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.
A Session with Ardour

My goal in the following example session is to demonstrate how Ardour functions as a multitrack recording system. I've tried to keep technical terminology to a minimum, but this article does not intend to be a primer for digital recording. Basic information on the subject can be found at www.homerecording.com, while more advanced topics are covered at www.prorec.com. Many other on-line and hard-copy resources can be found with relevant searches on Google and Amazon.

Session hardware included an M-Audio Delta 66 digital audio interface, a system that includes a PCI card and a breakout box that together provide 4×4 analog I/O and 2×2 digital I/O. The digital ports can be configured for either S/PDIF, a high-quality consumer-grade digital I/O or AES/EBU, a standard for the recording industry. Each input point is a stereo port, effectively giving me a possible total of 12 input channels, with far more flexible routing than is possible with a consumer-grade, stereo-only sound card.

Figure 4. Delta 66 I/O Channels Displayed in qjackctl

I employed two external mixers for the session. A Yamaha DMP11 was used as a submixer for external synthesizers, and I used a Tascam TM-D1000 for mixing vocal, guitar and harmonica performances before sending them to the Delta 66. The Tascam mixer provides S/PDIF digital output, so I routed its feed to the digital ports of the Delta card.

My plan was to use Ardour to record an original song, with multiple instrumental and vocal tracks, and mix it to recreate the sound of a small group playing live. However, in this session the small group is only me, with some imported WAV files and some multitracking in Ardour. I also planned to use a few LADSPA plugins to add effects to some of the tracks and to use Ardour's pan controls to position my tracks across the stereo audio panorama, as players would be positioned on a stage.

I used a MIDI sequencer to create parts for piano, bass, guitar and drums. I saved each part as a MIDI file and converted them all to WAV audio files with the popular TiMidity MIDI utility. The drum track was converted to a stereo file, the others were converted to monaural files and all the files were created in 16-bit 44.1kHz WAV format. At that point they were ready for importing to Ardour.

When you open Ardour for the first time, you see an empty track display complete with a kindly reminder that you need to create an Ardour session by using the Session/New dialog. Session templates are available, but I knew my immediate track needs and created a custom track layout—one stereo and four mono tracks. I imported my WAV files into those tracks, and there was my backing band.

Next, I recorded three more tracks in Ardour itself, adding a rhythm guitar part, the vocal track and a harmonica solo. Recording in Ardour is simple: click on the R button in your selected track to arm it for recording and then set your inputs and levels in the track's mixer strip. Next, click on the main display's big red Record button, click on the transport play control and record at will. You can monitor some or all other tracks, muting and soloing tracks and groups of tracks in real time for testing different ensembles.

When I was happy with the recorded performances, I started working on the mix. Many aspects of the raw mix were in need of attention: the rhythm guitar track needed a volume fade-out at the end and equalization (EQ) throughout, the MIDI instruments weren't bright enough in the mix and everything needed to be normalized and balanced. Fortunately, Ardour handled these tasks with the greatest of ease. I used LADSPA plugins for equalization and amplification, and I employed Ardour's own internal normalization routine when it was needed. I also added reverb to the vocal and harmonica parts, again by using a LADSPA plugin.

Adding the fade-out to my rhythm guitar track proved to be an interesting task. First, I clicked on the track's automation button to set the automation curve display, and then with the mouse on the Gain mode button I could draw the amplitude curve. Then, I discovered that I could use Ardour's control automation in the mixer as well. I set the automation state to write, and then I played the section to be faded out and reduced the fader level. Ardour recorded my adjustments to the fader, I reset the automation status to play, and the fader moved downward automatically on playback. By the way, faders can be ganged together as a mix group for simultaneous operation, including the recording of simultaneous automation curves.

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Similis sum folio de quo ludunt venti.

Comments

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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.... :-)

"I have always wished that my computer would be as easy to use as my telephone.
My wish has come true. I no longer know how to use my telephone."
-- Bjarne Stroustrup

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

Wow!

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 lulu.com) 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

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