Always experimenting with audio

I wrote about buying both Reaper and Harrison Mixbus, but at the moment I’m back to plain old Ardour for my audio mixes – and I still keep changing things, like:

  • I changed from the version 5.12 which is the current version of Ardour in both Debian stable and also in KXStudio to 6.6 which will be the second last of the 6.x versions of Ardour (with the latest version being 6.7, soon to be released). This looks a bit like Mixbus which is based on Ardour 6.x, except the bells & whistles and the built-in eqs, compressors, and such.
  • I also changed from using lots of Calf tools to alternative ones which are making use of better (programmed) DSPs – those Calf plugins look nice, and are easy to understand, but sonically there are better ones I think.
  • In my latest remix I experimented with using 96kHz sampling rate while working, and used plain old CD quality 44.1kHz (and even the mp3 format which Ardour now can also write) for exports, except my single bass stems which I still exported as .wav files. This ‘oversampling’ is done more or less automatically by some better plugins, so I’ll go on working with 48kHz which is the norm for video and also the one used by many mobile devices (like phones).

Just in case you’re interested, at the moment I’m using:

Beside these, I’m also using:

Of course, I’m also still experimenting with Harrison Mixbus, but can’t do everything at once and for all projects – I still want to make music a bit as well… 😉

So much to learn, so little time… but I still love it when/if I approach better output quality along the way. One important thing to keep in mind is for instance gain staging – make very sure to not saturate your outputs too early, and to get your signal into the next plugin already too ‘hot’ for it to handle that signal… drive it hot at the output, not while still working 😉

As always, thanks for reading 🙂 And also thanks to those who donate their precious free time into developing awesome tools like the ones mentioned above, for free. Help them with a little donation if you can, they need the nice feedback like every other musician/technician as well…

I bought Mixbus

After supporting Ardour since a while, and also after purchasing Reaper because I used that on both Windows and Linux, I recently saw a note in the LinuxMusicians forum that currently Mixbus is on sale again. And following the link, it was indeed reduced by quite a margin, so I decided to get it. I mean, 19€ or $ or 17£, that’s a steal for this program – plus they are also the biggest sponsor of Ardour, that’s why I jumped on it.

For those of you who don’t know what it is, here’s a video ad from its makers:

Harrison Mixbus (v2)

It looks pretty on my desktop (a much newer version 6 compared to the video above:

Editor view of Harrison Mixbus
Mixer view of Harrison Mixbus

Pretty much identical to Ardour 6 on which it is based, plus some added polish / features / plugins. And it also comes for Windows and MacOS like Ardour.

I’m quite curious to see (or rather, hear) what things like their mixer with tape saturation etc. will do, so I’ll dig into that soon, and keep you informed.

As always, thanks for reading, and for viewing.

Updates, cheap frame grabbers, selfies

Sometime last week I read about a vulnerability of the Chrome browser which most of my colleagues – and according to my statistics also most of the visitors of this site – are using. So I sent them a short notice about it, and also upgraded my own versions of the Chrome and Chromium browsers on both Linux and Windows (tho I rarely use them, mostly for debugging if someone reports about errors or so).

There were also news about Windows updates, and that these might be important, so I did that as well – I have a dual boot machine here so if I interrupt the boot up process I can also start Windows 10 instead of Linux. This one might be tricky in case you have your Windows machine connected via WiFi – one of their last updates corrupted that (and they have another update for that alone). Anyway, better be safe and update, I did…

What I do *not* have on my main machine is a webcam for video conferencing, but I have tried droidcam which works fine even with an iPhone, I also tried their Linux client on my employers’ notebook (Lenovo P50 with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8), and that works.

