Why Is Ableton 11 CPU Spiking? (Explained)

The power of Ableton Live 11 is its ability to deliver incredibly smooth playback of pre-recorded tracks and the use of multiple software instruments in real time.

There are, however, limits and thresholds to the demand you can place on your laptop or PC’s CPU (Central Processing Unit).

If Ableton’s settings are not dialed in correctly to what your machine can handle it can cause CPU spiking, audio dropouts, as well as lagging response in Ableton Live.

This article will discuss why Ableton 11 CPU could be spiking.

Here’s What You Need To Know About Ableton 11 and CPU:

Ableton places a certain demand on a PC’s CPU, this demand varies depending on how large and in-depth a project is (i.e., no. of tracks or active instruments and FX). When Ableton causes the CPU to spike or overload it can cause audio issues. There are, however, ways to reduce CPU usage in Ableton.

Computer CPU Unit

Why is the CPU Suddenly Spiking After the Last Ableton 11 Update?

With the recent updates to Ableton 11, you may have noticed spikes in CPU usage whilst working on a project.

There is a very good explanation for this; CPU peak-measuring was recently added to Ableton 11, which was not a function the CPU-load meter catered for in previous versions of the DAW.

In the most recent version of Ableton, you will find that the CPU spikes when duplicating tracks, copying and pasting FX, and moving audio around during playback.

This brief peak is just indicating that high CPU usage was measured in performing the momentary task the user performed.

Provided there is no major audio dropout in playback, there is nothing to worry about!

Why Does the CPU Get Overloaded While Using Ableton?

Ableton CPU gets overloaded when the input and/or output demands being sent through Ableton are too high for the PC to handle.

CPU overloads can be caused by a variety of issues within Ableton and can result in a GUI lag.

Here are some reasons the CPU gets overloaded:

Software Instruments

Digital or Software instruments can place a heavy load on the CPU. Particular software instruments are more demanding on the CPU than others so it’s recommended that research into this is done before purchasing any software instruments.

Overloads can also occur if multiple instruments are being used at the same time via MIDI.

Some higher-spec PCs can handle this with no problem but lower-spec models will sometimes battle to keep up with multiple instruments in use.

Warped Tracks

Ableton’s warping system for tracks is incredibly powerful, giving the user the ability to transpose the key and alter the tempo of tracks without losing audio quality.

It is, however, quite a demanding tool when it comes to CPU usage; multiple warped tracks in one song can lift the CPU usage significantly.

High Sample Rate

A sample rate that is set too high can place strain on the CPU, causing the CPU to spike or run at a consistently high level.

The standard setting for CD quality output is 44.1kHz, although there are some benefits to recording and outputting at 48kHz.

Low Buffer Size

Another reason the CPU could be spiking or overloading is that the buffer size is set too low in Ableton settings.

Setting a project to a low buffer size (e.g., 32 or 64 samples) gives the advantage of reducing recording and live performance latency. Most high-spec PCs or laptops can cope with low buffer sizes fairly well.

If you are running your vocals or instruments through Ableton, then your playing and the output of your playing will be nearly perfectly synced. This does, however, place greater demand on the CPU.

Increasing the buffer size will reduce CPU usage at the cost of greater latency.

How to Fix Ableton 11 CPU Overload?

Freeze or Flatten Tracks

Like most DAWs, Ableton gives users the ability to freeze tracks. When a track is frozen, the software instruments settings and any audio effects are temporarily committed to audio and cannot be altered.

When tracks are frozen, they are far less demanding on the CPU and you can, as a result, build much larger projects. Tracks can be unfrozen very simply if there’s a need for more changes to instrument and effects settings.

The option to flatten tracks takes things one step further. The track is replaced with the bounced audio of the original track, complete with software instruments and embedded audio effects. You can, therefore, no longer edit any settings.

This feature is useful if you are collaborating with artists and they do not have the same plug-ins or instruments as you. You can also then add more effects and apply warps to these flattened audio tracks.

We recommend that all warped tracks should be frozen; playback of warped tracks puts significant strain on the CPU.

Sample Rate and Buffer Size

Set sample rate to 44.1kHz and buffer size to 128 or 256 samples (64 or 32 samples for high-spec PCs and laptops)

Disable Unused Inputs and Outputs

Go into Ableton Live Preferences and check in the “Input Config” and “Output Config” tabs.

Only mono and stereo channels that are in use should be highlighted. Disable all unused inputs and outputs.

Run CPU-Intensive effects into Return Tracks

Running CPU-Intensive effects through a return track (or bus track) will reduce CPU usage dramatically.

This is as opposed to applying an effect (e.g., reverb) to each track individually.

Simply place the effect on the return track and then turn that send track level up on your audio or midi track.

Helpful Tips Outside of Ableton Settings

  • Close Other Programs
    • Other programs open in the background can also strain the CPU, so be sure to close all other programs.
  • Deactivate All Laptop Connectivity
    • Turn Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Webcam, and any other means of connection OFF.
  • Hard-Drive Space
    • A full hard drive can affect PC or laptop performance significantly. Ableton Live recommends having at least 10% of hard drive space free.
  • Laptop Power Supply
    • Laptops perform better when plugged into their power supply. It’s recommended that laptops running Ableton should be plugged into a power source.

Final Thoughts

As digital music progresses it’s inevitable that some older PCs and laptops simply won’t cope and upgrades will become necessary.

The hope is that this article would provide some tips to make sure you are getting the absolute maximum out of Ableton without any audio issues.


Track Freezing in Ableton

Reducing the CPU Load