There are plenty of reasons to consider free software tools as part of your toolchain for music making. They might fit your budget, give you needed flexibility, allow you to use a tool driven more by development needs than commercial ones, give you tools that would otherwise lack proprietary commercial niches, allow you to run (via Linux) on a wider variety of hardware or with greater low-latency performance, or allow you to contribute more directly to a project, from documentation to actual development. And increasingly, they don’t mandate some sort of philosophical choice, either – I routinely use free software tools on the proprietary Mac OS, and use commercial, proprietary projects (Renoise) on Linux or (Harrison Mixbus) to make free projects more powerful.

What usually holds people back from free software projects is, simply, not knowing where to begin. Software in general can overwhelm with choice; free software, often, doubly so.

Fortunately, some software gurus have jumped into the legwork so you don’t have to. I have some of my own thoughts on how to put this together, but first I wanted to share the input of these esteemed colleagues. These aren’t all Linux-only – many run on Windows and Mac, too – but if you are looking for a way to put together a robust studio on Linux, they’re a great start.

Webcast, Software Picks, Knowledge Databases

If you like real-time feedback, today, you can join Red Hat’s Adam Drew in a live webcast for “Open Your World,” entitled “Making Music with FOSS.” [Free and Open Source Software] It runs at 11:00a Pacific / 2:00p Eastern, and will be archived. (I’ll update that link here.)

Learn to make open source music–Register now for a webcast with Adam Drew

Warning: I just discovered that this thing pops up an annoying survey that assumes you use JBoss. (And, heck, CDM is indirectly a Red Hat customer – the whole site runs on RHEL.) Trying to tell it you don’t use JBoss makes the whole survey fail. I’m going to try to schedule something separately, as this is … more than a little ridiculous for a music-making survey, and sadly shows Red Hat’s blind spot in regards to end users.

Day job in tech, night job in music making – yup, that’s the M.O. of quite a few people around this community.

Hydrogen, the Linux drum machine. Recent fit and finish, plus a new sample editor, make it an ideal choice – surely you’ve got a system sitting around that could be running this. Image courtesy the developer.

I asked Adam for his top picks, and he explained he would demo:

  • JACK / qjackctl (the GUI for JACK), the tool for interconnecting audio, MIDI, and sync between applications
  • Hydrogen Drum Machine
  • Ardour, the terrific, all-free DAW
  • Rakarrack, a free guitar effects tool set for Linux (one new to me, in fact!)
  • ZynAddSubFX, probably the most capable free standalone soft synth – ugly, but very powerful, and a candidate for a “desert island” synth.

For additional resources, there’s a superb guide on the Fedora site (one that Ubuntu actually might mirror). It’s Fedora-focused, but the advice often applies to other distributions:
Fedora 14 Musician’s Guide

Adam himself operates the FOSS Audio KBase, full of articles on configuration and individual software programs. It’s about the most productive guide I’ve seen:
FOSS Audio KBase

Adam has some more philosophical thoughts:
Webcast preview: Free and open source software for music production []

And you can check out Adam’s music (CC-BY-NC-ND) and Linux-oriented personal blog. I tend to be more pragmatic about some of these issues, so I’m not endorsing all the opinions on Adam’s blog, but it’s a compelling read, and often comes with useful practical advice. (Mainly – I disagree with two points, one, I don’t think it’s entirely fair to say that proprietary DAWs lack interoperability, and two, I’m far more pragmatic about the future of Android as a platform, mainly because I think it’s currently the best bet for the distribution of free software on mobile. Oh, I don’t trust Google, either, though – that’d be silly.)

Picks from Dave Phillips of Linux Journal

Last weekend, I had the pleasure to meet Dave Phillips for the first time. Dave, an Ohio-based musician and teacher, is bar none the most invaluable writer when it comes to free software and music-making on Linux. His series for Linux Journal in particular is a must-read.

Dave and I joined Columbia’s Brad Garton at Virginia Tech to do a bit of teaching, a bit of playing, and to enjoy the hard work of the Linux Laptop Orchestra. I’ll cover more of that soon, but in the meantime, I took some notes as Dave walked through a current take on the software for Linux that most excited him.

Convolution reverb, anyone? Now with LV2 – the next-gen open plug format, compatible with the likes of Renoise on Linux.

