Why Use Ardour?

Where does the ugliness come from?

What are the limits beyond not being able to create new GUI elements with it?

I meant the interface (as in the scripting window in Ardour) is limited, not what you can achieve via scripting.

It’s also limiting to only have a few buttons in the top corner of the screen to trigger scripts. Although I use a lot of shortcut keys too, but still I’m limited to 32 action scripts. I think a more dynamic approach like Reaper’s action window would be less limiting.

The scripting window is just a black screen, no syntax highlighting, no keyboard shortcuts to run code, no IDE features. Ok I do all my scripting for Ardour in an external IDE, but I still need to copy/paste it into the Ardour window to test it. Maybe a file watcher could work, then there is no need for additional code editing features in Ardour itself and the ugliness isn’t an issue, other than a shortcut key to run (F5 perhaps). It actually reminds me of Kontakt’s scripting window, it’s even more limited than Ardour’s but it does have a file watcher so you never need to work directly in it.

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Ah, understood better now. Thanks.

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Thanks Paul and others for correcting me on some of the stuff I had wrong (vectorial UI, scripting, cue page development, PipeWire), I stand corrected.

In terms of general Ardour ‘ugliness’ (wrong word because I wouldn’t say it is ugly per se), for me it looks stale and too contrasty at times. I also don’t like the very contrasty arranger window elements, too dark stuff interspersed with too bright lines, separators etc. The buttons also look stale. And there’s some need for UX improvements here and there.

Here are some Reaper themes for comparison:

I mean, don’t get me wrong nor take it personally, Reaper devs also regularly get the fat end of the stick regarding UI and UX :smiley: The amount of comments and posts asking for a vectorial revamp are numbered in the hundreds.

But is Tantacrul really that out of reach? What about other designers? I’m sure there are other, more affordable professionals out there…

It’s not clear to me that you are aware of the different Ardour themes …

BTW, the “ugliness” I was asking about related to DHealey’s comment, not yours.

In general, it is my policy to completely ignore GUI critiques. For every person who says they find Ardour’s GUI to be <insert-negative-adjective-here>, somebody else says they love it, and so there’s not much point considering general aesthetic remarks.

However, for UX it’s a different story. Here, there is a lot of scope for useful suggestions and observations.

The problem with the comparison with Musescore (which Tantacrul has indeed helped improve dramatically) is that while complex, it is an order of magnitude less complex than a DAW. Martin’s general approach with MS has been to really focus on “the most used” aspects of the UI, and hide the rest (not very far) away. This is relatively easy to do when the task at hand is constrained to “create notation”. In the DAW context, you’ve got the massive issue that there’s a different workflow for every 10 users, and coming up with something that is just naturally “right” for everyone is massively harder.

The most common approach to this is to allow users to hide/show many different parts of the UI so that they end up with something “right” for them. Reaper does this to some extent, but I’ve seen lots of complaints from a certain type of user that they find this approach too geeky and creates too much of a burden for them. So … great for some, not so great for others.

There are very few DAWs (other than Garageband) which really pass the UX smell test, because all of them (us!) have to deal with the almost impossible task of balancing exposing functionality and cluttering/overwhelming the interface. GB works because … well, it doesn’t have much functionality. Even with Reaper, there’s a clear fanbase of people who love its dense, context-menu heavy design but also a bunch of people who tried it and just couldn’t (or didn’t want to) deal with it. They’ve already moved on, and don’t spend much time writing up critiques of Reaper.

Over the years, I’ve heard from people who say things like “Logic Pro is just so confusing and ugly to me, and I’ve used it for 10 years, but Ardour is so lovely to use”. But I also hear from people who say “Ardour is a piece of shit and you should embarrased to even be trying to sell it”. So … it is necessary to give up the idea that one DAW can possibly be the DAW for everyone. I’m fine with that. Fortunately, most people have at least a dozen excellent, capable DAWs to choose from, and if it turns out that Ardour doesn’t satisfy their aesthetic sense and/or workflow needs, almost certainly another DAW will.

What I am Interested in is actionable, debatable, ponderable changes that come with a cost/benefit analysis. DHealey already got halfway to providing an example above:

Of course, the cost/benefit analysis is missing there, which needs to grapple with the usual challenge of discoverability versus clutter. By contrast, people who say “be more like ” are (a) missing the point (b) just going to be ignored, because this is not actionable, or debatable and has no cost/benefit analysis.



Sooo… Although I’m not over the moon about either Ardour’s UI or Reaper’s default, those themes you’ve linked are hideous (IMHO)… So, now what do the Ardour devs do…?


I think the appearance of Ardour is beautiful and easy to use. It is especially suitable for everyday studio work, which includes recording, editing and mixing. As well as producing, sequencing, songwriting. In other words, all the working stages of modern music production.

Please people please don’t ask the developers to change it to look like some other DAW. This is Ardour one of the best there is. Over time, it will continue to develop, but it’s not worth fixing what works. And I think Repaer is terribly ugly and difficult to use. Of course, everyone uses what they like. I use Ardour and Mixbus 32C. And if they disappear from the world, I’ll move on to making cabinet clocks and candlesticks.


