Simpler vs. Sampler in Ableton

In this tutorial, I will be providing you with a side-by-side comparison between Ableton’s primary sample editors, Simpler, and Sampler. This guide will be a continuation of Ableton’s Sample Editor Tutorial, where I covered in-depth, the functions of both sample editors.

I will analyze the similarities and differences between these two plug-in instruments and demonstrate how they compare alongside each other so you can pick the best one for your productions.

I will compare these instruments through the following metrics:

  1. Finding the Plug-in Instruments: I will show you where these plug-ins are located, and how to load each instrument into a track.
  2. Loading Samples: I will show the different ways to load samples between these instruments.
  3. Sample Editing: here I will demonstrate how both sample editors work, and the controls available for basic sample editing e.g. pitch shifting and length controls.
  4. Pitch and Oscillation Envelope Controls: here I will show you how the different techniques of waveform controls for your samples specifically with pitch control, and other modulation control envelopes.
  5. Filter Controls: these controls deal with layered LFO controls and Equalization. I will demonstrate the similarities and differences between these parameters in both instruments.
  6. Playing Modes and MIDI Mapping: this is how you can turn your samples into instruments, with the sample editors mapping the samples on your MIDI controller. This is where the sample editors are most different.

For the most part, these instruments are similar, but there are a few key differences in their parameter controls where some are excluded from the other, and some of these controls are named differently. So let’s get into it!

Finding and Loading (Similar)

Since both samplers are MIDI instruments, you will need to create a MIDI track (Cmd + Shift + R on Mac/Ctrl + Shift + R on Windows), and then load them into this track by dragging and dropping, or by selecting your track and double-clicking the preferred sample editor.

loading sample editor ableton

Ableton also provides presets for each sample editor to help you start making music. Find them in the drop-down menu for both samplers. These presets are categorized by sound types and modes.

sample editor presets

Loading Samples (Similar)

The process of loading samples into both samplers is identical. Once you have the samplers loaded into your track and your samples identified, simply drag and drop the sample into your preferred editor.

loading samples ableton

Sample Editing (Different)

This is where the differences between the samplers start to show.

Firstly, the editing parameter controls are often named differently between both samplers, even though they mostly do the same thing.

Secondly, Sampler is Simpler’s big brother and therefore has more robust parameter controls. These controls are on the first parameter window of both.

Let us go through Some of them:

Sample Length Controls

Both samplers have sample length control play-heads that can be adjusted easily. Both feature fine-tuning controls for greater control over the sample’s start and end points but are named differently.

In Sampler, they are simply named ‘Sample Start’ and ‘Sample End’, while on Simpler they are named ‘Start, and ‘Length.’

sampler length control playheads ableton

Once you have found the ideal length in your sample, on both samplers, you can right-click on your sample, and select ‘Crop’ to get rid of unnecessary length and focus on the selected sample length.

cropping sample ableton

Pitch Changing

You can change the pitch of your samples easily but then again, these parameters are named differently on both samplers.

Sampler allows for more pitch correction controls. The pitch control tool is called Detune, which has the ability to set the root note of the sample and control the relationship between incoming MIDI notation and the set pitch using the Scale slider control.

In Simpler, you can only change pitch in the One-Shot and Slice mode using the Transpose Knobs.

pitch changing ableton

Sample Reverse

This parameter is named the same in both sample editors, and both reverse the sample, allowing you to play the sample backwards.

In Sampler, this parameter control is on the default start page, but in Simpler, you need to right-click on your sample, and select ‘Reverse Sample’.

reverse sample ableton

Volume Control

The volume control for both samplers are is the only parameter with the same name. The only difference is that in Simpler, the volume control is a knob, while with Sampler it is a slider. You can also normalize samples the same way, by right-clicking on your sample, and selecting ‘Normalize’. My article on how to Normalize in Ableton describes normalizing as how Ableton brings the loudest part of your audio to peak at 0.0dB. Have a look at that tutorial for more on normalizing.

normalize volume ableton

Pitch and Oscillation Envelope (Similar)

Both Simpler and Sampler have very similar controls. Within these controls, the first one to consider is the pitch control envelope. This affects pitch shifting and detuning logarithmically, and is controlled by an Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release envelope (ADSR envelope). You can activate an oscillator that comes before the pitch envelope to affect how pitch shifting sounds when active. Both instruments provide you with different waveforms to oscillate your pitch.

Pitch and Oscillation Envelope Ableton

In the ‘Modulation’ tab in Sampler, you can modulate any parameter. From pitch to volume, loop start and end, stereo effects, and many more. You simply need to activate any of the three LFO modulators and begin to affect your sample.

modulation tab sampler

Filter Controls (Similar)

This parameter is geared as a frequency cutoff tool. You cannot increase the volume of a specific frequency or frequency band like a traditional equalizer, since it acts exclusively as a subtractive equalizer only working to remove undesired frequency. If you want to know more about equalizers and how they work, have a look at my tutorial on the EQ Eight Equalizer.

Both instruments also have a filter envelope to affect how the filter effects controls, such as how fast the effect reaches its peak, how it is sustained and decays and finally the release time of this effect (ADSR envelope).

Sampler is a more complex sample editor and therefore has a more detailed control parameter, and the filter envelope is laid side by side with the filter controls for ease of editing, whereas in Simpler, you will need to toggle between the two views.

filter controls ableton

Play Modes (Different)

Here is where these two instruments are very different. Once you load your samples and you are finished editing them to suit your productions, it is now time to play them in your project as an instrument. Here is a breakdown:


Simpler has 3 main performance views:

  1. Classic: your sample can be played across your keyboard as a single note or chord. The pitch changes with the note you play just as it would on a piano if played on a higher or lower note. In this mode, you cannot affect the pitch of your sample by transposing, because you can do this by simply playing the correct pitch on your MIDI controller.
  2. 1-Shot: in this mode, you can only play one note at a time. This means you cannot play chords. This mode works best when you are playing your sample on a drum pad and is very good for the composition process of your production.
  3. Slice: This mode chops your sample for you depending on how you tell the algorithm to do so. These include slicing by; transients, beat, region or manually.
simpler play modes


Once you load your samples into Sampler, especially long ones, you will notice if you try and play your samples across your MIDI controller, theys will match the key to the notes you are playing but will change the playback speed of the sample.

This is the main difference between these two sample editors. This is not ideal when working with long musical samples such as melodic lines but can work for abstract and ambient samples when doing sound design.

I recommend chopping your melodic or harmonic sample with one bar if you are trying to make an instrument from your sample.

Secondly, if you are working with multiple samples, you can split your MIDI controller into segments and control which part plays what sample. You can also overlay your samples.

Load multiple samples by:

Step 1: Open the ‘Zone’ tab.

zone tab ableton

Step 2: Drag and drop your samples into the sample arrangement tab

sample arrangement tab ableton

Step 3: now edit the length of play segments using the samples’ start and end heads. You will notice that now depending on how you have split your MIDI controller, they will play back in this split range.

editing length of play segments of a sample ableton

Final Thoughts

Simpler and Sampler have their specialized use cases. If are looking for something simple, fast, and easy to use, then Simpler is for you. If you are looking for more dynamic and in-depth control of your samples and going into sound design, then Sampler will suit your productions best.

Read this tutorial hand in hand with the Ableton Sample Editor tutorial, as I cover different elements and use cases of these two sample editors to best understand these instruments. Have fun!

Collins K