how to 'dry/wet' anything in ableton live and make more interesting effects. plus 3 free effect racks

tired of effects that are too much or too boring? racks are the answer to all your problems. if you're using ableton you're no doubt duly familiar with macros, device groups, and the like. but as it's possible for some features or uses to pass any user of any program by, I'd like to cover two special applications for ableton's audio effect rack. also, see the bottom of the article for a download based on these concepts.

let's say we have a delay on our track. digital delays are notoriously bland because they create too-perfect copies that can be far too cutting in a mix. but pushing it back with a reverb or filtering the track isn't the answer, as you still want your instrument up front and fully audible. let's look at how to set up your rack so that you only affect the delay.

  • start by grouping your effect (cmd + g) and creating a new chain by right clicking in the empty space below the delay's. rename these wet and dry for reference.
  • make your effect fully wet if you haven't already
ableton live effect racks best
  • now highlight both chains and drag out that little blue bar beside them. once the blues are fully extended, look for the even smaller bar above them (some squinting required). drag the wet's lighter, smaller bar to the right and the dry's all the way to the left.
  • finally, right click the orange bar at the top of the device and select a macro to map it to
ableton effects rack chain and macro

now we have a dry wet knob! I know, we're back to the beginning, so what's the point? well, not all effects have dry/wet built into them and now you can. this is an effective method for the famous parallel compression technique that is become so ubiquitous because now any compressor can be parallel processed without much fuss.

the other benefit, of course, is now our effect is isolated and we can affect it separately from our dry source. with this delay, I add a reverb to shove it back a little bit so it isn't so present and the ambience is very pleasant. 

ableton live macro dry wet

it is true live's sends and returns allow you to do something similar, but using racks allows you to dial in on a case-by-case basis, necessary in cases like these where fine detail and nuance are everything.

I had previously suggested using the audio effect rack's default preset as a quick mid-side processor, but a generic dry/wet rack might be really handy. you can make it as above (just delete the delay) and simply save it as the default so that each time you add a rack from the effects browser you have a dual chain, dry/wet system already set up.

ableton live save default preset

if you prefer, however, to have the patch immediately, I have the rack available for download, along with three basic takes on this concept you might find useful: 

I've included an audio demo of each rack. for each sample, you will hear the dry source, the effect (dry), and finally the effects with the added goodies of the rack.

a somewhat heavy saturator, ready to mix in with filters and spread. also, tremolo and flanger for fun. notice how the demo drum loop is a little too thin. beef it up with the saturator and it becomes muddy. with the extra power of the effects on the saturator, it becomes much more clear by the end while maintaining its beef.

reverbs are a traditional subject for this technique, especially filtering and distorting them. this rack does just that and adds a tremolo and delay as well. listen to the sample how the final effect is much more interesting.

delays are another wonderful subject for this as well. some of the best-loved delays simply have interesting modulation built into them by design or as a side-effect. this rack lets you play with two kinds of modulation and of a filter for blending. also, of course, the reverb as shown in the tutorial.

again, download here.