Tom's Definitive Linux Software Roundup: Audio Production

Loopers, Trackers, And Mixers


Freewheeling (v. 0.6)

Freewheeling is a live looping sampler. The user interface is extremely old, though other live looping samplers aren't very pretty either. There is no menu bar or toolbar. The main screen contains the entirety of the application, drawn in DOS-style graphics.

Up to eight loops are activated using color-coded blocks near the top of the window. Right and left clicks of the mouse activate, deactivate, lock, and disable these loops. Using JACK Control, Freewheeling can easily be connected to VMPK for input, and output directly to system playback or elsewhere in a more complex chain.

Kluppe (v. 0.6.14)

Kluppe is a live looping and recording application that supports multiple loops. Utilizing JACK Control, output from each loop can be sent separately to different inputs.

Starting a new usable loop requires a new buffer to be created and associated with it. When first opened, the user interface is plain, hosting a menu bar and buttons to start a new project. Creating a new looper opens the waveform and options for that loop. Loop options include output volume, recording/mix, ratio, playback start/end positions, playback loop length, recording start/end positions, record loop length, number of grains, grain density, L/R pan, and an autopanner. Unfortunately, none of these controls are labeled, requiring a mouse-over to reveal the tool tip label.

SooperLooper (v. 1.6.14)

SooperLooper is a live looping sampler application that requires JACK to function. SooperLooper can record audio from an input device like a microphone, instrument, or another app. Recorded audio can be looped and multiple loops can exist, though each requires new JACK connections. Recorded loops can also be overdubbed with more audio input. While it is possible to use SooperLooper live, it has been reported that using the keyboard/mouse to control it can make playing instruments at the same time quite difficult.

The UI in SooperLooper is unlike most other PC apps. Essentially a black screen filled with blue buttons, check boxes, and a few input fields, the color patterns and curved buttons make SooperLooper look like the LCARS interface from Star Trek. After tackling JACK connections, Sooper Looper is a pretty simple application to get up and running.


LiveMix (v. 0.49)

LiveMix is a mixer application intended for technicians at live performances. The user interface greatly resembles a hardware mixer board, complete with knobs, sliders, buttons, and faux-LCD readouts. Some of the customizable controls include master EQ, gain, volume, pre-fader, post-fader, pan, balance, reverb, and independently controlled channel/output volume.

JACK connections to the system playback output were already made when starting LiveMix. The virtual keyboard function of ZynAddSubFX worked great for us as an input.


MilkyTracker (v. 0.90.80)

MilkyTracker is an audio tracker application modeled after the popular FastTracker 2 DOS app. MilkyTracker works by adding notes from instruments and/or samples into a pattern editor, where patterns can be looped. Notes are entered using corresponding keys on the computer keyboard; most of the letter keys and half the number keys activate notes.

Instruments are saved as .xi files, while samples can be in .wav. This application also has a built-in synthesizer. Sound samples can be created by drawing a waveform and instruments can be created using a piano roll editor.

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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.