Sound editing on a budget with Linux

About a year and a half ago, I did some initial research to try and find a decent sound editing solution for a Linux machine i had recently built. The computer was running RedHat Fedora Core 1, which was still pretty new at the time, and it had almost everything you’d come to expect from a modern desktop OS. Softwares like Firefox, Evolution, Open Office, and Gimp made it easier to start comparing Linux as a desktop alternative to Windows or OSX. With this in mind, i was beginning to think that it might be the right time to consider recommending Linux desktop installations to some of my clients.

However, Linux sound editing is still arguably one of those gray areas where a single, dominant software has yet to emerge. This makes it difficult to compare to popular propriety software solutions. Furthermore, it meant that i was going to have to test out a whole bunch of softwares before i could make an informed decision as to which i might like best.

Well, i must have tried about a dozen audio softwares before coming across Audacity. Many people recommended it and i knew that it was supposed to be very powerful. Although, i must admit, it seemed modest compared to some of the things i had seen in similar audio softwares. Still, Audacity was stable and worked well (which was more than i could say for some of the other apps i tried), and that was all i wanted in the first place.

I still have the bookmark for the original article on OSNews entitled: “Professional Audio Closer to Linux“. It’s a bit dated by today’s standards [2002-08-10], but you can see (by how long the list is) that no single software had emerged as the dominant choice. Ironically, the article starts off by referring to “how much more viable Linux is today as a professional (or semi-professional) audio platform than it used to be two years ago.” I suppose i should try to avoid making a similar statement in this article – truth is, i’m not sure that this statement would be any more accurate today than it was back then.

If you’re interested, here’s 2 more lists of audio softwares that run on Linux; one from LinuxLinks.com and the other from Linux-Sound.org. But if you don’t like long lists or haven’t got the time to try out more than 3 or 4 softwares, then i would recommend reading “Editing audio in Linux” by Ian Smith-Heisters of Arstechnica.com. It actually only profiles 3 Linux based audio softwares but a fourth one, called Hydrogen, is mentioned in the comments of a related post on Digg.com that might also be worth checking out. Ian does an excellent job of detailing the differences between Ardour, Audacity and SND with reference to what he calls “industry-standard apps” like ProTools, Logic, Nuendo, and Digital Performer.

He highlights the features and capabilities of each audio software (complete with screenshots), and explains any Linux related concepts like ALSA and ESD that surround the topic. The general concensus seems to be that all 3 apps are great at what they do. More specifically, Audacity is the easiest to use (probably why i initially stuck with it over a year ago), Ardour has the most features that can be compared to industry-standard apps (good for larger projects), and SND is, well.. mostly for geeks (but also the fastest and most versatile).

What i actually found most interesting about the article was towards the end when Ian talks about how difficult it can be to compare some Linux apps because “they don’t have proprietary analogues”. Meaning, there’s nothing really like them, or they cannot even be compared. He goes so far as to say, “Editing audio in Linux may be becoming a significantly different occupation than editing using proprietary platforms.” Even if you’re not so much into sound editing but are interested in open source versus proprietary systems, you can skip to page 5 and see what he means by this statement.

I think Ian’s statement is similar to the way i feel about the idea of Linux as a complete desktop alternative to Windows or OSX. Sure, it can do everything that other operating systems can do (and then some) – but you’ve got to speak Linux (and to a certain degree think Linux) to get it to do so. With sound editing there are definitely specific concerns related to hardware compatibility, etc. That means right away you need to be both knowledgeable in sound editing and audio hardware to make it work. But if and when you do get it to work, it has the potential to do things you just can’t do with proprietary software.

So, unless you’re willing to put in the time to learn something new, and often as a professional you simply can’t commit a significant amount time, you’re not going to find Linux to be a very satisfying alternative. You could still experiment with Linux on a second computer without disrupting your regular workflow until you felt comfortable enough to make the switch. But for a client who is determined and well informed, Linux is open and free, which makes it particularly attractive to those on a small budget, and which also means it is only going to grow and get better with time.

[ If you enjoyed this article, you might also like: "Windows to Linux: Baby Steps" or something else in the Linux Category. ]

Comments 8

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    Posted 04 Nov 2005 at 5:48 am
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