Setting Up a Linux-Based Recording Studio (Chapter 3)

It’s been a while since I posted about recording in Ardour. Well, it’s been a while since I recorded, but I have been working on new music daily for the last month.

It took a couple of days, but I’m flying through all the connections at start-up now. (I use QSampler for my MIDI sound fonts in addition to analog instrument tracks.)

The reason for posting today though, is because it seems I have found my computer’s limit. She’s not a new machine, and she’s feeling the strain. It turns out that 15 tracks, of which 8 have one plug-in each, and one that has two plug-ins, are more than she can take. Playback is stuttering. It exports just fine, but when I go back to listen, make notes and edit, I have to mute or bypass the reverb on at least 5 tracks. Okay, so I like lots of harmonies. DON’T JUDGE ME. ūüėČ

Before recording in Ardour on a Linux computer, it was common for my songs to have 15-25 tracks on average. I really like a full, complex sound. The last CD I put out, and the first to be recorded on this computer in Ardour, was very basic: vocals, piano, drums and bass. I wanted the album to sound the way my songs sound when performed live. The songs had 5-6 tracks at the most, so I never even considered what my computer could handle.

Looks like there might be a hardware upgrade in my near future. I will keep you posted.

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My Experience Recording Vocals and MIDI Keys with Ardour 3 Beta

I spent the weekend getting all my packages up-to-date and trying to familiarize myself with Ardour 3 beta 5*. I then spent the last three days recording MIDI keyboard parts and vocals for my upcoming EP.

I got a lot of my information from a video tutorial I found on Ardour’s website. It was made back when Ardour 3 was still in alpha, but I did find it useful as far as getting proper signal flow between various programs using JACK. Upon opening Ardour 3 beta, I did notice that there were quite a few changes to the program since the video was made, but I would still recommend the tutorial, especially if this is your first time recording using MIDI. Unfortunately, the demonstrator is using a USB connection for his MIDI keyboard (guess he did not have a MIDI cable?) but I was able to translate that into what I would need to do to use a MIDI connection with a little thought.

I found that constantly opening a new session and forcing myself to establish those connections again and again was the best way to solidify the process. Sure, I was slow at first, but now I just open all my programs and connect them with out thinking. In the end I used Ardour 3, JACK, QjackCtl (a JACK GUI) and Qsampler (a Linux Sampler GUI) to record my keyboard parts and vocals.

I was pleasantly surprised by a few of the changes to the newest version of Ardour. Here are a few of the things that I loved:

  • Having just come from several months of using ProTools 9, then 10, I see that some of my favorite little details from ProTools are now integrated. I love that there is now a “smart tool” that changes your mouse icon into a different tool depending on where you are in the track. It really saves time when you do not have to keep going to the tool bar to change to the select/move object tool or the select/move range tool.
  • If the way QjackCtl is presented is difficult for you to visualize, I really like having the alternate, more graphic interface that is available right in Ardour. Click on the “Window” tab, check the boxes for “Audio Connection Manager” and for “MIDI Connection Manager” and it shows those same JACK connections between hardware and software, but in a different way. In the beginning, I referred to both just to double check that I had everything set up correctly. In the end, I used the QjackCtl interface more, but I like them both.
  • The dialogue window for exporting makes it a no-brainer for those who might not know about sample rates etc. Want to make a CD-ready track? Select the option for CD in the edit window and it automatically sets your parameters to a 44.1kHz, 16bit WAV file. Want to amend that? All the other options are clearly marked and easy to see. You can even add dither at this point. I think it is nice to be able to just click one button and go if you are not trying to do something unusual.
  • One of my favorite little surprises was something so small and yet it is one of the things I was the most excited about. I was trying to edit one of my vocal tracks. I didn’t like how I sang a phrase, so I wanted to replace it with another take. When I went to line up the preferred version in my working track, I placed the new take on top of the old one and it was translucent. It was SO EASY to line up the takes because I could see one wave form through the other. If you are zoomed in, lining them up takes literally a second or two. I love this feature. So simple! So intuitive!

I will be sure to post more of my thoughts as I continue to record additional songs and play more with my MIDI options. I plan to try to program a very simple drum part for one song that will not have a live drummer, and I will mess around with some ambient sounds as well.

