Ableton Operator Review – A fresh look at Lives refined hybrid synthesizer.

Ableton Lives Operator synth has been around for a few years already, but with some recent tweaks to Live and Operator itself, it is not only holding its own, but being rediscovered by a whole new group of fans.




Operator started out as a basic, but serviceable 4 osc FM synth, with a number of operator modulation algorithms, an LFO and some standard filters. In some more recent updates however, things have gotten more exciting.


Some of the most powerful new features include the following:

  • New additive waveforms allow you to built your oscillators from the ground up.
  • Oscillators can now modulate themselves.
  • A number of new filters have been added, including an excellent 24db low pass ladder filter, which beautifully emulates classic analog synthesizers.
  • Filters now have wave-shaping drive modes.
  • New waveforms have been added to oscillators and LFO, including noise.
  • Filter and Pitch envelopes now have curves
  • New mod matrix allows for more creativity, complexity and expressive modulations.
  • Still very quick and easy to use

To put it simply, Operator now features a hybrid combination of FM, Additive, Subtractive, and Modular synthesis, allowing you to simultaneously built up and carve out sounds when programming new patches.


Being built into Live is another unique advantage of Operator. It loads quickly, is CPU friendly, and is perfectly integrated with Lives GUI, resizing up to 200%. Great news for anyone with a large screen who is sick of squinting at tiny, fiddley old VSTs.


Where it excells
Having different synthesis types makes Operator a good candidate for a “bread and butter” synth, but this description wouldn’t quite do it justice. The original Yamaha style FM synthesis itself rarely gets much love, but when combined with filters and native effects, the sonic potential is enormous. Many contemporary artists, such as Flying Lotus, Calvin Harris, Booka Shade, Nosaj Thing, and Actress, are using FM synthesis to forge new sonic territory with subtle raspy overlays, textured pads, clangorous percussive elements, and unique, plucky synth lines that cut through the mix like laser beams. Even without using the FM features, Operator manages to be a great subtractive synth, capable of superb analog emulation with excellent sounding filters and deep control over tuning, oscillator phase, envelopes and LFO. And you can pile up as many instances of Operator as you wish, throw in as many of Lives native effects, and save the whole “Instrument Rack” as a preset.


learn fm synthesis

Booka Shade use FM and hybrid synthesis to great effect


If you’re wondering whether it’s worth paying extra for Operator, the answer is simple; Operator is one of the best all-round synths available. It’s easy to use, very powerful, sounds great, and is fun and inspiring to program.


There aren’t many VST synths that manage to mix FM synthesis with other kinds, and stay easy to use. The closest, and best alternative to Operator is Rob Papens Blue synthesizer, which also features additive, subtractive, and FM synthesis, but goes further than Operator, by featuring multi-stage envelopes, 6 oscillators and 10 LFOs.


Blue vs Operator. Best fm synth

Blue is one of the few synths that matches Operators combination of hybrid synthesis and ease of use.


Operator is available from Ableton, and Blue is available from Plugin Botique.