His picks:

  • Ardour, naturally
  • Ardour 3, the next-generation update to Ardour that at last adds MIDI support (and beautifully executed). Dave noted that you can and should install Ardour 3 alongside the stable Ardour, so you can test both. There are even pre-built alpha binaries, so there’s really no excuse: you could be up and running in less than the time it took to read this. (See a much earlier story from Dave on testing 3.)
  • Harrison Mixbus: It’s not free software, but it is now Linux-native and supports Linux plug-ins, and it’s built on Ardour (and, in turn, contributes back to Ardour). As Dave put it, Mixbus is a mind-boggling value “from a company that thinks of a budget console as costing $100,000.”
  • IR: LV2 convolution reverb. The work of Tom Szilagyi, IR is a brilliant, no-nonsense plug-in for powerful convolution effects; LV2 support means it runs beautifully in hosts like Ardour 2.8.x and higher and Renoise. I’m really grateful to Dave for turning me on to this one. woo, tangent has a nice blog entry on the plug.
  • LV2, generally. Dave credits the evolving state of LV2, and the work of its principle developer, David Robillard, for a lot of innovation in free software and Linux audio. I’m surprised LV2 hasn’t gained more attention, in fact – it might be the best bet yet to finally help plug-in developers escape the shadow of formats like VST. But that’s probably a topic for another article.
  • RubberBand Audio Processor Powerful time stretching tool, now on Linux, Windows, and Mac OS. Available as a library, too, if you’re a developer – or just use it to mangle your audio files as an end user. Someone has already ported it to Renoise.

Dave shows off Ardour 3’s evolving MIDI capability. Expect this soon in a stable build.

The focus of Dave’s presentation, though, was one tool so deep, it could easily be your only tool, for the rest of time. AVSynthesis couples visual output in OpenGL with the veritable Csound sound and composition engine. It includes built-in sequencing capabilities, basic sound generators (themselves written in Csound), envelopes and modulation, the powerful MatrixSynthMod instrument, MIDI control, and effects (phasers, choruses, filter, waveguide filter, and so on). There’s shader support on the graphics side, too. The result: based on built-in building blocks or, if you’re adventurous, your own code, you can produce 3D audiovisual musical-eye candy performances. I hope we’ll take more look at this soon; the one question that came up repeatedly – and that Dave couldn’t answer yet – was what the workflow might be for adding your own Csound creations. (The package itself is built in Java.)

More information:
AVSynthesis: Blending Light and Sound with OpenGL and Csound5 [Dave in Linux Journal]

AVSynthesis Tour 1

Composing With Csound In AVSynthesis [Dave in Csound Journal]

Lest you think we’re all a bunch of “neckbeard” Marxist free software revolutionaries, though, Dave – who’s had drinks with Stallman on occasion – was also full of questions about Mac OS and curious about it for his own music making. I think largely we’re all technologically curious; if anything, the only people I’ve met who have gotten really emotional are the people who mistrust free software, perhaps because they just need to loosen up and accept that something really can be free.

But as with proprietary software, I think the biggest danger with Linux and free software is that you can become overwhelmed with choices rather than focusing on music. That’s part of why I find these choices so appealing: deep, capable, well-designed, and rock-solid, I’ve found them to be eminently musical. Some of the best demonstrate that free software can provide choice – not, as many believe, only compromise. And I see absolutely no reason that they can’t coexist with other popular proprietary options in your studio. You may not be ready to leap into Linux, but especially given that by now you’ve likely accumulated either extra machines or machines that can easily dual-boot, there’s no reason not to add these free tools to your arsenal.

Got favorites of your own? Let us know; I’ll continue to feature this stuff in coming days.

  • I can't help but think that pointing out technologies as the "top picks" makes things look worse rather than better.  I agree that JACK and LV2 are good parts of the platform but if you were showing off music apps on OSX would you go straight for Audio MIDI Setup and the AudioUnits documentation?

    Also, ZynAddSubFX has been coming up in these lists for more than a decade. The interface is hideously offputting (and just hideous) for newcomers.  Where's Din for instance?  Good looking and genuinely innovative. 

    I think the main problem is the attempt to recommend things that are "just like the apps you're used to."  The best audio tools on Linux are the open, experimental ones – SuperCollider, PD etc and the ability that JACK gives to pipe audio from these around the system like some giant virtual modular.  Maybe it's time to stop trying to recreate A.N. Other boring DAW environment and do something different.

  • Peter Kirn

    This is definitely not my list; it's theirs. My list for Linux mixes in proprietary software, and my free choices are a bit different.

    I agree that things like SC and Pd ought to be on here – if you have those, you can really ignore pretty much everything else, if you want.

    I don't agree re: JACK, however. The first thing I do on the Mac is install JACK, and I find it every bit as invaluable atop Apple's superb Core Audio framework as it is on Linux.

  • "The best audio tools on Linux are the open, experimental ones – SuperCollider, PD etc"

    I believe that would be a matter of opinion.

    If I wanted to use Super Collider or PD I could do that on my Mac, but I am not interested in coding to make music. I like synthesizers and I like laying tracks. I AM interested in FOSS and I for one would like to see how these applications may be similar to my current DAW and VSTs.

    Anyway, Adam is very friendly and knowledgeable guy so check it out.

  • Andy

    What's holding me (a Linux user for quite a long time) back is the fact that under Linux I couldn't use Kontakt, Absynth, EWQL, Stylus RMX … Linux is okay when you just need a recording tool. If you have some quality vst stuff which you want to use: forget Linux.

