Monday, May 21, 2012

Ubuntu Studio 12.04 Review

Shortly after I started using Linux in late 2007, I realized one of the biggest challenges before I could leave Windows behind was to find an alternative in the open source World to record my music. After a bit of research, I found about Ardour, Hydrogen, Jack, LADSPA and so many other great apps that were already available in Linux. I also found about the need of a low latency Kernel, so I needed an easy way to get all those ingredients installed in an simple and convenient packaging, something I found Ubuntu Studio covered well. For me, it was a natural move, given that Ubuntu was the distro I started with, so since April 2009, I was a happy "Ubuntu Studio-er".

One of the reasons I had not updated my Ubuntu Studio 9.04 installation was that the recent past of the project had been a turbulent one. The previous release went through lots of trouble, as could be read in the official Ubuntu Studio 11.10 RELEASE NOTES. Essentially, the team behind the distribution almost disappeared, the transition to XFCE was far from complete, a low latency Kernel was nowhere to be found... Things were upside down, leaving last October´s release in a difficult position. Surprisingly (and it was a very happy surprise, I tell you), it seems things are now better than ever (sometimes it takes hitting rock bottom...) and this new LTS release has lots to offer. Here´s a list of some highlight features:

  • Live-DVD
  • GUI-based installation
  • lowlatency kernel installed by default
  • i386 images use the lowlatency-pae kernel
  • XFCE is default desktop environment
  • Pulse Audio <-> JACK bridging enabled by default
  • New theme, icons, and default font
  • New LightDM and Desktop background/backdrop images
  • Documented work flows/new application choices provide better user support
  • Menu restructured for better work flow support
  • ARandR included for improved multi-monitor functionality
  • mudita24 replaces envycontrol24 for ice1712 chip audio interfaces
  • Long Term Support release (3 years)

Right after reading those features and knowing how good Ubuntu and Xubuntu 12.04 had proven to be during my testing, I couldn´t wait to start downloading and testing Ubuntu Studio as well!

GET INTO THE STUDIO

One thing that concerned me was that I had a perfectly working system in Ubuntu Studio 9.04 and there was always a question mark on whether 12.04 would still provide support for my hardware (a simple, but old, M-AUDIO 1010 LT PCI card). On top of that, it had been years since I did all the configuration on 9.04, so I was not all that confident that I would remember what had to be done to get 12.04 moving with all my Ardour and Hydrogen projects.

One of the many new great features in Ubuntu Studio 12.04 is the ability to run it as a LiveDVD, which allowed me to see my hardware was still fully supported. In fact, I have to say hardware support, just like in Ubuntu 12.04, is stellar: everything was correctly detected and configured on my desktop. The 1010LT soundcard was no exception, but most impressive was the seamless integration in the sound applet from the notification area, which would make it a breeze to change the default hardware audio output for different media applications. On top of that, of course, the LiveDVD allowed me to take a quick tour and check the vast array of applications included, as well as the new and attractive looks of the debuting XFCE desktop manager. Long story short, I had found what I was looking for and it took only a few minutes before I was clicking the install button.

INSTALLATION AND FIRST IMPRESSIONS

As with any other x-buntu distro released back this April, the installation is superb. Quick, intuitive, only asking relevant questions and leaving the confusing bits aside, mature and stable. Thanks to the ability to download updates during the installation, I got a fully updated Ubuntu Studio desktop right off the bat, albeit taking longer than an "offline" installation would have, of course.

The Ubuntu 12.04 splash screen is beautiful, impressive, looking very professional and sharp. Unfortunately not like it is the login screen, which looks a bit archaic, even if sporting a beautiful background image. Just as it is the case in Xubuntu, the LightDM theme in Ubuntu Studio is far from being as sleek as Ubuntu´s. Hopefully we will see improvements in this area come future releases. If not, thanks to the reduced complexity of LightDM, changes to the background picture, login window theme and fonts are fortunately quite simple.

The desktop uses the same background as the login screen, incorporating a few changes from the GNOME Classic days. All in all, the default theme, fonts and icons look OK. However, since I love customizing things to my needs and Look&Feel means a lot to me, it didn't take long before I started tweaking. Conky, a change in fonts and the lower panel, plus the Faenza icons theme, all sitting on top of a better fitting wallpaper, put a smile on my face pretty quickly.


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APPLICATION GALORE

Unlike Xubuntu, Ubuntu Studio 12.04 leans towards GNOME in its applications of choice, so it is no surprise that Nautilus handles file management, instead of XFCE´s Thunar.


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Another departure from Xubuntu´s defaults is the text editor of choice, good old Gedit.


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Aside from a few minor differences, though, the similarities with Xubuntu are obvious. This should come as no surprise since both are using XFCE now. A good example of those similarities is the identical System Settings tool.


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The Audio Production application catalog is full of candy. Mudita 24 quickly helped me manage my 1010LT input and output levels, while Jack gave me a hand in choosing the hardware interface and adjusting connections. I still get an old issue at times, when my two audio cards seem to battle to take the first spot (HW0) at boot, making my default Jack setup fail. Choosing "default" in Jack Interface drop-down menu didn´t help, unfortunately. Now, I know there is a fix to this which involves hard coding which interface should go in first, but I was hoping this would be managed automatically at this stage. Oh, well.


