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.

Contemporary musicians employ the computer as a digital audio workstation (DAW) to perform a wide variety of tasks dealing with sound. Typical uses include recording and editing soundfiles, adding effects and dynamics processing and preparing audio tracks for a CD master disc.

The centerpiece of the modern musician's computer-based studio is the hard-disk recorder (HDR). Musicians working on Apple or Microsoft Windows machines have an impressive selection of HDR systems to choose from, but until recently Linux users have had nothing truly comparable for professional work. A professional-quality HDR is a profoundly nontrivial programming endeavor, and proprietary HDR developers have provided little technical guidance for would-be designers of an open-source DAW.

Today, thanks to the talent and perseverance of chief designer/programmer Paul Davis and his talented crew, Linux musicians now have a native-born professional-quality HDR/DAW, named Ardour.

What It Is, What It Isn't

Ardour is a multitrack recording and editing system for high-quality digital audio. Ardour supports audio processing plugins (LADSPA and VST), parameter control automation, sophisticated panning control and many advanced editing procedures. Recognized synchronization protocols include MIDI time code (MTC), a means of encoding SMPTE time code to MIDI; MIDI machine control (MMC), a set of MIDI messages for controlling transport features of hardware mixers and recorders; and JACK, a low-latency audio server and application transport control interface for Linux and Mac OS X.

Figure 1. Ardour is a multitrack recording and editing system that supports consumer and professional audio hardware.

Professional audio recording hardware supports datatypes not commonly encountered in consumer-grade systems. A pro DAW can handle audio at greater bit depth, for deeper amplitude range and precision; at high sampling rates, for more accurate frequency resolution; and with greater flexibility in sound location and spatialization. It is not uncommon for professional recordists to work with 32-bit soundfiles recorded with a sampling rate of 96kHz, more than twice the resolution of compact disc audio.

Ardour is not a MIDI sequence recorder or editor. It knows nothing about music notation, and it is not designed to be a soundfile editor. Ardour has only a few built-in signal processing capabilities, and most of its processing power comes from its supported plugins. Finally, Ardour does not directly provide facilities for CD mastering and burning, but it is designed to work well with the excellent JAMin mastering suite.

Hardware Requirements

The extent of your use of Ardour is limited fundamentally by the capabilities of your hardware. If a sound card or audio board is supported by the ALSA sound system, it should work with Ardour; however, standard consumer-grade audio devices are not suitable for using Ardour to its full extent. You can do great things with Ardour and a SoundBlaster Live, but for professional work, Ardour is happiest with a multichannel digital audio interface, such as the RME Hammerfall and M-Audio Delta cards.

Do your homework before purchasing your audio interface. Check the ALSA site for up-to-date news regarding supported systems, and try to find others who can comment on the suitability of a particular card. Ardour can respond to MIDI parameter control, so study the MIDI implementation charts for any external equipment you plan to use. See if your mixer specifications support MMC or MTC. Ardour is designed to work with automated mixer control surfaces, but again, your equipment has to support the features.

The question of a sufficient base computer system often pops up on the Ardour users mailing list. Satisfactory results have been reported with a 500MHz CPU, but such a system is too limiting for professional use. A fast CPU ensures accurate synchronization while recording or playing multiple audio tracks, and it is absolutely necessary if you intend to use many effects. For example, a good reverberation effect can be intensely CPU-hungry. You also should have a large, fast hard disk, properly tuned with the hdparm utility for maximum performance. Multiple tracks of streaming audio data absolutely require a powerful CPU and a fast hard disk to ensure perfect synchronization. Also, 32-bit digital audio files can be huge, and a typical recording session can create nontrivial storage demands. For professional use, you are advised to equip your system with two disks—one for your system and application software and one dedicated only to session audio storage. The Ardour Web site offers suggestions for specific CPUs, hard-disk specifications and even recommended motherboards. For best results with Ardour, follow the designer's advice.

Aaron Trumm's excellent article “The Linux-Based Recording Studio” [Linux Journal, May 2004] describes room considerations and the setup and configuration of external equipment needed for serious recording. Rather than rehashing Aaron's recommendations, I simply refer readers to that article for advice on selecting microphones, mixers, monitor speakers and other outboard gear.


Similis sum folio de quo ludunt venti.


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

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