Saturday, June 26, 2010

Audio Recording in Linux: An Introduction [PART 2]

Several days ago I wrote the first PART of a series of articles I am putting together on Audio/Music recording in Linux. The idea was to provide a high level introduction on the topic, so that those interested can get a feel of what Linux has to offer on this department.

This article series is not a tutorial by any means, just an overview of the few audio recording tools I use in Linux.


On the previous article I talked about Ubuntu Studio, a twist on the Canonical distro aimed at Photo, Video and Audio production. Today I want to talk about it in a bit more detail, explaining some of its basic features.

Note that I am using Ubuntu Studio 9.04, so there will be some discrepancies if you download the current Ubuntu Studio 10.04.

As you can probably imagine, anybody who's comfortable using Ubuntu, will be using Ubuntu Studio. The basics are exactly the same, so anybody familiar with the former will only need to learn his/her way with the applications included.

Ubuntu Studio 9.04 desktop

Ubuntu Studio does sport some signature looks, though. Custom icon and window themes, controls and wallpapers make for a style that is a clear departure from its parent distro.

Ubuntu Studio includes some high quality wallpapers.

As I mentioned on the previous article, Ubuntu Studio is optimised for Audio, Video and Photo edition. Such optimization means that certain elements are different, such as the Kernel, which is real time. It also translates into a huge catalog of applications for both video and audio edition. In my case, I only installed Audio applications, which is something that can be chosen during the installation process.

The audio application catalog is rich in Ubuntu Studio.

Within the long list of applications aimed at audio edition, there are several that stand out, both in terms of quality and usefulness. Ardour, Hydrogen, Jack, Jamin, Audacity are great examples of tools that can help both the amateur and the professional music producer reach their goals.


One of the most interesting and relevant audio applications in Linux is the JACK audio server. JACK does many things but probably the most important one is connecting and synchronizing applications among each other.

The JACK audio server default interface, with the messages and status windows on.

Starting from the main window, we see several buttons for each of the main JACK features. The START and STOP buttons do, as expected, start and stop the JACK server. The Exit and Setup buttons are pretty self explanatory as well. The Status button presents a small console showing the current status of the server. The Messages button shows a text window displaying logs in real time. The Connections button is probably the one that I use most often, though.

The JACK connections screen.

As you can see from the screenshot above, the connections screen shows how the different applications are connected to each other. In this example, each of the individual drum instruments is connected to a single Ardour mono audio track. However, the JACK server connections are more than just a simple patch bay, for they enable synchronization among applications that are supported by the audio server. In other words, once the Hydrogen drum machine and Ardour are connected through JACK, hitting the play button on one will automatically trigger the same on the other(s). Similarly, hitting on the record button in Ardour would trigger the reproduction of the sequence programmed in Hydrogen. In fact, that's exactly how I record my drum tracks.


Ubuntu Studio is a distro that should make life easier for all people interested in Audio, Video or Photo edition. Including a vast array of specialized applications, it is the perfect choice for anybody from professionals to those who just want to toy with the incredible applications included.

The JACK audio server is the foundation on which many of the other audio applications build their capabilities. On the next and final article of these series, I will cover both the Hydrogen sequencing machine and the Ardour digital audio workstation.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Hey bro,

    Thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge! Priceless is sharing know and giving back to help others. Hoping you get the time and chance to write your final article and save the best for last! :)

    Thank you!

  2. Hi.

    Thank you for these blog entries on using Linux for audio recording. I've had so much frustration trying to get Kubuntu 10.04 working for basic recording. I don't even care about sound quality, and it still won't work.

    I can't find part 3. Where is it, please? :^)

    Sincerely, and with thanks,
    Eugene T.S. Wong

  3. Very nice introductory articles.. Good to learn about JACK AUDIO SERVER & Hydrogen drum machine.

    I am new to linux..Having a real hard time.. hope it proves a good choice.

    I cannot afford a MAC at this stage, and the choice boils down to windows versus linux.

    I plan to use MIDI controllers and have chosen rosegarden as the DAW . Will also try Ardour later.

    Would be great if you write more on the subject.


  4. Thanks Quaki!

    Unfortunately, Audio production takes lots of time and due to personal reasons I haven't been able to play much with it lately.

    Since I wrote this article, a lot of things have changed. To begin with, sounds like Ubuntu studio is getting little support and the releases don't include a real time kernel, which is a big drawback. As a result, and because I keep using Ubuntu Studio 9.04, I want to change gears and try DreamStudio, which you can read about here:

    Information about low latency and real time is in the tutorials section.

    I will wait until dreamstudio 12.04 goes live, though, because I want a stable environment and a decent take on Unity. When that happens, I plan to share more articles on this matter and hopefully some of my music as well!

    Thanks for reading!