My Newbie Perspective on Ardour 7.3.0 on Debian 12 with PipeWire

This feedback is meant to be useful and comes with no warranty. If the ignorance of my perspective is not a feature but rather a bug, please just ignore it. I wanted to convey this information while it was still fresh in my memory.

The font scaling in the GUI does not go high enough for my 3840x2160 and old eyes. I raised it in Linux configuration file ‘~/.config/ardour7/ui_config’ by editing ‘{Option name=“font-scale” value=“256000”/}’ to be ‘{Option name=“font-scale” value=“288000”/}’. I had to remove angle brackets for this post.

The Ardour tutorial last updated and made available by prokoudine is linked in the main Help menu, unrivaled as introductory documentation to Ardour, and difficult to find as the gateway resource for newbies. I discovered the tutorial only after reaching section 12.8 (pdf page 88) of a pdf version (nice person had download somewhere) of Ardour manual/reference version 2023-02-22. My web search found the Ardour reference/manual and the “Ardour 6 Quickstart (recording, editing, mixing and exporting)” video for Ardour 6 by ‘unfa’ but not the Ardour tutorial posted by prokoudine or any introductory content that provides a solid knowledge foundation to make the Ardour reference/manual useful as a reference taxonomy. The quickstart video by ‘unfa’ for Ardour6 is great for what it does, but it just scratches the surface. A Digital Audio Workstation is complicated, I know.

A note about the tutorial via the Help menu as a recommended starting point for newbies belongs at the start of the Ardour manual/reference. Highlighting the tutorial entry of the Help menu the first time the Help menu is revealed would help newbies. A gently pulsing yellow on the Help menu button could draw attention to it, but if I have a 4K screen on a laptop (and I do), my first concern is to scale to an adequate size.

The link to the webpages version of documentation says ‘reference’. That is confusing to a newbie. It’s not exactly an API document. Clearly, the document is a manual (with a taxonomy) because it has introductory information. The cover page of the pdf version of the manual reference I found somewhere online says ‘The Ardour Manual’. The webpages version (of the manual) says nothing about what the document is named. I think it’s a manual with reference content and not a reference with manual characteristics. I would like to see a document name (I prefer ‘manual’, but maybe ‘reference’ is better) on all versions of the ‘document used for reference’ and the same document name for the link in the Help menu to the ‘document used for reference’.

I followed the tutorial up to playing sound with virtual keyboard on a synth on a MIDI track. I got very frustrated with trying to get a sound out of ACE Fluid Synth/a-fluidsynth and most other synthesizers I tried that were provided by various Debian 12 meta packages not specifically related to Ardour. (I uninstalled them because the software abundance was more than I could manage.)

The context menu on the MIDI track head has the entries ‘Patch Selector…’ and ‘Restore Patch’. I am unable to find the phrase ‘restore patch’ in the pdf version of the manual/reference and don’t understand what the ‘Restore Patch’ option does. ‘Patch Selector…’ for ACE Fluid Synth and I believe for other synths will show a grid of named patches by instrument, but they don’t work when the related virtual keyboard of the related MIDI track is not generating sound.

For ACE Fluid Synth, the trick is to use the context menu of the synth GUI widget in the editor mixer or mixer window and select ‘Edit with generic controls…’. It is misleading to see a grid of named patches that don’t work. How can the names of the patches be known if Ardour does not know how to play the patches because it does not know where the sound file is? They are not blacked (or grayed) out. It makes no sense to the newbie.

I thought I had a buggy Ardour and/or PipeWire and tried building the latest tarballs of Ardour and PipeWire. Both builds worked worse than the versions from the regular Debian 12 packages. My build of Ardour 7.5.0 tarball did not compile with Debian 12 package libjack-dev (JACK1) but did compile with package libjack-jackd2-dev (JACK2).

I discovered that I should and could provide a sound file to ACE Fluid Synth from a comment by ‘Robin Gareus’ on the post “The Patch Selector has no effect”, 11 September 2022, The Patch Selector has no effect . I went clicking and hunting to discovered the ‘Edit with generic controls…’ feature. The question on silent virtual keyboards with just that leftmost meter showing signal has come up before, and it will come up again based on the availability of Ardour on Linux distros and the lack of clarity on the issue. The newbie does not understand what files must be found manually and might suppose an Ardour synth should just work on Ardour.

The tutorial made available by prokoudine provides an example use of Synth XT. Debian 12 does not have a package of Synth XT. My read of the documentation for Synth XT is that its .deb file is for Ubuntu, which is likely not compatible with Debian 12 (I have not tried it). I built the Linux tarball instead, and it seems to be working. From inside the top-level directory of the decompressed tarball, the commands that gave me Synth XT seem to be: (1) mkdir …/surge-1.2.3-builddir/ , (2) cmake -S src/ -B …/surge-1.2.3-builddir/ , (3) make , (4) make install . I grokked clumsily and experimented to get the Synth XT software. I wrote two dots not three in two places.

A concise taxonomy or enumeration of the workflow details of getting synthesizers to respond to the virtual keyboards of MIDI tracks would be helpful to newbies. The editor panel/window is not the solution space, but the MIDI tracks with their virtual keyboards live in the editor panel/window.

As I said, I have the font scale jacked way up on Ardour 7 for my 4k screen. The control panel for Surge XT is too big and it’s window is not allowed to shrink. It has a user friendly zoom feature that is, apparently, overridden. I guess it is overridden by Ardour 7. I have no idea how the plugin API delegates zoom control. I just mention it.


A manual ought to explain how to do things. A reference, uhm, manual doesn’t really do that, but instead describes the functionality of each element of the program (at least, the user-accessible ones).

That’s why we refer to the current manual as a “reference”. It is not, and almost certainly never will be, a guide to how to use the program to do anything at all (other than by accident, so to speak).