The Ableton vs FL Studio debate has been a heated topic since I started producing music 10 years ago. They are both fantastic tools used by millions of producers around the world. In this guide, I’ll help you decide which one is better for you.
If you’re new to producing, Ableton Live and FL Studio are two of the most popular DAWs (Digital Audio Workstation). They are both aimed towards electronic music production and beat making rather than pop/rock music.
I’ve broken down this comparison into nine parts:
- Audio Recording
- Live Performance
- Learning Curve
- CPU Usage
Features: Ableton vs. FL Studio
The DAW’s features are probably the most critical aspect of any Ableton vs. FL Studio debate. With too few features, a DAW limits creativity. With too many, it may overwhelm newer music producers.
Ableton Live was created in 2001. As its name implies, the original conception for Ableton’s software was that it would be ideal for live electronic musicians to conduct shows. Indeed, the makers of Ableton didn’t even consider their software to be a DAW until well after musicians began to use it for music writing and recording.
Ableton has come a long way since its conception. It now features 32-bit recording and a full digital suite including many samples, software instruments, MIDI in and out, and hundreds of audio inputs and outputs (in the standard and suite versions of the software).
The live musician origins of Ableton have been retained, however. One of the features that many love about Ableton is its single-screen use, with the resizable browser on the left and a detailed view on the right with plugins, effects, and audio and MIDI editors.
FL Studio was created in 1997 and was initially called FruityLoops. This was a sampler that imitated the step sequencer style you’d find on some drum machines. FruityLoops, being easy to use and intuitive for new users, quickly became a favorite of bedroom producers.
Since its origins, Fruity Loops transformed into FL Studio, a software program with tons of new features and regular updates that are highly ambitious and often add tons of new features to play with.
In fact, with all the updates, FL Studio is somewhat feature-packed, with tons of software instruments, way more plugins than are available in even the suite edition of Ableton, and a seemingly endless bulk of effects to choose from.
The Winner: FL Studio
In terms of pure quantity, FL Studio’s complete package of effects, plugins, and music editing features make it a clear standout against Ableton’s more limited library of features. FL Studio has virtually endless routing options, allowing for maximum customization.
Price: Ableton vs. FL Studio
Even for serious producers, money can remain an object worth consideration. Furthermore, there’s a common conception (sometimes well-founded) for consumers of all goods that a higher price means higher quality. This is not necessarily the case, however.
When considering FL Studio or Ableton price, it behooves us to consider the total cost of the product and what that product gives us in investment return.
Ableton has three products that scale along with the needs of the purchasing producer. These packages are Intro, Standard, and Suite. While the Intro version is just under $100, the Suite version will rack up a bill at upwards of $700.
Though it may seem like an eye-popping purchase, it comes with a massive slew of extremely high-quality plugins and effects that have made Ableton a favorite of countless professional music producers working today.
FL Studio, like Ableton, offers three standard packages: Fruity, Producer, and Signature (listed in order of price), as well as a special “all plugins” edition. The all plugins edition costs significantly more than their signature suite but includes the many high-quality and feature-riddled plugins that pushed FL Studio over the edge regarding our “features” winner for these two DAWs.
While the Fruity package is just over $100 and is more expensive than Ableton’s Intro package, FL Studio’s top-shelf “all-plugins” edition is about $100 less than Ableton’s Suite edition.
One final pricing element that sets FL Studio over the edge compared to the competition is its unbelievable lifetime free updates guarantee. This means that once you pay for FL Studio, you’ll never have to pay again.
The Winner: FL Studio
When Image-Line (the developer of FL Studio) first transformed FruityLoops into the full-powered DAW it is today, the ease of use and slew of features actually worked against Image-Line.
FL Studio became a favorite of software pirates, and at first, Image-Line couldn’t profit. To combat piracy, FL Studio decided to make their software extremely cheap compared to the competition and guarantee free lifetime updates to paying customers.
I mentioned above that FL Studio releases updates with greater frequency and regularly greater ambition than Ableton’s sparser updates. This, combined with the fact that FL Studio is a one-time purchase, makes FL Studio the clear favorite in terms of price.
Workflow: Ableton vs. FL Studio
Workflow is an entirely subjective category that changes from producer to producer. Every pro producer has a different workflow, with some dramatically different from others.
That said, Ableton and FL Studio offer different options in terms of creating a workflow that we can try to assess objectively.
As Ableton was initially designed for live performance, its workflow is straightforward, clean, and efficient. While there is less workflow flexibility than some producers might like, the workflow processes Ableton can afford are really easy for new producers to get a grasp on.