*I am currently running Ardour 3.0.0 svn13084 on 64 bit Ubuntu Studio 12.04


I Present to You: The Ardour 2.8.12 “Box”

As I previously posted, I really wish Ardour 2 came in a box so that I could quickly reference its specs and get an overview of what it can do for me. Well, this “box” – even a virtual one – does not exist, so I made one.

I present to you, the Ardour 2.8.12 “box”:

Recording:

  • In Ardour, you have the choice of recording in 16 bit integer, 24 bit integer, or 32 bit floating point formats.
  • Ardour supports the following native file formats: Broadcast WAVE, WAVE, WAVE64, and CAF.
  • Ardour can import over a dozen libsndfile-supported file formats including, WAV, WAV64, AIFF, CAF, RAW, Ogg, and FLAC.
  • Ardor exports to WAV, WAV64, AIFF, CAF, RAW, Ogg Vorbis, and FLAC.
  • The number of tracks that can be recorded at one time in Ardour is only limited by what your hardware can handle.

Mixing:

  • Ardour utilizes a 32 bit floating point mixer and has bit-for-bit fidelity for 24 bit samples.
  • It has total automation and a large selection of plugins.
  • You can mix as many tracks as your hardware can handle.

DSP (Digital Signal Processing, aka plugins):

  • Mixbus is recommended on Ardour’s homepage (for a fee of $219.) However, for the adventurous, the official Ardour website lists dozens of sites where users can download free plugin packages…though they admit some are better than others.¬† The official website also lists a few recommended plugins in various categories.
  • The operating system determines which plugins work best:
    • In OS X, you can use AudioUnit, LADSPA and LV2 plugins. AU plugins with Cocoa or Carbon GUIs are both supported. As of Ardour 2.8.5, Ardour provides tempo and meter information to AU plugins.
    • In Linux, as of Ardour 2.5, you can use LADSPA and LV2 plugins. In the current version of Ardour (beginning with version 2.8.3) plugins that use the LV2 external GUI extension get their own custom GUI displayed, rather than the generic one offered by Ardour itself. Some Windows VST plugins work in Linux, though not all will function correctly and they can make Ardour unstable.¬† It is, after all, software created for a different operating system so you cannot depend on it.

MIDI:

  • Ardour 2 is not a MIDI sequencer (although that function is implemented in Ardour 3, which is currently in beta testing.)
  • For both OS X and Linux, there are free-of-charge tools for making connections between MIDI hardware and “virtual” MIDI ports like the ones that Ardour creates and uses.
    • On OS X, Ardour developers recommend Pete Yandell’s MIDI Patchbay.
    • On Linux, a wide variety of tools are available including QJackctl, aconnect, Patchage, and more.

Audio Interfaces:

  • Ardour is closely integrated with JACK, a computer sound system which is a hub for all of your audio hardware and software. It can even connect to other computers. JACK lets numerous audio programs run simultaneously, and even exchange information, while still operating at a low latency. This functionality is a major advantage of using Ardour.
  • In Linux, JACK uses ALSA to interface with audio hardware (and FFADO for FireWire audio hardware).¬† In Mac OS X, it uses CoreAudio.

Latency:

  • JACK is designed to operate at a low latency and this can be fine-tuned in the JACK configuration. A new Ardour session will automatically use the current JACK configuration for its settings.
  • Choosing the correct latency setting depends on several factors: your computer hardware, the audio driver you are using, the sample rate you are using, and the amount of audio data being processed.
  • In addition, Ardour offers automatic latency compensation for plugins.

Mastering:

  • Ardour offers three forms of dither: Rectangular, Shaped, and Triangular.
  • In addition to its other features, Ardour can be used in mastering a project because its use of JACK allows you to connect to free open source programs such as JAMin (JACK Audio Mastering interface).

If Only Ardour Came in a Box

I tweeted the other day that I will be doing a presentation for my DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) class about Ardour, and that I plan to put all of that info right here on this blog.

The professor put up a list of DAWs to choose from, and of course, Ardour was not on there… and he had never heard of it… he asked how to spell it.¬† Ardour is what I have in my Linux-based home studio, and becasue I am not super familiar with it yet, I figured this assignment would be a great excuse to spend hours looking this stuff up.

So, I need to find some solid information on this product. I have a list in my head of all the statistics I will need to do a side-by-side comparison with ProTools, the DAW we use at school.

Sure, I will admit it: part of me just wants to be able to stand in front of the class and gloat about how my free software is superior, but Ardour does not make this easy! I mean, in some ways, that is much to my home studio’s benefit, because Ardour claims to be able to handle whatever you give it as long as the hardware can support it.

