Ableton vs Cubase

Ableton and Cubase are two widely used DAWs in the music industry, and both are very capable and full of features. Ableton is better suited to live performance, while Cubase is more of an in-the-studio type of platform.

DJs and electronic artists like using Ableton for its looping and sampling features that can help them on stage. Cubase is used by producers, engineers, and musicians who make records and stick to live recording situations. 

I’m Donovan, and I live for all things audio. I’ve been involved in the music industry for nearly two decades and have spent hundreds of hours working with Ableton and Cubase. I know first-hand how these DAWs work. 

This post will compare and contrast Ableton versus Cubase. I’ll highlight some key features and functions of each while pointing you to other key factors to help you determine the best way to meet your audio production needs. 

Let’s get rolling. 

Quick Comparison

Ableton Cubase
Ease of UseEasy to use, especially with prior DAW experience. Intuitive interface that works well for beginners and more advanced producers.Intuitive user interface but not extremely beginner-friendly without prior DAW experience. 
Professional CapabilitiesVery capable for professional DJs and electronic producers while also offering solid audio recording and production tools.High-level DAW that is used in many professional studios. Has everything you need for high-level audio recording and production.
Features/FunctionsLooping and sampling features are top-notch. Lots of software instruments to work with, plus many other plugins to expand your projects. Many virtual instruments and effects to choose from, plus a lot of other great features like effective MIDI tools/editing. Automation and orchestral scoring are great. 
WorkflowEasy to dial in a good workflow, and some customizable options to speed up your process and keep you organized. Lots of workflow functions and possibilities make this a solid choice for advanced audio tasks that require focus and precision. 
LimitationsNot the best DAW for strict audio recording and more focused on live performance. Cheaper versions have limited instruments/features.Not a great beginner DAW because it’s a little more high skill and focus. Much better for studio-style recording than live performance. 

Detailed Comparison

Here is a detailed look at Ableton versus Cubase to help you understand the differences between each. 

1. Ease of Use

Assuming you have at least some experience using DAWs or are familiar with general audio production, both Ableton and Cubase are relatively easy to use. You might be overwhelmed with either option if you are a complete beginner

Ableton is a little more beginner-friendly, in my experience. Once you open up a Live Set, getting a project set up and rolling along is pretty straightforward. The interface is intuitive, and the buttons and sections are clearly labeled. 

Ableton also has a feature called Info View that is basically a help tool. You can hover over any element of your live set, and you’ll see a blurb about it in the bottom left corner of your screen. This can help you better navigate the Set’s features and functions. 

Cubase is a higher-end production platform, which makes it more complicated. It’s not really challenging to use, but it’s not necessarily easy either. If you are a beginner, I don’t recommend starting with this DAW unless you are taking a class or have direct help. 

The main reason Cubase is somewhat tricky is that it’s packed with features that can be used in professional production situations. That’s amazing if you are an experienced user and understand those tools, but it doesn’t simplify things. 

No matter which you choose, there will be a learning curve to get familiar with your DAW of choice. The more time you spend using either Ableton or Cubase, the better you’ll get at it and the easier it will be. 

Winner: Ableton 

2. Professional Capabilities

Both Ableton and Cubase are used all the time by music industry professionals, but they each have a different area of focus. If you aspire to be a professional producer or musician, you’ll want to know which is best for what. 

Ableton is the DAW of choice for many DJs and electronic music artists. It strongly focuses on live performance and is a tool many DJs use on stage. It’s arguably the best DAW for this purpose, and many artists use it professionally. 

You can also use Ableton to record, mix, and edit audio recordings, but I don’t think it’s the best DAW for that purpose. I know producers who have made outstanding records with Ableton, but I prefer other audio-recording-focused platforms. 

Cubase is the better option for more traditional studio-style recording. This DAW has been around for over three decades, and it’s gotten more and more focused on high-end audio production over those years. 

Many professional producers and engineers use Cubase as the foundation of their studios. It’s a good option that is comparable to any of the other leading industry-standard production platforms like Pro Tools and Logic. 

I think that Cubase and Ableton are both great at their specific targets and professional segments, but they are different in that focus. Just be sure to choose from a professional standpoint based on what you intend to do. 

Winner: Tie

3. Features/Functions

The features and functions within a DAW allow you to harness all of these tools to your advantage during the creative process. Both Cubase and Ableton are packed full of features that can help users of all abilities make better projects. 

