Marrying open source and commercial development, or trying to bridge analog consoles and computers – either task on its own might seem improbable. But yesterday, a newly-announced tool promised to bring together all those dimensions.

Ardour is the free and open source Digital Audio Workstation software for Linux and Mac. It’s widely underrated and has some terrific architecture underneath, with tools that are maturing at a healthy pace. Harrison is not an open-source developer – they’re a commercial manufacturer of analog and digital consoles and do proprietary DSP development. Conventional wisdom says the two shouldn’t be able to work together, but they did. The result is something called Mixbus. It’s got Harrison’s technology for mixing, atop Ardour (on Mac OS X, for now) for recording, editing, and arranging.

The Harrison half of the solution uses Harrison’s own DSP algorithms for sound, which they claim match the EQ, filtering, compression, tape saturation, and summing on their large-format mixers. But aside from sound, this is also about design: the layout only ever has one knob per function and metering is done in a conventional way. The result is not just a set of plug-ins, but a real virtual console inside your Mac. Interestingly, too, while you can use your Mac Audio Unit plug-ins with the solution, Harrison chose the open LADSPA format to implement their channel strip.

I imagined that the pricing would be something like a thousand dollars, given the pro target market, but the whole thing costs just US$79.99 as its introductory price. If it sounds anywhere near as good as the makers promise, it’s probably the best deal in mixing and channel processing anywhere. Here’s the product page:

Mixbus [Harrison Consoles]

Of course, the advantages of free software are more than price; it’s the ability to keep the source available, to be able to customize it, and to be able to run it on a variety of hardware and software platforms. So how does free software coexist here, with Ardour under a GPL license? Creator Paul Davis says that the free code for Ardour remains available in Ardour’s Subversion repository; only the Mixbus components remain closed. As for Linux support and not just Mac OS, which would in turn support more hardware, Paul says they’re looking into the feasibility of binary Linux distributions of Ardour and Mixbus.

For any commercial developers who think that you can’t work with open source projects – or, for that matter, if anyone thinks open source projects can’t benefit from collaboration with commercial developers – I think you’re wrong. And licenses aside, this looks like a nice solution for music making.

  • I prefer the circle approach GUI wise : it's not a console we use, it's a computer. I don't want to rotate things with notch I don't see/feel. Let go the emulation of the hardware look. Please.

  • I'm with Sebastien. Circle has the best GUI for mousing. When do we have a DAW that is designed for mouse use?

  • dyscode

    Why must emulation of analogue gear have the same ergonomics als real hardware.

    Programmers never seem to get that 'hands on tactile handling' is totally different from on-screen mousing. Which is again very different from multi-touch screens Interfaces, which are coming next.

    They just can´t let go that failed analogue-paradigms.

    Sorry, I just wrote an article about some known software falling EXACTLY for trap.

  • dyscode

    here are some promo video about Harrison:


  • dyscode

    So, as far as I understand it there is no MIDI Support in any form.

    This is just for recording like propellerheads Record?

    Actually I think the DAW market is getting interessting.

    It´s not consolidating, as some might have expected it´s quite the opposite.

  • s ford

    Midi Editing is supposed to be coming to Ardour at sometime.

    As for the immediate lack of midi right now, I am not sure if there is Rewire Support but one could use Soundflower/Jack Audio to route in Midi into Ardour.

    Ardour/Energy XT/Renoise are great options for Linux. Good to see such choices around.

  • Damon

    I suppose emulating a console virtually can only be approachable by the greatest number of people. Lots of people being creative with audio GUI, which almost always result in the same, this is not intuitive, complaints. And it should be noted that hardware consoles remain pretty much the same in terms of form/function, probably not because companies are not creative, but simply because the tried and true bus arrangement makes sense, or is essentially natural. For my personal taste, make the hardware and software instruments and effects unique and creative, but for mixing and mastering, please keep it familiar and predictable.

  • dyscode

    Midi Editing is supposed to be coming to Ardour at sometime.

    ahh, now I remember the reason I only briefly took Ardour into consideration as an alternative DAW.

    My setup is already a hack, so I am a little resistant to push it even more, at least at the moment.

    But surly options are there, which is good.

    thanks for reminding me


  • I fully agree with some of the earlier posts about why developers seem to have a hang up on bringing hardware style to a computer interface….

    Seeing veteran console manufacturers getting into the DAW market is very promising. They might know shit about GUI ergonomics but they do know about console architecture.

    Coming from a hardware background there's always been things I've found missing in Logic, PT et al. One obvious thing is direct sends to multiple busses and outputs (and parallels).