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I quickly fired Hydrogen (testing version 0.96) and loaded one of my songs. Of course, I had to go through the tedious task of mapping instrument layers, but I was happy to see some new features that made my life a little easier when recording. All in all, though, Hydrogen is still poor in several areas, the user interface being the one I probably have more problems with. It does get the job done, though, and since this is an Ubuntu Studio review, I won´t go on about it.


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I then started Ardour (version 2.8) and was happy to see all looking very much familiar. I loaded some old projects and it all went buttery smooth. I only had to remap connections through Jack to get my drum tracks in, and I must say I am getting the best results ever in terms of latency, with less than 10ms. and almost zero xruns.

The whole thing comes preconfigured with LADSPA effects, mastering tools like Jamin and players like Audacious, among many others. Thanks to the intuitive audio setup, I now find it very easy to master my songs, export them and then check them out through my standard speakers or regular headphones, all without having to switch or change anything on Jack. It´s making mixing and mastering way easier and faster!


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Ubuntu Studio is not focused solely on Audio Production, though, Video, Image Manipulation and Digital Animation are very much part of it thanks to applications like OpenShot, GIMP and Blender. I have no skills at animation, though, so to me Blender is just a great companion to OpenShot for the 3D titles.


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The default Video Player handles a wide arrange of formats, but I find it is no match for my favorite: VLC. Luckily, Ubuntu Studio 12.04 benefits from being part of the x-buntu family and includes a fully up to date version of the great Ubuntu Software Manager, which made installing VLC (just an example) a breeze.


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As can be seen, the application catalog in Ubuntu Studio is impressive, but I think there are better options than Brasero for burning CDs/DVDs, specially in a distro like this, which may take such applications to their limits. Personally, I would have included K3B, my favorite.


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GIMP (which does include all of its plugins by default) I use quite a lot on most of my installations, but it does feel good to have it here, on a dedicated distro. Ubuntu Studio will probably handle all my image manipulation from now on.


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A SINGLE WORD: CONGRATULATIONS!

At the end of last year, the future of Ubuntu Studio looked uncertain, so to see the distro come back to life in such style is a most welcome and impressive surprise. The best thing, though, is that it just starts there, but only truly unfolds when one starts using it in depth and finding how good Ubuntu Studio 12.04 actually is. Its 3 year support resulting from its LTS nature is very welcome added plus.

Aside from the release itself, I think the best piece of news is that the team behind the project seems to be in best shape, which only raises expectations towards better upcoming releases. Yes, there is still work to be done around things like LightDM or a smoother XFCE integration, but looking at what those guys have achieved in such a short amount of time I can only congratulate them and thank them, hoping that future releases will stay this good.

30 comments:

  1. Looks very promising, thanks for the review.

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  2. I enjoyed your review. un like you I upgraded to 11.10. wasnt a happy camper. ugly and took me a while to set up. XFCE was my biggest hurdle. do you have any knowledge if it is easy to set up dual displays with the current release.

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  3. I come across this post http://www.muktware.com/3612/voyager-review-xfce-its-best

    Did you know about this distro and any plan to review in your machine?

    -bastpt

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  4. Thanks all for your comments!

    @Andrew: XFCE is awesome in my opinion, easy to deal with and powerful, but I must say I haven't tried using dual displays with it. If that's what you are after, I would recommend Dream Studio. It is much closer to Ubuntu (Unity is there) and incorporates all recent Ubuntu improvements, like a much enhanced multiple display support. Hope that does it for you!

    @Anonymous: I didn't know about Voyager, but I will definitely give it a go, it looks good!

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  5. What widget is that, that your using for your clock?

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    Replies
    1. I think its absolutely brilliant!! I'd love to try this on my desktop. Is it a script you wrote yourself or one available online?

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    2. Conky Lua is available online, just search for it and download it.

      Delete
  6. THANKS!!! Great review by the way!!! keep it up

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  7. It's getting there, sloooowly but shirley. I just wish that those "rats" that left the ship DIDN'T.
    'cause UbuntuStudio is well worth the end result, and reason for existence, especially now that Ubuntu/Unity/Andriod/hand-held/ has feel way short of a workstation Linux. -but then again, isn't that in M$'s, and Apples's agenda ?!

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  8. Thank you for the review! I had a previous version installed but went back to Cubase for several reasons. Your review looks promissing so I know what I have to do next weekend! I look forward to install Ubuntu Studio again and get the best out of it. Reviews like this are inspiring, thanks again!

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  9. Jack totally sucks on ubuntu 12.04 (linux mint ,xubuntu etc)
    The sound quality is very bad, when i increase the input volume i have sound feedback (like siren) i dont have any mics lol.
    Also i have cracking sounds like those when playing an old lp disk on an old pickup player.

    This sucks ... but do you know what sucks more? It sucks that linux has an enormous community and noone fixes or notices this problem.
    I'm using Jack with guitarix/rakarrack/etc for more than 2-3 years ! and had no problems....

