What Is Ableton Link? How to Sync DAWs and Apps to Play in Time

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ableton link graphic

If you’ve ever tried to sync playback between two DAWs, you know it’s almost impossible.

Unless of course, you’re using Ableton Link.

Created to help Ableton Live users jam together easily, Link is now available in a host of other applications.

But what exactly is Ableton Link? And how can you use it to jam electronic music in real time?

In this article I’ll break down everything you need to know about Ableton Link.

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Get up and running with Link.

Ableton Link is a communication protocol developed to synchronize tempo information between computers and DAW apps.

Envisioned as a way for a chorus of laptops to play together in harmony, Ableton Link works wirelessly over local networks.

When Link is engaged, participants can join the session and play in sync using the plugins or apps in their setup.

Get to Know Ableton Live

Learn more about the groundbreaking DAW.

While Link was created by the Ableton team for Live, other brands have integrated its technology into their products.

You can now achieve tempo synchronization via Link while using Pro Tools, Bitwig, and more.

Not only that, Link is mobile friendly, turning any smart mobile device into a jammable app hub.

If you’re looking for a comprehensive list of Link-enabled products, head over to Ableton’s catalog page.

Eve takes us a through a battle of the DAWs.

Here’s a quick roundup of common tools that can use Ableton Link:

  • Ableton Note
  • Steinberg Cubasis
  • Akai MPC, FORCE and iMPC
  • Avid Pro Tools
  • Moog Animoog, Model D and Model 15
  • Virtual DJ
  • Propellerheads Reason and Reason Compact
  • Korg Electribe
  • Bitwig Studio
  • Max
  • Serato DJ

Like the rest of the Ableton ecosystem, Link is built to be easy to use.

Even so, you might still need to know how to connect using Ableton Link if you’re just getting started.

Here’s the easy, step-by-step guide to syncing up with Link:

1. Join the same local network

Ableton Link uses your local internet network to make the connection.

For most users this step simply means connecting to the same Wi-Fi network as the other musicians you’re planning to jam with.

🧠 Hot tip

Mobile users must also join the local network to connect via Ableton Link

2. Show the Link button in Live

If you’re using Ableton Live, you’ll need to enable the Link control in your DAW window.

Use the top menu or press command-, to bring up the preferences window and click the Link MIDI tab.

Click “Show Link Toggle” to display the Link button in the top left corner.

3. Select Link as a clock source

As you add devices to the session, you’ll need to enable Link as a clock source for them to follow along.

The method to do this will vary between devices and apps, so refer to the manual if you need to know how to change it.

Back in your Ableton project, click the Link toggle you enabled in step 2.

It will turn yellow and display the number of Link devices connected via the local network.

The arrangement position will also display a progress bar that represents the global quantization that keeps connected devices in time.

5. Enable start/stop sync

If you’re playing a set arrangement with other musicians over Link, you probably want each device to start at the same time.

Anthony breaks down DAW groove in Ableton

This step is optional, so don’t worry about it if you’re just looking to jam with both devices synced to tempo.

To set up start/stop sync, go back to the Link MIDI tab in the preferences window from step 2.

From there you can engage the Start/Stop sync button so that all devices follow the transport control.

🧠 Hot tip

Any devices in the Link session can start and stop transport with this option enabled, so be careful!

Some connected devices may need to adjust transport settings to allow this work.

Jamming in sync from DAW to DAW has been many producers’ dream for decades.

With Link it’s finally seamless and easy.

Whether you want to play in a collaborative laptop orchestra or simply sync your mobile apps to your DAW, Link is the best way yet to do it.

If you’re a Live user you’ll get this great functionality as well as everything else the groundbreaking DAW has to offer.

If you’ve made it through this article, you’ll have a great start for working with Ableton Link.

Michael Hahn

Michael Hahn is an engineer and producer at Autoland and member of the swirling indie rock trio Slight.

@Michael Hahn

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