Ableton Stock Plugins Guide – How to Use Every Plugin

I typically try to keep neutral regarding DAWs as the mixing tips and tricks I cover here can almost always be applied to any DAW. Still, today I thought I’d give some love to my DAW of choice for over 10 years now, Ableton Live, and talk about their stock plugins and what you can do with them.

Ableton Stock Plugins

ableton stock plugins

Unlike the versions of old, Ableton now more neatly organizes all of their plugins into a small handful of folders by effects type:

ableton live plugin categories

Each folder contains a number of effect types, and each effect type is a folder which contains a number of presets for that effect.

Let’s go through each one and give an overview of the types of effects you’ll find in each and some information on how or when to use them.

Delay and Loop

The “Delay and Loop” category allows you to create a number of interesting time based effects in your audio. There’s a lot of ear candy possibilities in this category, plus some basic spacial effects like Delay and Echo (yes, they’re different, at least in Ableton Live terms).

Beat Repeat

As the name suggests, this repeats sections of your audio which you can adjust in granular detail to come up with some very cool rhythm effects.


“Delay” is Ableton Live’s basic delay plugin for thickening, widening, or even adding some depth to your audio.

ableton live delay

You’ll find some vanilla presets for basic time, synced note, and dotted note based delays, as well as ones which go out of the box and simulate some pretty extreme spaces.

Check out my complete overview of the delay settings including the best settings to generally dial in across your mix.


I describe Ableton Live’s relatively new “Echo” effect as a cross between delay and reverb.

ableton live echo

I doesn’t quite create the color or depth you’ll get with reverb, but there’s more depth than with delay in simulating reflections in different spaces.

Filter Delay

While the standard delay in Ableton which I just mentioned allows you to filter the sound, the “Filter Delay” effect gives you more control over the mid and sides of your delay.

ableton live filter delay

This creates more of a contrast and interesting effects in your delay.

Grain Delay

“Grain Delay” combines delay and modulation.

ableton live grain delay

This create textures on your audio which can sound beautiful to downright disturbing either when blended in alongside or applied 100% wet alongside your audio.


“Looper “allows you to record a segment of your audio then chop it up or manipulate it alongside the dry audio on the same track.

ableton live looper

Spectral Time

“Spectral Time” is the last option in the Delay categories and admittedly the one I use the least.

ableton live spectral time

Still, you can use this to linearly play a drugged up option delayed version of your audio or freeze it for some interesting effects. That’s how I describe it, at least.

Drive & Color

The “Drive & Color” category is used to add all forms of harmonic distortion to your audio. As I covered in my overview of saturation, this effect can be used to add some overtones and essentially fill out your audio in frequencies which it’s lacking. As with every category, there’s a lot more than more traditionally practical applications to each effect.

ableton live drive and color


The “Amp” plugin in Ableton Live simulates the controls and distortion of a physical amp.

ableton live amp

This is amp modeling lite and obviously doesn’t offer anywhere near the options or quality you’d find on arguably my favorite amp simulator plugin suite, Guitar Rig.

I find this works best when adding a little thickness or supplementation of your tone with subtlety by keeping the dry/wet knob a lot closer to 0%.

As you might expect, it also works well when paired with a virtual cabinet, the next plugin we’re set to talk about.


The “Cabinet” plugin simulates a physical cabinet to output your audio through.

ableton live cabinet

A relatively simple stock plugin, it features a number of parameters relevant to miking an amp, including condenser vs dynamic microphone type, three different microphone positions relative to the speaker(s), and a number of different speaker types.

While it depends on the configuration you use, the cabinet plugin generally dampens and heavily filters the top end of your audio which can be a good match on certain tracks.

Drum Buss

I like the “Drum Buss” stock plugin in Ableton for giving you a miniature suite of drum processing, enhancements, and attenuations in one single plugin.

ableton live drum buss

You can add soft, medium, or hard levels of “drive” for increasingly apparent distortion, add distortion to the mid-high frequencies specifically with the “crunch” dial, or dampen everything via the “damp” control which basically applies a negative high shelf to the top end at a frequency point of your choosing to warm up your drum or entire kit without the extent of a full on low pass filter.