But I also remembered that I have a much better camera, so I ordered one of these cheap frame grabbers (mine was 14€, you find them even cheaper by now):

These are detected automatically, no drivers needed. Here’s a screenshot from Ubuntu Studio where it even shows its name as ‘MACROSILICON USB Video’, and the ID 534d:2109 (on my Debian and Red Hat machines both of which have older kernels it leaves away the name but is detected and works just fine):

Rob Trek has a video about this one, and how to use it with Olympus cameras like mine:

He also had another one on how to use these cameras for live streaming and online conferencing with Skype, Zoom, Meet, and so on:

Very nice, although until now I can’t really get rid of the focus rectangles with that long press on the ‘Info’ button¹. But then again, Olympus never claimed the E-M10 Mk2 to have a clean HDMI output, so this is what you should look out for when deciding onto a new camera with which you’d also like to live stream – the quality of all of these is *much* better than your typical webcam… (the one in the Lenovo P50 is horrible).

¹Edit: if I turn off face/eye detection, C-AF on, and then select not one focus point/box but all – pretty much the whole screen – then I get a clean HDMI out for streaming. Cool; works for me without having to get just another camera…

Speaking about cameras, I was using mine a bit more often lately, but since I can’t always photograph our cat, and since we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, I mostly pointed it onto myself – like here for instance:

7e5_2083303-me-as-lester
Me as “Lester the Nightfly”, Mörfelden-Walldorf 2021
Listen to the original
7e5_2123333-yet-another-self-portrait
Yet another self portrait, Mörfelden-Walldorf 2021

As you see I also went wider as usual – 50mm-equivalent in the first, and 28mm-equivalent in the second shot, and I used two of my studio strobes for better colour and definition. So if you don’t have a good looking model, you can at least use good lighting which is the second most important thing in photography 🙂 No reason to not be creative just because you can’t go out that much, is it?

As always, thanks for reading, viewing, and watching (or listening). Be well and stay safe everyone, and take care…

Ardour and Reaper

Since I got my audio interface and a studio condenser microphone to record my own voice for videos, I was using Ardour as my main program for recording on my Debian Linux machine. I have tried the Windows version as well, even the new 6.3 one lately, but in my opinion this free and open source tool runs best on an operating system like Debian which is also free and open source, and I think it’s natively developed on Linux as well.

With the audio interface I had gotten some free goodies like for instance the very nice XLN Audio Addictive Keys Studio Grand (what a name!) sampled Steinway grand piano – a 90$ value in itself. I had tried it, loved it, and also installed it on Linux where Windows VSTs need an additional layer to work. It does work, but of course it puts some load onto the machine that way, which is counter-productive in a near realtime usage like music. I’m no pianist, so for me the Salamander Grand, a Yamaha C5 nicely sampled by Alexander Holm was almost equally good. Plus it is under a Creative Commons license, and it runs natively as a soundfont on Linux.

Then I’ve got some more free plugins (and they keep coming if you buy an audio interface from Focusrite, thank you very much to that company!), but like most if not all freebies such as these – they exist for Windows, and for the Mac, and that’s it. So Windows, hm, never was doing much in there…

… I had tried Reaper since version 5 or even earlier, but since I never do much on Windows anyway, that trial version was just laying around mostly unused, and the 30 day trial period was way over, although I had only started it a couple of times. So when I learned about some really cool tricks and about the new version 6.x of Reaper, I decided to pay for it and to license it – it’s no free software like Ardour (which I also support nevertheless). And so I installed Reaper 6 both on Windows and also on Linux (which I also hadn’t done before). For my last two collaborations with other musicians from Wikiloops (see below), I’ve used both Reaper *and* Ardour.

There are many reasons to have them both – first Ardour, since it is open source, runs on Linux, Windows, and Macs, and because a download of a compiled version for Windows or Macintosh machines start at 1$ (or now 1€? Forgot…) – but if you’re fair, and can afford it, you can pay more of course. Ardour is wonderful.

But Reaper has a few things which really save you some time, or which can’t be done at all in Ardour. Take video as an example – yes, in Ardour you can have a video timeline in case you’re making some music for it, but in Reaper you can actually *edit* video. See one of Kenny Gioia’s videos (and he has lots which is another reason to use Reaper) about that:

This is REAPER 6 – Video Editing (13/15)

So you don’t really have to go and to use kdenlive or other programs for simple editing like this, which is cool. And that is just one of many things.

