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Sequencers

Tom's Definitive Linux Software Roundup: Audio Production
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A software sequencer arranges sounds in patterns to produce larger compositions. Sounds can either be recorded samples or synthesized notes, and some sequencers handle both, while others only do one or the other.

Jackbeat (v. 0.7.6)

Jackbeat is a sampled sequencer application. This means that there is no synthesizer function. Instead, Jackbeat relies on samples to produce sound. The UI layout is modeled after a drum machine, and Jackbeat can easily double as one, assuming you already have a number of drum samples.

The user interface contains just a menu bar, work area, and properties pane. Properties can be switched between track and sequence mode using buttons near the bottom of the window. Jackbeat defaults to four tracks, though this number can be adjusted in the sequence properties pane along with beat, measure, and loop. Pitch, octave, semitone, and fine-tune can be adjusted via the track properties pane.

Jackbeat is a pretty simple application to use, and its UI stays mostly out of your way and once you realize you need to provide your own samples. JACK connections are automatically made from Jackbeat directly to system playback.



MusE (v. 1.01)

MusE is a self-described “MIDI/Audio sequencer with recording and editing capabilities." This app sports real-time recording and playback, as well as support for LADSPA, DSSI, and VST plug-ins.

The user interface is heavily dated (think Windows 95-era). Although most of the application uses a single window, JACK Control and the MusE Marker window add two more. MusE 2.0 (upcoming) will offer an interface overhaul that should modernize this app. MusE does require JACK Control to start before it can function properly.

Overall, MusE is an older audio production application that has yet to fulfill its goal of becoming a fully-fledged DAW. However, development is ongoing, and adding new features is the focus. As a Linux-only app, future commitment to the platform is certain. MusE is one to watch.



Qtractor (v. 0.4.5)

Qtractor can open an unlimited number of tracks and has a matching unlimited undo history. LADSPA is supported, along with DSSI, VSTi, and LV2 plug-ins. The zoom function in Qtractor is split between horizontal and vertical zoom, allowing the user to independently change the level of detail for either.

This is another application that relies on JACK Control to work properly. Qtractor's unattractive interface can be completely rearranged to suit individual preferences. The move and selection functions are both accomplished by left-clicking and dragging within a track, whereas most other audio editors have different modes for each function. This, however, has drawbacks. Without any differentiation, we often accidentally moved a track when we had intended to select a portion of it instead.



Seq24 (v. 0.9.0)

Seq24 is a MIDI sequencer intended for live performances, although it is thoroughly capable in a studio environment as well. This application is totally dependent upon JACK Control for any type of playback.

The Seq24 interface is split into three editors, each housed in their own windows. The main window is home to the sequence editor. Starting a new project in Seq24 isn't the most obvious procedure. You must right-click somewhere within the sequence editor and select New from the pop-up dialog.

Doing this opens the pattern editor where notes are entered. The upper toolbar of the pattern editor has controls for beat, note length, output, MIDI channel, grid selection, and zoom. A piano roll occupies the left-hand side of the screen. Actually entering notes requires another not-so-obvious right-click procedure. Holding down the right mouse button switches the cursor into a pencil, and a left click while the pencil is shown enters notes.

The third window houses the song editor, where patterns created in the pattern editor can be organized and/or duplicated into larger creations. The toolbar here contains play controls, time signature, and grid options. If you can tame JACK, Seq24 is a popular tool for live sequencing.

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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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