The “boom” control is especially useful in essentially adding an 808 style pitch to your kick; the exact pitch and length can be controlled by the “Freq” dial and “Decay” percentage, respectively. It even shows the exact note you’re around at the bottom with the frequency.

Automating the frequency of the boom can be used to match the bass or create a very tasty effect 808-like rhythm effect with moving basslines. Maybe not the most efficient way to do this as you would probably be better off using a doctored up, low sine wave or something in that vein, but this one is immediately pleasing when you hear it.

Dynamic Tube

The “Dynamic Tube” plugin simply adds some tube-like saturation to your audio.

ableton live dynamic tube

It’s very subtle but can give your audio that analog feel you’ve been looking for.


The “Erosion” plugin degrades your audio by using filtered noise or a sine wave modulated with a short delay.

ableton live erosion

This is one of those aesthetic effects which can give your audio the lofi noise/downsampling effect you might want in a particular situation.


If you want to add a little distortion, “Overdrive” is a simple way to do it.

ableton live overdrive

The “Drive” is basically the wet/dry for how much while the “Tone” filters from a seriously low pass filtered effect at 0% to kind of like a high shelf boosted emphasis at 100%.


“Pedal” attempts to emulate a number of popular guitar effects pedals into one plugin.

ableton live pedal plugin

Combining overdrive, distortion, and fuzz (which are all different degrees and flavors of distortion ultimately) along with bass, mid, and treble controllers (plus a sub boost), this gives you a lot of options to color your sound with harmonic distortion to taste.


“Redux” is a neat stock plugin from Ableton Live which directly allows you to adjust (downgrade) the bit depth and sample rate of your audio on that track.

ableton live redux

I’ve talked about bit depth on here before, but essentially the lower the bit depth, both the less dynamic range your audio can have but also the more likely that quantization errors will occur as a result of not having the correct amplitudinal value which is necessary. Quantization errors result in the kind of noise you can hear when dropping the “bits” dial down, particularly below 8.

The “rate” dial relates to your audio’s sample rate. Lowering this means your audio cannot replicate the same range of frequency that your audio has which manifests as a low pass filter combined with some noise.

As you can see, one of the presets is “Chiptune Filter” which admittedly just turns your audio into noise, but it gives you an idea of the kinds of audio degradation you can create with this plugin.


I’ve been talking about plugins in this section which all affect the color of your audio through various levels and forms of saturation. “Saturator” was one of the earliest stock plugins for Ableton Live, and it still does basically the same thing.

ableton live saturator

Saturator is simply Ableton Live’s answer to the saturation effect which adds overtones to your audio where frequency information didn’t previously exist, giving your audio a fatter, fuller, and warmer tone.

There’s also a soft clip feature as this plugin can be used to tame peaks in a more transparent way in smoothing off clipped audio to get you more or the same volume without the nasty clipping noise.

Vinyl Distortion

When you want some cracks and pops in your audio, look no further than the “Vinyl Distortion” plugin.

ableton live vinyl distortion

While there are more features to this plugin than in previous iterations of it in Ableton Live, it’s still useful for adding a little subtle noise, specifically in the form of analog or organic vinyl like “distortion”.


The “Dynamics” category contains the plugins which relate to or affect your audio’s dynamic range, starting with the compressor.

ableton live dynamics


I’ve talked a lot about compression on this site over the years. The “Compressor” is Ableton Live’s stock compressor which is an original design.

As such, it’s not based on one of the main types of audio compressors which many compressors emulate.

Regardless, it’s designed to be extremely clean, meaning transparent, in leaving no artifacts on your audio via the compression.

ableton sidechain compressor

As you can see, it has all of the typical compressor settings and it’s very what you see is what you get.

Ableton’s compressor sounds good, but it’s also extremely easy to use to quickly dial in the settings you want.

It also features a built in sidechain feature which I have shown above so you can control your track’s audio based on the dynamics of another track very effectively. I actually break this down in my overview of Ableton sidechain compression.

Ableton’s stock compressor is so good that I still work it into many mixes I’m working on today. When I’m pulling up an old mix where I used it on everything, I’ll typically keep those compressors on my tracks.


