At this time, Ardour 3.0 is in feature-freeze, meaning that no new features will be added before the final version is released. The program’s interface has been well-refined, and some previous elements have been altered in various ways, many in very positive directions. Here are my first looks at the program as I’ve used it for the last couple months.
In this article, I will focus on the aspects of this program that have been changed from the previous stable version, as a look into what to expect with the program overall. The primary difference is an impressive upgrade to the program’s interface, and in this case, the biggest improvements come in the form of the program’s toolbar and the track mixer columns.
The main toolbar is the top section of the main window, containing the necessary tools for controlling the playback and editing of clips (called “regions”) in Ardour. It is here that you can track the location of the playhead, the status of the recording system (whether it’s on or off), as well as several important options, such as whether Ardour is using its own timing system, or if it is slaved off of Jack Transport.
The most obvious and welcome change is the addition of the selection readout, which gives actual time values for selection and punch ranges, which can be useful when attempting to time your recordings, especially when combined with the new range locking feature (which I use when a voice role requires a specific time limit). For musicians, you have probably noticed the presence of a metronome button, which is complimentary to the new MIDI features present in the new version.
Some other welcome changes have been a reorganization of the main counter readouts; the time and the MIDI Time Code readouts are still where they were, but now the transport selection (JACK/INT), Primary Clock, video frames per second (useful when , Beats per Second, and Measure are all in their own boxes, allowing them to stand out more, which is helpful when trying to find the correct information.
For the transport controls, you now have a “Panic Button” as one of the controls (the “!” button, used after stopping playback in order to shut the damn synth up), as well as a “Lock to Range.” Don’t see the latter? It’s that loop around the two “Play” buttons; when selected, the playback/recording will stop once you reach the end of a selected range. Note “Range,” not “Region;” this does not lock you to a specific region; what you do is use the range highlight to select a range on the track, like so:
First, click on the range selection button in the toolbar…
Then, highlight the range at the point of time you want to record/playback (it does not need to be on any specific track)…
One thing you’ll want to note: If you are using Ardour as a slave to the Jack Transport, then it will not automatically stop at the end of the range, but it will start at the beginning. If you’re not using any other synchronized applications, then you can just set this to “internal” time control, and the problem will go away.
The shuttle speed control has had a slight change made to it; its options are no longer buttons and drop-downs, but now they are context-menu options, which cuts down on the toolbar clutter considerably.
Smart Mode is a new mode for mouse controls; this basically combines the abilities of region selection and range selection into one mode. This way, you can not only select and move entire regions, but you can select entire sections of those regions for editing. In this way, you don’t need to go back and forth, especially when making use of the range lock feature described above.
When smart mode is enabled, clicking and dragging on the middle of a track will use the region control features, allowing you to move and select regions in the track. However, if you use the top or bottom edges of the track, you will have the ability to select ranges within those tracks, basically giving you the best of both worlds.
The Ardour mixer window is the tool used to adjust settings and apply plugins into individual tracks. Version 3.0 gives a serious facelift to the track strip itself, readjusting the plugin panel to be single, rather than double, clarifying the purpose of the two fields in 2.8.
Clarifying? Yes, I had made a mistake in my original post describing Ardour 2.8; both plugin banks are applied on the output of the track, meaning it always records only what is received from the input, guaranteeing that the recording is clean… unless you insert a bus first with plugin adjustments. I had believed that the first bank was applied to the incoming audio, which was recorded, and the second bank was applied to the outgoing audio. It’s an honest mistake. Honest! …Whatever. I write by the seat of my pants, so sue me if I get something wrong!
The two banks of plugins before and after the fader were for exactly that: the fader. The plugins that came before would not be affected by the fader, and the ones going after would always apply to audio adjusted by the fader. This kind of confusion was corrected through the updated track strip in 3.0, where instead of two plugin banks with a fader in between, a “Fader” control is added to the plugin list; all plugins before the fader are red, and all afterwards are green.
On the middle of the new mixer strip, between the fader control and the plugin bank is the track controls. In this version of Ardour, you have more control over the tracks and how they are set and monitored by the fader.
The most obvious addition to the track controls is the big red “record” button; this is just another way for you to “arm” the track for recording when beginning the recording playback process. It’s not as necessary in the mixer view, but remember, the same track strip can also be seen in the editor window, just by going to “View” -> “Show Editor Mixer,” and this can be easier to activate since the button is much bigger than the one in the track itself.
