MIDI in Ardour – and now, Ardour suddenly becomes viable for a wide swath of users.

If a free and open source DAW sounds like a tall order, it is. And so it’s little surprise that Ardour 3, the biggest upgrade to this solid music production workstation, has been a long time coming. What might surprise you: Ardour 3 is not only nearly here, but it could be substantial enough to become your primary music workstation. And that could be a good thing for the whole music production ecosystem on Mac and Linux.

The big news is, as expected, Ardour 3 will add MIDI recording, playback, and editing, the essential feature that kept many people away from the tool. What’s different about using MIDI in that Ardour is its exceptional support for JACK, the advanced audio and MIDI server for Mac and Linux. (Paul Davis is the creator of both Ardour and JACK.) That gives you unusually flexible options for routing. Otherwise, MIDI is what you’d expect, with piano roll editing, a welcome percussion-style editor and old-school step editor, and convenient editing tools.

Also nice: you’ll edit in the main window, rather than having to juggle a lot of different windows.

MIDI means soft synths become practical, too. Ardour could become a showpiece for the small but growing set of exceptional new Linux plug-in instruments, with expanded LV2 support (and VST, which is also key on Linux). For Mac, there’s plugin instrument support for AU.

For routing, there’s a new matrix editor, which greatly simplifies the deep routing possibilities in Ardour. (That depth could, frankly, be a bit of a headache in past releases. Now, it looks like a joy.)

DSP functions can now use any number of processors, essential for multi-core systems (which now even includes new, affordable netbooks).

And that’s just the banner features among many, many improvements, in one of the broadest DAW releases to date.

There’s “Vector Based Amplitude Panning,” a fancy graphical panning tool.

Pro Tools’ Beat Detective sees an open source answer in Ardour’s cheekily-named Rhythm Ferret. (With similar features in almost every DAW these days, that’s a bit of a must.)

Ardour’s routing prowess is significant, but controlling the DAW is also becoming far more powerful. Having added pioneering support for OpenSoundControl (OSC) for controlling key editing tasks, Ardour 3 improves upon MIDI control with “binding maps.” There are presets for popular controllers from Behringer, Korg, Roland, and M-Audio, but it’ll be easy to create control maps for other tools, too. Maps are specified in simple XML and are a breeze to create. It looks to me like it’ll be an ideal place for interested users to contribute to a free and open source project, without necessarily having the skills to work with the Ardour code base. (I sure don’t have those kinds of code chops, so count me in, for one!)

The UI is also greatly improved, with sophisticated tools for tracking media, looking at your session, managing regions, and the like.

I could say more about what’s coming in Ardour 3, but it’s best to check out the eloquent description of the new features, what is and isn’t there, and what the thinking behind
those functionalities has been:


A lot of what is in Ardour 3 is familiar from other tools, so I expect among free software-averse developers, there may be a sense that open source isn’t “innovating.” In this case, though, I think there are a number of answers to that. First, Ardour’s innovation is partly in its simplicity: it doesn’t suffer from the kind of feature creep that has tended to afflict commercial products, partly out of necessity. Second, a number of features – as simple as the big clock window in Ardour – are simply things users need, and have been copied from one DAW to another since the 1980s. (Innovation for innovation’s sake isn’t always a good thing; features get copied because users desperately need them to solve common problems!)

But, most importantly, I think Ardour does have an innovative approach to MIDI, audio, and OSC, particularly in regards to routing and performance. It’s a showpiece for Paul Davis’ superb JACK audio and MIDI technology. The music production ecosystem needs free and open source tools as pieces in the larger puzzle, in order to advance the craft of music software making as a whole. With expanded compatibility and file import/export features in Ardour 3, it could become a reference platform for interoperability, a common ground between DAWs and a showpiece for standards. Indeed, I do hope that commercial, proprietary developers have a look at what’s happening. Ardour demonstrates what’s possible.

