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.

So how did all this creative activity turn out? You can hear the results for yourself; see Resources for the URL.

Bear in mind that the recording has not yet been mastered, and I still can return to my original session and make other changes. Feel free to suggest improvements, but try to be kind about my modest efforts.

Synchronization

Paul Davis also is responsible for creating the JACK low-latency audio server and transport control interface, so you would expect Ardour's JACK synchronization capabilities to be well evolved. I tested the Hydrogen drum machine and the Rosegarden sequencer running in JACK master and slave modes and experienced mixed levels of success. Both programs were synced to and from Ardour by way of JACK without trouble. Hydrogen got along nicely with Ardour, but I had problems recording the output of softsynths driven by Rosegarden. The Rosegarden team is aware of this issue and intends to resolve it, but you should check the Rosegarden Web site for the latest news.

Figure 5. The Options Window

At the time of these tests, Ardour's support for MTC send/receive was under heavy revision, so I was unable to complete any meaningful tests. However, MTC support is a major item on many Ardour users' wishlists, and the remaining bugs should be worked out before version 1.0 is released. Other means of synchronization may be supported in future versions of Ardour. Direct SMPTE reading, MIDI clock and SPP (song position pointer) have been suggested as likely candidates, but work on those protocols will have to wait until after the Ardour 1.0 release.

Impressions

As I learn more about Ardour, there seems to be even more to learn. It's a credit to Ardour's designers that the initial interface view is clear and uncluttered, using pull-down and pop-up menus to reveal many underlying features. Also, many helpful keyboard bindings exist, but you need to run ardour -b at the command prompt in an xterm to discover them.

After gaining more confidence with Ardour's basic features, I started to explore more of its capabilities. The TM-D1000 sends MIDI messages and controller streams for most of its actions, and Ardour's controls can be bound to external MIDI control surfaces. Ctrl-middle-click on a button or fader and then activate the controller to set the binding. This feature is very cool, allowing any hardware device that sends MIDI controller streams to act as a control surface for Ardour. Incidentally, group definitions still are in effect, so you can control multiple faders in Ardour from a single external fader.

The TM-D1000 also transmits and responds to MIDI machine control (MMC) commands, a valuable feature because Ardour can control and be controlled from such a device. MMC messages include typical transport control actions such as start/stop, fast-forward and rewind. Thus, a MIDI-sensible mixer such as the TM-D1000 can function as a hardware control surface for almost all of Ardour's operations.

In an article of this length I could test only the features most relevant to my goals. I have not worked yet with Ardour's looping mechanisms, MTC still was stabilizing as I completed this article, I didn't check out the timestretch capability and so on. As I said, Ardour is a deep application, and there are many useful and interesting features not touched on in this article's use of the program.

The Future

Development activity around Ardour is intense, especially as the program closes in on its 1.0 release. Many people are interested in a viable alternative to the proprietary lock-in solutions available for other operating systems, and Ardour appears to moving along the right development path. Much work remains to be done, including improved MIDI capabilities, video track support, expanded synchronization possibilities and a GUI overhaul (GTK2 support is planned). However, Ardour currently is in a feature-freeze, with bug fixes and stability being the first order of the day before version 1.0 is released.

As might be expected in a pre-1.0 beta release of a large-scale complex project, it is not quite bug-free. Ardour's Mantis bug-tracking and feature-request system provides an excellent way to check on the status of known problems, report new ones and make suggestions for future releases.

VST plugin support currently is problematic, due mainly to continuing changes in WINE and Linux kernel development, but it is a high-priority item for the developers. Many users have expressed their willingness to switch platforms for their audio work if VST/VSTi support becomes seamless under Linux.

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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.... :-)

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

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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