New in Ardour 3

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The Ardour digital audio workstation has received quite a bit of acclaim within musical circles. The project has added even more enhancements to the new version.

Instead of introducing spectacular leaps in version updates, the developers of the Ardour free digital audio workstation (DAW) have concentrated on providing many detailed enhancements in the past 12 months.

The third generation of Ardour introduces MIDI tracks and a still experimental video timeline with thumbnails. The project has meanwhile released five new versions and about a dozen bug-squashing updates among other things (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Nicer, newer, more: The Ardour interface comes with a slew of new enhancements.

Additionally, the functionality of the music production suite is easily enhanced with a variety of extensions (see the "Plugins" box).


The number of music plugins has increased significantly over the past two years, not least of all due to the integration of the new LV2 and VSTx standards. A Google search for VST Plugins yields more than 70 packages in the Ubuntu Package Manager – some pulling in a good dozen additional modules on the hard drive. Searching for LV2 Plugins yields more than 120 packages.

Among the LV2 modules, you'll find home-grown graphical interfaces (Figure 2). If there's any doubt about these interfaces consuming too much power, Ardour has recently provided a radical solution: At the bottom of the startup context menu of the plugin interface is always an entry for opening Ardour in its own generic user interface.

Figure 2: Apart from many new synthesizers, many small, well-designed effects are included, such as this simple but clear distorter from dRowAudio.

System Requirements

Ardour's elaborately equipped GTK interface nevertheless requires relatively few system resources. For example, Ubuntu, needs just 2GB RAM to work with the DAW. However, increasing the project size to 20 tracks made the interface rather sluggish in our test, but fortunately did not affect the independent audio engine.

On the software side, Ardour requires a running Jack server. Optimizing the kernel is now merely recommended, whereas it used to be an absolute requirement.

Jack and Ardour run satisfactorily on a normal desktop kernel. However, there's no way around requiring special privileges for the audio mode. You do this by assigning the user to the audio group or, on some systems, the sound or jack group.

Jack inventor Paul Davis warns against installing Jack from the sources themselves. In many cases, this approach leads to problems when Jack and its helper programs run in /usr/local instead of /usr as the package manager intends.

If you want to optimize your system consistently and properly for audio, the Linux Audio wiki [1] has a complete guide.

Many Sources

Ardour is available in most distribution repositories, some of which require including special multimedia package sources. These distribution packages are in a real love-hate relationship with Ardour's chief developer Paul Davis, because the complex suite requires a matching environment and a setup that not all maintainers might implement.

Thus, Ardour works only with an installed and properly running Jack audio server, and the video function requires special video player software. In general, the Ardour project recommends having an already installed and set up the Jack server and only then installing the Ardour package [2] (Figure 3). Most functionalities will work installing from the Ubuntu Software Center, but if you do find anything missing, you should consider installing the packages supplied directly by the Ardour website.

Figure 3: The Ardour installation package installs the suite on /opt, checks the system configuration, and makes suggestions for improvements.

The Ardour install package is behind a pay portal with a requested contribution of at least $1. Any user registered with payment is then relieved of any future update payments. As befits GPLv2 licensed software, the project provides the Ardour source code for Git download.

To install it from there, install the Git client on your system and then execute the following command:

$ git clone git:// 3.0

This step creates a new 3.0 directory and stores more than 2800 files of over 100MB.

Apart from a list of developer packages [3] required for the build, the Ardour website also has a detailed guide [4] showing how to compile the suite from the sources. However, the guide is targeted to users who aren't first-time Linux software builders and assumes a standard build environment including GCC and tools such as Make.

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