Most importantly to us, it could be a damned useful DAW. Stay tuned for information about how you can help contribute to testing the project, and to making it a functional tool in your workflow as 3.0 nears release.


  • GREAT review peter!

    I need to test it!

  • Wow, this will be an excellent update!  Terrific review Peter and thanks for keeping us in the mobius strip!

  • Ah this is very exciting. My laptop is now a little netbook, which pretty much rules out Ableton. I've been meaning to put up a linux distro on it and play with all this good stuff, ardour, renoise, etc. the idea of a 'musical computer' is very exciting.

    kudos to ardour.

    relatedly, do people have feedback about good linux audio distros? I was thinking fedora, now archlinux. I've done ubuntu in the past, and am looking for something new unless there's a compelling audio-related reason not to.

  • shim

    fantastic (p)review! thanks peter.
    p.s. panic button?

  • shim

    oh it's the midi panic, dammit. i thought it was something cheeky… 🙁

  • Greg

    Looks like it's time to leave qtractor.

  • heheh, LOL at the skewed image on ardours website…

    All this effort, and no graphic designer kind enough to supply them with some promo graphics? 

  • I've been testing this every now and then on my home studio setup (I record all my stuff on Linux), and it really is shaping up to be a great release. It lacks some features that other sequencers on Linux have (like DSSI plugin support), but it excels in others — automation, long a problem area on Linux, is implemented brilliantly. The new routing UI, and the new aux bussing options, really improve the ease of use.

    I acutally posted about some of this stuff on my own blog just last night, so if you want more info about how Ardour 3 is coming along, that might be worth a look.

    zero reference, as far as Linux distributions go, KXStudio might be worth a look. I don't use it myself, but I have friends that do, and they swear by it. It's Ubuntu-based, but it gives you a far more complete out-of-the-box audio experience than Ubuntu Studio:


  • Peter Kirn

    I believe Paul's distro of choice may be Fedora, but I can double-check it. I do know, for sure, that it's a stock OS, not a multimedia-specialized OS. I believe the Indamixx guys already have Ardour running on MeeGo (previously, they were on Ubuntu/Debian). And I've been testing on Ubuntu. Aside from vanilla Ubuntu, that opens up stuff like the excellent pure:dyne.

    Honestly, distro choice can save you some time, but with a well-maintained project like Ardour that doesn't have complex dependencies, you can use just about everything. The time from out-of-the-box to working with JACK and Ardour, for instance, on Ubuntu (non-Studio, even) is about two minutes for me. You might pull that off on Mac OS, but not Windows.

    I chose vanilla Ubuntu because of its level of support, and the desire to use more bleeding-edge versions of non-music apps.

  • Yep, I use vanilla Ubuntu for much the same reasons — making music is a big part of what I do on my PC, but it's not the only thing I do, so I find it makes much more sense run a general OS and just install the tools I want on top of that.

    Plus, it's really cool to be able to transfer a track over to my business laptop (also running Ubuntu) and mix it on the road 🙂 JACK's great at delivering usably-low latency even on awful on-board audio chips.

  • poopoo

    Ardour keeps getting more awesome, but to me JACK is Paul's masterpiece and is unquestionable the most innovative piece of audio software on Linux.

    also… Jack works in windows too. I use it a lot to route audio between ableton live and qutecsound. In fact you can netjack audio between a windows box and a linux box with very low latency over a gigabit ethernet crossover. It opens up some interesting possiblities if you have multiple machines.

  • Yo – thanks everyone! 

    I am tending towards Arch Linux, a bit leerily, for non-musical reasons. I have some CS background and am interested in getting my hands dirty again. We'll see what happens – if it blows up into a temporal black hole, I'll know what distros to switch to! Thanks again -peace

  • Well this might be a game changer, since until now the only usable DAW on linux was EnegyXT, which is proprietary and known to be a but buggy, and maybe Renoise… also proprietary and not really everybody's cup of tea. So now we might finally have a full featured, native DAW o linux! And from what you show us here it really looks like they did  some serious work on this!