  • Peter Kirn

    I can at least summarize what I use, while I work on a better list (and keep refining what I use):
    1. Pd (SuperCollider is great, too; maybe I'll dive in now that the book is out. Ditto Csound. But there are only so many hours in the day.)
    2. Processing
    3. IR, for sure – thanks, Dave.
    4. Hydrogen is actually getting pretty nice.
    5. Ardour ain't pretty, but boy, I find it usable, especially with Mixbus, for some projects.
    6. JACK
    7. LV2 plugs – and yeah, they even run beautifully in Renoise

    The fact is, most of these do run on other operating systems, too, but that's partly the nature of free software – you're free to make it run on whatever platform you want. But I see no problem with using free software on, say, Mac OS; as I said, this isn't necessarily a Linux list. What's nice about using this stuff on Linux is the amount of customization you can get over your environment, which I find especially nice for live performance, and the ability to run on any hardware – even, say, a netbook.

    DIN would probably make my list, too, though I haven't gotten the time to spend a lot of time with it personally. Hopefully soon; really innovative stuff. That link, folks:

  • Peter Kirn

    I do find it amusing, though, that Linux or free software in general faces all this skepticism… this is a list of very powerful, very useful tools you can run on just about any machine. If you're dedicated to, say, a big Mac or Windows running with all your fave plugs, you go right on! But what about that lonely last-gen laptop that isn't doing anything – what if it could be pressed into service right alongside and help you generate new ideas, minus the distractions of those big, shiny tools? There are any number of workflows where these tools might be useful and inspiring. And Dave and Adam each came up with decent (informal, incidentally) lists of stuff.

    I mean, the price sure as heck is right. 😉

  • If you have some quality vst stuff which you want to use: forget Linux.

    Right on! Because everybody knows that there was never any good music made before plugins and computers came along.

    Its ironic that actually, the quality VST stuff does actually tend to work on Linux. Kontakt, for example, works as well or better than it does on Windows. Its the plugins from J. Random V.S.T. Developer that tend to cause issues. But then again, I don't want to be seen as actually recommending that you take something created for Windows and only for Windows and attempt to run it on a different platform. Because life's too short for that sort of nonsense, right?

  • jag

    Thanks @Jonny Stutters and @Peter Kirn for the din plug —> I dont know what it takes to even make it on the list of gnu-linux synths.

    Maybe time.

    some videos of din:

  • Peter Kirn

    @jag: Actually, didn't Dave give you a plug? His list here was just, literally, what he happened to be showing off at a talk at Virginia Tech, so I'm sure he left tons of stuff out!

    Also, just saw DIN in one of the Linux mags. So it's getting there!

  • hardware isnt free

    the hardware, like the computer, to run this junk isnt free.

    where is the innovation and incentive for developers to make plugins for these platforms, especially if the algorithms can just be unpacked and reverse engineered by the next fly by night VST hackjob. Most VST and AU developers I know try hard to fight pirated free versions of their work. It's not like Universal Audio is going to start giving away Free Sharc DSP chips. Let's be real here. Big Iron cost's money! 

  • If you wanted to experiment with the low latency aspect of Linux for live performance would Ardour be the choice as your plug-in host?

  • I'm with Adam's picks, that's actually my "setup" for (amateur) music production but I'm using Fluidsynth (Qsynth) instead of ZynAddSubFX.

    Another tools I consider essentials is JAMin for mastering and Audacity for minimal edition, not to mention this was the first Free Software app I use in my life; definitely an opening for the FOSS world. I remember using Audacity to record a demo for my band back in 2004, since then I use Audacity for pretty basic stuff.

    Great article.

  • Andy

    @Paul Davis:
    "Right on! Because everybody knows that there was never any good music made before plugins and computers came along."

    Where's a piano library like Ivory or Galaxy II for Linux? Where are the great orchestra libraries? Of course you can make good music on Linux, but your choices are limited to either acoustic music or synth stuff. Concerning the native Linux software synthesizers: they might be good, but its old stuff. Nothing innovative here. Crappy GUI.

    "Its ironic that actually, the quality VST stuff does actually tend to work on Linux. Kontakt, for example, works as well or better than it does on Windows."

    Well, yes, kind of … sometimes. But you often have to struggle with certain issues like non working GUIs or a new release of wine and / or i.e. Kontakt will break the compatibility.

    "But then again, I don’t want to be seen as actually recommending that you take something created for Windows and only for Windows and attempt to run it on a different platform. Because life’s too short for that sort of nonsense, right?"

    Yes, life is to short for that. But I would give anybody a warning who think that migrating a DAW system with native Windows plugins to Linux is a snap. It can go well, it can fail (which is not uncommon) and even if you are successful, some changes in one of the involved software interfaces can f*ck everything up easily.

  • Peter Kirn

    Piano library:
    Linux native.

