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Why Midi Sync over IP may not be a good idea

MOTU MidiTimePiece

It seems as though there may be better ideas for syncing multiple computers running Ableton Live. It was several weeks ago that we posted a guide on syncing Live and suggested an ethernet connection to each computer running into a router. It turns out that this method is not only laggy, it is crashing Live for some.

Last week I got an email from Justin “Boreta” - Glitch Mob member and producer out of California. Justin uses a very similar setup to mine, making this especially interesting. He, along with Ooah and edIT use (or used) three laptops and three Lemurs all running into a single ethernet switch. Until now, this seemed to be the best and most reliable method as far as syncing is concerned.

From: Justin Boreta
To: Steven Eckelberry <>
Hey man,    

Any version before Live 8 had never once crashed on me. So what happened the first time at DEMF is it crashed, I restarted my computer, and sometime during the reboot cycle my computer hopped on the network and then it threw the other computers out of sync. The next night it was fine, then opening for the Prodigy it did this again. So now we are moving to using a MOTU MTP to see what happens. If Ableton stops crashing, I will assume that it was something with the network syncing that was causing the problems. At the very least I need to know that restarting my computer won’t break the MIDI clock for everyone else.


We emailed back and forth and decided that it was prudent to escalate this to someone at Ableton. A few days later, he got a response.

From: Ableton Inc

To: Justin Boreta

Boreta: Is ethernet MIDI sync known to be unreliable?

Ableton: Midi sync over tcp/ip is a bit problematic in general as it is a package based protocol and not a realtime protocol. You should use [something like the MOTU] to be sure. [This] would be exactly the midi interface I would have suggested if you would have asked me for a good one…

Boreta: Are there any other hints about MIDI syncing in general we should know about?

Ableton: We tested a lot of drivers and the MOTU midi drivers are the best. Watch the cpu usage in the OS X activity monitor as Live only shows the percentage for the audio engine - but not for other tasks. Priority is on the audio, if the cpu is maxed out, sync will suffer first.

So - It looks like the MOTU MTP seems to be the best option for sync - if you don’t mind dropping $500 on it. @reply AbletonTweets with your experiences.

Note: The emails above have been condensed and abridged. For the full emails in context, please get in touch with @stevene on Twitter or email

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