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Software Instruments

Tom's Definitive Linux Software Roundup: Audio Production
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Piano/Keyboard

Virtual MIDI Keyboard (v. 1.9)

Virtual MIDI Keyboard (VMK) is an on-screen 36-key piano roll. VMK can be hooked into a synthesizer for playback via JACK. It's pretty simple; just connect the output of VMK to the input of your synthesizer in the ALSA tab of JACK Control. There are some controls for reverb and chorus, as well as a ton of presets.

The default view is a basic piano roll, but the GUI can be extended to include options for key, velocity/pitch, controls, and a program list.



Virtual MIDI Piano Keyboard (v. 0.3.2)

Virtual MIDI Piano Keyboard, or VMPK from here on out, is one of the best virtual keyboards available for Linux. VMPK has 66 keys (as opposed to the 36 of VMK), though still short of the 72 keys in ZynSubAddFX and Yoshimi.

VMPK also includes a ton of built-in instrument sounds, which most other virtual keyboards rely on outside synths for. The view menu can add or remove functionality, including a musical note overlay onto the keyboard itself. This keyboard also adjusts to the size of the application window, making it as big as your screen or as small as your eyes can handle.



Organ

Aeolus (v. 0.8.4)

Aeolus is a synthesized pipe organ emulator. This app has no virtual keyboard, so you'll need a hardware keyboard or a software one like Virtual MIDI Keyboard.

The user interface is split into divisions, each with multiple stops. You need to enable each division in the MIDI window in order for any stops in that division to take effect. Once Aeolus is hooked into the system audio playback and a keyboard is connected, everything is smooth sailing.



Drums

Hydrogen (v. 0.9.4)

Hydrogen is a drum synthesizer with a number of drum configuration options available. By default, Hydrogen comes pre-loaded with a drum kit featuring kick, stick, snare jazz, hand clap, snare rock, tom low, closed high hat, tom mid, pedal high hat, tom high, open high hat, cowbell, ride jazz, crash, ride rock, and crash jazz instruments. An alternative kit provides access to kick low, kick high, shaker, conga, cymbal and clave sounds. Users can mix and match these components to create custom drum kits. The mixer window controls levels for each instrument in the drum kit separately.

Most of Hydrogen's funtions are contained in the main application window, with the exception of the mixer. Everything about the UI is clean and logical. The upper part of the screen contains patterns, while the lower part houses a notation area for each instrument in that pattern's drum kit. Despite the level of control that Hydrogen presents, this application is shockingly easy to pick up and use. There are no audio frameworks, setup options, or drivers to fool with; this app just works. Whether you are a drummer or just want to fool around with creating beats on your PC, Hydrogen is a great app for anyone.

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  • 1 Hide
    nekromobo , March 2, 2011 4:56 AM
    Now I remember why I read tom's.

    A great article!
  • 1 Hide
    akorzan , March 2, 2011 5:00 AM
    I found using WINE with, don't laugh, FL Studio works great. Latencies are on par with Windows. Only problem is some VST plugins have mouse problems... I.E: double-clicking has to be absurdly fast. Another trivial problem is that battery life in laptops is nonexistent with WINE and FL Studio.
  • -3 Hide
    longshotthe1st , March 2, 2011 5:04 AM
    Why would anyone even bother? Time is money, I'm going to just stick with what works.
  • -1 Hide
    damiensturdy , March 2, 2011 9:43 AM
    Great read. FLStudio is one of only two pieces of software that keeps me tied to Windows. Sure, it runs under Wine, but getting it working is a pain, and you're lucky to get 100% of the functionality. As an advanced user of FLStudio, I use almost everything the app provides, and I need it as low latency as possible. 20ms is too much- 10ms is better. In general I've never achieved
  • 0 Hide
    damiensturdy , March 2, 2011 9:49 AM
    Damn, it cut my post off. No way to edit that? ah well. I was basically saying that this article has helped me decide what software to use when I build my synthesizer this year.
  • 0 Hide
    g00ey , March 2, 2011 10:45 AM
    Has anyone tried running software such as FL Studio in Linux using a virtualization software such as VirtuaBox? VirtualBox can even run in seamless mode which allows you to have Windows windows next to Gnome/KDE windows in the same screen.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , March 2, 2011 12:03 PM
    Very nice article you could also have covered comercial productos on Linux like:

    Harrison Mixbus; Renoise; EnergyXT; WusikStation; PianoTec...