But how do I present this information? I am going to look like a used car saleswoman. “Oh yeah? ProTools 10 finally records at 32 bit? Well Ardour can record at 160 bits… if your computer could handle it!” At least I can say Ardour supported a 32 bit floating format long before ProTools.

And because there is no box to flip over and read, I am having a hard time finding other stats. Can you really record an unlimited number of tracks at a time? Can I individually mic an orchestra and say “GO!”? Again, depending on your hardware… blah blah.

This is what I NEED

Oh Ardour, you are making this a difficult assignment! I am a musician, NOT a computer nerd. Well I guess I am a computer nerd-lite by necessity, but I just want to play my piano and sing and get a nice recording of it.

The assignment is due Thursday. I will try to have it posted shortly there after.


Ardour VS ProTools (…and My Professional Career)

I am now in my second quarter studying Audio Production at the Art Institute of Washington, and I am in two classes where we will be using ProTools rather heavily. As you know from previous blog posts, when my Mac died, my husband persuaded me to have the new set-up be Linux-based. (see¬†“Setting Up a Linux-Based recording Studio (a Preface)” for the reasons why I agreed.)

Problems with the Ardour plug-ins aside (mystery!), the two look pretty similar at the start of things, but I have not really done any editing on Ardour yet to know if the two are parallel.

Here is my problem: next quarter, I have to pass a proficiency exam in order to move forward with my major. I will be seated in front of a computer with four professors standing over my shoulder as I load up ProTools and be told to do various tasks while I am being timed.

So I kinda sorta need to know ProTools inside and out. Hey guess what? There are about a billion forum entries on various websites and all the authors say they could not get Linux to run ProTools. I can’t tell if it is a software or hardware problem. Many laughed that Windows still cant get ProTools to run properly (some of these were a few years old though.)

One of my professsors stated that ProTools is the industry standard. He said that I need to know the lingo in order to communicate with other professionals and to get a job – that no one will follow me if I speak in Ardour terms.

Is this correct!?!?! Are they THAT different?

We are going to try to load it onto the desktop that is partitioned to run Linux and Windows Vista. I will not be able to record onto it (the room is too loud with various computers running in there Рincluding our server) but I will be able to edit on it.  If it runs. I have some hope it will work because there was a comment on the forums that said ProTools actually seemed to like Vista over 7.

Any comments on this would be appreciated!

 

 


And the Angels Sing (Chapter 4 of Setting Up a Linux-based Recording Studio)

Late this afternoon, my husband and I sat down with the intent to figure out this buzzing issue, and he had an additional computer-nerdy agenda item that was not explained to me beyond “I am trying to fix the problem.”

So I read several articles about the Casey Anthony trial verdict while he worked his programmer angle, accomplished what he intended to do, and we got started on our scientific study. We systematically ran through the variables.

We recorded as it was currently set up in Ardour and Jack (QjackCtl) and there was in fact a buzz.

This evening we adjusted two factors in Jack: the sample rate and the periods/buffer*, and also the gain on my Layla (my digital audio recorder.**) The gain was an afterthought as the levels were rather low in the mixer in Ardour. I took down notes to keep straight what we tried, and it is all a jumble now. That makes no difference because the weirdest thing happened: after we adjusted the gain the first time, we were unable to to replicate the buzz – not even when we set the parameters back to what they were at the start of the night. We tried to get the gain back to where it was when we had buzzing, but it is a dial with no numbers, so it would not/could not be exact. We wonder if there was some quirk about the dial.

No combination of 44000 vs 96000 sample rate, and/or 2 vs 3 periods/buffer could make it buzz again. So we are guessing it was the gain. Or a tricksy gain nob.

What ever the reason, Hallelujah the BUZZ IS GONE!

* We have yet to learn what this periods/buffer thing does. It’s on the to-do list. We decided to adjust it because we saw it mentioned in various problem-solving threads on forums.

** reference my entry called “My New Toy (in 3-5 business¬†days)” to learn more about the Layla.


Linux Studio (non)Update

I just wanted to say I am taking a very short break from setting up the studio. I have two shows coming up next week and my first priority is to rehearse.
Also, and this is good news as well, I met a major goal I set for myself.  The reward is a new piece of recording hardware that I have been ogling over for a long time. So, going to get that ordered today and once it gets here, the studio progress will resume!