    Orchestral library:
    Again, there are people who are running Kontakt on Linux. You're right that GUI is the sticking point — that's why the Muse Receptor is brilliant; runs Linux but doesn't have to run the GUI.

    There's also Linuxsampler, which can work with Giga libraries; I can't personally vouch for this solution, but it at least promises to do what you're asking natively — and I'd be very, very interested to know if anyone's doing it.

    Otherwise, I do agree that there's some effort involved in running Windows plugs on Linux. That isn't to say you can't do it, though – and you can get benefits if you invest the time, depending on the plugs you're using. I do still prefer native plugs on Linux, though, and I think the options aren't as limited as you might be suggesting; this is a situation that's changing.

  • Where's Audacity?

  • Andy

    Pianoteq? Not quite a library. And not my cup of tea. I don't like its sound. But I appreciate that they release a native Linux version.

  • greg

    seq24 is pretty awesome, especially if you have a meeblip…
    But yeah I don't know of anything else that lets you just 'hear some notes' on demand like that.  It also adheres to the unix philosophy of doing one thing adequately instead of everything miserably.

    Sonic visualizer is super cool, cross platform and the related projects are worth looking at.
    mhwaveedit is a nice alternative to audacity.

    What do people like about hydrogen?  I have tried to use it and found it to be pretty obnoxious, like why does it need its own windowing system?  

  • Peter Kirn

    @greg (lowercase): Hadn't thought about coupling seq24 and MeeBlip — good idea.

    Hydrogen is capable, but I do agree the interface can be … an acquired taste.

  • I wish GRM Tools and Soundtoys plug-ins worked on Linux. The iLok protection is of course ideologically incompatible… I'd really miss the sound quality and musicality of those tools. Still planning on installing Ubuntu though..

  • I think its rad that with pretty much any M-Audio pci/usb interface works better on Linux than on Windows. For a small investment a person can use an Athlon XP system for tracking and synthesis with 64 sample latency. @Ghostreciever Pure Data and SuperCollider have tons presets and patches you can load up with minimal setup and effort (if you are able to figure out how to use Ableton and some plug ins you should be able to setup patches)..

  • I was the presenter for that web cast today. Thanks for covering it and thanks to everyone who checked it out.

    There's going to be a video of it available on tomorrow so if you didn't check it out and are interested please do.

    Also, sorry about the survey snafu. That was an honest mistake. No one was trying to sell JBoss on a music talk for 🙂 It was their first time using WebEx from what I know so there were a few kinks.

    Thanks again!

  • @Todd Matthews: Ardour would be a fine choice as a low-latency plugin host and mixer for live use. It's quite happy to sit there and just process audio in real-time without having to record any of it, and it has pretty decent MIDI control available, too.

    @Greg (upper-case): Audacity's a fine tool for some things, but it's not a good choice for pro audio work. It can record multiple channels of audio, but it doesn't do a very good job of it. It doesn't help that it's a poor citizen on Linux due to its limited JACK support. I do use it as a sample editor, and it works pretty well for that, but I wouldn't consider it a key app in my studio.

  • Kim

    @peter Could we get a list of free and open-source music software for windows. It would be nice to get a best of list once a year for the major platforms.

  • Kim

    Can anyone tell me does ripper run on linux?

  • Rich

    Kxstudio has a great bundle of fresh tools. Plus vst support via wine. 

    Also, din is rad and new. 

  • Peter Kirn

    @Rich: Ah, interesting to note, too, that KXStudio now has PPAs for anyone on Ubuntu…

  • Jonah

    It's not that I don't know where to begin as there are a few Linux programs I'd like to try, but having to install all the dependent software is a real turn off. I mean I don't even know if the program will work and have to jump through all these hoops to test it? Not to mention all the work to install a second operating system. 
    Are Radium, Ingen or Beast worth the hassle ?
    Not knowing where to begin is true for all the flavors of Linux operating systems though. And then there is KDE and Gnome… I also feel less secure using Linux because I have to use commands without understanding what they mean. Knowing sudo, grep and so on(Linux made me hate acronyms), is not relevant to my interest in making music.

  • Peter Kirn

    @Jonah: You're definitely, definitely then a candidate for one of the pre-built distros. Ubuntu Studio, Fedora + Planet CCRMA (once you follow CCRMA's install instructions, seen in the musician's guide above), KXStudio, pure:dyne, and Studio 64 are all good choices. If you have specific software you want to try, just check the available package lists on those and see if there's one that more or less lines up with what you want. Even better, try one with a "live" option and you can try it without installing *anything*.

    I don't mean to list too many options, but that just gives you some ideas.

    The choices above will all work; they're all stable (including those mentioned here in comments).

    I don't like to be overwhelmed with choice, either, so I just use a half dozen pretty vanilla things: Ardour, Pd, JACK. Keeps me plenty busy.