Even for someone who has never done music production before, Ableton is exceptionally intuitive. When you open the software, the browser on the left makes it obvious where to go for instruments. In the detail view, it’s simple to toggle between loops and session view for songwriting.
Instrument, drum, and effect racks are very easy to add on Ableton and can be easily saved for future use. This allows for a quick workflow unrivaled by any software in the industry. Compared to FL Studio, MIDI capturing is more manageable, and quantizing is a breeze (more on those later).
FL Studio is much more customizable than Ableton Live and, in general, includes more features and flexibility for music producers. This flexibility is a godsend for the most selective producers, as it allows you to build your workflow from the ground up and maximize it for your specific needs.
That said, however, especially for newer producers or amateur producers, FL Studio’s customizability can be a case of “a little too much of a good thing.” New users can feel overwhelmed by the workflow options, and FL Studio lacks a simplified, intuitive workflow built into the software.
The Winner: Ableton
While FL Studio can do everything that Ableton can do and more in terms of the workflow process, Ableton simply offers a faster and easier-to-jumpstart process that is a breeze to master.
Audio Recording: Ableton vs. FL Studio
Are you looking to record live instruments with FL Studio or Ableton? Both of these software have highly developed audio recording capabilities but represent a different set of perks.
When it comes to audio recording, Ableton has a lot of features to love. If you’re recording many instrument tracks, you’ll appreciate how easy it is to use Ableton to stitch together multiple instrumental takes to make a finished track.
In addition, time quantizing with Ableton is insanely fast and easy. When you have an audio track that needs to be quantized, you simply right-click, press quantize, and voila! Your track is quantized.
Besides its ability with live recorded audio, Ableton is excellent for MIDI recording. It has a lot of capability in working with different MIDI controllers, and the quality of its samples is very high.
FL Studio, at one point, had some problems when it came to recording audio. You may still hear echoes of this if producers tell you that Ableton captures audio at a higher quality than FL Studio. That is not true, but there are some ways that FL Studio remains inferior to Ableton.
Let’s face it, FL Studio users: the Edison Editor (FL Studio’s audio editing and recording tool) is a hassle to use. Stitching takes together simply takes longer than it needs to in FL Studio.
When it comes to recording MIDI, FL Studio offers less controller support than Ableton, meaning you may be handicapped depending on your MIDI controller.
- Related articles: Best MIDI controllers for FL Studio
Finally, an important point to make: FL Studio’s Fruity package doesn’t allow for audio recording. If you want to record audio, you’ll have to level up to at least Producer (check out the full rundown of audio recording on FL Studio here).
The Winner: Ableton
All told, Ableton is a significant winner when it comes to recording audio. Quantizing audio and comping takes is a total breeze on Ableton compared to the clunkiness of FL Studio. For recording MIDI, Ableton offers more outstanding controller support.
Live Performance: Ableton vs. FL Studio
Live performance is a totally different beast than other kinds of music production and is technically outside of the range of a traditional DAW. Today, however, software needs to be multi-dimensional, and both Ableton and FL Studio have live performance capability.
Ableton Live was initially made for live performance and is still a favorite of live musicians worldwide. The session view is what sets Ableton apart. This view presents all your loops in a very easy-to-visualize space, allowing you to quickly change between songs and DJ while maximizing your time spent interacting with the crowd.
Although FL Studio can be used for performing live, the user interface is not designed with live performance in mind. Instead, it is a digital audio workspace in the purest form and is catered for songwriters and music producers sitting in the studio working on a track.
The Winner: Ableton
Though some of the categories in this list may be controversial to ardent FL Studio fans, the winner of this category will by no means shock anyone in the music-producing industry. With the word “live” in the title, Ableton is the clear winner for live recording, allowing its users to quickly change between tracks live or connect to DJing hardware like Push.
Songwriting: Ableton vs. FL Studio
The question of songwriting is central to concerns about a DAW. Who wins in the Ableton vs. FL Studio songwriting debate?
In addition to being well-optimized for live performance, Ableton offers many capabilities for songwriters as well. The session view allows songwriters to quickly interchange drum or bass parts to see how they sound on particular tracks.
In addition, it is straightforward to make custom templates in Ableton, allowing you to experiment with different kinds of arrangements and find the perfect fit for your song.
Long story short, Ableton is excellent if you’re writing your song on your MIDI controller. It’s also great for mixing and matching your recorded MIDI tracks to find which one fits your song. The session view lets you record many different variants and choose the best one.
FL Studio also offers a lot of perks for songwriters. Its piano roll section looks nice and is very intuitive to use. This makes writing tracks on the computer with click and drag extremely easy to do.