Ableton’s “Gate” is their stock noise gate, meaning you can use this to silence your track until the audio hits a particular threshold.

gated drums

The “Gate” has a number of applications, from cleaning up electrical and/or room noise on your recordings with a low threshold to gating your drums to filter out bleed from other drums or instruments.

You’ll see a few parameters which you’ll also find on a compressor like attack to determine how quickly the gate opens after the threshold is no longer met, and release to determine the slope length in closing that gate again.

Like the compressor, the gate is simple in design, effective, and easy to use.

Glue Compressor

Ableton’s “Glue Compressor” is… well just Ableton’s version of that.

ableton live glue compressor

A glue compressor is a type of VCA compressor and works especially well on buses in your mix to provide a little bit of cohesion or glue, hence the name.

As I mentioned in my overview of what is a bus in mixing, this is a special track which you route multiple tracks to. The bus contains the combined sum of those tracks, and as such any processing you do to this combination will sound different than if you applied it to all of those tracks individually.

While multiple tracks will each have their own respective dynamics and unique sound, the glue compressor helps to make them blend together more naturally, thickening them up, and making them sound more controlled as a unit.

Check out my tutorial on glue compression for specific tips on how to use this in your mix.


Ableton’s “Limiter” is their stock limiter. As I covered in my overview of what is a limiter, this is essentially a compressor with an infinite compression ratio.

ableton live limiter

While we typically think of a limiter as a tool for maximizing volume without clipping in the audio mastering stage, you can use this to squash the dynamics of your audio.

This is useful when you want to keep a track present in the mix like the bass, or up front in the mix like the lead vocal (see my guide to get an up front vocal).

Multiband Dynamics

“Multiband Dynamics” is Ableton Live’s multiband compression tool.

ableton live multiband dynamics

Multiband compression is simply a compressor which is applied to a specific frequency range to attenuate or boost that range while leaving the rest of the track’s frequencies untouched.

This is a useful tool when the audio’s frequency spectrum out of balance, being top, bottom, or middle heavy.

Multiband compression is another tool which is often applied in mastering when you don’t have access to the audio on a track level, but it has its uses in mixing.

I’ve done tutorials on multiband compression on vocals and specifically how to turn a multiband compressor into a de-esser for taming vocal sibilance or any harshness in your mix.

For more information, check out my tutorial on how to use a multiband compressor.

EQ & Filters

The “EQ and Filters” category contains the effects for adjusting the frequencies of your audio to achieve a better balance or attenuate problem frequencies which are poking out.

ableton live eq and filters

Auto Filter

The “Auto Filter” is basically what it sounds like. This allows you to automate some aspects of a filter on your audio to give it a lively and more aesthetically pleasing or fitting sound.

ableton live auto filter

It uses an LFO, or a low frequency oscillator to affect the level at different frequencies. I talk more about modulation via LFOs in my overview of what are LFOs, so refer to that for more information.

Channel EQ

The “Channel EQ” is a relative new edition to the EQ category in Ableton.

ableton live channel eq

Similar to another stock EQ plugin I’ll mention in a moment, “EQ Three”, Channel EQ is very simple to use. There’s a high pass filter button on the left which, when triggered, changes the “Low” gain dial to a high pass filter. When it’s not triggered, the “Low” gain dial reverts to a low shelf so you can boost or attenuate everything on that low end.

The “Low” and “High” gain dials’ respective frequencies is ultimately controlled by where the “Mid” is set at which is the frequency shown to the right of the high pass filter.

Channel EQ is a good effect to use to easily tweak the frequency balance of your audio. I like to use it to shelve up or down (or both) at or near the start of my processing chain for a track.

EQ Eight

“EQ Eight” is Ableton Live’s parametric EQ, meaning it has a lot more features/parameters than its “EQ Three” which we’ll talk about next.

eq 8 ableton

I’m not a huge fan of any of Live’s stock EQs which is why I recommend FabFilter’s Pro-Q 3 (I even did a FabFilter Pro-Q 3 review) or a free option like TDR Nova (I even recommended it as the best free EQ plugin).

