Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Renoise License

Well, after lots of evaluation I have bought a license for Renoise.

The more I use it, the more I like it, and it definately helps you lay down ideas very quickly. There are lots of features I haven't even explored yet, so I'm confident that I will find even more useful stuff in there. It is great that they have a native Linux version, and it is very stable.

I have also been playing around a lot with QTractor, an open source DAW/Sequencer. While it has a lot of features that I like, it is not yet ready for everyday intensive use - this is no surprise as it is still described as being Alpha software. Even though I have bought Renoise, I will still use Qtractor here and there - when I find bugs or missing features I will be sure to report them in the interest of product improvement.

But for now, Renoise is King - I have been using it to put together my entry for the Depeche Mode remix contest. Stay tuned for more news on that.

Friday, April 03, 2009


I've been spending quite a lot of time lately checking out the Linux version of Renoise. I must admit I was a bit bemused at first, as I had never used a tracker type sequencer before, but the guys at Renoise have a lot of useful documentation to get you quickly up and running.

Since I've been playing with it for a few days now I can say that I really like it. It is quick to lay down tracks, and editing is quick and painless (I do more MIDI sequencing than audio tracks). I like the fact that it has it's own built in sampler (which is very flexible), and it happily co-exists with LADSPA so you have a bunch of effects at your disposal from the off. It also integrates well with JACK.

There are a couple of limitations - it doesn't host DSSI plugins, so you have to use them as external MIDI devices and there are no dedicated audio tracks.

I'm not quite done with my evaluation yet, I haven't tried recording any audio yet, but I'm pleased with it so far. It has proved to be very stable. Other options I'll be checking out are QTractor & EnergyXT (I've all but ruled out Rosegarden - I've tried it before and didn't like the plugin setup workflow amongst other things).

As I've said before, I don't mind paying for a decent bit of software if I have to, what is more important to me is that I have something reliable and flexible to work with.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Some more native Linux VSTs

I've found a few more native Linux VSTs - I haven't tried any of these yet, but they are in my downloads folder ready to try! These are all free by the way.

Hypercyclic - This is described as an 'LFO-driven MIDI arpeggiator, gate effect and step sequencer for mangling MIDI input chords.' This won 2nd prize in the KVR Developer Challenge 2007.

Mr Alias 2 - Not really sure how to describe this synth, so here is their own description of it: 'Mr. Alias 2 uses non-bandlimited oscillators which can be transposed near to and beyond the Nyquist frequency, causing most of their spectra to be aliased back into audible non-harmonic frequencies. The sound can then be further processed by a number of crude "effects."'

Also from the same developer as Mr Alias are a number of MIDI processing VST plugins.

I am especialy keen to try Hypercyclic and Mr Alias, and will report back when I have done so.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Loomer Aspect VST for Linux

While trying out Renoise and various other sequencers, I have also been trying out the demo for Aspect, a commercial VST synth plug in. After Disco DSP's Discovery, it is only the second commercially available Linux VST.

This is a very flexible synth, with lots of modulation routings possible. With so many routings possible, it is nice to see a decent number of modulation sources available - 3 envelopes & 3 LFOs, as well as the ability to use the Oscillators and Filter outputs as modulation sources too.

It also has an easy to use MIDI learn function, so you can map your controllers to the various parameters - I have been able to map the 16 or so sliders/knobs on my Evolution controller keyboard to key parameters; it makes editing so much easier.

CPU usage can be quite high on patches that use a high number of voices or unison, although recent updates have bought the CPU usage down, so this shouldn't be a big problem.

It is quite difficult to categorise the sound the synth produces - it can sound quite analog at times, but also can sound quite digital. That's not to say it can't do either very well, but more like it has quite a distinct sound, and a very good one too. I'm very happy with it and have gone ahead and bought the full version.

Loomer also have two Effects VSTs available for Linux, but I haven't tried those out yet. It is good to see some commercial VSTs available for Linux - although there are a few good synths available for Linux, most have been around for quite some time so it is good to freshen things up a bit.

The Loomer plugins are built using the JUCE development kit, hopefully this is the first of more commercial Linux releases, as more developers start to use JUCE.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Choosing a Sequencer

Now I have a reliable audio setup, I need to choose a sequencer. In the Linux world, there is quite a choice, both free and commercial - Rosegarden, Qtractor, Muse, SEQ24, EnergyXT (commercial) & Renoise (commercial). There may be others, but they seem the most widely used.

I'm looking for something that has a quick and simple workflow, is reliable and can also work with audio files. I don't mind using a commercial program if I need to.

I used to use Tracktion in my Windows days, and loved the simplicity that it offered - vitually everything was accessed from the main screen without needing to delve into various menus. The only thing that let it down slightly was the MIDI editing was a bit weak, but I would happily use it again now. In fact, it's a shame there is no Linux version available, after all it is built with the JUCE toolkit, which is a cross platform development library which is available for Linux.

I'm probably going to rule out SEQ24 straight away - it is a MIDI sequencer only, and to be honest when I briefly tried it I didn't get on with the workflow.

I am going to try Renoise first. I've heard good things about it and it supports native Linux VSTs. I've never used a tracker before so it should be an interesting ride...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

JACK Configuration

After checking that the Lexicon Omega was working under Ubuntu, it was time to configure JACK properly for realtime support and low latency.

If you don't already know, JACK is the system used for handing low latency, real-time audio in Linux. It can take a bit of trial and error to get it working OK...

When I first enabled the real-time option, JACK wouldn't start at all. It was throwing up an error:

cannot use real-time scheduling (FIFO at priority 10) [for thread -1210643584, from thread -1210643584] (1: Operation not permitted)
cannot create engine

After looking around, it seems this is a well known issue, and after reading the Ubuntu Studio guide, I needed to add a few settings to /etc/security/limits.conf, specifically:

sudo su -c 'echo @audio - rtprio 99 >> /etc/security/limits.conf'
sudo su -c 'echo @audio - nice -19 >> /etc/security/limits.conf'
sudo su -c 'echo @audio - memlock unlimited >> /etc/security/limits.conf'

However, even though JACK now started, I was still getting lots of xruns and other errors, of the type:

delay of 21343.000 usecs exceeds estimated spare time of 21075.000; restart...

I tried in vain for hours to get rid of these errors, when I realised that at some point during the various reboots I was doing, the hardware device in the JACK copnfiguration had switched to the internal sound card, rather than the Omega. Although the same hardware device was still selected in JACK, the system had swapped the USB Omega to another device. I had also added the same configuration settings in /etc/security/limits.conf to my user name.

Now JACK is running with no xruns at all, except for when starting or exiting applications, which is normal. Now I need to start seriously playing around with the various sequencers/DAWs/plugins and see which works best for me.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lexicon Omega running on Linux

I ordered a Lexicon Omega, which is a 4 input audio/midi interface to use with my Linux laptop and external gear. I opted for this as I had seen a couple of reports that it worked well in Linux.

Sure enough, after plugging it in it was immediately recognised by the system and was picked up by Jack.

I was a bit confused at first, as under the audio tab it doesn't appear under it's own name like it does on the ALSA tab, it just appears as 'System'.

Also visible in the screenshot you can see that my USB keyboard, an Evolution MK-449C has been recognised by the system without having to install any drivers.

With these two pieces of equipment working well I can now use them to control my external synth as well using the audio software in Ubuntu Studio.

Now I just need to try and configure Jack properly so it is working optimally with the Omega.