    I think what you're describing would be the rough equivalent of choosing to use Windows, then heading to KVR and trying to download and use every single plugin ever listed. That'd crash your machine, too. 😉

  • No one mentioned LMMS!!!

  • Peter Kirn

    I didn't mention LMMS because it feels so strongly to me like an FL Studio clone, and I'd never choose LMMS over FL (whereas I would in certain circumstances choose Ardour over another DAW, or Pd over Max)…. but maybe I've been missing something?

  • Johan

    I just want to mention sunvox ( A soft synth / tracker which is available for Windows, Linux and OSX.

  • Derick

    @Andy, you might be interested in the OpenOctave project, which does nothing else then professional orchestra composing with pro libraries. Linuxsampler supports SFZ and there are tools to convert Kontakt format to SFZ or Giga.

    There is pretty some innovation on the Linux (audio) platform. I think there are even more innovative ideas (and academic experiments) on Linux then Windows or OSX. The problem might be that people only praise the innovation when it hits mainstream and others find it cool… bla bla bla

  • Derick

    A project organization like the OpenOctave project with the flexibility of JACK, the many ways you can organize your sample / midi pipeline in LinuxSampler and the possibilities to get real low latencies and stable JACK audio / midi performance on a Linux system without wasting to much CPU etc., might be hard to get on OSX and even harder on Windows.

    And let assume (think experiment) the commercial mainstream audio software providers where using LV2, and on Linux they had invented VST (vice versa situation), all the guys who now criticize LV2 and Linux native plugins, would blame VST in that situation instead. It's not a matter of innovation or quality software development. It's about knowing or (and maybe especially) lack of knowing, money and what's made popular and is supported by the industry and 'the people' (who bla bla bla about innovation).

  • Great article! I'd like to add some thoughts to this discussion.

    As for pre-configured distributions two of them stand out: AVLinux (Debian based) and Tango Studio Karmasutra (based on Ubuntu 10.04). Both Glenn and Jof (the respective maintainers) know what they're doing and are more than willing to help out with issues, bugs or questions.

    When it comes to software it is hard to avoid the omnipresence of apps like Ardour and ZynAddSubFX. But don't rule out a DAW like Qtractor and the ZynAddSubFX fork Yoshimi. And no decent sequencer is mentioned in the article (Hydrogen is not such a good sequencer). Seq24 is a nice step/pattern sequencer and for more elaborate compositions there are solutions like Rosegarden, Muse or the aforementioned Qtractor software.

    And besides ZynAddSubFX/Yoshimi there are so many other good softsynths available for Linux like PHASEX, amSynth, Hexter, XSynth, WhySynth, TAL Elek7ro and commercial alternatives like Loomer Aspect.

    And like this one could go on and on of course. There's a lot of choice, sure, but doesn't that apply for other platforms also? One last word on PPA's, the KXStudio-Team PPA is cool but be aware that the majority of the packages haven't been tested beforehand. Once again I'd like to mention Tango Studio, their stable repositories only contain well-tested packages that simply work.



  • Rich-o

    Thanks for that AutoStatic – might give TangoStudio a whirl. Last time I experimented with linux for audio work was ~5 years ago and involved recompiling the kernel to make my firewire interface (sort of) work. It was fun but mostly in a geeky way rather then a actually doing anything productive sort of way. Looks like things may have improved..

  • Peter Kirn

    @AutoStatic/Jeremy: All good picks. Like I said, this was just a selection, and I hoped specifically for comments just like yours *before* I jumped into the waters.

    *Yoshimi*… I was trying to remember that tool specifically. 😉 

    Am I the only one here, though, who likes working with a reasonably stable build of Fedora or Ubuntu in the vanilla form for the easiest build of the latest package? I'm just running Kubuntu 10.10 and I'm really happy with it. On the other hand, I could still see mentioning one of these to a newcomer…

  • @pneuman
    At least audacity lets me use other audio applications when it runs, and even after I close it. No reboot!
    qjackctl isn't that kind.

  • Peter Kirn

    @Greg: huh?

    What you *may* be describing is the fact that qjackctl runs a script that quits the PulseAudio server. You can install a package that provides a PulseAudio socket in JACK and allows you to continue using your PA apps. Or you can simply stop the JACK server, then quit qjackctl and get all your PA stuff back. If you just quit qjackctl, you're quitting the control panel but not the JACK audio engine.

    Audacity is unrelated here.

  • qjackctl has been remarkably unstable for me, and if you could throw me just a command for stopping the JACK server after a qjackctl force quit, I'd be much obliged.

  • $killall jackd ?

  • Someone tell me why this isn't set by default with jack: (routing pulseaudio into jack)

  • Derick

    @Greg, you have 'consumer audio' (pulseaudio) & 'proaudio' (JACK). Proaudio apps on GNU/Linux should have proper JACK support, otherwise the devs are missing it …

    Btw almost every multimedia player has JACK support these days (Mplayer, VLC, Rhythmbox, Aqualung etc.) . For Flash there is a JACK flash plugin.