The two buttons on the top are the monitoring selections. What this basically means is that you can decide if the track in question is a passthrough; you can either set it so that it outputs its input at all times, or else it will only output during playback.
When “In” is selected, the input is not only recorded, it’s also passed to the output. This is useful when using software monitoring, so you can hear the results of your processing; this can be useful before recording to make sure the sound is just right. Also, you can use this feature as a way to record both a clean recording on this track and a processed recording on the destination track using the plugins, meaning that you can record and process your content at the moment you speak it! Podcasters, take note, this means that once you have the plugins all configured, and their settings saved with the session, the only processing you’ll need to perform is possibly silence removal, since everything else can be done at the time of recording.
However, if you decide against simultaneous recording and processing (such as when working with multiple tracks), then the last thing you want when you’re done recording is to have fresh audio from your microphone contaminate the processed track (a risk involved with a direct microphone connection to the “clean” track). By clicking on the “Disk” button, the input is turned off, and the only audio going to the output is the playback itself. This means that you don’t need to worry about microphone contamination of processed recordings.
The “mute” and “solo” buttons are still there from the previous version, but what are those “iso” and “lock” controls? These controls are used to affect your selection of the “solo” button. The “Lock” button, when enabled, will set the “solo” button to be unchangeable; if it’s enabled, then it can’t be disabled. When it’s disabled, it can’t be enabled. The “Iso” (or “Isolate”) button will prevent this channel from being muted by the solo settings of other channels, so that even if another channel is set to “Solo,” this channel will remain audible.
Another nice change is that the fading controls now actually look like fading controls. As you can see in the top image, the fader controls were little more than lines and dots. Then we have the 3.0 view, which actually look like stereo and area soundfields. Of course, that little orange dot will only travel the edge of the field, indicating that it will always be at some side, but this is standard for any basic audio; anything more complex will need special tools, such as the Ambisonics encoders.
The channel selection control itself has also seen a marked facelift. When you click the channel assignment buttons (usually just under the track name for input, or at the very bottom for output), you are presented with a grid, in place of the list used in 2.8. Additionally, you can assign connections explicitly, rather than in any order; all you need to do is click the box intersecting the track’s channel (indicated by the column) and the external channel (indicated by row).
And for those who are curious, you see “ardour-01″ in the above list because I happen to be running both versions at the same time, and this version is seeing the other version as “other.”
Since I’m not a musician, I haven’t really explored the MIDI features of this software to much depth. If you want to know more, you might find more from the excellent community at the Linux Musicians website. Besides, Ardour is primarily (and best used as) a DAW; it is better to leave this program to audio recording, mixing, and processing, leaving music construction to the likes of specialists like Rosegarden and the Linux Multimedia Studio, as these programs have special tools to assist in the creation, such as Rosegarden’s score editing mode, and LMMS’s sample and synth libraries and loop management controls.
However, here’s what I’ve learned so far.
First of all, you can create MIDI tracks in the same way audio tracks are created; right-click on the empty track header space and choose “MIDI Tracks.” Then go down and change the instrument to the synth or sampler you want to use. A new track will appear, but unlike the blue of the audio tracks, the MIDI track will be a shade of green.
In the plugin bank, you will notice that the instrument you selected is inserted before the fader. You can replace this by deleting the existing plugin and choosing a different instrument plugin. If you do not first delete the existing instrument plugin, you will receive an error about invalid ports for the plugin (as the existing plugin will be using the MIDI channel, and all that will be left are the audio channels).
Ardour has taken its strengths and made them stronger in this upcoming release. In particular, its interface changes have made a massive improvement, and are much easier to use and are more intuitive to boot. It has also started to address is long-standing lack of MIDI musical support, although it has a long way to go at this point.
Since I’m not a musician, the musical features of Ardour are a non-issue for me. However, as someone who does (or is attempting to do) voice-over, the recording and processing facilities of this software are still top-notch, and with the new plugin interface and especially the channel controls (the monitoring selection buttons in particular), recording and processing those recordings are even more painless than before.
For those musicians who are using other tools to make their songs, Ardour isn’t quite ready yet to replace those tools, but as always, it’s unbeatable once you have the sequences prepared, and you just want to mix and master your projects.
Remember, however, that the program is still in Beta. This is the last beta before the final release, so there’s little chance that anything major will change. But I can safely say that, once the final release is upon us, it will be completely worth your time to become acquainted with this excellent tool, and together, you can make good things.