Linux Audio, or Why I Love Open Source

I started learning to play the guitar a few years ago and I recently decided to try home recording. I’m going to post my recordings here as I get comfortable with the equipment and learn how to use the recording software.

I’m happy to say that all my recording software is open source, running on my Debian Linux system. My limited experience with audio on Linux several years ago led me to believe I would have to get myself a Macintosh and some commercial recording software like Pro Tools.

But I decided to try and stick with my open source roots; a few minutes of Google research revealed that Linux audio has been catching up fast.

First there is the ALSA project, which has drivers for a number of different audio devices, including some fairly high-end gear. I picked up an M-Audio Delta 1010LT card, which seems to be a popular choice among Linux audio people. The ALSA project includes a tool called envy24control (envy24 is the name of the chipset used on the card) which can control the settings on the Delta 1010:


That brings us to the JACK system, a piece of software for routing streams of audio between software modules and input/output devices. JACK itself has no graphical interface, but you can use qjackctl to start and stop the JACK system and patchage to route audio between systems. Here’s a shot of patchage connecting one of my audio inputs to the Ardour package, which is connected in turn to my audio outputs.

Patchage at work

That brings us to Ardour, which seems to be the crown jewel of Linux audio. Ardour is a Digital Audio Workstation, or DAW, with features that are often on a par with commercial DAWs like Pro Tools. It’s also a great deal of fun to use. Here’s a shot of an Ardour session with a recording of my wife Beth‘s voice.

Ardour DAW

Beth needed to record the instructions for a vocal relaxation exercise to put on her iPod. After recording it, she realized that the pauses between the instructions needed to be longer. I was able to use Ardour to chop them up and space them out. I was also able to remove a couple mistakes she made in vocalization. Messing around with audio is great fun.

This is just scratching the surface of the Linux audio world. The Linux Sound page has a ton of links to other audio projects including synthesizers, MIDI programs, drum machines, effects processors, and more. So much for getting a Mac!