The problem is Live hasn’t changed EQ Eight’s design much since the first iterations of their software despite much better EQs coming on the market since then like Pro-Q which they could easily copy some basic design features like interface or dynamic EQ.

I recommend dynamic EQ in many of the setups in my EQ cheat sheet as it’s a much more transparent way to attenuate (or boost) frequencies without adjusting more than you need.

The fact that Ableton Live STILL doesn’t have this as a feature without a severe workaround which results in artifacts and thus isn’t ideal is kind of crazy to me.

Getting back to EQ Eight, for more information on how to use it, check out my tutorial on how to EQ vocals in Ableton using this stock plugin.

EQ Three

As I just alluded to, “EQ Three” is not parametric but a semi-parametric type of EQ.

semi parametric eq

As you can see, there’s no spectrum analyzer to see the frequencies of your audio visually. There’s no control over creating different types of EQ filters like you get with EQ Eight.

Instead you simply have three bands (hence EQ Three) which you can boost or attenuate with the gain.

The “FreqLow” determines the highest frequency cutoff point for that band, the “FreqHi” controls the lowest frequency cutoff point for its band, and everything else that’s left between them is your mids. There’s a 24 or 48 decibel setting for a gentler or more severe filter.

Adjust the “GainLow”, “GainMid”, and “GainHi” to control each one or turn off/silence that band altogether.

When simple is all you need, this works.


I just referenced modulation when I was talking about the auto filter earlier. “Modulators” is the category where you can roll up your sleeves and bring some life via limitless dynamic changes to your audio.

ableton live modulators

Envelope Follower

“Envelope Follower” allows you to conveniently control a number of parameters from other effects in one central spot.

ableton live envelope follower

Simply click “Map” within the plugin, then click on whatever parameter you want to control in another plugin. There’s also additional parameters you can adjust within Envelope Follower to further adjust the range of what you’ve mapped.


As I just mentioned, “LFO” stands for Low Frequency Oscillator. It introduces an extremely low pitched and inaudible sound wave to some element of your audio to dynamically change that element and thus the overall sound of the audio in real time.

ableton live lfo

Like with the Envelope Follower, Ableton’s “LFO” has you map it to some external parameter from another plugin. In the image above, I’ve mapped it to the “Mid” control of the Channel EQ plugin I just covered.

From there, you have LFO related parameters which help you shape the movement of that mapped to/connected parameter.

“Sine” can be changed to a number of different wave form shapes which affect the movement of the parameter, although Sine is the smoothest shape you can apply.

sine wave

You can make the movements more erratic by adding “Jitter” or make them smoother by adding “Smooth”.

“Rate” controls the speed of the movement and can be set at a frequency for more of an unchained time or it can be synced to the tempo of your song.

“Depth” controls the range or amplitude of how much you’re actually applying with 0% removing the effect and 100% being the maximum range of the movement.

Ultimately, LFO is a lot of fun to experiment with and helps keep your audio fresh by keeping some element of it constantly changing.

You can map it to virtually any parameter on any effect on any track in your mix to hear an instant effect you weren’t expecting (and might love).


“Shaper” is similar to LFO but it gives you more control over the shape of the LFO.

ableton live shaper

Here you’re tweaking the shape of the oscillator with great detail from grid point to grid point to really tailor the parameter movement to what you want.

The same “Rate” and “Depth” dials apply like with LFO, so otherwise it’s essentially the same thing.

This is better if you’re a lot more experienced with sound design and work with LFOs in your mix a lot.

If you’re just looking to experiment/are new to using LFOs in your mix, I recommend sticking with the stock shapes in the LFO plugin.

Pitch & Modulation

You’ll understandably see a lot of the concepts and controls I just talked about in the modulators section in the “Pitch and Modulation” category as these effects also deal with changing different parameters of a sound wave.

ableton live pitch and modulation

Auto Pan

Another self explanatory one, “Auto Pan” alternates the panning of your track between the left and right channels.

ableton live auto pan

You can adjust the “Amount” for the pronouncement of the effect and the “Rate” to dictate how quickly it alternates. The rate can be synced to your song’s BPM as usual, and setting the rate on the faster end of 10Hz or higher begins to enter that choppy, robotic voice territory.