Adam Steel tells us a bit more (but his mentioning of Sonarworks on the monitoring only is what I’m also using in Ardour since I have it):

Why I Love Reaper with Adam Steel!

So no matter if its free or commercial plugins, or any of the tricks Reaper can do but which are difficult to impossible to realise on other DAWs (even ProTools), there’s a reason to try it. Some of my friends over at Wikiloops also use and love Reaper, so in case you can’t or you don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars or euros on programs like Cubase or ProTools, you should have a look at these two – Ardour, and Reaper. Best would be a combination of both of them.

As always, thanks for reading.

The new Ardour 6.3 is out, and it has a really cool feature

As you might know in case you’re reading this blog once in a while, my DAW (digital audio workstation) of choice is the free and open source tool called ‘Ardour‘. And almost 2 weeks ago, the project announced its latest release 6.3, with the list of changes here.

And today I finally found the time to download (I’m a supporter, otherwise that would cost you at least 1$) and to try this version, which I did on Windows (I normally use it on Linux, but on that platform I always wait for new software being added to the repositories – too much to explain here and now). And I tested this new feature, the new Loudness Analyser, with a cool song from a few friends from Wikiloops which I had downloaded but not worked on yet (so it doesn’t have a bass) – hear Marc’s original remix and keyboard add here if you wish:

Ok; so I’ve put this track in a shared drive which the machine can “see” both from Windows and Linux, so first of course I started Ardour 6.3:

Then I added the track above (“Sunny Garden”), and checked the tracks loudness with right-clicking on it. Result:

As you can see, the integrated loudness is -15LUFS, and the True Peaks are +0.9dB – so integrated is perfectly fine depending on what you’re about to do with it, but the peaks are a bit hot and even distorted.

You’ll find the new Loudness Analyser tool in the master channel/bus of the DAW, on the right hand in the following screenshot, above the master fader where it says ‘LAN’ and ‘0.00dB’:

If you click on that LAN tool, a dialog with an explanation opens:

And if you further click on ‘Analyze’ it will show you its default setting which is EBU R 128:

Now EBU R 128 is for the European TV standard loudness which as you can see is -23 LUFS (integrated), with True Peaks of -1dB. And while that is perfectly fine and always recommendable in case you want to send something to a broadcasting station, most of us don’t do this, but rather use some streaming services to upload to – all of which have different settings to which they’ll reduce your track in case it’s too loud for them. Here’s a list of choices you have:

You see that for instance Youtube which is currently selected would (and will) reduce such a track to -14 LUFS and to -1dBTP – and under the ‘Measured’ column you can also see that for Youtube the integrated (average) loudness could even be higher, but since the true peaks aren’t -1 but +0.9 it will reduce the total gain by an amount of -1.93dB. If we do that ourselves here we can at least check the result *before* uploading it elsewhere…

I always use -16 LUFS and -1dBTP as my target, which is what the choice of the ‘Apple Music’ streaming service would also do. So all of the tracks of all of my albums in Wikiloops (which *I* remixed last) have that same loudness, and to you, dear listener that means that you won’t have to always look for the volume knob in case you’ll hear one of those in the car or elsewhere… and note that the loudness reduction for *this* track would be absolutely the same as when deciding on Youtube as the ‘target’ – because of that peak of +0.9dB somewhere (and note that peak also shown in both the channel and master strips in this screenshot:

So the reduction in this case is also -1.93dB. So, ok – I applied this as my setting for this song and export, which leads to this changed part in the master channel:

So during exporting of the song, I checked that I want another analysis *after* that export (to see the result), with setting the checkmark here:

And after the exporting is done, I see the new analysis:

So now the track is at -16.9LUFS and -1dBTP which is fine, unless of course you even care for that last 0.9 dB of integrated loudness – in that case you’d have to go back to the channel and find that peak marked in yellow in the left channel of the above screenshot, correct that a bit (like with an automated fader down of a dB or so over it), and repeat – it’s an iterative process if you really want to be the ‘master’ engineer of your track(s).