    Despite all this, I have one gripe every time I see Ardour. They desperately need a pro graphic designer in the team. That would make the real difference. Too many FLOSS projects fail on basic stuff like visual designand marketing…

  • PerryManson

    Ardour is great and free but remember that Paul is asking for donations and this project really deserves it.

  • Btw. anybody knows what happened with the realtime kernel on Ubuntu? Since Maverick it seems to have disappeared… 

  • The realtime kernel's definitely a problem with Ubuntu; there's a push to get Ubuntu in general in to better shape for music production in the next release, Natty Narwhal. For now, a lot of people are sticking with Lucid for music production.

    I'm glad to say that the realtime kernel seems to get less important as time goes on, though — the performance of the standard kernel has improved a lot, and it's now good enough for a lot of users.

  • would be cool to have a session view in ardour, even if the audio engine is not realtime.

  • session view like in Live you mean? Guess that's not what Ardour aims to be. It's more the Pro-Tools kind of DAW.

    There's Renoise though if you need something more live-oriented in linux.

  • Do you mean like this ?


    And what does your comment about the audio engine not being realtime mean ?

  • anechoic

    yes please remember that although Ardour is free donations are needed in order to keep development in progress. If you like and use Ardour then please support this amazing tool with a donation? 🙂

  • Audio engine in Ardour is realtime afaik. I.e. you push play and the program is playing back what you have on the timeline in realtime 1:1 including autmoations, fx, softsynts an so on… The kernel may be realtime or not, but that's just a matter of how much latency the dsp will have.
    So far the only non-realtime audio software I can think of is some old versions of csound where you had to render everything you did to hear it…

  • Phattfoniks

    I dont use linux but im really looking forward to using this on mac. Looks great 😀

  • I don't recall anyone mentioning these on CDM, but two of Ardour's killer features are its open session format and (if I understood the FLOSS Weekly and Open Source Musician interviews correctly) the modular nature of its audio engine. These are not direct benefits to the end-user, but they are significant.

    The open session format means that it's a lot easier to write programs that can exchange files with Arduour, or read/write to existing Ardour sessions. The audio engine is like a game engine – it's a module on top of which Ardour is built, and on top of which all kinds of other applications could be built. Programmers could spend their time on the features of their app because the basic mechanics of processing audio have been done for them.

    http://twit.tv/floss86 http://opensourcemusician.libsyn.com/index.php?po

  • @Zero Reference and Peter:  Indamixx has Ardour 2.8.9, and is patched to fit on a netbook screen.  For Indamixx 2 (the MeeGo one) — what do you think?  The stable 2.x or the not-so-stable 3?

    @pneuman: Ardour supports LV2, so if you install NASPRO you can use your DSSI plugins as if they were LV2.&nbsp ;http://naspro.atheme.org/

  • Bjørn Nesby

    Absolute have to check this out! 

  • @Gabriel, does the NASPRO DSSI-LV2 bridge support GUIs and MIDI events? The website suggests that it doesn't, but is that still the case in the latest development code?

  • i love ardour! i have actually been using the harrison mixbus extension for the past few months and love it so much! solid stuff, sounds great, and i am excited for these new updates!

  • jonah

    Why does it ask for a donation to download the demo?  If bandwidth is a major concern why not use torrents or something?

    A pay demo gives me major bad vibes. Nag screens in program don't bug me. I've donated to this site (small amount, sorry no job), but it's because I actually read and enjoy it.

  • Peter Kirn

    @jonah: I believe it's just a way to encourage donations. If you use Linux, you can download the full version from your distro's repository (Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora, etc.). So, you're paying there whatever you wish for a pre-packaged version. I understand not immediately wanting to commit to that, so you should opt out of the donation, grab the largely fully-functioning version, and give it a try and see what you think.

  • Peter .. Ardour 3 even has video sync playback on it. Really interested in it but sounds like donations needed to download the demo. Please keep me in the loop. Cause from the article it sounds like bringing this as a open source project will allow us all to benefit from it.  Peace!