I totally agree. I love the look’n’ feel of Ardour and this is what keeps me using it. I tried to use Reaper several times but the UI is unusable for me. But I know this is a personal preference. Ardour is beautiful :D.

And the dark theme is awesome after some tweaking. There’s one thing missing - to save own presets, export and import via GUI to share presets with others.


Couldn’t agree more. I absolutely love Ardour’s appearance and UI and always have, even before v2.

I’ll go a step further and add that so many features and options are already at hand and a quick look through the (very good) user manual can be all that’s needed.

For example, and I feel embarrassed about this one, I wondered for a long time why [space] always paused playback instead of going back to the point at which playback was started, like Reaper’s default action. A quick flick through the manual recently however brought my attention to the little ‘auto return’ button next to the transport controls top left of the editor. Voila, it was there all along, I just didn’t look up the function in the manual.

Same revelations with things like appearance options (eg. grid transparency), automation modes, stacked region editing, etc.


Don’t know what Paul considers a ‘drive-by’ comment, but I rarely comment on forums, so this should be taken as something positive. I always mention Ardour as a successful FOSS story that knows how to both make money and stay FOSS, and plan on keep doing it. I’ve stated my opinion and have corrected myself on some of it. I still stand that some features need improvement (some of which lies in UX improvement rather than the features themselves). I also still believe that Ardour’s UI and UX need improvement, because as it is right now they look too simplistic and too contrasty (for example, buttons and marker lines, and the colour palette itself is… too basic for me or some colours don’t match?). This improvement can come from a professional, which I’m not, I just state what I feel is right or wrong. Maybe you (Paul) just need to select / design / accept a different default theme?

In any case I currently prefer Reaper, although I’d rather prefer Ardour - but I don’t. Nothing personal, I paid for them both (as well as for BitWig and FL Studio way back). But I’m looking forward to the improvement for the Cue page!

Once again, I am not sure that you are even aware of the existence of nine themes for Ardour?

Okay - Below is a categorized version of the original list, obviously edited with additions for Ardour, cuts for stuff specific to Reaper, etc. I’ll add links to some of the entries when everything is finalized. Please feel free to suggest additions/edits, and thanks for the feedback! Again, if you think there’s a killer feature, or just something your workflow couldn’t survive without, please let me know. (I think we’re good on the “it’s free and open source” part.)

Freedom, price

  1. Ardour is cross platform and works on Mac OS, Windows, and Linux.
  2. It is open source and community driven. It will never move to a (required) subscription or make you pay for heated seats.
  3. Compile the app for free, pay $1 for a binary, or subscribe to support development. Many models to support evaluation/exploration based on financial ability.
  4. The FLOSS nature of the program is an equalizer. We all come in new, we all come in at the same level, no one has an advantage due to their financial circumstances.
  5. When you finish this class, you can keep editing, improving, and making new projects with Ardour and the FLOSS plugins we teach with. The entire system (Ardour included) can be recreated manually or using an install script.


  1. Ardour has multiple themes and custom color configurations can be saved and shared.
  2. Lua scripting offers functional additions, customization, batch processing, and more.
  3. Open source means you can add features you want. Features potentially pulled upstream.
  4. The Ardour interface is fully “vectorized” meaning the GUI can be scaled and looks great at low and high resolution. This is also important for visually impaired people.


  1. The application has a very small size: it downloads fast, and installs and loads quickly.
  2. It works fine on many older computers.
  3. It works beautifully on new computers, consistently and effectively updated as new hardware and operating systems are released.


  1. It works with standard plugin formats (depending on OS, AU, VST, VST2, Linux VST, etc).
  2. ACE plugins (included) provide a nice collection of DSP plugins to get you started.
  3. You can assign effects to an individual clip, so if you move the clip, the effects go with it. Perfect for electro-acoustic music.
  4. Not strictly Ardour, but pairing nicely with it are a wealth of great FLOSS plugins (and sample collections) that are often cross platform as well. See my lists here: Links: Music Technology, Sound Samples, Plugins


  1. Ardour allows users to work in a traditional arranging/sequencing interface or a more Ableton-like Clip-launching session view.
  2. Working with the classical arranger/sequencer, students can learn recording, editing, sequencing, and processing of audio and MIDI data in a way similar to other professional DAWS - meaning the student can use whatever tool they want later.
  3. Used the world over in personal and professional studies, taught at Universities like Yale!
  4. It offers excellent video handling and even offers basic video editing features.

Features: Recording/Editing/Sequencing

  1. It has easy track comping.
  2. Download samples directly from freesound.org (free account required) and import directly from the import dialog.
  3. Built-in, easy side-chain processing.
  4. MIDI tracks can side-chain as well!
  5. Pitch-shifting and time-stretching built-in: [Stretch Mode](https://manual.ardour.org/editing/editing-regions-and-selections/stretching/#:~:text=The Stretch Mode tool can,region%2C optionally maintaining its pitch.))
  6. Latency Compensation ensures all your sources align properly: See here.
  7. Group tracks and apply effects, routing, etc, for all.
  8. Automation is easy, moves with regions (if you want), can be edited a number of ways (manually by drawing or using lolipops, or via a controller), and can be created for all parameters of a track.