The “Phase” control determines the double’s phase in relation to the dry audio. Setting this to 360 degrees (or zero for that matter) will result in phase cancellation so you’ll hear nothing on the sides and the dry audio will drop out altogether at the rate you set.


The “Chorus-Ensemble” stock plugin in Ableton Live is their updated chorus effect.

ableton live chorus ensemble

As I discussed in my overview of what is chorus, chorus is an effect which creates a double of your audio and modulates the timing and pitch of the duplicates to create width, depth, and color your audio.

“Ensemble” adds another layer to that chorus, and the “Vibrato” setting is handy for adding a little lofi out of tune warble to your audio particularly when used with subtlety on the “Rate” and “Amount” dials.

On “Chorus” and “Ensemble” you have a “Width” controller to spread the duplicates wide on the higher percentages, or it can be kept at 0% for some concentrated thickness.

“Vibrato” changes this setting to “Offset” which can set up to 180 degrees to spread the audio wide.

There’s also a universal “Warm” controller for emphasizing the low and low mids.

Use either “Chorus” or “Ensemble” conservatively as a send (see sends vs inserts) to blend in a little thickness to your tracks on demand.


Like the “Chorus-Ensemble”, “Phaser-Flanger” combines two modulated effects into one plugin.

ableton live phaser flanger

As I mentioned in my the types of audio effects, a phaser also uses an LFO, in this case to modulate peaks and troughs through the frequency spectrum. This creates a smooth evolution between alternating favoring higher and lower frequencies.

At slower rates (sub 1Hz) you get a washy effect over your audio and cranking the speed up makes it choppy.

Like with the aforementioned “Chorus”, the rate can be set to the BPM of your set at different note intervals.

The “Flanger” adds a time modulated delayed signal to create a continuously changing comb filter effect.

You can use either effect on individual tracks, but applying it in short stretches to the drums or entire mix creates an interesting and evolving filtered effect which is useful on a short fill before a song’s chorus to create a contrast and bridge between parts.

The “Doubler” adds the cleanest instance of a doubled track between the three which is useful when you don’t have double tracked vocals or double tracked guitar but you want to give the effect of one with that timing offset.


The “Shifter” in Ableton Live blends in a pitch shifted instance of your audio, but it comes with a lot of options for shaping that pitched double.

ableton live shifter

Inside the presets for “Shifter” you’ll find a lot of familiar names like “Tremolo” and “Flanger” as you can recreate a lot of these effects within the shifter with the options it gives you.

There’s a lot to experiment with here, but most of the settings are the same from the other plugins you’ll find in the “Pitch and Modulation” category. You can adjust by pitch/note, frequency, or ring which is especially gnarly at the frequency you set.

I should point out that if you want to alter the frequency of your audio, this is best done on the track level with warping.

Reverb & Resonance

The “Reverb and Resonance” category houses a number of effects for simulating depth and casting your audio in different environments.

ableton live reverb and resonance


I haven’t found a practical use for “Corpus” so I’ll just give Ableton’s explanation of the effect.

ableton live corpus

According to Ableton’s website, “Corpus is a virtual resonator or soundbox with a life of its own… you can use Corpus to add physical modeling characteristics to audio material or place it behind any virtual instrument to create complex resonances.

I much prefer the “Resonators” plugin we’ll talk about in a moment.

Hybrid Reverb

New as of Live 11, “Hybrid Reverb” uses an impulse response to, in Live’s words, “blend convolution reverb with a number of digital reverb algorithms”.

ableton live hybrid reverb

Essentially this reverb emulates spaces with realism or unique flavors that you can’t get from the normal reverb. It comes with a number of different size spaces to emulate as starting templates, after which you can adjust the settings to blend in your ideal reverb space for your audio.


The “Resonators” plugin smooths out out your audio to resemble more “colors” of audio as I’d describe it.

ableton live resonators

The different resonators can be pitched to taste to thicken the sound as you like. This is a nice effect for turning any track into a backdrop with multiple sonic layers.