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  10. Thanks Chema Martin for the review. I would like to know if you have experienced problems with Jack or any application needing low-latency? Have you used Pianoteq to play a MIDI keyboard with it? That is my main interest; a user reported issues with Jack and sound. That is bad; presently I am using the previous Ubuntu Studio (I think it was 9 originally, but with updates is not anymore of it, rather, more like ubuntu 11.04). Anyway, I have sound issues, especially with VLC, producing really ugly sounds. Ok Thanks.

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    Replies
    1. No issues whatsoever. If anything, I have felt Ubuntu Studio was more solid this version as a whole than it ever was. I can now record with latency so low that it is perfect, settings I could never get to work before.

      Nothing is perfect, though, and so you must assume a bit of getting used to and getting set, but after that, I believe you should success at getting what you want.

      Sorry, I can't comment on the Pianoteq bit, never used it myself.

      Good Luck

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  11. I was inspired by your Blog to try Ubuntu Studio 12.04 with my M-Audio 1010 LT, however like ALL Linux Distros except Tango Studio , my M- Audio PCI cards are never recognized.
    The usual conflicts with PulseAudio continue to plague the Linux distros.
    The good news is that my RME Hammerfall ASIO is recognized and can be used with Q Jack with extreme low latency as well as being able to use my Oxygen chipset, which works fine in PulseAudio.
    So for recording, playback as use with Ardour,Audacity and RoseGarden works fine.
    Its not perfect, but much better... I really wish that you can turn off PulseAudio or link it to Q Jack to have one unified sound daemon.
    As for the ICE 1712 Chip...for me its a fail, no go..its there, but both ALSA mixer and Pulse fail to recognize it..I am open to suggestions.

    Johnny Buntu

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    Replies
    1. That's strange, Ubuntu Studio has always recognized and correctly setup my M-Audio card... Sounds weird that you have that problem when it's been listed as one the best working cards in Linux for years...

      I am assuming you have used your Envy 24 control utility with it and it does not work either?

      Delete
  12. How do I get it to try out?
    raven131@cox.net

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  13. Indeed it has, and for years I have never had it to work, my M Audio 2496 works perfectly in the Tango Studio and thats because A) Pulse is completely absent.
    2)Based on Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx..which at that time proved to be the best distro.
    Lastly, just do a search on the M Audio Delta 1010 LT, you will see a plague on unresolved and insane recipes to help fix the issue,
    What I've learned over the years is that the ICE 1712 chip, particularly this one, its the lack of a profile that assigns a multi channel card etc.
    Anyhow as I said, the RME card, to my great surprise is , seen,supported and of course fantastic latency down to 2.6 milsec..thats outstanding, and if you know your audio cards, the RME is light years ahead of M Audio,

    Lastly they really need to release Ubuntu Studio "without"Pulse", which for many of us becomes an obstacle, this is what they did with Tango Studio,...which I have and use ALL M Audio cards work in Tango Studio.. I suggest you take a peak.

    http://tangostudio.tuxfamily.org/en/tangostudio

    Cheers, Johnny Buntu

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    Replies
    1. Thx for that info. I'll be trying Tango with my 2496.

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  14. ALSA Mixer, Gnome Mixer, Envy 24...not seen ..nada..of course forget Pulse :(

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  15. Just a side note, K3B comes from the KDE world, so including it instead of brasero implies including the KDE libraries juggernaut, which, in a XFCE (GTK) world, makes no sense for a simple DVD burning GUI. I'm sure you'll find K3B in the repositories (maybe you'll have to include the Kubuntu repos)

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  16. Thanks for your review. I was ready to give up using computers in my composing, and invest in a better synth. I must give this release of Ubuntu Studio a chance/ LG

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  17. Hello Chema Martin!
    Thank you for the excellent review. Can you perhaps elaborate a bit more on how you tweaked your desktop, apart from the conky script? I am currently in the process of moving from unity to xfce, and I am looking for the tweaks that make my desktop feel more natural and appealing to me. I think yours looks very nice (theme, top panel opacity and layout, app launcher) and am interested in how you set it up!
    Thank you very much!
    Willem

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Willem!

      Well, nothing too fancy. I installed Faenza icons, set up a new panel on the left (ala Unity, but obviously much simpler) and changed the default wallpaper. If you used Ubuntu prior to Unity, you will feel right at home using XFCE.

      Good luch

      Delete
  18. Hi,
    I have MF V-DAC II, what about drivers, yes or no?

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    Replies
    1. I am sorry, but I don't know about that card, my experience is limited to my own M-Audio.

      Delete
  19. The GNu is greats as always, but linux is a joke at best if your into watered down security back-door temp files hidden remote user accounts updates that take control of your system and the awesome efforts made to make the OS open to Microsoft ran application hacks this brand is for you.

    ReplyDelete
  20. this http://cristalinux.blogspot.com site is so beautiful.this site depend on ubuntu studio information.different photos about ubuntu studio are so beautiful.i like this site.

    ReplyDelete