The state of linux audio

So - is linux audio any good? I started developing software for linux about six or seven years ago (but I’d been actively involved in audio software development - at a professional level - on other platforms for far longer). I came to linux because it looked like the answer to all the problems I’d been having with PC based audio on other OS - configurability at a fine level could be a great asset. There weren’t many applications / plug-ins you could actually use, but I figured I might do something to improve that. Fast forward to now, and with depressing regularity I read things on this and other forums about drivers not working, audio being difficult / counter intuitive to configure, just plain unreliable, and not something I would want to count on for anything important - based on what I read. And certainly not a good platform on which to try to build / sell commercial plug-ins… So is this a true reflection of the state of linux audio? - I feel like things are a lot worse than they were when I first got involved (I hope I’m not to blame) - I mean, sure, we’ve got better applications, plug-ins and hardware - when or if it works but the foundations on which it all sits don’t feel solid enough that I would trust it for anything “mission critical” - is this a fair point?
It would be interesting to know what people think - and it would certainly better inform what I and my company do with regards to linux audio support in the future (witness the thread in which I regularly talk to myself it seems - about my latest plug-in release… That alone would seem to make the case that it is less relevant to linux users - am I wrong? )

Lets say, it is getting better and better. But “critical” recordings and mixes I’d never do with Linux. Its too much issue-fixing for me. I think, Linux with its special needs is too much for many Audio related users. They just want a quick install and usage, and not sending logs and bug reports to the devs. This is wasted time, if you use a linux based DAW to get your plate filled.
But if its going on with the tempo like the last 2-3 years, it will be in 3-5 years. Then its a real alternative to Win and OSX based DAWs.

For the hobby musician there are many barriers to break down. If you come from any other system, there is one Sequencer/DAW with plugins. If you want to have the same in linux, its hard work. There is no real how-to guide which leads you to the correct plugins. In my opinion, there are really missing some plugins like EZ/Superior Drummer, Boogex (or simple, good sounding Amps like LePou) and bigger plug-ins Kontakt or iZotope Stuff.

And Ardour does not look so fancy like any other major DAW. Until this isn’t accomplished, it will never raise market share. Unfortunately this is not just my opinion.

But I really love the Calf Suite and miss it in my Pro Tools and Nuendo Sessions.
(Never tried your plug-ins - but I will tomorrow) :slight_smile:

Heh funnily I am not a huge fan of the Calf suite honestly.

Ok so here is my viewpoint, take it for whatever you will. First some background, I have been using Linux for audio for a LONG time now. Pretty certain since before the 0.9x Ardour days, but honestly I just can’t remember when I started anymore. Because of this, on occasion I can probably certainly overlook problems others will run into, so I try to keep this in mind with anything I do (Just ask rgaerus how annoying I can be about small things that only make a difference to certain subsets of people in an effort to make things easier)…

Linux is the land of double edged swords for audio I think. There have been lots of improvements to Linux on the desktop that are both a blessing and a curse in the past decade or so.

That being said, there is no question to me that Linux audio now is ‘better’ than it was before you arrived honestly. Better in this context means capable of being easy to set up and use. The problem I am seeing however, is that it has almost become a marketing battle at this point. Oh you want to try Linux? Use Ubuntu. But the problem is that this isn’t a good solution for our subset of the market, and that is why we have distributions like AVLinux and Dream Studio and KXStudio, etc. The issue is that for anyone coming to Linux ‘new’ they don’t get past that first level of marketing of Ubuntu, which is both a blessing and a curse.

I want to be clear about something, I credit Ubuntu with doing a LOT to make the general desktop experience much more palatable to a newcomer from Windows and/or Mac. Honestly. This is what I mean when I say it is both a blessing and a curse, a blessing because it (And other ‘large’ distros like Fedora/RedHat, Suse, Mint, etc.) means that it is easier for many people to approach for the desktop. A curse because it means that in order to really learn that the simplest way to do audio production on the desktop is actually NOT to use one of these, but to use these tiny distributions in their own corners of the world that you never hear about unless you actually have something break AND actually ask for help. The latter of which is the minority I suspect, and on top of that you are being told that the hours and hours you spent fixing something were effectively wasted, not to mention any time spent customizing the appearance etc. how you wanted. This is not a good marketing message to send, but sadly is generally the only one we can send.

