Advice: MAX vs Max for Live. Interested in MIDI, Ableton, sensors w/ Arduino

Jan 13, 2011 at 6:01pm

Advice: MAX vs Max for Live. Interested in MIDI, Ableton, sensors w/ Arduino

Hey guys,

I need some advice. I’m about to plunge into the world of MAX, Ableton, and Arduinos. From scratch, but with a very old background in MIDI & audio engineering (end user stuff, broadcast).

I’m a doctoral student in music, looking to incorporate self-made sensors, via Arduinos, into MIDI to control live processing.

I have no experience in programming or soldering, but I’m not horribly unable to think logically, and I’m committed to the challenge.


Do you guys recommend getting a full MAX/MSP license, or just Max for Live (M4L)? Will I miss anything in the full version? Are there any issues you know of, in regards to working with external hardware such as the Arduino, in M4L?

This is a question to those who have pushed the relative envelopes of the program — not something I could necessarily deduce right from the specifications. I realize patches created in M4L cannot be used by normal MAX users. But besides that, it’s it really the “same”?

Thank you for reading!

Jan 13, 2011 at 10:56pm

I’m currently working in the ‘sensors-Arduino-Max’ domain (at doctoral level btw), and have encountered a few threads on this forum related specifically to the, um, limitations of Max4Live compared to Max/MSP, although I have no experience of the former; I recall that they were more related to building externals/standalones.

Jan 14, 2011 at 4:43am

Thanks Brendan.

And I did read the following online, of course:
Max for Live will have the following limitations:
no built in support for audio and MIDI (Live is used for audio and MIDI I/O)
restrictions on seeing Jitter images in the Max application (Jitter is fully functional inside Live)
no ability to build standalone applications

And I’m also looking for the ‘other stuff’ which might not be as readily known (and/or admitted) by the companies…

Jan 14, 2011 at 11:40am

Well, keep us informed of your research….

Jan 14, 2011 at 12:09pm

I come from the Max side of things, I am biased. But if you plan and think in terms of Arduino, this sounds a bit like applications which do not need a sequencer. Then the full Max has a big advantage.
There are also some limitations in Live, which can be overcome by a Max patch running parallel. Especially the routing of Midi. In Live you need to assign Midi to controls, you have no direct access. In Max you keep the complete control…
On the other hand if Live is your core tool anyway, its open all the time, even if you write e-mails, then M4L is simply a cheaper solution and then you’ll develop some tricks to circumvent the limitations…

my 1.5 cents…


Jan 14, 2011 at 12:57pm

Hi…Me i’m using max for live for my projects (arduino, midi etc.) and If you own Ableton Max for live is an option to consider…. First the limitation is not a big deal. It’s sure that in term of max standalone you will be limited but don’t forget that with Max for live you open yourself to a phenomenal quantity of new aspects to discover with Ableton…Like me for instance I’m developping tools for my ableton live that help a lot for both functionnality and creativity…. Second it’s the price tag…You will pay 299$ instead of 599$.. In my point of view that’s a deal for everything you can do with max for live….

Thanx ben

Jan 14, 2011 at 2:25pm

Patches made in M4L can easily be used by regular Max users, and vica versa. Usually this requires a small change (normally only the i/o section) but that’s it. Also keep in mind that with M4L you can easily create full Max patches as well. And use them outside of Live with the freely available runtime.

Although Fitz is correct with his points above I think that “no build in support for audio and MIDI” could cause confusion. Obviously M4L fully supports processing of sound and midi data, no limitations there. The main issue is that you’re not so much using Max’ own soundengine but that of Live. All I/O is handled by Live, thus you’re restricted in what Live can handle (example; you only have one single midi channel at your disposal).

Anyway, what to get heavily depends on what you’re planning to do. If Live is going to be a big part of your workflow then I’d grab Live & M4L, it should be more than sufficient and make a good starting point.

Jan 14, 2011 at 3:32pm

“assign Midi to controls”
Forgive my ignorance, but is it ‘limiting’ or more ‘inconveniencing’? Or inconvenient to the point (creative workflow) limitation. I don’t know enough to ask a better question. I always thought that MIDI is so threadbare that it’s values could be sent relatively anywhere, right?

My primary perspective and approach is performative rather than compositional. To me concept is less important, generally speaking. What is more important will be translating physical gestures into expressive results in an instrumental paradigm. Quite conservative aims, really. Which is why my hunch is that I will only need M4L.

Btw, all this backstory is just to frame the question, as opposed to those coming from a compositional, or mixed-media approach/intent.


I guess I’m also wondering if anybody has run into stability issues running M4L – do weird things happen when you approach CPU processor limits in M4L vs MAX, etc. I should also say that the point of all of this, ultimately, is for integration live (classical) music concerts, so stability is a huge consideration. Is there a compromise on stability, for the sake of integration (M4L into Live)?

Perhaps I’m splitting hairs. Worst case scenerio, I could always start with M4L and upgrade when/if I need, I suppose. But since I’m self-funding my research tools, I have to be careful with costs, as it directly affects my ramen-to-stomach integration factor.

Jan 14, 2011 at 3:41pm

“Also keep in mind that with M4L you can easily create full Max patches as well. And use them outside of Live with the freely available runtime.”

That sounds very good. Definitely affects the possibility of collaboration. But is that contrary to this?


Will I be able to sell Max devices I create?
The first release of Max for Live does not prevent users from opening Max devices. You are free to distribute devices to the Max for Live userbase. However, a person who does not own Max for Live will not be able to open your device.


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