    If Harrison and/or others could bring console thinking and combine it with the fluid virtual mixing world like having channel strips with automatic side chain setups that would be a killer.

  • It's not because it work in real world with real button and so that it will work on a computer – it's where they fail. It's different. By touching the surface I can know lot of information that would take time if I have to look for it – and it's exactly the problem here when you transfer it on a screen.

  • @Dyscode: MIDI is due for Ardour 3, along with a number of other features that I think may get it onto people's radar screen.

    @spinner I think has it right here – you do have all of the software approach of Ardour, just with this one-to-one, traditional thinking on making the virtual mixer more like a traditional console. Now, I'm usually not an advocate for emulating hardware in UI design, but what I have to admire about this is that they go *all the way*. If you're going to go that direction, then you'd better really go that direction!

  • dyscode


    I hope people will notice them, they deserve it.

  • drachemusik

    I too am really tired of traditional "hardware-look" interfaces. Love the flexibility and open source but let's get some GUI's that are based on the tools and music being created.

  • Well, the UI in this case is Harrison, not Ardour per se. I'd also like to see some radical UIs in the open source world, though. Let's do it. 🙂

  • kj

    what i want, and i find more than a little interesting that this hasn't been mentioned (but typical bitching about GUI's has) on here yet,is to know how the thing SOUNDS! i mean, that is supposed to be the point about *recording*, right? no matter what the GUI looks like, how does the damn thing sound? will it mean i can mix in-the-box and get the same sound as i do when summing to a nice, real console?

  • kj

    btw, peter, thanks for bringing this to our attention.

  • s ford

    Once Ardour gets midi, I imagine many more people may be inclined to give it a try.

    @Peter – have you had a chance to try out MixBus? I'd be really interested in reading a review of it. MixBus looks a delight to use from the pictures. I'd be intrigued at how the Eq's sound like and what it's midi learn capabilities are like.

    It could be a nice way to EQ tracks with something like a BCR2000 fairy quickly and easily.

  • I'm curious about the sound, too! MixBus has just come out, but maybe I can see if I can get a real mix engineer at my side who can offer some expert opinion, along with my clumsy one. 😉

  • Damon

    Creative side – right brain

    Organizational side – left brain

    Preclude communication between them – chaos

    Mash them together into one – chaos

  • @Damon: actually, don't you typically want to use your whole brain?

  • dyscode

    this hasn’t been mentioned […] on here yet,is to know how the thing SOUNDS!

    sorry but I thought on a blog about music this question was intrinsic.


  • Yep, I'll try to get a review so we hear discussion of sounds. 🙂

  • 1.You need to use your whole brain from music, both sides together. It's one of the ways it differs from other artforms.

    2. Design = presentation, people see an analog console, they will be more inclined to hear one, just like how a fancy plate makes your food taste better. Plus they probably want people to know what their mixers look like.

    my only problem with software that looks like hardware is when they make it tiny, as long as everything is big enough I think it's fine.

  • kj


    you know what happens when you assume, right?


  • For those of you that want to go off on GUI design of knobs and how bad they are…


    Not great, not terrible, but you have both options if the knobs completely turn you off, and yes I used both options while beta testing this depending on what I needed to do.


  • wilinux

    @Peter & other UI commenters:

    I've just listened to a couple of recent podcast interviews with Paul Davis (the main force behind Ardour) – in the 1st Paul mentions the separation between Ardour's GUI & backend… in other words completely different user interfaces can be built using Ardour. Sounds really interesting & this is probably what Harrison has done (I think Paul mentions them but I'm in that not-enough-sleep wonderland – nice 8^) http://www.podcastdirectory.com/podshows/5226064
    BTW Have you Maccies tried ixiQuarks (build on SuperCollider) ? It looks really interesting wrt innovate ui. http://www.ixi-audio.net/content/download/ixiquarks/
    2nd podcast is more in-depth for actual Ardour users: http://www.opensourcemusician.libsyn.com/index.php?post_...

  • jmejia

    So are they planning to release this for linux or is it staying on OSX-land? It seems like an amazing but only half-baked idea… I hope they do the right thing. Linux audio needs this type of development.

  • They have intentions to release a Linux verison, but there are other hurdles to cross in the realm of Linux in as far as releasing proprietary software across the multiple distributions for instance.


  • Interesting .. Ardour 3.0 seems to be getting Midi clock sync support. Potentially this could mean that Ardour could be used as a host to enable automatic compression along the lines of moldover's smart mixing technique, which is currently done easiest via Ableton Live:

  • Anon

    It doesn’t appear to be free

  • Anon

    It doesn’t appear to be free

  • Anon

    It doesn’t appear to be free