Things are decidedly ‘better’ in terms of desktop audio due to Pulse Audio. I remember the days of ESD, Alsa, OSS, etc. (Yes I know not exactly apples to oranges) all competing and trying to balance out using software that used one or the other. Pulse has improved this tremendously, but it is also the single biggest headache for professional users most likely as they have to get it out of the way in order to do what they need. Again blessing and a curse.

Now lets looks specifically at ‘professional’ production and would I use LInux for it? The answer should be obvious, I would. However I am not comfortable enough to recommend my team use it. It isn’t the aspects of configuration, or usability persay, I could put one of the distributions above on a machine and let them loose on it, in fact one of the members of my team already has tried Linux for a short time. But the problem I am having is both th eblessing and the curse of Linux development in general, and that is getting all the individual parts to work towards a common goal.

For example, Ardour is a very powerful professional workstation. I have used it for professional projects ranging from TV and Radio commercials, to CD production, to Theater Sound Design. However what happens when I want to work on video editing? Here is something I am struggling with right now, I have a great audio workstation, but doing a one man style production workflow editing video is painful to say the least. Right now the number of capable video editors on Linux I can count on a couple of fingers honestly. Sorry folks, but when I can’t even see a context to easily make lower thirds(A pretty basic task in video editing), or your software won’t even use anything but your provided fonts for lower thirds, it isn’t production ready, and it is amazing how many projects this counts out currently. It is improving, but lets not focus on that for right now and look at those that are capable. Blender, completely capable of many things, UI for someone coming into it is still a bit on the painful side, and isn’t set up for video editing. Can be ‘worked around’ by opening existing projects with custom keymap bindings, but you still always end up coming back to the fact that the VSE really is strongest in editing together 3D scenes created in Blender, what it was made for. And frankly trying to teach my Final Cut or Adobe editors Blender is a lesson in pain. But aside from that, what is the roundtrip workflow to and from Ardour in that case? It isn’t easy, especially when compared to the ‘suites’ that exist, but even outside that on other OSes you have a better round trip workflow in many cases.

Ok lets move on to Lightworks. I am still learning this software, and there are things I like about it and things I dislike. But right now on the ‘stable’ released version there is a bug that means that audio timing on any import is all over the place, from playing at half speed, to about 1.2x speed, to anything else. So far the beta version has been better, but dang, you know how much time I lost just trying to realign audio with video from a camera to find out that one of the imports I had to play at 92.5% speed, and one I had to play at 112% speed? And this was just barely good enough sync for a 5 minute video clip. Trying to do a round trip in and out of it generally requires converting to MXF with mpeg2video first, which is a seperate step out of Ardour still. Now as I said the beta is much better, and this isn’t meant to be a conclusive review persay, just examples.

So given these and countless other examples of software working together for a complete production, this I think is one area where Linux Audio stuggles still. However don’t underestimate how much of an improvement this was over even 5 years ago. Pre-Tears of Steel, Blender wasn’t even acceptable for me to do some pretty basic live focused production in, now it is thanks to the effort they put forth. Lightworks now even exists on Linux and it looks possible the next version of Resolve may have a decent priced version for Linux minus the hardware, but who knows. Bitwig provides an option for a workflow that had no options at all before (Ableton Live styled workflow). Mixbus has been amazingly good for me, I have been using it quite a lot since it’s release obviously. Harrison and you(LinuxDSP) both have some good quality plugs to replace some of the more questionable ones I struggled with.

However there are still some gaping holes as well. Audio restoration for example, which I know we have talked about, is still a giant gaping hole on Linux in my opinion. A very strong compositional suite for an ‘average’ computer user, there are some usable contenders out there, but nothing I would say is very strong, of course I am not a composer so I am a bit out of my element there, but I can’t think of the last ‘big’ advancement in this area for most users. Don’t get me wrong, there are options out there that with a bit of work are more powerful, but the bit of work is a huge barrier for many people.

So tl;dr HUGE improvements on Linux for audio, but because of old problems going away now the focus is shifting to newer ones, and there is still more work to be done.

Hope that helped.

