Tom's Definitive Linux Software Roundup: Audio Production

Audio Editors

An audio editor is an application that records, edits, mixes, and plays back audio. The focus here is on audio manipulation, but not necessarily on music creation. These are the heavy-duty apps for people who edit sound files for podcasts, Web design, or game development. These apps usually lack synthesis, sequencing, instrument inputs, or live capabilities, and will most likely not be enough for musicians.

Audacity (v. 1.3.12b)

Audacity is best described as a heavy-duty sound editor and recorder. While not quite a full-blown digital audio workstation (DAW), Audacity is a solid intermediate application. This app is perfect for recording and editing non-music audio clips.

Although an unlimited undo/redo history and an unlimited number of tracks make Audacity capable of music editing, it lacks a synthesizer and support for several important audio file formats, such as WMV, AAC, and even MP3 (though LAME is available separately for MP3).

The interface in Audacity is as beginner-friendly as we could reasonably expect from such an application. Though it's starting to show some age, the layout is like that of a simple sound editor. A main toolbar and the menu bar expose most functionality, whereas DAW applications typically take on a multi-window, command center fascia that can easily scare off amatuers. Audacity is hard to place in this roundup because it really is a middle-of-the-road solution for audio manipulation, neatly occupying the vast expanse between ProTools and Windows Sound Recorder.

Sweep (v. 0.9.3)

Like all apps in this category, Sweep can mix, edit, and record multiple tracks. This application also features an unlimited undo/redo history and support for LADSPA plugins.

The most unique feature of Sweep is Scrubby, a virtual stylus. Scrubby allows real-time 'scratching' of digital files or live recordings, just as if they were on vinyl. This one feature may elevate Sweep above the other audio editors for DJs. The action is very snappy, and this feature is very cool.

While the user interface is certainly dated, it is also configurable. All of the elements (even the menu bar) can be rearranged or removed from the main window. Sweep also has a zoom function, though it is done through buttons set at static intervals, instead of the more fluid scroll bar/wheel of many other editors. We did encounter one significant hassle in Sweep. Opening the full undo/redo history caused the application to close.

Jokosher (v. 0.11.5)

First and foremost, Jokosher is extremely easy to use. Having never attempted to mix a music composition before writing this article was not a hurdle with this app. As a multi-track studio app, Jokosher can record, edit, and mix. LADSPA support allows you to apply and tweak effects to instruments. Though not advertised on its Web site, the undo feature is pretty robust; we were able to undo changes that were applied from previously-saved sessions. The interface is about as clean and straightforward as it gets for this type of app, with a heavy emphasis on drag-and-drop.

Jokosher completely lives up to its tag line of “audio production made simple.” While Jokosher might not replace ProTools, the learning curve is a flat line compared to the other apps listed here, and there is no need to fool around with JACK Control.

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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.