Features: IO

  1. Audio/MIDI/OSC Input and output
  2. On Linux, use Qpwgraph or QjackCtl to route any audio or MIDI signal from any app to or from Ardour
  3. On Mac, use Blackhole
  4. On Windows, ah who cares.
  5. Matrix routing is awesome!
  6. The multichannel VBAP Panner offers extremely flexible surround-sound configuration not available in many other DAWs.

Features: Export/Bounce

  1. Ardour offers many export/render options with the ability to export to multiple formats simultaneously, and to mix-down multichannel to stereo/mono.
  2. “Analyze Exported Audio” provides a comprehensive overview of the loudness and spectrum of your recording with multiple metering options.
  3. Bouncing multiple regions with or without processing to the clip list for easy use within the same project.

Features: Analysis/Monitoring

  1. Multiple metering options (Peak, RMS, K20, etc) exist and can be set independently for individual tracks and buses.
  2. Monitor Section provides robust monitoring options that do not impact the signal chain.
  3. Built-in processing analysis. Just use generic plugin GUI to see spectral analysis of the plugin effect in real time.
  4. The “Plugin DSP Load” window shows the DSP use per plugin - a God-like feature that can help identify where your project is using the most resources.
  5. Meterbridge: see what all your tracks are outputting and how they work together to create the overall loudness of your track.


  1. There are many great video tutorials, strong community support both in its own forum and on social media platforms.
  2. Ardour.org releases regular Ardour updates and bug fixes.
  3. Large and passionate user base, with one official forum for all your questions (https://discourse.ardour.org).
  4. Speaking of videos, check out the Ardour videos by Unfa: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=unfa+ardour

I wasn’t, thanks. Xcolors is the most palatable for my taste, and probably I can make it even more attractive by tweaking it. However, this does not change the look of buttons, sliders and the like, as well as the general UX. For example, I’d make the toolbar contextual based on what the user hovers / clicks / in which page it is in (cue, mix, edit, rec) and thus decrease its size by 1/2, leaving space for other stuff. I’d also make it movable, so I can move it to the side / down or make it floating. I’d also make the different pages detachable, so I can move them to another monitor. Don’t know if this is possible already, maybe I’ll be corrected on this as well.

In any case I’ll try to give this discussion a rest, I am looking forward to future improvements of this good DAW.

It is possible :wink:

Right click the mode switch and you can move the window to another screen.

Cool, didn’t know that, thanks! Alright, this is getting somewhere :smiley: Is it possible to have different scaling per different window? For example, I’d like to manipulate the cue window on a touchscreen but keep the scaling on ‘normal’ screens … well, normal. Or maybe make the launcher/stop buttons bigger?

No, UI scaling is global.

Also, every tool in the toolbar is relevant in the editor window, so there’s no shrinking it there (which is the only place where it shows up).

And then also, everything in the “transport bar” is relevant no matter what window you’re looking at, and removing the few “slightly less relevant” items when looking at e.g. the mixer or cue page would be a pretty marginal change, I think.


7 posts were split to a new topic: XColors Theme Issues?

I definitely recommend Ardour (especially based on Debian-based multimedia distribution LibraZiK Studio) to my students at a German university:

  • We are a non-commercial university - so I would never recommend a commercial product to my students.
  • We deal with radio and podcast production - and as far as I’m concerned, Ardour is nearly perfect for professional radio work.

It’s a pity: Many amateur musicians at least here in Germany, I suppose, don’t outgrow the prejudice that a non-commercial DAW wouldn’t be appropriate for amateur or semi-pro tasks.


I use Ardour because I came to Linux around 2011 after experience things I didn’t like in windows 7. I began to edit audio for A/V purposes first in Audacity and its destructive workflow and then in Ardour that I fell in love immediately. I use it ever since and always recommend Ardour because it is:

  • Stable and fast. Always worked smoothly, even when is used to run it in an old laptop and freezing everything track. All the crashes I had was caused to third party plug-ins.

  • VERY comfortable. It has an awesome GUI that always worked awesome both in the 1366x768 LCD display from my old laptop and the dual monitors I have nowadays. The default (dark) theme is just perfect. The GUI doesn’t have white portions or misaligned fonts or even over colored things to distract the user. Reaper, in contrast and off-topic, always made me feel like I needed to wear glasses and I experienced themes crashing in smaller monitors, maybe due to a lot of items made out of .png files, who knows.

  • Have built-in (effective) plug-ins that are already mentioned in the Features page. I particularly love the ACE Compressor when I need some transparent compression or with sidechain or autoduck other tracks. Lots of applications.

  • Had MIDI improvements that makes me comfortable to recommend Ardour to anyone.

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