 32-bit plug-ins will run in the adapter. So, opening 32-bit sets shouldn’t be a problem in the long run.

For now, I wouldn’t recommend running Live 8.4 as your primary version, but it is labeled a beta. You can install the 64-bit version, however, alongside your current, stable 32-bit setup. That seems the best option, as with any beta. And if Ableton can include a standard, supported wrapper format, then Live in 64-bit could well be ready for prime time, especially once video and Max for Live support is done.

On the other hand, if your memory needs are modest – or you don’t have tons of available memory to begin with — for now, sticking with the current version of Live is your best bet. This is beta software, after all.

But, if you do like testing, it probably is worth installing 8.4 alongside your current version so you can try it out, particularly if you add in a bridge plug-in, and you don’t rely heavily on Max for Live. If you do push the envelope with memory usage, we’d love to hear how it goes for you. (Just makes sure to file bug reports / feedback if you find anything Ableton should know.)

When it’s finished, this will be a free update for registered users of Live 8 – all of its versions.

Details from Ableton:
32-bit versus 64-bit FAQ

Also, I understand that the number that follows the number “eight” is the number “nine,” and I suspect if anything happens regarding numbers higher than eight, we’ll cover them here.

  • radiokoala

    I disagree about sticking with the current version. I’ve been testing 8.4 for half an hour, and I will be using it exclusively since the now on, all while happy to no limit.

    I have discovered that its performance is about 200% better than that in 32-bit. For example, I can now run two instances of Madrona Labs Aalto, one with 3 of 4 voices and another with 4 voices (that giving 7 voices total) with about 80% of CPU load, all while 1 four-voice instance of Aalto in a 32-bit Live causes CPU overload (100 & more percent). Therefore, earlier I could use only three voices max, and now perhaps even eight!

    Additionally, I had a problem with Tone2 Saurus. I’m in love with this plug-in but was unable to use it at live performances, as when I choose the bank say, from pads to keys, overall audio in Ableton stops for half a second until the plug-in switches (without any relation to the actual CPU load; the same happens, when there is nothing but Saurus in the set). In fact, I have occasionally overloaded my laptop, and audience could have heard strange things happen to sound, but it was unintentional and I had no desire to cause it just by loading a VST. And guess what? Today I download a new beta, and with 64-bit version of a plug-in everything’s just fine!

    As I am performing using laptop and always improvised music (playing parts live on nanokey, live looping, using FX, sends/returns, recording/monitoring multiple tracks/plug-ins, sometimes ten or more), even 5% of saved CPU would be awesome for me – I don’t prepare anything and hence don’t have everything sliced to audio and CPU floating at its lower values, – but now that I see Ableton to perform almost twice better at my same laptop, I almost can’t believe how lucky I am for buying it. 8.4 is awesome, the best update to my memory.

    • elburz

      Good to hear about the performance boost! I’ll have to wait for Max for Live to be integrated before switching.

    • Jakku

      That’s very interesting… what are your computer specs? Do you have a lot of ram?

    • radiokoala

      I have hp dm1-3100er 11.6″ laptop, when I bought it last summer it was among the most powerful netbooks. Specs are AMD E350 (dual-core 1.6GHz CPU), 7200 RPM 320GB HDD, and I have 3 GB of RAM installed.

      Someone at Ableton forums did a test and had twice better performance as well (10% vs 20% with the same drum rack and effects). AFAIR, he had Intel CPU, therefore I come to conclusion that a program is better optimized in general, and it’s not about specs of a given machine.

    • Peter Kirn

      I clarified the post above so my advice is clear. “Marginal” performance gains are in fact a big deal, because – as you’ve found – you get them “for free.” Your current hardware and software just runs better, without upgrading. So, this is a good thing.

      200% … in practice, theoretically, that shouldn’t be what’s happening. On the other hand, if you’re up against the envelope in computation, then this could make a big difference, again, as you found. So I stick to my general advice – this is for people pushing the envelope, and people who are comfortable with the word “beta.” 