    With a reasonable proper configured system and a well supported soundcard, JACK runs (very) stable these days. If it doesn't, don't blame JACK as a reflex but make sure you get help with configuring your system. Ubuntu is made for Desktop for example, not for proaudio, so it needs some love if you want to produce music on it.

    If you like to use apps like Pd, Supercollider etc. Puredyne is another great distro.

    Linuxaudio has grown much in the past few years. For sound engineering it has all you need and with apps like Ardour3, Renoise, Pianoteq, LinuxSampler, OpenOctave MIDI, Qtractor, DIN, Supercollider, Linux DSP plugins, MuseScore, Zynaddsubfx/Yoshimi, Loomer we almost can't ask for more these days.

    Ardour 3 will be out later this year, LV2 will make some big step forward and more and more LV2 plugins arise, Jack Session management is on its way… GNU/Linux isn't Windows or Mac and there is always something to wish, but it's really possible to produce music on GNU/Linux these days and it has really potential as a platform for music and audio.

  • I assure you, the JBoss question mess was not at all intentional and won't be there for future webcasts.

    We've posted a recap of the things Adam talked about and soon we'll be posting a link to the recording, free of inquiries about your middleware or lack thereof. 🙂

  • Dylan

    There do seem to be a lot of great tools for GNU/Linux that can handle most jobs Mac OS X or Windows can. I do quite like my Jack/SuperCollider combo and am just getting to learn a little bit of Renoise. The SC/Renoise combo seems like a very powerful standpoint. Plus, the option of using low-latency or realtime kernels on GNU/Linux platforms is something to consider for situations where timing is critical. Though I admit, I still am reliant on my UAD plugins, Ableton and Reaktor … so I don't think switching to GNU/Linux will work for me.

    Aside from my own preferences, one of the biggest problems with GNU/Linux as a viable alternative to workstations on the "big two" proprietary operating systems is that drivers for high-end audio interfaces on the GNU/Linux platform are mostly unavailable for various reasons, making it a non-starter for owners of these devices (such as the RME devices, though FFADO is working on these as I understand).

    Although FFADO has laudably taken up the monumental task of developing free drivers that will work on GNU/Linux for the various firewire interfaces, the lack of time and money (and the comparably low interest amongst musicians in GNU/Linux for their audio needs) is a significant hindrance to development. I think this is where GNU/Linux will always fall behind… that is unless more and more musicians start becoming interested in it.

  • @Derrick.
    I run Fedora w/ ccrma repos atm, thankyouverymuch.
    I understand the difference between pulseaudio and jack, but that doesn't change that the state of audio development is overall pathetic.
    I had to install extra software besides qjackctl, then edit a config file just to get pulseaudio to play nice with Jack.
    That's not me being an idiot in need of condescension. That's shitty development, and the kind that's going to turn away artists who want to think about their craft instead of googling endlessly and digging through halfass wikis looking for solutions.

  • @dylan: the situation with PCI devices look very different than you describe, but I can appreciate that the laptop nation isn't very interested in PCI interfaces anymore.

    FFADO is concerned with firewire audio interfaces, which are basically a dead end as far as new devices go (Apple giveth, Apple taketh away). Most companies are switching their future plans to either some new version of USB or audio-over-ethernet.

    For GNU/Linux, the USB option generally appears bad since most companies seem to see no reason to implement USB class compliance (if indeed a class is even defined), and so these devices, like USB2 audio devices at present, will need per-device support that can only be supported with the assistance of the manufacturer. This sucks, and there's more or less nothing that us linux audio developers can do about it.

    Audio-over-IP is a bit of a different situation, because most of the specs for this are in the open. I can't make any promises, but I suspect that whenever the market finally settles on a solution that uses this technology, GNU/Linux will have support for the devices that is as good or better than Windows or OS X.

  • @greg: i think you need to separate out what is typically called "systems integration" from "audio development". the problems you encountered are all too real, and it really is pretty inexcusable that so many (though definitely not ALL) distributions of Linux put users through this experience when they want to use pro-audio or music creation apps.

    but this is not because the basic technology is not there, or is immature or whatever. its because the people who build the "system" are getting it wrong. it is like going to a company that claims to sell "made for music" PC's and finding out that they screwed up the configuration of Windows in various ways that, while fixable, still should not have happened.

    OTOH, the distributions you've used aren't making that claim, so they have more of an excuse. its still not much of an excuse, and its an awful, uphill battle that those of us who actually provide the underlying technology have to face every day. Thankfully, a few distributions are starting to get it right, and the best we can do for now is to point people at them when its appropriate.

  • Derick

    @Dylan, if you aren't to picky there is an audio card in almost every price range I think. From an Edirol / M-audio usb card, via a Echo or Focusrite Firewire interface till a RME card/ device.

