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).
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Setting Up a Linux-Based Recording Studio (Chapter 2)

Chapter 2: Back From the Grave

So the Layla 3G is out of the box and plugged into the computer. The MIDI cable is on its way (minor oversight.) The mini tour is behind me. The house guests had a lovely time visiting and have returned home. Time to get this studio running.

Meanwhile, across the country in Portland, OR a handful of DJs have listened to my Mandala at Twilight music (thanks to a dear friend I have who is active in the Goth scene there.) Turns out, they all really like it. Many have said they want to play select tracks in their sets.  This is the break I have been waiting for. The tracks need a little tweaking for club play – mostly boosting the bass a bit and toning down the dominant vocals. Only problem is… the tracks are on that Mac that died a few months back.  It was time to fork out some money to have the thing looked at/repaired/files extracted.

Minutes before leaving the house to go to the repair place, I thought I would plug him in and hit the power button – you know, just to amuse myself.

Wouldn’t you know it:

“Gong”

He started up.

“Hello? Hello! I am not dead yet. I heard you were replacing me and so I thought I would give it another go.”

(So what. I can make my computer talk in my story if I want to, and apparently he is British.)

So… I have spent the last 24 hours backing everything up and rendering each individual track of the songs I recorded for the Mandala at Twilight CD “The Soundtrack to Your Demise.” This has been quite tedious, but could be worse. The MaT songs seem to average 15 or 16 tracks per song whereas my Witherwings songs average double that due to all the live instruments I record on them. I have even remixed a few of the songs already (on the Mac) but will now be able to work with them on either system with all the rendered tracks.  This has been quite a little miracle for me. I am so glad that I will be able to deliver club-ready tracks in a timely manner and with out the cost of repairing the laptop.

I figure I will spend the rest of today and most of tomorrow getting what I need out of the Mac.  My MIDI cable should be here by Tuesday or Wednesday and I will be free to start playing with the new toys. I am looking forward to Chapter 3 in which I actually DO something on the aforementioned Linux-based recording studio.


Setting Up a Linux-Based Recording Studio (a Preface)

It seems to me that the process of setting up a Linux-based studio is going to unfold like a novel, putting me, the main character, in situations where I am out of my comfort zone and I will learn and grow in the process of working it all out.  So I am going to set these journal entries up in chapters. Today’s entry is a Preface of sorts because I want to talk about the history behind the decision to use Linux.

In the beginning… I married a computer nerd. Of his 12 (I think it is 12 but it could be more) computers, all run Linux except two, and really, one of those is partitioned so it can run Windows OR Linux (Ubuntu, I think) so really that makes it 1.5 that run something other than Linux. I can see the draw. Open Source software is free and if you are a computer wiz like him, you can have input on the software yourself because it is this big happy community of computer nerds who welcome input and improvement. Super duper.

I entered into the marriage clutching my Mac. I recorded 3 albums using that laptop, and though it had become an old man, it was familiar and safe and trust-worthy…until it died. I am not saying it didn’t have its problems. It was an old computer and for some reason, during the year it was made, Steve Jobs felt USB and Firewire were the only way to input information. I could not plug anything in that used a 1/4″ plug.  I got around that problem by buying a mixer with a USB port and went along on my merry way.  But everything sounded a bit muffled.  How could my very expensive condenser mic sound so… flat and lifeless?  I know now…. poor analog to digital conversion.  My tech-savvy husband help me figure that one out.

So the Mac is dead and that mixer is out for future recordings.  Time to start over.

I wanted a new and improved Mac. Perhaps a desktop with which I could use all these cool new analog to digital converter toys I have discovered.  Then the “Steve Jobs only gives you what he thinks you should have” speech came up again.  That aside, my husband had an even bigger message that I could not ignore: I should be able to make great recordings with my condenser mic and a brand new converter for my keyboards and bass guitar using FREE software. Free. It is hard to pass up the opportunity to try something that might work just fine for free.

And that brings us to today.  I am really trying not to be dubious.  I am trying to be positive, but when we cannot even get 64 Studio or Ubuntu Studio to load onto this machine smoothly, I am very wary of what is to come.  I think back on my Mac as if I am daydreaming about an old boyfriend – forgetting all the faults and limitations he had. Only remembering that he was perfect and easy and reliable.  Yeah, so I had to buy a book called “Garage Band: the book that should have come in the box” (or something like that) to figure out the nuances of the software that, as the title implies, should have come with the Mac.  But I forget and forgive all that now.  Familiar is good.  New is scary.

Let’s see if I can just get through this first step of system install…