But "critical" recordings and mixes I'd never do with Linux. Its too much issue-fixing for me...
That's been similar to my experience of late - which is kind of what prompted this thinking. Setting up generic PC hardware for a specialised task such as audio is always going to require a bit of tweaking (that's what attracted me to linux initially - the fact that you could fine tune a whole lot of things which you can't on Mac / Windows* ) - but I've been burned too many times recently (even just during development / testing of my software - and I'd like to think that as a developer I have quite in-depth knowledge - It must be daunting for those who are musicians and not also programmers).

I think the best way I can sum up my feeling about it at the moment, is that while Ardour is an incredible application and I have huge respect for the work that’s gone into it, when it comes to using DAWs on other OS (Logic, Cubase, etc etc) its something I enjoy - its something I want to do even if I don’t have to - just because its fun to play with these applications - but I can’t say the same about linux audio, its almost the complete opposite, because I just know that I’m going to end up in a foul temper after having tried to do something that should be simple, and instead having to negotiate some mind-bendingly stupid, over complicated, unreliable, application / driver / plug-in API or whatever - most likely invented at the whim of a developer who has no expertise in audio whatsoever (but when did that ever matter) . To me it looks like audio on linux is increasingly (or maybe always was) about people who don’t know what they’re doing solving problems that should never have existed in the first place - badly. And the reason I’m going to the trouble of saying all of this, and most likely offending a lot of people, is because I really wish it could work better, but I just don’t think that will ever happen - its always five years away or whatever… Its a manifestation of the axiom that the first 90% of development takes 90% of the time, but the last 10% takes the other 90% of the time - made real./Rant

*But on Mac certainly, and now even on Windows, you don’t need to tweak anything which might be something to think about.

I should clarify, I used Ardour for my projects on both Mac and Linux, having done all the above on both and have no qualms about me personally using either (In fact just switched back to Linux, and funnily enough despite what I said above I am on Ubuntu now on my laptop that I am doing the one man production crew thing along with trading files back and forth with the rest of my team on other OSes:)


sonnie: so what are we to make of the people who think that ardour looks and functions better than proprietary DAWs?


What people thought looked cool 8 years ago looks dated now. When Live first came out, people thought it was ugly. We’ve gone from the glossy wet look of OS X Aqua to the flat, squareness of the latest Windows (and increasingly, Web and Android and even iOS apps).

I will continue to ignore every single person who says anything like Ardour does not look so fancy like any other major DAW. I don’t care how many other “opinions” you can collect who agree with you. I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT CARE. There is no DAW that will make everyone happy. Sometimes it’s the punch behaviour. Sometimes it’s the solo model. Sometimes it’s how you interact with the selection. Sometimes it is how “fancy” it looks. Cry me a river.

When or if Ardour has a development team of 50+ people, then you’ll certainly see people who do nothing but work on the details of the GUI appearance. Until then, we’re not playing the fashion game. Game over.

@linuxdsp: what the fuck is the point of this stupid thread?

@paul: I’m just asking for opinions - if you don’t like it you can delete the thread (and my account or whatever if you want to) - I think I already have the answers to the question(s) I was asking.

But on Mac certainly, and now even on Windows, you don't need to tweak anything which might be something to think about.

Thats a perfect summary. Nothing to add here.

so what are we to make of the people who think that ardour looks and functions better than proprietary DAWs?

I look at the market share of Ardour, and on the other side any proprietary DAW. The official release of V4 for OSX and the nightly releases for Windows are a huge step into the right direction to get rid of. I look forward to see Ardour besides other DAWs when someone talks about DAWs. But when I look to Ardour with its old-school look, my first impression is "wow, this is grainy and pixelated.

Why don’t allow users to create themes, like in Reaper? Everyone would be fine. :slight_smile:
Maybe you can ask the CALF guy, which redesign Guitarix ATM. Just a suggestion. Don’t know how easy an implementation would be.


Individuals has their subjective opinion. There is no world with a mutual opinion. Sorry to say, but this everyone has to learn at any point in his life.

I will continue to ignore every single person who says anything like Ardour does not look so fancy like any other major DAW. I don't care how many other "opinions" you can collect who agree with you. I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT CARE.

This is a harsh attitude which makes you a really stupid dev. Float with the current or drown. This easy. But, of course you can ignore me. I just smile and move on then.