    @Greg, The audio infrastructure on Linux might be a little complex sometimes (it is what it is). But you *don't* have to suffer from it as end-user if you keep things simple. If you know the difference between JACK and pulseaudio, then avoid to combine them. Why would you route Desktop audio apps into JACK?

    One thing is essential when working with Linuxaudio imho, that's the community. If you follow some mailinglists, you get info which are not in the Wiki's and learn which apps are good, which to avoid and how to avoid annoying bugs / problems. When you are into the community, you know that you should avoid Zynaddsubfx, but pick Yoshimi instead, that LMMS/ Audacity suck with JACK etc. Make a special Gmail account and subscribe to the LAU list from, for example or if you prefer forum boards check out

  • Dylan

    @Paul: Ah, I wasn't sure about drivers on the PCI end of things. My mistake. Come to think of it, the only good quality, dedicated audio interfaces I have used have all been firewire devices (since i have only a laptop). But apparently there is a lot more out there for desktop users, though the same limitations seem to exist on the USB end of things.

    That being said, 'twould be nice if there were drivers available for all of the existing devices that use firewire (like mine and i am sure many others), though I see what you are saying with regard to firewire's looming death – there isn't much incentive to develop a technology that is no longer a standard feature in newer systems and will not be in the future. 

    @Derick: I will try to put off buying a new card for as long as possible. I suppose I will have to sell my Fireface 400 for something comparable once I upgrade my laptop 🙁

  • Dylan

    correction to first para: i have had only a laptop (up until very recently).

  • jag

    @Peter Kirn

    Ahh nice to know a linux mag picked it up. Which 1?

    Cant this list be revised? Maybe a part 2 of the same topic?

    Dave Phillips…dont remember talking to him about din.


  • Derick

    @Dylan, the fireface might be experimental on FFADO (Firewire audio on Linux). You could aks them first

  • anechoic

    some thoughts on Linux audio apps:
    – LinuxSampler: a horrible, kludgey, painful experience – avoid at all costs
    — check out Tapeutape and Specimen for a low powered but monolithic sampling tools – still in dev, both need more work but hopeful replacements for the searing pain of LinuxSampler
    – Ardour/Mixbus: IMO: simple, brilliant, logical UI…I use it for both studio and stage…note: I was a beta tester for ProTools in 1995 so I know a little about DAWs
    – Audacity: I use it ALL the time for sound editing – the Swiss Army Knife of xplatform editors
    – IR: ah! finally I can leverage my vast IR libraries in realtime! very nice UI and tool for sound design and reverb – a must have
    – ZynAddSubFx: UI is offputting but makes more sense once you get used to it – eats CPU on my laptop for some reason
    – Yoshimi: nice fork, easier on CPU but is not reliable on my laptop
    – Phasex: the best kept secret of Linux synths – stable, low CPU *but* has a ginormous un-resizable UI panel which is cumbersome on a 15" laptop screen
    – Qtractor: sorta ghetto and only when I absolutely have to but it *is* handy for hosting all sorts of plugs (LADSPA, DSSI, LV2, VST etc)
    – kernel: check out the Liquorix kernel –
    AVLinux uses it and sings praises for it
    note: you can run a vanilla kernel in realtime mode; see:
    – distros: Pure-Dyne, AVLinux, KXStudio
    — note: stay away from UbuntuStudio – painful, unstable and lame support
    anyway –

    these are just opinions based on my experiences with various apps running Ubuntu 10.10 on a Dell laptop

  • Derick

    LinuxSampler horrible? You got to be kidding us! 🙂 Everyone has the right on his own opinion, but I think you should spent a little more time with it and gain some more knowledge about it. Of course it depends on the purpose, but for Orchestra samples LinuxSampler will be your best bet for sure.

  • Peter Kirn

    @Derick: I think the challenge with linuxsampler is navigating all the forks, different ways of installing, different front ends…

    What's your preferred linuxsampler workflow?

  • Derick

    @Peter, forks? On GNU/Linux? You mean different GUIs like Fantasia and Qsampler? Choose one, I prefer Fantasia for making the *.lscp file setup and then run that setup without GUI (great feature of LS), like this:

    cat jazzbandsetup.lscp | nc localhost 8888

    I do prefer to build Linuxsampler (LS) from source, but there are some PPA's for Ubuntu, the one of Autostatic for example.

    It;s also possible to build LS as DSSI or LV2 plugin.

    If you look at the OpenOctave videos, you get an idea what could be possible (they are using a other MIDI seq. now):

  • Derick

    Oh and btw. the OpenOctave team is working on 'full range of integration with LS' and their MIDI sequencer. And there are some improvements on the way for LV2, which should make it more easy to use the LS LV2 plugin in Ardour3 and Qtractor iirc.

  • kaikai

    I am surprised noone mentioned the Bristol synths. Not having tried them myself, I'd be very curious as to how good they sound.