    BTW there is big updates soon for Ardour (3.0), MuSe (2.0) and Rosegarden (?).
  • 1 Hide
    damiensturdy , March 2, 2011 12:09 PM
    @g00ey, yes. Latency and audio are weak through a VM, and the audio still has to travel through whichever audio library the Linux distro is using, it's a no go.
  • 0 Hide
    caeden , March 2, 2011 12:14 PM
    g00ey, as a general rule of thumb you don't want to virturalize your workstations whether they be for audio or video editing. In part due to stability, and in part due to speed/latency.
    I was surprised at the scoring software. Looks about as good as my wife's version of Sibelius, with the exception that she had to pay for hers.
    Personally I just do editing and cleanup, and while it looks like it is much improved on Linux from what it use to be, it has improved more on the windows side. But nice to know that there are options available if I were to ever cross over.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , March 2, 2011 3:44 PM
    I'm really looking forward to the Video apps review since that is my main sphere of interest.
    But it really sounds like it is time to get the 'ole midi keyboard out of the closet and try some of those synth apps!
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , March 2, 2011 5:35 PM
    No love for Pure Data?
  • 0 Hide
    adamovera , March 2, 2011 6:44 PM
    nekromobo: Thanks! Great name BTW.

    g00ey: If you're only using samples and not recording, going live, or hooking up to any other apps, I don't see why it would be a problem. Although that would definitely reduce the functionality of FL Studio. Oracle VirtualBox is free, if you already own a copy of Windows it can't hurt to give it a try.

    adsgdVery nice article you could also have covered comercial productos on Linux like:Harrison Mixbus; Renoise; EnergyXT; WusikStation; PianoTec...BTW there is big updates soon for Ardour (3.0), MuSe (2.0) and Rosegarden (?).

    Not sure how Harrison Mixbus packages the Linux version, no trial available either. Renoise, EnergyXT, and PianoTec don't qualify due to the package/repo rule - see page 2. I don't think WusikStation has their Linux version ready yet.

    boombipNo love for Pure Data?

    Doesn't qualify due to package/repo rule - see page 2.
  • 0 Hide
    g00ey , March 2, 2011 7:00 PM
    @damiensturdy & caeden, I can imagine that latency could be an issue when it comes to virtualization but the software I have tried (such as graphics, video playback, office and DTP) works surprisingly well under virtualization so I just figure that maybe audio production software works inside a virtual machine.

    So called Type 1 hypervisors have support for something that is called passthrough which means that some hardware can be assigned to communicate directly to the virtual machine without intervention of a virtual abstraction layer (that usually manifests itself as a ring buffer between the hypervisor and the VM) this is commonly used on network interface cards to ensure a good throughput and lower latency on virtual machines that require this.

    For this to be possible the hypervisor has to be run "on the metal" and not as an application inside an OS (such as the VBox or the VMWare Workstation). Xen is one such example that is integrated with the operating system. The ESXi/vSphere is another, but it is its own operating system.

    Moreover, the hardware needs to support either Intel VT-d or AMD-IOMMU which provides this passthrough feature.

    Edit: Not only Xen is supporting PCI passthrough, we are also beginning to see this on KVM and VirtualBox. This is possible since one has managed to add type 1 like attributes on type 2 hypervisors and the distinction between the two of them is getting fuzzier. This is possible by patching come parts of the (type 2) hypervisor into the kernel. KVM can pass through up to 32 PCI units and it also supports multi-function passthrough. It currently does not support passthrough of graphics cards (or VGA passthrough, which is due to advanced BIOS features of a GPU in a computer) like Xen does, however. I don't know about VirtualBox but I expect it has similar capabilities, but only on Linux. VB currently has no support for this on other host platforms.
  • 0 Hide
    pelov , March 2, 2011 9:49 PM
    Love the entire series. Great work
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , March 2, 2011 9:59 PM
    Fantastic article, thanks Adam.
  • 0 Hide
    mc84ss , March 3, 2011 12:25 AM
    What would anyone reccomend for taking mp3s and "mixing up" any profanity. I work in a secure building and my boss frowns upon any music with profanity.
  • 0 Hide
    pocketdrummer , March 3, 2011 8:40 PM
    Linux is definitely not the OS to use for Audio Engineering. Not only is it seriously restricted in the drivers department (most decent interfaces do not support linux), the Sequencers (or DAWs as this article slightly misrepresents) are not sophisticated enough to really stand up to the likes of Cubase, Sonar, Pro Tools, or even Ableton Live. There's no real point in trying to build a Linux system for recording unless you just love working around severe limitations.

    This is coming from an Engineer who uses Ableton Live and Cubase on Windows and Mac systems (depending on the application and gig).
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , March 4, 2011 6:43 PM
    I agree with pocketdrummer here, and I must add that i have used Lunix for audio engineering and music making for many years and I can assure you that nothing in the lunix world is as powerful and stable as even a simple DAW like Garageband on the Mac.. Linux is nice for daily computing, but don't go there for serious work...
  • 0 Hide
    salsaman , March 9, 2011 5:32 AM
    I hope you will mention LiVES (http://lives.sourceforge.net) in the upcoming video roundup.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , April 22, 2011 5:59 PM
    Mixxx is a fun mixing application, that I'm a little surprised didn't make this article. http://mixxx.org/
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