It’s important to know that you get more features and functions with the full version of each of these DAWs. If you want access to everything they offer, you’ll need to purchase the more expensive option.

Cubase has everything you need to get rolling with audio production, whether you are relatively new to recording or running a professional studio. You also get a lot of sounds and loops to work with, plus some solid songwriting tools. 

I also really like the VariAudio pitch correction feature in Cubase as well as the ability to support Dolby surround sound. If you do any music for video work, this is a fantastic feature to take advantage of and something not every DAW offers. 

Ableton stands out with its many looping and sampling features. This is a big reason why people like to use this one for live performances. You can utilize samples and loops that come with the platform or make your own really easily. 

I also like a lot of the effects that come with Ableton Live. You can easily place these on a track by dragging and dropping and making adjustments on the fly. The clip record and Session and Arrangement views are also nice features. 

Winner: Tie

The Looper Effect in Ableton

4. Workflow

Workflow considerations are paramount when you’re deep in the creative process or on a strict deadline for a client. You always want to have your DAW dialed in to help you stay as focused and on task as you can be. 

Cubase stands out here with more workflow-specific possibilities. The DAW comes with some advanced comping workflows that can really speed up your recording process if you have a lot of takes and need to make multiple edits. 

The full version of Cubase also has a ton of professional-level workflows for mixing, editing, and recording. These will allow you to get dialed in, which I appreciate when working on professional-level projects. 

Ableton also has plenty of workflow considerations, and many of those are related to the setup and look of the Live Set. You can customize things with a skin or theme, which is a solid feature for creatives who like things a specific way. 

Toggling between Session View and Arrangement View is something I often do in Ableton to help with my workflow. You just need to press the Tab key to switch between these views. I like the Arrangement for recording and the Session for looping and sampling. 

I think that Cubase has a slight advantage with workflow considerations here, especially if you do live recordings. Workflow is very personalized, so it’s great that both DAWs give you options. Cubase just gives you more of them. 

Winner: Cubase

5. Limitations

No DAW is perfect, so it’s always a good idea to learn about the limitations of whatever option you choose. I’ve encountered several issues with both Ableton and Cubase that I wish I had known about before they plopped in my lap. 

As I mentioned earlier, a primary limitation with both of these is that you don’t get access to all the features and functions unless you purchase the full version. This is also the most expensive option, so just know that you’ll have limited features if you just use the basic version. 

My main issue with Ableton is that it’s not a great option for strict audio recording. I’m more of a traditional producer than an electronic one, and Ableton doesn’t always meet my needs when I want to record a live band or some vocals. 

You can certainly accomplish this type of recording in Ableton, but I don’t think you can do it at as high of a level as you can with some other DAWs. I’m often left wanting more when I’m comping tracks or setting up a larger session. 

A big limitation with Cubase is that it’s not an extremely beginner-friendly option. If you know what you are doing, you won’t have a problem using it. But if you have no production experience, Cubase is not a great starting point. 

There are almost too many features for a beginner to handle in Cubase, which can be overwhelming. While there are some decent help features to use and plenty of courses to learn, this still limits how quickly you can get familiar with it. 

Winner: Tie

6. Pricing

Ableton and Cubase have several different versions available, each costing a different amount. Ableton also offers a free 30-day trial, which I recommend using if you are on the fence or just want some hands-on experience. 

Ableton Intro is $79, Standard is $439, and Suite is $749. There are often sales on these versions, so you can usually score whichever one you want for a cheaper price if you know where to look. 

Cubase also has three versions: Elements is $99.99, Artist is $329.99, and Pro is $579.99. I don’t think these go on sale very often, but you might be able to find a discount code. 

Image from Steinberg

I think that the full version of Cubase is well worth it if you are a professional producer and that the full version of Ableton is overpriced. The intro versions are both very affordable, but remember you’ll encounter some limitations with those in terms of overall functionality. 

Winner: Cubase

Final Verdict

Ultimately, both DAWs are better for different purposes, and you should choose which best meets your needs. Traditional producers will like Cubase, while DJs and live electronic performers should go with Ableton.

Your DAW is an essential aspect of your overall audio production and creative possibilities. You can’t go wrong with either Cubase or Ableton, but you still need to match them to your needs as best as possible. 

What is your favorite feature in either Ableton or Cubase? Let me know in the comments below.

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