Anyway, I’ve listened to that normalised track with my calibrated headphones again, and be assured that Marc’s (and Oliv’s and Martin’s) track still sounds wonderful.

And what I also find wonderful is that even in a no cost (or low cost with the 1$ for the download as minimal selectable amount) environment we now have tools like these which really make life a lot easier even for us non-technicians. So for today, thank you for reading, and I’ll let Zuleikha (an older photo of her) greet you from the background of my Windows partition:

An apple a day…

… keeps the doctor away, so the old saying goes. Well maybe the internet doctor in this case. Let me explain.

My boss has the same internet provider that we also use, it’s your usual cable ‘triple play’ provider who gives you TV, phone, and internet all via the same line. That has been pretty good until the beginning of this year, when services – especially internet and thus phone (which is nothing more than VOIP anyway) – stopped working, sometimes for days. So both my boss and I had days when we had to wait several hours until we could resume working, especially since the lockdown and stay at and work from your homes rules.

So our employers decided to give us LTE access points as a backup for the usual cable service, which means a mobile phone. And at our employer, the current standard mobile phone is an Apple iPhone. The colleagues who ordered theirs some 2 weeks before I did got the iPhone 8, and yesterday mine arrived – the brand new iPhone SE from 2020. And it’s small, see here:

_7202676
iPhone SE (2020) next to Lenovo Thinkpad P50

There it is still in its packing which isn’t that much bigger than my mouse as you can see. One big plus of these phones – for me – are their “tiny” screens with just 4.7 inches, even the old Google (LGE) Nexus 5 had a 4.95″ screen (although with a higher resolution).

So by now it’s set up (through IBM, who are the owners of this thing, I’m only the user), and this is the normal start screen (learned to make a screenshot on an Apple device which is all new for me):

2B116088-4F94-418A-BADD-79D576104296
Home screen of an iPhone SE (2020)

That screen has a resolution of 750 pixels wide and 1334 pixels high, so here you’ll have that screenshot in its original size. Not FullHD like the 1080×1920 size of the Nexus 5, but I tried and watched Wim Wenders’ wonderful “Paris, Texas” movie on it yesterday, and I haven’t been put off just because of the screen size – that’s still such a wonderful movie that you’ll forget about all that.

Played around only briefly with Apple’s free GarageBand until now because I don’t have an iRig or other interface to get my bass (or Zuleikha’s piano) attached.

But of course I had to try the camera – so here you go:

IMG_E0023
Tuna the cat, Moerfelden-Walldorf 2020

Nice colours, hm? And about 4mm focal length, here with f/1.8 (I think it opens up to f/1.4 if it needs to or if you want that), ISO400 in this case, and 12MP resolution. Not as good as our real cameras, but who’s complaining if you get that for free in a sub 400$ phone (and I really have the smallest and cheapest, with 64GB of storage, more than enough for what we do with them).

So would I recommend these, or even buy any from my own money? I don’t know, honestly. These Android phones like Mitchie’s Google Pixel 3a are damn fine devices as well, and even cheaper (seen that one for under 300€ in the stores already). And Android is still more open, that thing has both a better (but alas, also bigger) screen *and* a better camera, at least when the light gets dimmer (plus it has an old style 3.5″ headphone/microphone jack). Apple on the other hand has way more processing power under its hoods with their own ARM-based A13 chips, these devices multitask like the big boys without even breaking a sweat – which is always good for artists like painters, video guys or musicians. They cost a lot more money tho, especially the add-ons (look at pencils and keyboards for iPads for instance, or RAM upgrades for Mac computers).

But it’s always interesting to look over the fence or the borders of your own plates, and to learn something new can’t be bad as well. So thanks boss, glad we have these… (and let’s see if that’ll become my gateway drug which will lead to further addiction – but I’m still glad I also have Ardour on my Linux box) 🙂

As always, thanks for reading.

Thoughts about switching to Linux

Marko Saric wrote an interesting article on opensource.com with the title ‘How to know if you’re ready to switch from Mac to Linux‘.

