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.