So you’ve decided to get into music production and want to know if you’ll need an audio interface for Ableton Live? Well, this will depend on what type of music you’re planning to make and what equipment you already have to work with!
But just to quickly get this out of the way: Ableton Live will launch without an audio interface and you’ll be able to click around and maybe even compose music with your mouse and keyboard, or pre-recorded samples. But that’s pretty much where your limitations are without any additional extra equipment.
An audio interface is a box that connects your computer to your input and output devices. What do you need it for? If you’re using a DAW like Ableton Live, then it can help improve performance by providing better latency and quality. It also allows you to record multiple inputs over several different tracks.
To give an example, microphones that plug into an audio interface are probably going to sound better than USB microphones. Similarly, professional studio monitors that plug into your audio interface are probably going to sound better than PC speakers connected through the headphone port, and will definitely sound better than built-in laptop speakers.
If you are not planning to record microphones or guitars in your music, and you’re planning on using headphones for listening, then you may not need an audio interface for Ableton Live. However, if you are planning to sing or record instruments, then I recommend getting a budget audio interface such as the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2.
If you’re planning to produce music with no vocals or recordings of your own instruments like guitars, then you might also not need an audio interface for Ableton Live. By using just a MIDI controller, you’ll be able to play and record a huge library of instruments that come with Ableton Live.
A lot of MIDI controllers such as the AKAI MPK series have both a keyboard for playing melodies, as well as pads for beats and pretty much anything your creativity allows. The knobs can be assigned to control pretty much anything inside Ableton so you can manipulate your sound while recording or playing lie without having to go to your mouse and keyboard.
MIDI keys and pads are also commonly velocity-sensitive, meaning they sound a lot more natural than composing music manually with a mouse. If you’re planning on making this type of music on a budget, then you can get away with just using a MIDI controller for Ableton, without the need for an audio interface.
However, even within this genre, if you later decide you want a higher quality output sound than laptop speakers or headphones, then it might still be a good idea to look into getting an audio interface, along with better headphones and studio monitors.
If you want to reach your sound’s full potential and give your listeners the best experience possible then you probably need an audio interface for Ableton Live. For those of you who want to produce electronic/instrumental music, you might be able to get away without an audio interface, at least as a starting point, but I’d still recommend getting one down the line in order to unlock new possibilities when creating sounds. I hope these ideas helped answer any questions about whether or not you should get an audio interface for Ableton Live.