RangeOfSounds.com is reader-supported. We may earn a small commission through products purchased using links on this page.
Ableton is often regarded as one of the most user-friendly and accessible Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) that are available. Not only is Ableton’s layout designed intuitively, but the features and operations are also straightforward.
Despite the ease of use, things can still go wrong, like all other computer programs. Nothing is more frustrating and disruptive to your creative flow than issues with your software, especially audio issues.
Luckily, when issues arise, like popping and clicking in the audio, the problems are often easily solved. The ease of use and ability to diagnose and solve issues within Ableton are other reasons the program is so great to use.
One problem that can be encountered, which is especially frustrating, is that there might not be any sound coming from Ableton during audio playback. Working on your music projects without sound can be tricky (although not always impossible).
So what is going on here? Why is Ableton not playing sound?
The most common reason that Ableton is not playing sound is that the incorrect audio output option is selected. Other potential issues include volume issues on individual tracks and on your computer. If you cannot hear MIDI tracks, ensure you have an instrument selected; otherwise, no sound will be produced.
Let’s look closer at why you might not be hearing sound in Ableton and how to solve these issues.
Why Is Ableton Not Playing Sound?
As I stated in the introduction, when it comes to creating and producing music, the last thing you want to worry about is audio technical issues taking place. Creating music can be difficult, and adding issues arising from the software or hardware can be very frustrating.
The good news when dealing specifically with Ableton is that it is highly regarded as a very user-friendly DAW. This includes troubleshooting many issues that will likely come up when using any DAW, such as being unable to hear any sound.
So let’s dive into some of the most common reasons Ableton might not be playing sound and how to solve these issues.
Note that this is not an exhaustive list, and additional problems can arise that might not be covered in this article.
If you don’t feel like reading, check out the video I made covering all of the items below.
#1: Audio Output Selection
The first place you should look if Ableton is not playing any sound is to ensure you have selected the correct audio output. An issue with the incorrect audio output being selected is the most common reason you might not hear sound when playing back the tracks you have recorded or created.
Audio needs to be routed out somewhere in order to hear it, and sometimes the default settings in Ableton might not be sending it to the correct output location.
First things first. Where do you find where to select your audio output?
Once you open Ableton, scroll over to the “Options” tab, and then scroll all the way to the bottom and select “Preferences.”
If you read my article on how to get rid of click and pops in Ableton, this location will be familiar to you as it is where you will adjust the in/out sample rate and buffering size. The preferences tab is one of the most important locations within Ableton, and it is where much of your audio woes will be solved.
It should be noted here that along with clicks and pops in your audio, if the buffering size is too low, it might cut out your sound altogether, so along with checking for the correct audio output, you should also ensure your buffering size is adjusted appropriately.
Once preferences is open, select the audio tab. You will see a section titled “Audio Device,” where you will select your driver type and your audio input and output devices.
Notice that the driver type is set to MME/Direct X, and the audio output is set to my laptop speakers. When I click on the Audio Output Device options, you can see several options pop up (there can also be multiple options under the Audio Input Device option as well).
If you are having issues getting your audio to playback, this should be the first place you look and start playing with the different options until you hear sound. It should be noted here that there are better drivers than MME/Direct X, with ASIO being the preferred option, according to Sweetwater, when recording and working with music.
This is also where you can select the headphones option to listen to Ableton if you are plugging your headphones directly into your computer.
The options will look a bit different if you use an external driver, as I do with my Focusrite Scarlett 18i20. As you can see below, when I select ASIO as my driver type, the input and output options disappear, and I am left with choosing the appropriate audio device, which for me is the highlighted Focusrite USB ASIO.
If you use an external driver, the process is still the same as selecting the correct audio output. Simply keep choosing different options until you find the correct option where sound is being produced.
How Do I Get Ableton To Play Through My Computer Speakers?
I want to preface this section by stating that, if possible, save up and purchase a decent set of studio monitors, as noted by Sam Beattie of Andertons Music Company, as they are the best option when listening to your recordings and mixing and mastering your music. This is because they are specifically designed for this process, whereas regular speakers or the speakers that come stock in your laptop or desktop are not.
Of course, studio monitors can be costly, but high-quality options are available for relatively low prices. For example, I have a pair of PreSonus Eris E3.5 3.5-inch Powered Studio Monitors that I bought for $100, and they have been an absolute game changer in how I listen to my audio playback. Purchasing a pair of quality headphones is a good option as well.