  • No donation is needed to download Ardour — they're certainly strongly encouraged, but they're not required. Consider it a "pay what you want" with no minimum, if you like.

  • @pneumann: this is not 100% true. For the OS X prebuilt versions, if the inflow of cash for the month is low (I typically wait till the 15th, and if its not 50% of the goal, there's typically going to be a problem …), then I disable the "pay nothing" download. This flips back at the end of the month.

    However, none of this changes the basic fact that you never *need* to pay for Ardour, since the source code is always available for free at all times. The work involved in creating a working binary, however, especially on OS X, might give you pause to realize that paying something for the prebuilt version is a good deal.

  • @pneumann: Yes, that's true about NASPRO. However, when users ask for a feature (from either Ardour or NASPRO)… it's more likely to happen.  Otherwise, the LV2 dudes and DSSI dudes don't like to mingle much.

  • ardiour3 is not even alpha yet. nice preview, but teasing everyone even before betatesting is a bit early.
    see http://lists.linuxaudio.org/pipermail/linux-audio… for more information

  • @foobar: peter ran this article with my clear agreement. CDM has recently run an article on Reaper 4 which is also currently unreleased.

  • bb

    I’m very excited about this.  I want to get serious with Ardour even though I have and use DP, Pro Tools, Logic and Live.  

    I just finished a year of monthly donations, even though I hadn’t really been using Ardour much yet.  I want it to grow and continue.

  • YETI

    i hope i can drop ableton. it's cool n all, but it's heavy. how much resource hog is this? loos super light.

  • Quentin Harley

    Been using Ardour since version 0.9, and in the 6 years I had excellent service from it.

    I have completed a project on the "not even alpha" ardour3, and even though there were still a couple of issues, most of the troubling ones for me were sorted out within a few days to a week of me reporting it to the guys via IRC.  Try top that with the traqditional "pro" DAWs

    Awaiting the release…

    PS: New distro to be released soon by the same people that maintain Indamix… OpenDAW will be worth a look.

  • really looking good. it's a shame you can-not run reason/record reasonably well on linux- it's more a shame that ardour doesn't do rewire- could you imagine? not having to use windows shitty code to run it 🙂 I hope ardour runs studio one/cubase/pro tools/etc into the ground 🙂

  • LaKing

    I took a quick look at the state of Ardour 3 today, .. I am at the beginning of the learning courve, but I’m already amazed. I have my Linux box connected with everything I wanted. ..
    My MOTU 828 mk2 is now working with the ffado drivers. I was angry at MOTU, since they were very unfriendly to linux users, and that is a bad company strategy in my opinion.
    My Emagic MT4 works too. That is not a big news tho, for years I use my MT4 only on linux since neither Microsoft nor Apple supports this Midi interface on their latest OS versions.
    And Ardour 3 just simply looks right, and seems to have all the features I need.

    Thumbs up for Linux and Open Source Software!

    respect for Paul Davis!

  • LaKing

    I took a quick look at the state of Ardour 3 today, .. I am at the beginning of the learning courve, but I’m already amazed. I have my Linux box connected with everything I wanted. ..
    My MOTU 828 mk2 is now working with the ffado drivers. I was angry at MOTU, since they were very unfriendly to linux users, and that is a bad company strategy in my opinion.
    My Emagic MT4 works too. That is not a big news tho, for years I use my MT4 only on linux since neither Microsoft nor Apple supports this Midi interface on their latest OS versions.
    And Ardour 3 just simply looks right, and seems to have all the features I need.

    Thumbs up for Linux and Open Source Software!

    respect for Paul Davis!

  • Abhirup Banerjee

    I’m Impressed… I hope this goes to be “The GIMP” or “Inkscape” for DAWs

  • Abhirup Banerjee

    I’m Impressed… I hope this goes to be “The GIMP” or “Inkscape” for DAWs