I actually really like Ableton’s stock “Reverb” plugin and will still use it in certain situations alongside my go to, FabFilter’s Pro-R 2.

ableton live reverb

I used to use their “Ambience Medium” preset with a couple small tweaks (namely the Abbey Road Reverb trick) pretty regularly on my master bus.

Spectral Resonator

Another new effect with Live 11, “Spectral Resonator” uses “spectral resonances and pitched overtones to add tonal character to any audio source”.

ableton live spectral resonator

You can highlight chosen frequencies of the resonating partials and alter their decay, creating either short percussive reverberations or long washed-out tones.


Vocoders have been around for decades and Ableton’s “Vocoder” is the stock plugin for playing an instrument like a synthesizer through your vocal.

ableton vocoder

I did a whole tutorial on how to use a vocoder in Ableton in the past, but essentially you drop the vocoder on the vocal track you want to process, change the “Carrier” to “External”, then specify the instrument track which will control the vocal in the “Audio From” drop down.

When the vocal plays, it will be replaced with the notes you play on that instrument to create an interesting fusion of vocal and instrument.

I find Saw based synths always sound good as a controller for that classic vocoder sound, but experiment to find what works best for you and your mix.


The “Utilities” category houses a number of practical plugins for mixing or improving your workflow.

ableton live utilities

Align Delay

“Align Delay” is a relatively new effect which debuted with Ableton Live 11.

ableton live align delay

You can use this to add a bit of delay on demand for a track whether that’s midway through a signal chain or if you want to space out when tracks arrive at a Return track, like creating customized pre-delays for multiple tracks you’re sending to a reverb (though in this case you’d need to use additional Audio tracks with routing to receive audio).

Audio Effect Rack

The “Audio Effect Rack” is one of the most useful stock plugins featured in Ableton Live.

ableton live audio effect rack

This allows you to store multiple plugins within one group, making it easy to craft your ideal processing chain (like my vocal chain) then save it or copy and paste it to easily copy to another track or set.

External Audio Effect

The “External Audio Effect” plugin allows you to take an external audio effect like say a guitar pedal and use it to process audio in your set as if it were a normal inserted plugin in the effects rack.

ableton live external audio effect

It can be tricky getting the proper routing to make it work in terms of the input and output, but this is very handy if you have any kind of external gear that you want to work into your recorded audio within Live.


The “Spectrum” plugin is Ableton Live’s stock spectrum analyzer.

ableton live spectrum

This plugin shows how the stereo field is being utilized by your audio, how the mids and sides gain breakdown stacks up, and potentially shows frequency conflicts.

Refer to my tutorial on how to use a spectrum analyzer for more information.


The tuner shows the tuning of the audio of whatever track it’s applied to in real time. You can use this to tune your guitar, bass, piano, etc. so long as the signal is being picked up via DI or a microphone. I also typically drop a tuner on my pre-recorded bass when I need to quickly identify the key of the song.

ableton live tuner

A word of warning, be sure you insert the tuner at the start of your signal chain as some effects will slightly affect the tuning of the audio or at the very least make it more difficult to get an accurate reading. Putting it first BEFORE your utility plugin for dropping the volume (which we’ll talk next) so that the level is louder makes getting an accurate reading easier, as well.


The “Utility” plugin has been around since the beginning and is one of the most important stock plugins in Ableton Live.

utility plugin

You can use the utility plugin to put your track or mix in mono or just put everything below a frequency point in mono, invert the audio’s phase, mute a track, adjust the gain, the left/right balance, etc.

I prefer to do any volume automation using a utility plugin at the end of a track’s effects chain so that the fader position is neutral and can be adjusted more easily.

I also like an instance of the Utility plugin at the start of virtually every track in my mix to help with the gain staging process, ensuring I’m feeding in an optimal level to the next plugin in the chain and keeping the overall volume of the mix down.

There you have it, a run down of all of the stock plugins you’ll find in Ableton Live. I’ll keep this list updated as new plugins are added with each subsequent edition of Ableton Live.

Check out my mixing tutorials here on Music Guy Mixing for more information on how to use the most practical plugins like EQ, compression, delay, reverb, etc. to ensure your audio and mix sound as good as possible.

2 thoughts on “Ableton Stock Plugins Guide – How to Use Every Plugin”

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