If you don’t have studio monitors, that is fine, as computer speakers will still work.
To get Ableton to play through your computer speakers, you must ensure your driver type (usually MME/Direct X) and audio output selections are correct. You will then be able to hear your audio.
However, if you are using an external driver, like I do with my Focusrite, you might not be able to get any sound unless you plug in headphones or external speakers (or monitors) directly into the Focusrite.
#2: Check Your Volume Levels
This step might seem silly, but there are several places within Ableton and your external driver where volume can be turned off. If you have selected the correct audio output and are still not hearing any sound, try running through these different volume areas.
One area I will not speak directly to below is external speakers/monitors. Make sure those are turned on and your volume is turned up on those if they can be powered on and turned up.
1. Taskbar Speaker Level
The first place to look is your standard speaker control icon on your computer taskbar. Even if you are using an external driver, you will be able to control the volume level from this location, so make sure you have not accidentally turned this down low or put it on mute.
If the volume is low in this location, it won’t matter how high you have the volume up anywhere else, whether that is your external speakers/monitors, on your external driver, or within Ableton itself; you won’t be able to hear anything.
2. Individual Track Issues
Ableton’s ease of use can sometimes work against you because a few clicks can accidentally turn off the volume to one or multiple tracks and leave you wondering where the problem is.
Two main buttons will cause this to happen. The “In” button and the “S” or solo button on the individual tracks (see below). I have circled both of these locations in red. For this example, both are enabled, indicated by the light blue on the “In” button and the dark blue on the “S” button. Both would be gray when not activated.
When the “In” button is enabled, you will not hear the sounds on the track, essentially muting that particular track. Only that specific track will play sound if the “S” or solo button is enabled.
So if you are not hearing a particular track, make sure you do not have the “In” button enabled, and if you are not hearing anything, make sure you don’t have a track in solo mode that might not have a part at the section you are listening to.
3. External Driver Volume
Another place to check is the volume levels on the external driver itself. On my Focusrite, several locations control volume levels. So if you are using an external driver, check the different volume level areas to ensure that they are all turned up to appropriate levels.
4. Preview/Cue Volume
Ableton’s preview/cue volume control is the next location to check your volume level. While this control won’t influence the overall playback sound level, it has some features worth noting.
First, this will control the preview volume of different MIDI sounds before you select them for a track. Sometimes a sound might be too loud or too quiet to truly hear what it does, so this feature adjusts those levels.
The preview/cue volume also controls how loud the metronome is during playback and recording. This is also where you can control headphone volume levels, usually in live performances, so you can control different volume levels, such as a metronome and what other musicians are playing.
To find the preview/cue volume control, ensure the view mode is in session view (vertical lines highlighted in orange). Look to the bottom, and you will see a headphone icon labeled “solo” with a blue circle beneath it. This is where you can adjust the overall volume level of your project within Ableton.
#3: MIDI Tracks Have No Audio
The MIDI tracks not sending out any audio is another frequent issue I have encountered people talking about in numerous forums and is something that really frustrated and confused me when I first started working in Ableton. Luckily, it is a super simple fix.
When you open up a new MIDI track and click on it, you can start plugging in notes, as shown in the picture below.
However, when you click play to hear what you have just created, you will not hear anything. When this first happened to me, I thought that my program was broken or that I had one of the other audio issues discussed above, but it turns out it was far more simple than any of that.
The issue was that I had not selected any MIDI sound or instrument for my track. For any audio to be sent out of a MIDI track, some type of sound or instrument must be loaded into that track. Otherwise, it is like not having any audio input for that track.
So if you encounter this issue with your MIDI tracks, go to the left-hand menu on Ableton and select an instrument or sound to input into that track. Once you do this, you should immediately be able to hear the audio from your MIDI track.
There you have it! Some simple and easy solutions to help you solve why you might not hear any playback sound.
I hope this article was helpful to you, and until next time, keep on creating!
Hi everyone! I have been involved with music most of my life, beginning in grade school with the trumpet. I am a largely self-taught multi-instrumentalist (drums, guitar, bass, and starting the piano and violin). I currently play drums in two bands and write and produce many genres of music in my home recording studio. I am also an avid guitar and drum collector.