Ableton Export Sounds Bad? 4 Solutions

It’s a wonderful feeling when you finally finish a track you’ve been working on in Ableton Live, but what happens next? The export!

Exporting to a single audio file is a crucial step in the music-making process, but some musos have found that their song sounds bad after the export.

In this article, we’ll dive into 4 solutions to make your Ableton Live export sound better!

Your Sample Rate and Bit Depth Might be Wrong

If your song sounds great when playing it back in Ableton Live, but sounds bad on export, it might mean that your export settings are incorrect.

This is especially true for sample rate and bit depth, but what are they?

Here’s a brief description of what they mean:

  • Essentially, when we talk about sample rate, we’re talking about how many tiny slices of audio information, or “samples,” are included in just one second of digital audio.
  • Bit depth, on the other hand, is talking about the number of possible amplitude values that can be assigned to just one sample.
  • Together, bit depth and sample rate work to determine audio resolution.

Now that we have a better understanding of sample rate and bit depth, let’s use them to help your Ableton export sound better.

Note that it’s important to understand what you’re looking for with an Ableton render, as that will change the way you export.

When you send your mix to a mastering engineer, it’s important to export your song at the same sample rate that you recorded it at.

Also, make sure to export your mix without dither applied at the same bit depth that your digital audio workstation (DAW) processes audio at (in Ableton this is often 32-bit).

If you’re mastering the song yourself and plan to upload it to streaming services, export it at a bit depth of 24 and apply dither.

And if your music distributor requires 16-bit files, apply dither for those files too.

Finally, if you need to reduce the sample rate of your song for a specific destination, make sure to never increase it again when exporting.

Please also check out our article about Focusrite Scarlett and sound distortion issues.

Your Ableton Mix May be Peaking

In Ableton Live, peaking happens when the audio signal goes above its maximum level, which is represented by the 0 dB mark on the volume meter.

When this happens, you might hear distortion or clipping in your audio.

Here’s how to avoid peaking in your Ableton mix:

  1. Firstly, pull up the upper border of your volume meters to reveal a peak volume meter (it resets when you click it).
  2. If you find that the peak level is too high, just select all the source audio channels and bring down the volume fader of one of them – it will bring down the faders of all selected channels.
  3. Some professionals recommend keeping the peak at -0.5 dB, which is the optimal level for mp3 conversion.

It’s important to note that avoiding peaking on your Ableton tracks provides clarity and crispness while maintaining something called “headroom”.

Headroom allows your mix to head into the mastering process with enough space or room to bring up the volume without crushing the audio quality.

Read here to find common reasons why your Ableton audio is distorting.

Your Computer Volume Settings May Be Wrong

If your track sounds amazing when you’re playing it in Ableton Live, but as soon as you export it, it loses volume and fullness, you may have a problem with your computer sound settings.

The problem could be related to your global volume settings on your operating system or audio interface.

Here’s how to check your sound settings on both Windows and Mac:

For Windows:

  1. Make sure your audio devices are not muted or disabled by mistake.
  2. You can do this by right-clicking the Speakers icon on your taskbar and selecting “Open Volume mixer”.
  3. Then, ensure that none of the volume controls are muted and adjust them to the desired volume level.

For Mac:

  1. Choose “Apple menu” and then “System Settings” from the top-left corner of your screen.
  2. Click “Sound” in the sidebar, and adjust the output volume slider or mute tickbox as needed.

If you’re still having volume issues, your audio interface might be the culprit.

Check your interface’s control panel to adjust the volume levels. If you’re not sure how to do this, consult the user manual for your interface, which should be available on the manufacturer’s website.

Your Export is Too Quiet

If your export is sounding too quiet and dull in comparison to other commercial or other relative music, you need to master your mix before exporting.

Let’s find out what mastering is, and then get into how to do it:

  • Mastering is an important final step in the music production process.
  • It’s the process of taking your mixed audio and making it sound as good as possible across all listening devices.
  • In Ableton Live, mastering can be done using various tools and techniques.

How to master in Ableton Live:

Once you’re happy with your mix, it’s time to add some finishing touches before exporting it; otherwise, your track might end up being quieter than you intended.

1. To start, you can add a limiter to the Master bus to give your track more volume and punch. It’s a simple way to enhance the overall sound of your mix.

Note – if you’re having someone else master your song for you, it’s best to leave -3 to -6 db below 0 on the Master bus.

2. Next, you’ll need to add EQ. Mastering is all about fine details, so adding some brightness and breath in the top end of your mix, as well as cutting out a little bit of mud in the low-mid area is always a good idea.

3. Finally, if you’re done with your track and want to play it for your friends and family, aim to have the volume peaking as close to 0 as possible on the Master track. This will ensure that your track sounds great on any system.

Mastering is a very difficult and precise skill that takes music engineers years to navigate and perfect, so it’s important that you start slow and give yourself time.

Luckily for us, now more than ever there are amazing features and tools at our disposal to make the process more streamlined and simple.

When it comes to mastering, I believe that practice makes perfect, so put in those hours to help your song sound the best it possibly can!

Perhaps you’re experiencing some other issues with exporting – head over to our article with solutions to common problems with exporting in Ableton.

Final Thoughts

It’s important to understand that a final export of a song will never sound good if the actual mix isn’t.

There are a bunch of tools and features within Ableton Live, as well as a host of third-party plug-ins that can help you mix your song to perfection.

However, the most important part of mixing is the time spent doing it.

Learning from all the resource material available, pushing yourself to train your ear, and referencing other great songs are all ways to ensure your music sounds as good as it can, before even getting to the export stage!


Importing and exporting stems in Ableton Live

Ableton audio fact sheet