Just yesterday I was complaining about everything non-Mac or non-iOS in an email to my brother, and the reason for that were the audio system, the general focus on arts like music, photos, and videos, which no other system except those out of Cupertino handle as well in my opinion. Now comes someone and goes back from there, as did others before…

For me, I’m on Linux like forever now. I was some 20 or more years younger than now when I decided to switch from an OS which couldn’t in my opinion be supported anymore because it was deliberately a ‘black box’ (Windows) to something open source. My team lead at work during that time suggested to concentrate on Solaris instead of Linux, so I did both, and learned about both.

Like many here in Germany, I started with Suse, then later switched to Red Hat for a while, and decided sooner or later that I had enough of its ‘RPM hell’, so with a brief side-step over the BSDs to learn about proper package management and Gentoo (make it all yourself, a bit like Arch now) I ended up with Debian due to a tip of a younger colleague in the healthcare IT company I was working for by then.

Marko, in his very nice and recommended article above, recommends Fedora – and although he’s right about the Gnome desktop environment and many other things, please keep in mind that opensource.com is sponsored by Red Hat (which were by now bought by my current employers), while Debian is strictly non-commercial which I prefer by far. The fact that it’s no company at all means that it can’t be bought or sold or otherwise ruined by bad management and/or shareholder or other interest than the interest of those who actually make it. The best model of all IMNSHO.

So why was I complaining about not being on a Mac or on iOS in that email to my brother? It was mainly because of this article (in German) on gearnews, about Steinberg’s Cubasis 3 now also being available for the Android operating system (formerly iOS only).

Of course that’s a clever and bold move from Steinberg (who belong to Yamaha, the world’s biggest vendor of musical intruments in case you didn’t know that). But it’s the underlying Android OS (by Google mostly) which neglected audio during the last years, and which – in opposite to its Apple counterparts – still isn’t really fit for multitasking at all. Plus Apple makes (or has someone make) their own processors, and their A13 chip in the new iPhone SE is pretty much without any real competition (look at benchmarks if you don’t believe me) – even if the current Google Pixel 3a is still the best value per Dollar (or Euro) for the general public and user(s), for artists there’s still nothing better than an iPhone, an iPad, or a Mac, no matter the cost.

So there you have it. Why am I still on Linux then? Well, first because of the costs (can’t afford a MacBook Pro and an iPad Pro and whatever), but mostly because of the freedom. The freedom of choice, the freedom to build my own hardware, or to tinker with my OS and system as much as I like, the freedom to recommend or even give it all to friends if I like to, and, last not least, on Linux we’re having some real ‘badass’ stuff as well, and it’s getting better day by day. Try Ardour as an example, yes it also exists for Windows or a Mac, but it’s native on Linux – and that makes all the difference. Or Blender, or Gimp, or RawTherapee – we’re getting there, people, even the so-called ‘creatives’ amongst us.

So go and read that article of Marko’s, even if you’re currently not on a Mac. And substitute ‘Fedora’ with either ‘Arch’ (or ‘Manjaro’ if you want an Arch which is a bit easier to install), or with ‘Debian’ (or ‘Ubuntu’ or ‘Mint’ or whatever) if you want the best package management (which is pretty much irrelevant for a rolling release distro like Arch or Manjaro & Co).

Recommended reading.

Ardour 6.0 is released

Great news for all fans of free and open source software: Ardour 6.0 is out. In fact I was waiting for the announcement since last week or so, when Harrison Consoles announced their new version 6.0 of Mixbus and Mixbus 32c, both of which are based upon Ardour.

So this is how the original looks like:

Screenshot of the song “Reaching Out” in Ardour 6.0 on Robin Gareus’ machine

You can read the announcement and get some links from Paul Davis, who is the founder and main developer of Ardour (and Jack and other great programs), here.

And after using it for free for over two years already, I decided to finally subscribe to it, making this the first and only software subscription for me (with the exception of Wikiloops, glad to support that platform as well).

