Ableton Audio Effects Racks & Macros

This guide will explore one of the ways to use effects racks to tidy up and streamline your editing process. Not only can Ableton allow extremely advanced rack options, but you can also control multiple parameters with macros creating a whole new world of efficiency and creativity.

The first thing to do for this is open up a new project in Ableton and set it up with one audio track. This is the track which we are going to build the rack on.


We can now start dragging effects down to the bottom of the screen, this section is the effects rack section. The audio goes through each effect in the rack from left to right. In this case, we want to create a basic recording rack which can be used to clean up the sound as it is recorded into the software. We are therefore going to need three effects: Gate, EQ, and Compressor.


So why are we adding these three plugins? And does the order matter? Well, for starters, we can look at what some of the pro plugins, and even hardware, do. Quite often you see three of the main effects – the ones we are using today – working in conjunction at the start of a signal chain. This is because they are the first tools many people jump to.

Below is the Waves plugin Audio Track. It has a similar configuration of EQ, Gate, and Compressor all built into the one effect. Of course, the difference is in the ordering but this is something which you can mimic, or go your own way. One of the big flexibilities of Ableton racks over combo plugins like this is that you can change the internal routing of the effects in the racks.


The ordering is strictly to do with priority. If you do not want your gate to be affected by the EQ, then place the gate first. If you don’t want the gate triggered by low-frequency rumble (e.g. wind in the microphone) then place the EQ first and cut out the low frequencies.

So now that you have decided how you want your rack to be ordered, we should group these effects. To do this, select all the effects and right click to bring up a menu. There should be an option to group the effects. Alternatively, you can hit Ctrl + G (CMD + G 0n Mac). This should result in the effects getting grouped and contained within an Audio Effect Rack unit. On the left there are little buttons which you can click to expand out different sections of the Audio Effect Rack unit, such as macro controls and chains.


When you select all the icons on the left of the rack, you should see something like below. We are going to focus on the Macros today and explore chains in a future feature. So what are macros? Simply put, they are controls which can be used to simplify the process. They can be assigned to multiple controls at once and control them. One example of a macro in use would be where it controls the volume and pan at the same time – you could set it up to turn the volume up and pan the sound left with the movement of a single knob.

I am going to set up something a bit more useful today, a quick-start macro selection to help you start work on recorded sounds.

The first thing to do here is getting familiar¬†with mapping. To assign a macro to a control, you need to hit the “Map” button above the macro panel. This will make every mappable control turn green. You can then click on one and then assign it to whichever macro knob you like by pressing one of the “Map” buttons.

What I have done here is map the threshold of the gate to Macro 1. I want to be able to gate out any noise in the recording easily alongside the other effects and so assigning a macro to it makes life simpler. If we right click on it we can change the colour of the knob for easy management.

We can now do the same with the EQ, I want to only use one band and have a single controllable boost/cut in this rack. To start with, I deactivated band three and selected band 2. I then assigned the gain (Boost) and frequency (Freq) controls to separate macros.

At this point, it is important to note that often the Macros don’t set up in the way you want. Sometimes they are the wrong way round and so you can set the min and max values in the Macro Mappings Editor, which will come up when you click on the “Map” button again. Below you can see that the EQ gain boost has been set to -6dB min, and 6dB max. This is because the default was way too much and I just want a bit of a boost available.

The last control I want to add is the compressor threshold, again it is easy to map but this time we need to consider the Mapping editor because it will map the wrong way for us to use. When the macro knob is at the minimum, the threshold will default to the minimum and will go up when we move the macro up. This is not what we want, we want the compression to increase as we move the macro up, so just switch the values in the macro editor to solve this.

We can then colour code each of the macros and rename them to something appropriate.


Finally, you just need to close off the full view of the rack by unselecting the bottom two icons on the left side of the rack and you have a neat and tidy four-knob effect unit.


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