@Sonnie - I can see why Paul would get frustrated about GUI changes in the context of the development of the whole project. The team is smaller than those of established commercial providers. so naturally the focus is going to be on making the system functional and able to compete on that basis - the looks have to be a secondary concern. Personally, I would be happy to accept it looking like ardour 2 but with maximum functionality and stability. I am an unusually utilitarian user so obviously that wouldnt make commercial sense - but it seems Paul is trying to find a sensible mid point. The whole point of this thread is about usability of linux for audio and the appearance of the GUI seems to have little to do with this. A fancy looking GUI front end on an application that is incapable of recording audio, writing midi etc (I am NOT stating ardour is incapable) is no use to anyone.

I would also point out that, given what he has achieved, Paul is far from being a stupid dev. The linux audio community is lucky to have a man with his skills who is willing to forgo the additional income I assume he could be making elsewhere, to spend time working on such a project.

@linuxdsp - As I’m not a pro-level in audio my view on whether it can be used for “critical projects” is a moot point. But it seems from the outside like a self perpetuating cycle; There is a perception that linux audio is not sufficiently advanced, so big players in audio software dont throw the money and man-hours into developing for it. As a result it cant achieve the same progress, so the perception doesnt change. Its a tough cycle to break. I recall that when Pro-Tools first came to windows it was a joke that anyone would use for serious stuff - but the money and time was put into it (as a commercial project) and it eventually became workable.

I have found Ardour 3 to be rock solid recently - but I dont do midi on it - I only record audio and mix it.Perhaps the answer is “linux audio is perfectly fine for use as long as you stick to doing what works on your system”.

Perhaps someone should start a company selling linux audio desktop packages - a system built with only one audio card option (an RME Madi or something), a single graphics card option and the software built around it (ie. more of a Mac approach). It would be easier to ensure usability and less issues. Maybe even just distribute a live CD with a specific mandate to be built for only one hardware config, and if you want the best you build your system to that spec.

Hey ho, its just my opinion.


Of course I am glad that there are people like Paul (and Team) which make Ardour possible. And I want to give my input as its wished. But when I read just ignorance from the dev to all GUI related threads, I have all right to be pissed. When a dev who wants user input tell the user, who gives input, something like gfy and idc.

I really enjoy the new release and try to use it with OSX where ever I can. (A3 was too unstable on OSX). Thats why I am optimistic with it. :slight_smile:

@sonnie: are you just focusing on specific issues on Windows, a platform we do not officially support and where for some reason, the text is not anti-aliased?

User input regarding the visual design of the GUI is completely useless, for the reasons I outlined. Should we look more like Live? More like Sonar? More like Fruity Loops Studio? More like Garageband? You don’t like the way Ardour looks - that’s entirely reasonable, since I don’t like the way that Live looks, and I really hate the way Studio One looks. Should I write to Presonus or Ableton and tell them that their visual design sucks and until they start using a different design their program is never going to have much market share?

You also seem to assume that gaining some “large” market share is somehow the goal of this project.

I’m interested in user feedback and input on work flow, on features, on bugs, on all manner of things, but absolutely not on “visual style”. People talk about this as if it is a “detail” that needs to be fixed (and fixed, of course, to match their own preferences), without any idea of just how deep visual style is built into the code.

The reason we do not “allow” users to create “themes” is that the way our GUI is rendered isn’t amenable to the sort of thing that Reaper allows. But we so allow users to completely specify all the colors used in the GUI.

It definitely should not look like any other DAW. Especially not like S1. :wink:
The only thing I mentioned the market share is the raised popularity. Then you’ll get more money for more dev-work.
A good start in my opinion would be way smaller volume faders and fully coloured mixer strips. If I compare A2 and A4 its already much better. :slight_smile:

Apple and Microsoft are corporations with a hierarchy of authority with roots based on the influence of 2 pivotal visionaries (like 'em or not), Thay also pay their developers (even the Audio guys down there below the mail room). Linux is a seething organic mass of equal parts anarchy and synergy, corporate interests and countercultural zealotry… It is populated and contributed to with everyone from from professors to plowmen (literally)

