Going 64-bit in Logic Pro and Ableton Live

64 bits awwwwyeaaaaa

Although there isn’t tons of chatter about 64bit applications too much these days, slowly but surely the industry has been migrating toward microprocessor technology that’s been in consumers hands since the early 2000’s.  Recently I spent a little bit of time playing with my two DAWs of choice, Logic Pro and Ableton Live in 64 bit mode.  With just a couple of hours I’ve been able to get some good information together that will help you plan both necessity as well as your migration strategy.

Going 64-bit in Logic Pro and Ableton Live

Is 64-bit for me?

The first question you should be asking yourself is, “Why the hell do I care about 64 bit?” because let’s face it, it doesn’t really matter to everyone.  It depends on what you are doing.  Computationally, sure the machine can crunch bigger numbers, but this isn’t the big win given our task.  The main benefit here is going to be memory.  The number of bits directly translates to addressable ram; 32-bit applications can access us to 4GB whereas 64-bit apps can do something crazy like 16 exabytes (don’t know what an exabyte is?  its a metric fuckton of bytes, that’s what).

Wait a second… most of you guys have more than 4GB in your machine as it stands, what’s the deal?  Well there’s a lot going on under the hood, more than I can really get into in this article, but I’ll call out a couple of things.  First thing to keep in mind is that in many cases you are living in a dual world and just don’t know it.  For those of you with Macs you are running a 64 bit operating system but many of your applications are still 32 bit.  Windows users may experience the same thing, although I’m a bit out of the loop for all things Microsoft.  This means that your platform can access all kinds of memory, but perhaps your applications can’t.

Actually saying your applications can’t access more than 4GB of memory is a bit of a stretch too.  32-bit applications employ other tricks to work with more than 4GB of memory.  One such way this can work is that an application, or process, can then launch sub-processes.  Both the sub-processes and the main process itself has its own memory space.  A good way to think about this here can be your DAW as the process and the plugins as sub-processes.  There are other tricks applications can use too – this is where I stop though since this isn’t an article on software development and computer architecture.  Believe it or not, this nerd thing is my day job 😉

Still, despite these tricks, if you are using a crap ton of memory you are going to be better off in a 64-bit world.  Just look at it this way – less bullshit between your applications and the memory they need.  In most cases 64-bit applies to you if you are using massively large sample libraries like LA Scoring Strings (which is why I started looking into 64-bit).  If this is you, you like the cutting edge, or you are a fuckin nerd… the rest of this article is for you…

Logic Pro in 64-bit mode

64-bit logic
See – 64 friggen bits!

Logic Pro itself actually has pretty good 64-bit support and has had it for some time.  Most importantly, it also features a 32-bit compatibility mode so most of your non-64 bit plugins will work just fine.  There are a couple of small details that may help your transition, but I’ll get to that in a second.

Enabling 64-bit mode

Turning on 64-bit mode in Logic is pretty straight forward.  Follow these steps:

  1. Open up your applications folder
  2. Click on Logic
  3. Press command-I to open up the app info (there are other ways to get here, but we’re engineers, get your keyboard short-cuts down).
  4. There’s a check box to enable 64-bit

Yep, that’s it.  Then start Logic.  It will re-scan all of your plugins and organize them relative to their supported bits.  More info on enabling 64-bit mode can be found via apple support.

Migrating to 64-bit in Logic

Thanks to 32-bit compatibility mode most things will just work.  There may be a handful of plugins that fail to work in compatibility mode, but I didn’t experience any problems loading up a couple of old sessions.  There are a couple of things to note:

  • Your old sessions were created using 32-bit plugins.  Logic won’t replace those with 64-bit plugins for you, so they will just run using the compatibility functionality
  • 32-bit mode plugins are strange in that you’ll be presented with a plugin window that displays “Click here to display interface”.  There is an extra step you’ll need to take when working with these plugins
  • If you are like me and build things like NI’s Battery into your templates, you’ll need to need to create a 64-bit variant of your templates or just live with the app in 32-bit mode.