    Linux ppl: what is your suggestion for an Ableton live replacement?

  • empolo

    @ kaikai: My pick for a Ableton replacement is Renoise, hands down, end of discussion. It runs natively on Linux, Mac and Windows with a single license.

    Price wise, the closest comparable Ableton product would be Live Intro but you get way more functionality and expandability for your dollar/euro with Renoise and at a cheaper price. It is in constant development and each release makes it REALLY hard for me to go back to Ableton. Not because it's inferior – it does have it's obvious strengths like warping – but because there are so many ways to get things done in Renoise just constantly draws me back in. Outside of Ableton's warp features, I really don't see an advantage over Renoise. And for that matter, Renoise supports ReWire so you can hook the two together.

    Check it out for yourself –>

    PS – It's on sale for 40 euro/$58 USD

  • Derick

    More info about setting up LinuxSampler:

    Renoise runs on Linux, supports JACK and DSSI plugins (so you can use LinuxSampler DSSI and Zynaddsubfx-DSSI in Renoise).
    Renoise SHOULD support LV2 in near future! (feature request). It also supports Linux VST, so you could use the Linux DSP plugins:

    For timestretching you have Stretchplayer, Pauls Extreme Soundstretch, and the rubberband stuff in Ardour and Qtractor.

  • Derick

    This might be an interesting post from someone (Louigi Verona) who is a former FL Studio user and wants to use free software only. He has made a standard setup, from where he starts to make music and improvise:

    The JACK connections might look complex, but once you start the principle, it’s looks harder on a screenshot then it is to make the connections themselves 😉

  • Hey guys!
    I see lots of people have said something, so I though why not add my 2 cents.

    I have written a lot on Linux Audio, on what I think it's current strengths and weaknesses are.

    I think that the main problem is a chicken and egg problem. Certain tools get written when people who need them (and who are developers themselves) happen to be using Linux. Which is usually not the case, since such tools are usually present on Windows. So our only hope are those ideologically charged fellows who want free software enough to switch to Linux and start writing things.

  • kaikai: Bristol synths are great, although a little bit difficult to handle. On my older system they would crash if you play too fast on them. I will need to try them out now and see if the situation has changed.

    Derick: thanks for mentioning my article, I do think that the system I setup is very capable and very much unlike anything on Windows.

  • fladd

    @Peter: May I asked how you made LV2 plugins work in Renoise? Do you have a future version or something? As far as I know LV2 is not supported, is it?

  • @Peter Kirn, no you're not the only one who's using stable builds. I use Ubuntu 10.04 myself and package every single new update or application myself. So no 'make install' here. And no other Ubuntu flavor, just plain Ubuntu adapted to my needs.



  • I made a cool little tool for experimental modes & scales. Tis free now.

  • Which soundcards can you use for low latency? I understand that many have no drivers for Linux.

  • Which soundcards can you use for low latency? I understand that many have no drivers for Linux.

  • Which soundcards can you use for low latency? I understand that many have no drivers for Linux.

  • Thanks for all the useful reviews! 

  • Thanks for all the useful reviews! 

  • Thanks for all the useful reviews! 

  • J4zzfunk

    IR.lv2 does not work on renoise :C

  • J4zzfunk

    IR.lv2 does not work on renoise :C

  • J4zzfunk

    IR.lv2 does not work on renoise :C

  • Sherry63

     Can I ask for a request,,,, I’ve been trying to put together by cheron for fun anthem and noticed they had all the others except the one I’m a Star Trek fan,,,                   a poem  of Cheron on  trekspace just write that down you should find it in Google to look for the words sherry ,,
    this would be much appreciably thank you,,, or send it through my e-mail,,,,

  • Sita Sound

    Thanks for this post. It has actually opened my eyes to open source platforms.

  • MissMaya25

    um i dont like this site they need more offers

  • Troy Brindley

    nice post but i still prefer to use

  • Daniel F.

    nice one Peter, also is getting better everyday, there is a lot of good free software around and it deserves to be known

  • Daniel F.

    nice one Peter, also is getting better everyday, there is a lot of good free software around and it deserves to be known

  • Daniel F.

    nice one Peter, also is getting better everyday, there is a lot of good free software around and it deserves to be known

  • Donny Suitor

    This is by far the best music making software i have found !!

  • Donny Suitor

    You guys should use this

  • adi

    can you provide me a link from where i can get free electronic music for my game…..?

  • adi

    can you provide me a link from where i can get free electronic music for my game…..?

  • adi

    can you provide me a link from where i can get free electronic music for my game…..?

  • webmasterpdx

    What about LMMS and Reaper (is free for personal use until you are ready to pay and then it’s only $60)….

  • webmasterpdx

    What about LMMS and Reaper (is free for personal use until you are ready to pay and then it’s only $60)….

  • webmasterpdx

    What about LMMS and Reaper (is free for personal use until you are ready to pay and then it’s only $60)….