How could Linux Audio really be anything like Apple or Microsoft in any way? It may get better for audio, it may get worse, it will ALWAYS be volatile! As Seablade said it is a two-edged sword which is both it’s blessing and it’s curse…

It’s like that loud opininated uncle at the family reunion that gets belligerently drunk, and then gives you his last dollar and helps you move when the bank forecloses on you… lol

I think it is better to be really good at one special thing than it is to be fairly good at several things.
For Ardour this thing is sound production. With the limited resources it is even more important to keep it focussed.
My impression is that the majority of the users have one goal in their mind: To attain a high quality sound with a minimum of hassle. Ardour is supporting this goal better and better.
I like the view that what is under the hood is more important than the colour or the shape of the hood.
Of course, there are lot things that could be nice to have - I think that keeping the engine top tuned and smooth running should always have top priority - as it have had to this time, making Ardour one of the most successful projects in the Linux world.

As a linux user since the late 90’s I can tell you that audio on linux has been improving constantly, and been perfectly stable for pro audio work for more than 10 years now. And in many senses is more powerful and flexible than the other two platforms. But people should not come to linux expecting to find open source counterparts of commercial software, people should come with an open mind, willing to learn some new things.

@seablade: Maybe you should try/retry Cinelerra


Have tried it in the past, wasn’t impressed to put it mildly. The community version was a bit better, but still was a bit painful to use. I haven’t tried it lately again though, so it is possible I may be impressed I suppose. But it is unlikely to fix my roundtrip workflow issues in general sadly.


@ seblade for non linear video editing kdenlive and shotcut are developing really fast and though not industry standard(no aaf omf etc export ;(), I edit my own films with it and it works well…

@sonnie that s just my 50 cents but I can totally understand that Paul gets pissed of by discussions like this. What I personally dont like is this kind of a consumerist attitude. And I enjoy the relative absence of it in the linux community very much and it is one of the reasons why I went linux back in 2008. The community and the vast amount of people helping if u run into problems. If you need a product shining in a different way go out and buy it, why should ardour comply to everything?

but then yes I found this discussion helpful like I had the same thought like linuxdsp the other day: the audio tools - I especially mean Ardour4. but also Bitwig, pd-extended,… - are amazing, theres (i just speak for my work) nothing missing in the linux audio world that i d need. The only thing: a general purpose linux os that i don t have to tweak back and forth till i can record the first track… this is still missing for me and hasnt improved much since years but got complicated in new ways (pulseaudio , etc…). The closest is avlinux and the kxstudio approach. With Ardour4 and Bitwig as a great(er) AbletonLive replacement I dont see linux audio dead at all but better than ever…

To me an audio “engineer”, who has the time and energy to focus his attention to pretty window decorations, is quite useless in his real work: recording and mixing. Ardour2 has served me well for years, it’s stable, powerful and reliable and I’m even using it on a Debian based system. I loathe midi (have used it on Windows systems … the horror…) and use a DAW for recording and mixing only. For my needs Ardour has the plug-ins I need: high-pass/low-pass filters, EQ and compressors. My band’s second guitarist uses Reaper on Win7 and the results have been miserable. Guitar amplifier modelling sucks noodles.
Bad drivers on Windows are just plain useless. Ever heard how a Win7 system drops frames in a simple playback? That’s some serious popping…
Nowadays a rt-kernel in Debian is one search away in Synaptic and my previous experiences with Ubuntu-based audio distributions have been problematic - to say the least. Canonical does not share Debian’s stability requirements.

Ubuntu Studio has been working very well for me. It feels very efficient and uncluttered. I found it much easier to set up for audio production than regular Ubuntu and I can still install the other desktop applications I used before. I was very happy when Ardour-4 was finished and ran smoothly on it so I could stop using a MacBook. I also use Audacity, Brasero and EasyTag for some other tasks. I encourage people to try it and make the requested donation when you download to support the project.

The biggest barriers I face in the Linux universe are documentation and hardware support. I don’t think this will change unless a large commercial vendor with a recognized brand name decides to use it in a product line and support it. Google did this with Android. I wonder if this could be done for an audio workstation that targets musicians who don’t have the budget of a large recording studio? It could have a marketplace like Google Play to download the apps and provide financial support to the developers. Any takers?