LPC: The past, present, and future of Linux audio
Posted Oct 7, 2009 18:02 UTC (Wed) by cventers
Parent article: LPC: The past, present, and future of Linux audio
One user's opinion:
I do a lot of mixing with the excellent xwax, and I'm also getting into music production. This follows years of using Linux as my primary desktop.
ALSA used to frustrate me, just because it was another thing that didn't always work "just right" out of the box. I've been less than impressed by reliability problems I've had with Intel HDA audio in the past, especially the fact you often have to tell the driver how the card is wired and experiment with different module loading options to get it to work. There may be a good hardware reason for this, but since most hardware works out of the box with Linux these days, the little bit that doesn't really stands out.
I gave Linux a shot for music production but left it behind and began using Windows for that purpose alone. It's actually the first use for Windows I've found in years. I don't blame this on sound in Linux; rather, the stability and quality of some of the open-source tools isn't quite what I might wish it to be, and although there are ways to use VSTs under Wine, there is nothing dependable and functional enough for serious, heavy and everyday use. So for the first time in years, I dual-boot so that I can use a big heap of proprietary software to compose music.
All of that said, when it comes to Vinyl Emulation, I couldn't imagine using anything but xwax + ALSA + Linux. I've read the xwax source code, and while it's not the prettiest I've seen, the author clearly understood how to write simple, reliable, real-time programs. ALSA is great because it supported my USB preamp out of the box, and provided a simple mechanism (asoundrc) where I could apply software gain to assist xwax in better tracking the timecode. udev lets me plug in the USB preamp wherever I want and makes sure it will pick the same device nodes, which is *not possible* with Windows and ASIO. This solution also lets me run with 100% reliability at 2 ms latency, which is great for live mixing.
Frankly, I wouldn't trust Windows with live mixing. I tried the Torq software that came with my preamp, and it seemed like a big, bloated mess... but didn't even work on more than one occasion, even when the hardware was configured precisely as it is when I use it in my Linux environment. Moreover, you can't achieve the same low-latencies with Windows, and I have in fact seen a BSOD in one of my production sessions.
With a handy mlockall() added to the xwax source code, and the fact that it buffers tracks into RAM that are decoded by external command-line utilities, my system *should* keep playing, even if the hard drive (with swap!) crashes, at least until the current tracks are over. Anyone trust Windows to do the same?
As an amateur musician, I should have an opinion about the state of affairs on OS X, but I don't because I'm not fond of microkernel performance, solid-gold prices and extremely basic user interfaces. :p
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