Tom's Definitive Linux Software Roundup: Audio Production

Welcome to Tom's Definitive Linux Software Roundup: Audio Production. In this article, we're looking at Linux applications for audio content creation. Our previous segment covered general end-user audio consumption apps like media managers, audio players, and CD rippers. This segment is for the audio professional, hobbyist, and musician.

This article is the sixth installment in Tom's Definitive Linux Software Roundup, and the eighth part of our continuing guide to Linux for Windows user's. Links to all of the previous articles are listed below:

Part 1: Ubuntu Linux Installation Guide
Part 2:
Run Windows XP In Ubuntu Setup Guide
Part 3:
Internet Application Roundup
Part 4:
Communications Application Roundup
Part 5:
Office Application Roundup
Part 6:
Image Application Roundup
Part 7:
Audio Application Roundup

Today will cover all aspects of audio production--everything from metronomes to fully-fledged digital audio workstations (DAWs). Whether you need to replace FLStudio or ProTools, we've put together a list of the best Linux alternatives for DAWs, audio editors, studios, sequencers, synthesizers, loopers, trackers, mixers, software instruments, notation/score/tablature editors, effects, and other miscellaneous tools.

In addition to all of the applications, this article also includes two special sections. First, there's a spotlight on Ubuntu Studio, a spin of the most popular desktop Linux distribution re-tooled for Audio/Video production. Next, we have a primer on JACK, an essential framework for audio production in Linux.

This segment of Tom's Definitive Linux Application Roundup is a little different than the previous installments because it contains apps that require a good amount of audio production knowledge to use. While some of these applications are highly technical, the required knowledge is in the realm of audio production, and not Linux. In other words, readers looking into audio production using Linux are expected to have a certain level of audio know-how. But as a result of our strict standards for featured applications, little, if any, Linux experience is needed.

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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.
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • 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
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Mixxx is a fun mixing application, that I'm a little surprised didn't make this article.
  • g00ey
    A while back ago I posted here about virtualization and in the meantime I have conducted quite a bit of research. I have found out a few new things so I figured it would be in place post an update.

    First of all there is no "max two pass-throughs" limitation inherent in the hardware as I said before. This is a limitation in VMWare ESXi software and in ESXi only.

    There are situations when the passthrough implimentation is not as straghtforward as one could wish for. Such situations occur when you want to pass through a graphics adapter and/or a multifunction device to a virtual machine. Both situations have been resolved and you can pass through such devices without problems today. The problem with multi-function devices used to be to get the entire multi-function device passed through to the domU. Link to research paper:

    Here is another research paper on VGA passthrough:

    For more information about VT-d and IOMMU in general, the following paper is a recommended read:

    Xen is the most well-implemented hypervisor with these features today. KVM is another (Xen-based) hypervisor that currently seems to lack support for VGA-pass through. But it can pass through up to 32 multi-function devices on machines that have the Intel VT-d or AMD-IOMMU feature enabled. For more information about passthrough look at the following pages for Xen:

    For information abouthardware that supports VT-d or IOMMU look at the following page:

    I use MSI 890FXA-GD70 and it supports IOMMU.

    So by passing through audio hardware to virtual machines you ought to get at least fair latencies when running Windowsas a guest OS for audio production. Of course things are still in development but a lot is happening and I believe the performance is fair even today.
  • I am a trained sound engineer. Since completing my degree i have made my own educated decisions in regards to computers and software. I can confidently say that it does not matter which operating system you use, capturing a good sound lies in the hands of the engineer. I was trained using Protools HD along with all the equipment money can buy. I now use GNU/Linux for personal reasons, I never blame poor sound quality on my tools.