Tom's Definitive Linux Software Roundup: Audio Production


Lets do a quick rundown of the Linux audio production applications we've showcased today. Ardour, LMMS, Rosegarden, and Traverso are all heavy-duty digital audio workstation packages capable of handling nearly any task. Audacity is a great audio editing application for non-musicians, while Sweep offers a DJ tool, and Jokosher is super noobie-friendly. Buzztard and BEAST are both awesome virtual music studios, though Buzztard is much more polished. AMS and gAlan make up the modular synthesis applications available for Linux. MusE, Jackbeat, qtractor, and seq24 are the sequencer options, with MusE taking the top spot.

There where a lot of choices for synthesizers. AmSynth and Qsynth are modelled after hardware synths, while mx44 is definitely a software inspiration. Freqtweak and terminatorX are geared towards live performance, with terminatorX sporting some DJ functions. ZynAddSubFX and spin-off Yoshimi are perfect for software compositions due to their virtual keyboards and friendly JACK connections, though ZynSubAddFX has the edge for the number of included presets.

Freewheeling, Kluppe, and SooperLooper are the Linux loopers. Kluppe is the only app that looks like an app, and although Freewheeling and SooperLooper aren't very pretty, SooperLooper gave us no problems with JACK or other applications. LiveMix is the only mixer option we found, and MilkyTracker is the available tracker.

For software instruments, we've got the keyboards Virtual MIDI Piano Keyboard (VMPK) and Virtual MIDI Keyboard (VMK), with VMPK being the definite top pick. Aeolus provides a virtual organ and the Hydrogen drum machine is a fantastic easy-to-use application great for users of any skill level.

There is no lack of options for notation and score editors, either. MuseScore, Denemo, NtEd, NoteEdit are all WYSIWYG editors, though MuseScore is in a class above the rest. Frescobaldi and Songwrite are non-WYSIWYG editors, but both are justified in their alternative looks. For guitarists, there is nothing else like TuxGuitar. This app is not only a tablature editor, but contains many other essential tools for guitarists working with a PC.

Jack Rack is a great LADSPA effects plug-in manager that can make working on projects via JACK more organized. Rakarrack is a special software synthesizer styled after guitar distortion pedals and developed with the guitar in mind. Metronomes Gtick and gtklick provide simple and free software solutions to bulky real-world metronomes. FMIT and LINGOT are two software instrument tuners also perfectly capable of replacing their hardware counterparts.

Those under the impression that there are no good audio production choices in existence for Linux are dead wrong. Some of the options are top-notch, and comparable to pricey proprietary alternatives. On the other hand, making some of these apps work together can be a major pain. Understanding JACK, an open standard audio framework, goes a long way toward creating audio content in Linux, and is absolutely essential to musicians courting the free platform.

Since A/V production requires special packages, drivers, and tweaks, it may be better to use an operating system specifically designed for this type of work. We used Ubuntu Studio as the testbed operating system for the multimedia segments of Tom's Definitive Linux Software Roundup, and in this article we put the spotlight on the multimedia distro.

We're not audio geeks, nor do we claim to be. As always, trying the applications out for yourself is the best way to determine if you can use them. This especially holds true for audio production, since most of the applications featured today are tools for musicians. Use the links found within this article and get started; they won't cost you a thing.

Stay tuned for the next article in Tom's Definitive Linux Software Roundup: Video Apps, and Follow Adam Overa on Twitter.

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  • nekromobo
    Now I remember why I read tom's.

    A great article!
  • akorzan
    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.
  • longshotthe1st
    Why would anyone even bother? Time is money, I'm going to just stick with what works.
  • damiensturdy
    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
  • damiensturdy
    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.
  • g00ey
    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.
  • Anonymous
    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 (?).
  • damiensturdy
    @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.
  • caeden
    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.
  • Anonymous
    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!
  • Anonymous
    No love for Pure Data?
  • adamovera
    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.
  • g00ey
    @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.
  • pelov
    Love the entire series. Great work
  • Anonymous
    Fantastic article, thanks Adam.
  • mc84ss
    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.
  • pocketdrummer
    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).
  • Anonymous
    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...
  • salsaman
    I hope you will mention LiVES ( in the upcoming video roundup.
  • Anonymous
    Mixxx is a fun mixing application, that I'm a little surprised didn't make this article.