Introducing Ardour

The heart of your Linux recording studio is the hard-disk recorder. Get started with Ardour, which brings pro recording features to open source.
Software Requirements

The current public version of Ardour is available as source code. Packages are available for various Linux distributions, including Red Hat/Fedora, Mandrake, Debian and Slackware; see the on-line Resources. CVS access is selective at this time, but a nightly tarball is available from the Ardour Web site. Compiling Ardour from its source code is uncomplicated, and complete instructions are included with the tarball.

Check the Ardour Web site for the latest support software required to build and install the program. Ardour's dependencies include up-to-date installations of the ALSA kernel sound system, the JACK audio server, the LADSPA plugin API and collections and various other audio-related software components. You can configure your existing Linux installation for optimal performance with the program, but if you're serious about using Ardour you are advised to install an audio-optimized system such as AGNULA/Demudi, a Debian-based distribution, or Planet CCRMA, Red Hat/Fedora packages. Slackware users should install Luke Yelavich's AudioSlack packages, and Mandrake users can find all necessary packages at Thac's site.

JAMin is a suite of post-production audio utilities designed for the preparation of tracks destined for burning to a master CD. This mastering process uses tools such as compressors, equalizers and limiters to reduce frequency and amplitude imbalances between tracks. If you plan to record a full CD with Ardour, you should plan on mastering it with JAMin.

Major Features

Any modern HDR performs three basic functions, corresponding to the typical work-flow stages of recording, editing and mixing digital audio. Each stage can be quite complex within itself, but Ardour's user interface sensibly organizes the program's complexities.

Ardour records to the available hardware limits. If your audio interface supports 32-channel I/O and there's an ALSA driver for it, you should be able to work with 32 simultaneous audio channels. Assignment of channels to tracks is completely flexible, and each track supports mono or stereo input. Ardour's synchronization capabilities currently work best with JACK-compliant applications, such as the Hydrogen drum machine and Rosegarden audio/MIDI sequencer. Much work, however, is going into improving support for MIDI time code.

As mentioned above, Ardour is not a soundfile editor, but it does include a variety of edit processes optimized for multitrack recording, such as typical and not-so-typical cut/copy/paste operations, grouped track editing and fine control over track and segment relocation. Ardour offers its own time stretching and amplitude normalization, but the bulk of its processing power comes from LADSPA plugins.

Figure 2. Resized Tracks, the Region Editor and a LADSPA Plugin

Ardour's mixer panel presents a series of per-track fader strips and a master control strip. A track strip is divided into sections corresponding to a “from the top downward” data path. Input begins at the top of the strip and passes through controls such as signal polarity and track solo/mute status. It moves on through pre-fader plugins, the track fader itself and post-fader plugins before reaching its pan position and heading out to the output or outputs, typically but not always a master bus. Other notable features of Ardour's mixer include gain automation, record and playback fader movement; MIDI control to and from mixers with MIDI machine control; and plugin parameter control automation.

Figure 3. In the Mixer panel, think of audio data moving from the top down through each track strip.

Thanks to Ardour's use of Erik de Castro Lopo's sndfile library, you can import and export audio data (track, region and session) to and from Ardour in any format supported by libsndfile. Currently, that's about 20 different audio file types, including the most popular consumer-grade and professional formats.


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Looks like really good software!

Keith Daniels's picture

However, it requires interfacing with several other programs, which all have learning curves and require powerful PC's -- preferably dual processor. (This software doesn't specificly mention if it can utilize that - but surely it can)

To be successful with this might require someone that already has a pretty strong background in setting up a digital studio. Also the PC cards he's talking about can be costly. The shortcoming with the home user type of sound card i.e., SB Audigy cards, etc., is they only will record 2 channels at a time.

Getting 8+ channels up & running is a MAJOR resource hog at the higher quality 32 bit recordings, and at the professional resolution setting he's talking about in this article, so I am not sure the average user's hardware would be up to running a complete digital studio. But it's a great excuse to buy a lot of new toys.... :-)

All the new OSs and windowing systems are oriented towards content consumption instead of content production.

--Steve Daniels 2013

Average user's hardware

wouter's picture

While it's true that to record many tracks simultaneously you need something more expensive than a cheap generic pc -- especially in the sound department -- I challenge you to compare the prices between some extra hardware and paying for time in an actual studio.

It's also an excellent learning tool for musicians, enabling them to learn more about recording and mastering, and this knowledge can be used in other domains than just studio recording, such as improving live sound, cabbing amps, microphone specifics, understanding more about effects and spatialisation, or just simply learning more about sound manipulation.

Note that using a good -- and, granted, more expensive -- soundcard can lower latency to a point where on even commonly used machines a pretty professional multi-tracked recording is easily accomplished.

On top of that, unless you are a drummer and want to have more control of each individual sound without using an actual, physical pre-mixer, you rarely need more than 2 channels recorded simultaneously. Most instruments record just fine with one or two microphones.

Another point in this

Anonymous's picture

Another point in this direction is that if you have a sound card with only 1 or 2 channel capability, find a small mixing board (fair quality boards aren't too expensive) and run it into your 1 soundcard channel... it becomes easy to increase your channel count 4 or 8 fold.

RE: Looks like really good software!

Peder's picture

Ardour natively only needs jack and if you use a GUI like qjackctl there's very little to learn (perhaps only to increase the latency to avoid xruns).

As for CPU speed, I use a three year old AMD AthlonXP 1400+ with 512MB RAM and a SB Live! and I have no problem handling 8-10 tracks with a couple of LADSPA effects on each track (given 16-bit/44.1kHZ, haven't tried anything else [or more tracks]).

Perhaps my recordings won't satisfy a professional sound engineer/major record label executive but if I'd like to go that way I can probably afford buying a better sound card, faster CPU and faster hard drive. And if you're thinking professional recording the largest investment is most likely getting a suitable control room and recording room (not to mention mics, stabilized power and such). But for a demo record or self released CD I think my specs would pass just fine.

Extremely interesting article!

Mike's picture

As a digital audio home recording musician, the excessive cost of pro recording software is always a major concern. I only just heard about Ardour, and am fascinated. (I included a mention of it in my home recording blog, GarageSpin.)

I'll be sure to link to this article; it's the best explanation of Ardour's features I've read yet. Thanks, Dave!

Wow! I want to see more artic

Jeff's picture

Wow! I want to see more articles like this. Excellent introduction to Linux DAW software Ardour!

Excellent article!

Anonymous's picture

Excellent article! Many thanks!

Introducing Ardour

Rexx's picture

Good article!
I was wondering if it had midi capabilities, got the answer here.
I guess I'll have to bounce back and forth from OS9 cubase vst32 and OSX Ardour?

Couldn't afford an OSX DAW and a new Mac (my G3 450mhz runs Ardour very well but I haven't tried doing lots of tracks yet)

excellent article. we are in

Present's picture

excellent article. we are in the process of setting up a studio in W Africa, and the article saved us hours of googling to find the best open-source solution. exactly what we needed. we hope to have the system fully deployed in less than a year.

good work


Musician's picture

Really interesting article! Linux Journal, you've done a great job again! More articles like this please!

ardour is awesome

risa's picture

thanks for this wicked article! i'm going to reference it on my site too. ardour has treated me well- with an ardour expert's help, me and my group (also with threw a live hiphop recording workshop in montreal in october 2006. it is so freakin satisfying to be able to introduce artists and aspiring artists to such powerful and truly free tools. thank you os!

ardour is top notch

fel3232's picture

introducind artists to the new scene is so rewarding, indeed. I just wish that I had the opportunity to do it more often