State of the Art: Linux Audio 2008, Part II

Evaluating the condition of sound and music production software.
Production Helpers

Consider the common studio scenario of a MIDI sequencer driving two or three softsynths whose output is directed into Ardour. When your work is done, you can save each application to its current state, but there's no easy way to recall every component to its session state upon re-opening the project and its parts. The LASH software provides an elegant solution to that problem, but its adoption has been slow. Client applications must include direct support for LASH, and so far, developers have been focused on other problems. Nevertheless, the project remains active, the client list grows, and I hope to see wider adoption of LASH throughout the Linux audio development community.

Mastering is a process normally associated with the post-production stage of a recording project. When mastering a project, track levels are balanced and the final touches of compression and EQ are applied to add that touch of audio perfection before burning the master disc. Fortunately, Linux can claim an excellent mastering utility, the JAMin program designed by Steve Harris and developed with help from a talented crew of Linux audio programmers. JAMin's last major release (0.95.0) dates from 2005, but the project already is mature and continues to show intermittent CVS activity.

Synthesizers and Samplers

Many older softsynth projects (amSynth, ALSA Modular Synth and ZynAddSubFX) are unmaintained and in need of attention. The synths mentioned above sound great, but they could all benefit from amenities, such as current compiler optimizations, LASH support, JACK support and so on.

Significant synths in current development include Ingen (LADSPA/LV2/DSSI plugin-based synth), QSynth (soundfont2 synthesizer) and FMS (modular synthesis). Recently, a new crop has appeared with some very unusual approaches to synthesis methods and GUI design. Malte Steiner's Minicomputer is a powerful subtractive synthesizer with eight monophonic “pages”. Justin Smith's Synth Of Noise is a glitchmeister's dream synth, and Juan Pedro Bolivar Puente's Psychosynth presents a unique 3-D interface for creating basic (and not so basic) synthesis networks.

Samplers are represented by Specimen and the LinuxSampler Projects. These applications differ in some significant ways: LinuxSampler utilizes files in the GIG format made popular by Tascam's GigaSampler, and Specimen is happier with soundfile formats supported by libsndfile. LinuxSampler (Figure 2) is a client/server architecture with at least two GUIs and a command-line interface. Specimen is a standalone GTK-based application. LinuxSampler and Specimen both support JACK, but Specimen also supports ALSA and is a LASH-savvy application. LinuxSampler has more features associated with the GigaSampler model and is the more consistently maintained program, but both samplers are useful in the complete Linux music-maker's studio.

Figure 2. LinuxSampler Fantasia GUI

I also must mention Tapeutape, Florent Berthaut's MIDI-controllable “virtual sampler”. Tapeutape has a rich set of features (including LASH support) and is designed especially for live performance, with or without a GUI. The latest version of the program is 0.0.5 from April 2007, but the author has indicated that he's still working on it, and an update should be released by the time this article is published.

Drum Machines

Hydrogen holds its position as the premier Linux drum machine/rhythm programmer. Its development track slowed for a while—version 0.9.3, the current stable release, dates from early 2006—but work proceeds on the SVN sources, and community support is active and strong. Version 0.9.4 promises great improvements—thanks especially to the new stewardship of Sebastian Moors and his development crew.

Samplers and soundfont players function nicely as drum sound sources in a MIDI sequencing environment, and drum loops have become a common method of composing rhythm tracks in the modern DAW. Given these factors, it's not surprising that few virtual drum boxes are created or maintained these days. However, the orDrumbox program has a number of interesting musical features and could be a worthy contender for Hydrogen, though it will need JACK support first.

Personal DSP/Guitar FX

Until recently, JACK Rack was the preferred standalone signal processing system for Linux audio production. That program has many features to recommend it, including access to the full range of LADSPA plugins and parameter control with MIDI continuous controllers. Alas, project development is slow, averaging two releases per year, and no release has been made yet in 2008.

Linux-based guitarists now have a very fine effects processing system with Rakarrack, a new system based on effects algorithms culled mainly from the ZynAddSubFX synthesizer. Version 0.2.0 is available now, and Rakarrack is in heavy development. Future releases will give Linux guitarists a more comprehensive instrument-specific effects system, including cabinet simulations and more effects.


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You forgot to mention Open Sound System in your Resources sectio

Anonymous's picture

Open Sound System: