Testing 3.0 - A Sneak Peek at 64 Studio 3.0 and Ardour3

This week, I present two Studio Dave mainstays, the 64 Studio media-optimized Linux distribution and the Ardour digital audio workstation (DAW), both of which are in the late stages of development toward milestone releases. I invite my readers to take a look at what's coming our way in 64 Studio 3.0 and Ardour3.

Caveat lector!

The obligatory warnings: Please note that this software is in a pre-release state. Testers are welcome, but don't expect the stability or finished feature set of a final release. You will be using the software at your own risk.

64 Studio 3.0

I'm testing 64 Studio 3.0 beta2 on my HP G60 notebook. The machine's CPU is an AMD Turion X2 clocking at ~2 GHz; the internal hard disk is a 250G SATA drive; graphics are handled by an nVidia GeForce 8200M; sound is managed by the ubiquitous Intel HDA audio chipset/codec.

64 Studio is designed for 64-bit processors, but a legacy version is available for i386 CPUs. I have been unsuccessful in attempts to install some other 64-bit distributions on this machine, so I tried the i386 version first. I aborted the installation when the installer told me that no installable CPU could be found for my system. Later I discovered the workaround for this message, but I opted to try the 64-bit installation. To my happy surprise, the system installed without a problem. I rebooted the box and soon saw the familiar login screen for 64 Studio. Unfortunately, it was displayed at a 640x480 video resolution, courtesy of the default VESA graphics driver. Apparently the kernel nv driver doesn't like the 8200M, so I was either stuck with VESA or I could install the nVidia binary driver.

I used the excellent Synaptic utility to install the 2.6.29 source package, then I copied the existing kernel configuration (in /boot) to the source directory at /usr/src/2.6.29. The nVidia installer needs to find a configured source tree, so I ran sudo make oldconfig and then installed the nVidia driver. I removed /etc/X11/xorg.conf, ran nvidia-xconfig to make a new video configuration, rebooted, and soon saw the familiar nVidia splash screen, followed by the 64 Studio login. Figure 1 shows off the new rez and 64 Studio's new look.

Figure 1. The Hardy Look of 64 Studio 3.0

The 3.0 release marks a new stage in 64 Studio's development track. Previously, the system has been built on a stable Debian release, but the wait for Lenny frustrated many users and developers. Thus, the distro maintainers decided to switch the base system to Ubuntu, specifically the 8.04 release (a.k.a. Hardy Heron). In another move forward, the system developers have adopted a real-time kernel built on the 2.6.29-rt track. uname yields the following information about my current kernel:

  dlphilp@64studio:~$ uname -a
  Linux 64studio 2.6.29-1-multimedia-amd64 #1 SMP PREEMPT RT Fri Feb 20 23:08:51 UTC 2009 x86_64 GNU/Linux

I've run only some lightweight audio tests, but I'm impressed so far. I'm testing two audio devices with the system. I've mentioned the onboard HDA chipset, and I have an Edirol UA25 attached to a USB port. Figures 2 and 3 display the settings dialog in QJackCtl for each driver. The UA25 is working with its Advanced mode on, its Limiter off, and its sample rate set to 48 kHz. Both devices operate with ~8 msecs latency, but there is little comparison between their audio quality (the UA25 is the clear winner). The HDA also suffers from a problem with its microphone input. The level is unbearably high and apparently uncontrollable. I'm still looking for a solution and welcome suggestions from readers. The UA25 performs without such troubles. Given its better performance, the UA25 is likely to be my primary device, but it's good to know that the onboard device is viable.

Figure 2. JACK Settings for an HDA Onboard Audio Chipset

Figure 3. JACK Settings for an Edirol UA25

Incidentally, when it detects a multiprocessor CPU, 64 Studio defaults to jackdmp, a version of JACK tailored for multiprocessor systems. I haven't used jackdmp before now, and I am impressed with its performance. Another coup for 64 Studio 3.0 !

The distro is loaded with an excellent selection of audio/video production software, and the maintainers particularly want feedback on the base system (that is, the system as it's set up by a fresh install). I took things a bit further and installed a complete development environment as well. I've already built and installed the latest libsndfile, which I needed for building and installing Ardour3 (see below). Everything's gone smoothly, and I've had no problem finding any required tools and utilities.


Because of its ongoing development, I'll skip explications and go straight for the screenshots. Figures 4 and 5 show off the two most-requested features: MIDI integration and explicit support for VST/VSTi plugins. Figure 5 also displays Ardour3's support for the emerging LV2 Linux audio plugin standard, a most worthy successor to the LADSPA plugin API.

Figure 4. Editing a MIDI Track in Ardour3

Figure 5. Ardour 2.7.1 does LADSPA, VST and LV2 plugins (in JAD 1.0).

Thanks to the work of Javier Serrano Polo's Vestige Project, Torben Hohn's FST software has dispensed with the Steinberg header files and now compiles without proprietary code. Thanks to this revived and renewed FST Project, a VST-capable Ardour can be distributed openly and legally, a most welcome and long-awaited development.

However, despite its present popularity, the VST standard just might get some competition from the LV2-based plugins. The collection of compliant plugins continues to grow, with some impressive examples of LV2's capabilities available now (see Krzysztof Foltman's MultiChorus plugin in Figure 5). Incidentally, the not-so-invisible hand at work here belongs to Dave Robillard, who somehow manages to work on a variety of his own projects while he supplies Ardour with its LV2 and MIDI edition support.

This extended support for plugins also is available in the 2.7.x and the soon-to-be-released 2.8 series of Ardour2's public releases. Interested readers should note that VST support is currently available only for 32-bit builds of Ardour, while LADSPA and LV2 plugins are equally at home on 32-bit or 64-bit systems. The new MIDI editing capabilities are unique to Ardour3 and will not be backported.

By the way, to indicate some of the gyrations often required to build software at this stage, I had to compile and install up-to-date versions of the Raptor and Redland libraries (including liblrdf and librasqal), liblo (Steve Harris's library of OSC functions) and the indispensible libsndfile. Most of that stuff is needed by the latest LV2 support packages. Versions of all these components are available in the Hardy repos, but they aren't quite current enough for projects out here on the edge. Building and installing these packages isn't difficult, though it is a task that is more easily accomplished if you know what you're doing. The project maintainers will gladly help any serious tester, just be sure that you already know how to set up and use a software development environment.


That's it, that's all I'm going to show you for now. Expect a full profile of Ardour3 when it's been released, but until then, it would be inappropriate to review features and functions that may change before the software's public release. I know it's a tease, but I want readers to know that some important development is going on in these projects, development that may have a great impact on the Linux audio world. 64 Studio 3.0 promises a new world of kernel capabilities, and Ardour3 will assume the status of a complete professional DAW. Linux sound software is indeed looking and sounding better all the time.

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