I’ve not seen or tried version 6 yet since on Linux I’ll get it more or less automatically via the KXStudio repositories, but now I can also download the Windows and/or Mac versions of it if I like to – and sure, never tried it on Windows, so why not? I know that some plugins like the ones from Calf Studio Gear are available for Linux only, but so what – I can still try and compare it to others, right? Will be fun I guess 🙂

So thanks to Paul, Robin, and the countless other developers who make something that great even possible. Hats off to you guys and girls.

You can download precompiled versions of Ardour starting at 1US$ here.

Thanks for reading.

How to make a “systemwide” Sonarworks on Linux – the easy way

I’ve been contemplating on trying Sonarworks since a while, and after WhiteDrum55 and kimbo both acknowledged its usefulness in a thread in a Wikiloops forum, and after I learned that Sonarworks even offer some kind of beta version of their plugin on Linux, I downloaded and tried that. I was sold after 20 seconds, and decided to buy it after an hour or two.

So what does Sonarworks do, you might ask. Well basically it equals out the frequency curves of your headphones (and speakers in the ‘Studio’ version). Looks like this for some headphone models we have:

Screenshot from 2020-05-08 07-50-29
Screenshot from 2020-05-08 07-51-04
Screenshot from 2020-05-08 07-51-40

These are, from top to bottom, the curves (in blue) before correction, the corrective ones (in green), and the resulting ones (in purple) for the Sennheiser HD598 (my main “open” cans), the AKG K141-2 (Zuleikha’s), and the Sennheiser HD569 (my closed ones).

So that software makes them basically sound almost alike, definitely more neutral. Which is invaluable for recording and mixing.

After playing around with it a while in my DAW I thought how nice it would be to have these corrections systemwide, and in fact for Windows and for MacOS, Sonarworks offers a program they call “Systemwide” which does exactly that. But for Linux they don’t – so I’ve made one. 🙂

(Credits have to go to user sysrqer in this Linuxmusicians forum entry who’s describing how to do it in just a few words – so I’ll mostly add some screenshots to make it a bit more clear here)

You’ll need a few programs called ‘claudia’, ‘carla’, and ‘cadence’ for this, which come with the KXStudio repositories – so these are available for Debian and its many derivatives like for instance Ubuntu Studio. There are ways to do this on other distributions, but not with these tools, and therefore not that easy – so that’s out of the scope of this article.

So in Cadence, you’ll use LADISH to automatically load a studio after your login, like this (I called mine ‘Sonarworks’):

Screenshot from 2020-05-09 11-14-59

In the “Engine Settings” for Jack, you’ll have to mark a checkbox to “Ignore self connect requests to external ports only”, like this:

Screenshot from 2020-05-09 11-14-41

Then, under “Tools”, you use ‘Claudia’ to set it all up:

Screenshot from 2020-05-09 11-13-49

In ‘Claudia’ you have to set up that Studio (here ‘Sonarworks’), and add Carla to it, like this:

Screenshot from 2020-05-09 11-14-11

In ‘Carla’, you’ll add the Sonarworks Reference 4 plugin which comes as a VST plugin for Linux (with an .so file type):

Screenshot from 2020-05-08 07-53-48

And in the “Patchbay” tab of ‘Carla’, you’ll do the cabling like this:

Screenshot from 2020-05-08 07-54-10

Make sure that you don’t have a second set of cabling running from the PulseAudio Jack Sink directly to the System playback inputs, and also check after a reboot, or after loading/unloading programs like Ardour.

And boom – you’re set:

Screenshot from 2020-05-09 11-57-53

With the wrench symbol in the plugin loaded into Carla, you can start the graphical interface of Sonarworks – so that is how my screen looks after I log into my system.

This isn’t all perfect yet, and the plugin itself has some relatively high demand on CPU (about 10% on my older Core i5 processor), but that will surely improve over time. Hearing music (and now also videos and other sources) like they should sound is invaluable to me, and well worth the price. Did my first new mixes for Wikiloops already using this, and I couldn’t be happier.

As always, thanks for reading.