The Winner: Tie!
While FL Studio and Ableton are certainly different when it comes to songwriting, both have perks that make neither superior to the other. While Ableton’s unique session view allows you to easily visualize and experiment with arrangements, actually changing MIDI sequences on the computer is less accessible than in FL Studio.
FL Studio, meanwhile, is great for writing individual parts, but the software doesn’t help as much with the final arrangement. You need to ask yourself where you need the most help and pick software based on that.
Learning Curve: Ableton vs. FL Studio
Which is easier to pick up, FL Studio or Ableton?
I’ve brought this up above, but Ableton has a streamlined look and feel that makes it pretty easy to pick up. However, as a DAW optimized for single-screen use, those new to music production may find the number of capabilities all featured on one screen somewhat overwhelming.
FL Studio is simply easy to pick up. Although the “all plugins” edition offers tons of features, for a beginner of music production FL Studio’s user interface is intuitive and “brainless.” It’s instantly apparent, even for a beginner, figuring out how to start recording and editing audio.
The Winner: FL Studio
FL Studio is still considered by some an “amateur’s DAW.” While this criticism is leveled unfairly (as even some of the top pros in the industry still use FL Studio), in some way, this description rings true. For someone just starting to work with music production, FL Studio is much easier to pick up.
Stock Plugins: Ableton vs. FL Studio
Both Ableton and FL Studio have high-quality stock plugin options for producers. Which is better? In some ways, it depends on your usage.
Ableton comes with nice stock plugins, but a beat made on Ableton with purely stock plugins tends to sound a little too dry. A lot of producers opt for extra plugins. That said, there are some Ableton stock plugins unmatched by any DAW, like Simpler and Operator.
In contrast to Ableton, the stock plugins on FL Studio are meaty enough to create full-sounding, complete tracks without additional downloads. FL Studio has Sytrus, for example, an insane FM synth with tons of sounds to choose from.
The Winner: FL Studio
There are plenty of well-known beats that can be created in full from FL Studio’s stock plugins. These plugins are whole and complete and do not require extra downloads. As far as Ableton goes, pro users consider downloading extra plugins to be the name of the game. Ableton’s stock plugins simply don’t deliver the depth of sound most professional producers need.
CPU Usage: Ableton vs. FL Studio
Which uses more processing power, FL Studio or Ableton?
Ableton is a DAW that is more conducive to regularly bouncing audio. This makes Ableton great for CPU usage.
FL Studio tends to leave a lot of people complaining that this software is too CPU intensive. One of the problems with FL Studio is it is more tedious to bounce synths to audio, leaving users to leave drums and fx channels in MIDI form, when they should be in audio.
Doing this affects the ability to modify velocities and things like that, but cuts down on CPU usage.
The Winner: Ableton
Ableton generally uses less CPU power. Often this comes down to the ease of audio bouncing on Ableton’s platform, allowing sounds on the session view screen to be held as audio rather than MIDI, significantly cutting down on CPU intensivity.
Tools Only Available in Ableton
Ableton has a lot of unique things. The session view allows you to seamlessly move between writing/recording and live performance.
Operator is a powerful synth that is unique to Ableton, with a wide range of sonic possibilities.
Simpler and Sampler are two different audio sampling plugins with limited (Simpler) or virtually unlimited (Sampler) possibilities.
Tools Only Available in FL Studio
Gross Beat is a cool tool unique to FL Studio that lets you add effects and create interesting rhythms in existing samples.
Record scratcher is also a fun tool available in FL Studio that lets you insert record scratches into your track.
So, what will it be: FL Studio or Ableton? Well, the answer is: it depends.
If you’re someone who’s going to be writing a lot of songs on the computer, using the MIDI controller as a tool to get you started on the actual composition, FL Studio has a much better piano roll view that is optimized for easily editing MIDI tracks.
If you’re someone who is rather skilled at the keyboard and will mostly write on the MIDI controller, Ableton is probably a more natural choice for you.
If you’re a live performer, go with Ableton. If you’re a beginner who is going to be using the software sparingly, go for Ableton’s cheap intro pack. If you’re going to be producing more but don’t think you’ll need to go the whole mile, you might go for FL Studio’s incredibly well-priced but feature-rich Signature package.
All in all, there are many things to consider when determining which side you are on in the Ableton vs. FL Studio debate. In the end, it comes down to knowing how you work and determining what software will help aid your creative process.
If you’re still undecided, both companies offer a free trial:
A free trial will allow you to check out workflow without dropping hundreds of dollars. Good luck!