I like Cubase (I currently have 10.0 Pro) a lot, and I am not an EDM/trance artist so Ableton is hardly the “defacto” DAW for folks like me (Home songwriters) but having spent a week playing with it, I like a lot of things about it. Some are technical or product differences and some are community differences.
Where I Like Ableton better:
First and most obvious thing is the clips based workflow in Ableton. The thing is for my purposes, Cubase works fine because I often prototype songs with loops which are easy to repeat for the length of my song. What is kind of unapproachable though in Cubase is the experimentation approach of having one instrument/plugin and then having some set of 5 or 25 clips, which can all be easily combined with any of the 5 or 25 clips in any of your other tracks. The combinatoric approach to songs is wild and great fun. If I could have ONE thing out of Ableton moved into cubase it would be a combinatoric clip based way of experimenting. Of course this goes great with hardware controllers like the Novation Launchpad, or the Ableton Push. The thing is that since Ableton Lite is free with a Novation Launchpad, which is how I got it, you can always just use Ableton for what it’s great for and then bounce out stems and mix in cubase if you like. I think I would also do all my vocal tracking in cubase.
What I love about Cubase and miss in Ableton:
Midi panic. I play hardware synths and I play software vsts and both go dumb and get stuck notes from time to time. It’s a tiny feature but a very nice on in Cubase. Thank you steinberg for Midi panic. I would come running or crawling back to Cubase just for this. I think it’s funny that Ableton LIve is supposed to be for live performance and yet it doesn’t have this?
Groove Agent. I haven’t bought the full Groove Agent, I only have Groove Agent SE and I guess it’s a built in thing in Cubase because it doesn’t show up as a VST plugin anywhere. I really miss groove agent, and if I ever moved to Ableton as my main daw, I would buy the full edition of Groove Agent rather than lose access to this instrument. For my home songwriting duties,. Groove Agent sounds good and it makes drum arrangements for this non-drummer very easy. My finger/pad drumming skills are getting better but I rely on the pattern engine in Groove Agent, and when you move to Ableton Live LITE there’s nothing even close to Groove Agent built in.
I actually prefer the media bay, and the preset systems in Cubase. Track presets are lovely. Insert effect presets are lovely. The preset load system that lets you load presets easily for any plugin, is wonderful. I like the way you can have big ass pictures of your VSTS in cubase instead there is just a little menu of text names only for your vsts, in ableton.
Just some quick thoughts. The other difference is the community. The live community shares project files a lot, and due to the nature of Live’s instruments that are builtin and the shared project files usually being built purely inside Live or with Max4Live devices, rather than mostly with VST Plugins, the Live file format and community is a huge asset, something Cubase is lacking. Steinberg really should start building the shared/cloud-project thing with Cubase.
THere are shockingly stupid things in Live also, like the lack of True Panning.