Ableton Live in 64-bit Mode

Ableton goes 64-bit

Ableton Live isn’t quite 64-bit ready yet.  Believe it or not, they haven’t even released a 64-bit version of it yet.  Why the hell am I talking about it then?  64-bit mode is in beta, that’s why.  If you want to get in on it all you need to do is head to Ableton’s website and download the beta.  Lucky for you this beta software can live alongside your reliable released version of Live, don’t fret, you don’t have to risk being unable to work to play in 64-bit land.
Want to grab the beta?  Go here
Since 64-bit mode is so new to Live clearly there are going to be limitations versus a more mature platform like Logic.  The biggest drawback being any sort of 32-bit compatibility mode. That’s right folks, I’m going to bold it: You cannot use 32-bit plugins in 64-bit Live at this time.  Or at least, I haven’t figured out how.
Its not so bad as many plugins are already 64-bit, but you’ll likely have a few that won’t work which may cause some pain when loading existing sessions.  On the upside, if you load an old session and the 64-bit variant of the VST exists, Live will just slide it right in for you.
My initial experience with the Live 8.4 beta have been good.  No crashes, my 64-bit plugins worked great.  And my reason for 64-bit (LASS) worked quite a bit better than in 32-bit mode.  Of course the software is beta but Ableton is working hard on cramming out bug fixes (there’ve been 9 beta releases so far).  Chances are most of this work is for the upcoming 9 release, but for those who can’t wait at least we have an option for now and at least its not an all or nothing solution.  The lack of 32-bit compatibility is really the killer here as many of us have way too many plugins and some of the ones we rely on won’t work (Oh FAW Circle how I miss you… at least you have a 64-bit version in beta too <3 ).

A note on plugins

Before you freak out, a lot of the big boys have had 64-bit versions out for a while now.  Many of my favorite plugs were ready to go including Kontakt, Battery, PSP Vintage Warmer, and my U-He synths.  Sadly some of my other favorites weren’t 64-bit (I’m looking at you, Rob Papen).  In logic this is no big deal but in Ableton this is a total bummer.  Although its not to say, perhaps I can find more 64-bit versions if I dig (or hell, maybe I forgot to install them).  Circle was a great example of this, I did a little googling and I found it pretty quickly.  You’ll have to do your own research as to what plugins are 64-bit and what aren’t, but there’s a good chance that more are than you think.

Bits, bits, bits!

Sure not everyone is going to need a 64-bit DAW but for those of us that do, the world isn’t as crippling as it used to be.  Logic users are pretty much ready to go, but you’ll have to massage your setup ever to slightly.  Ableton Live needs compatibility modes to be a strong contender, but for those who live in Live world the 64-bit version will offer some better handling of those large sample libraries.  Who knows, maybe Live will pull it out of their ass for Live 9, only time will tell.
Until next time folks – bang on stuff, make noises.  That’s what we do after all.

UPDATE!! (2/21/13):

Whoa, an update!  Yea well, I hardly know everything and I learned some more as I was playing around with my software; I thought I would share with you and complete the information in this article.  With that being said, a couple of notes:

1. Turns out I actually had more 64 bit plugins than I let on.  In one particular case I made eyes at a certain Rob Papen – turns out he just ships the 64bit plugins in a separate package.  With that I’m really only down one of my favorite soft synths, Circle, but at least they are in 64-beta.

2.  Ableton Live 64 bit… well, its important to note I was talking about Live 8.  And Live 8’s 64 bit support will be just as I’ve described; Ableton Live 9 has a similar issue and users interested in their new product The Bridge should also read up as there are special limitations that apply to them.  However, Live users, you aren’t totally screwed.  There are a handful of adapters out there if you google.  For example jBridgeworks as an adapter for your old-world plugins (windows only).