Wednesday, August 24, 2005


[DAW: Digital Audio Workstation]

One of my favorite LiveCD variants is a specially configured Audio-centric version of SuSE Linux 9.2. From what I gather it was initially distributed by the German publication Keyboards (Run the link through Babel Fish for translation) and it has been available on the official SuSE mirrors since at least December 2004.

This disc is great! It provides all kinds of audio related applications, not just the premiere GPL'd DAW applications Ardour & JACK but also composition tools, sequencers, score editing, sound editors, synthesizers, drum machine, you name it... it's probably in there. All this combined with a customized Linux kernel to boost audio performance, links to demo scripts that you can run right from the CD to familiarize yourself with the audio applications, and you have yourself a very educational & useful introduction to the world of Linux Audio production.

When you boot the CD, hit F4 and select English, unless you are fluent in German. It will bring you to a KDE desktop, and a window will open with the links & descriptions of the demo scripts [file:/home/linux/doc/sl92audio.html]. Don't make the same mistake I did. When I first got the disc I ignored these scripts and went right to work confusing myself and wondering why I was not getting anywhere with the apps. The demos are very useful in getting to know the products available and how you can use them together. They also show you how JACK works to connect everything together internally and externally. JACK is your friend. You want to get to know what it does and how it does it. Once I realized the usefulness of the demos in teaching me how to work with JACK and the multitude of audio applications, I was simply amazed by the possibilities. Linux is poised to be a major force in audio (and other multimedia) production, IMO.

The only thing that this LiveCD lacks is a Knoppix-style installation to HDD script! I want this running from my HDD not the CD-Rom drive!!

Forgive me while I digress. Last night I replaced Ubuntu Linux on my mom's computer with SuSE 9.3 via the DVD package (available via Bittorrent or Mirrors. Remember, 4 out of 5 dentists surveyed recommend that you CHECK your MD5 sums on any ISO you download--especially from non-official torrents). While I love Ubuntu, SuSE is KDE based1 which I think will be easier for my mother to use in her transition from her current MS Win9x/Me environment to GNU/Linux OS. Also, YaST is hard to beat for GUI based admin tools. Both distros have a polished interface but one of the things I note regarding Ubuntu is that when adding applications from their repositories, sometimes they get listed in the programs menu, sometimes they don't. A GUI app should get a launch icon in the program menu IMO or most users will never know the option is available to them. But enough on that. Both distros are high quality and superbly maintained. I would easily recommend either to someone looking to move out of the MS world into Linux...

As I perused the packages on the 9.3 DVD, I noted that it appears that all the audio applications are there. So, I'll just do an install on the AMD64 with them and see how it works. I'm afraid, though, that a customized 2.4 kernel will have to be compiled with the low-latency & preemption patches to get the needed performance for an audio workstation. I've read that the 2.4 kernel with these patches outperforms the 2.6 series. Don't know if that still holds true or not. I'll just have to try and see. Keeping an eye on the number of xruns while running a heavy load of audio applications should give a clear picture.

I currently use AGNULA/DeMuDi for my Athlon XP audio workstation and it works very well. I've used Planet CCRMA (based on Fedora Core) previously but had limited success with it (probably because I didn't know what I was doing with JACK at the time. Remember, if you don't know jack, you're in real trouble! ;-). I have tried several incarnations of Dynebolic, but it never seems to like my hardware. In all my experimenting I have always wished SuSE would post an installable version of the Audio LiveCD, but it hasn't happened.

No more waiting. If most or all of the audio options I want are included in SuSE 9.3, and I can get the system tuned properly then I'm set. I'll have my SuSE cake and eat it with my favorite audio applications too!

Of course, I don't see any reason to remove DeMuDi from my main DAW system2. It works very well, and currently it is my favorite audio-centric distro. However, I am very interested to see my AMD64 box running SuSE 9.3 x86_64 as an audio production box--especially with the RME card in it that my good friend gave me. I'm betting it will ROCK! (There's that sad pun again. Sorry, I just had to do it. ;-)

A SuSE install is a no-brainer. Getting it tuned properly for audio work is the real trick, now isn't it?3

1Yes, I know there is a variant of Ubuntu Linux with a KDE desktop known as KUbuntu. I still feel SuSE will be a better choice in transitioning my mom to GNU/Linux operating systems.

2DeMuDi is a customized x86 distro based on Debian. It works very well and I highly recommend it. The application menu arrangement could use some work to make navigation more efficient, but once you get used to where everything is, it's not that big of deal. That aside, I would love to see an x86_64 version of it when Debian for AMD64 is finally added as an official Debian branch.

3When it comes to intense audio processing it certainly is! Hence the need for custom audio-centric distributions...

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