  • mverzola

    I just want them to add automation delay compensation.

    • Guest

       …and native OSC support, and 5.1 support. :(

    • guest

      You can use Return channels to do 5.1, send stuff to them then use an external program to take the audio

  • Experimentaldog

    This is great news for the 32GBs sitting in my machine…
    With M4L, there’s so much more Live can do than just work as a DAW.

  • ahmet kizilay

    Question: As for the Max4Live support, does this mean we should expect a 64-bit Max soon? Or, will Ableton use a built-in adaptor for Max4Live? How does this work? 

    • Peter Kirn

      They haven’t announced that yet. They say they’re “working with their partners,” so that’d be up to Cycling ’74.

    • gbsr

      i doubt live will use an adapter. it took them this long to go 64bit, and they still have a buggy version of 8 (honestly, try working with big projects with 8. or video for that matter. crash fest.), so it would probably take them another 3-5 years to develop a bridge, and my guess is that they’re not really that keen on doing that heh. they are probably waiting for their partners to fix up the shit for them, while they develop yet another extra superexpensive instrument consisting of samples and a rack or two.

  • David

    If you do live processing of audio (like guitars) in moderately high resolution, 64bit is a must. I am extremely happy about this. I wasn’t expecting it until Live9.

    • nope

      erm… its not about audio processing resolution, its about cpu architecture and memory limits mate…

  • mo0kid

    Your writing style has improved a lot since 2005!

  • ghost dog

    I just want the option to colourise the plugins list so I can find things by colour. i.e my fav plugins in green

  • Qwegrtzu

    64 bit ?  Boring… what is 64 usefull for ? people who live in the past and use samples ?  samples are so 80´s…   

    • Foljs

      Yes, I will keep that very informed and not at all fad-chasing advice in mind next time I try to create a convincing jazz, classical etc score…

  • julienbayle

    summer season = live on stage season
    I wouldn’t dare to test it right now, waiting for a definitive version

  • Pete

    The per-process limit on 32-bit Windows is a lot less than 4GB, actually. Depending on obscure system settings, it’s either 2GB (typical) or 3GB (geeky configuration with apps which can opt in). This is because Windows reserves 2GB or 1GB for itself for each process.

    • Peter Kirn

      Yes, I should say “a lot less,” rather than “a bit less.”

  • kabs

    You need samples if you want 100%  real sounding guitars, pianos, violins and so on. This article was well writen. CPU performance is about 20% better in my current tracks overall. Individual instruments take up the same amount of CPU on the CPU meter but I can load up the mixes more and allow the meter to go higher without the sound breaking up.  Before Slate Digital VTM was killing my CPU now it is not.

  • kabs

    Jbridge is now available for Macs  Jbridge allows Soundtoys and Eventide native plugins or any other 32bit plugins  to run in Live 64bit.

  • worm

    16 exabytes = 17,179,869,184 gigabytes!

    How much LSD did the 64-bit creators have to drop to think of this ridiculous limitation!

    • Richard Gankema

      They just did 2^64

  • netcahiev

    At last!!! 64bits! 

  • kent williams

    I’m still waiting for Max For Live to go to Max6. I won’t go to 64 bit Live until UAD delivers their 64-bit plugins.  Since the stuff I really care about (NI Komplete, UAD, AudioDamage) is or soon will be 64-bit, I’m ready for the switch.

    The biggest loss will be all the free plugins that do interesting things, whose developers may not have the wherewithal or desire to build 64-bit versions…

  • David Prouty

    ” little-known hosts like Renoise and Reaper”

    I wouldn’t call Reaper little known. SOS covers it by the way.

  • Jwieringg

    Works great! Finally! Switched to Cubase due to the RAM limit of Ableton, which was solved by Cubase’s 64bit. Except from the 32bit-64bit bridge, Ableton has never worked this well.. Running multiple instances of Omnisphere, Trillian, Geist, doing it all live at 96 samples! :-)