Linux in the Studio?

I recently read an article on where the author extolled virtues of using Linux in a professional recording studio.

While it was an interesting read, I think the author was a bit over-enthusiastic by making it seem that Linux is at or close to being a contender for the Macs and Windows-based systems that populate the vast majority of studios out there. Cost and admin time savings seemed to be a main and understandable theme in his writings; But when he described what he used Linux for in his environment, it appears that he is only concerned with audio editing… which is only a component of what usually goes on in a studio. My own investigation into what’s available in the Linux world didn’t turn up much else. Read on if you want my full take on Linux capabilities in the modern studio…

Linux has a looooong way to go before you can reasonably expect it to be the multi-faceted, multi-functional *studio* audio workstation that you can have with Windows or MacOS right now.

Audio card support: The ALSA (Linux Sound Driver) site lists quite a few pro-level audio interfaces, but according to their support matrix, it’s rare to find a card other than consumer-grade (SoundBlaster, etc) ones that are fully supported in the Linux drivers. You can spend $200 (and easily much more) on a professional card/interface, plop it into a Linux box, but not have all the inputs/outputs be supported (this seems to be the case a lot with ADAT/SPDIF/AES I/Os) or not be able to record at anything above 44.1Khz and similar situations that otherwise do not allow you to fully use what you paid for. Plus, many pro interfaces ship with excellent console software that allows you to configure routing, obscure settings, etc. that you won’t have on Linux. I also have yet to see a vendor release and support Linux drivers for their interfaces.

And what about driver performance? Do the ALSA drivers allow for low latency on the level of ASIO or CoreAudio? Probably not. This stuff is important.

While we’re on the interface trip, MIDI interfaces are a biggie. Other than the generic MIDI/Joystick interfaces on your usual consumer sound card, anything more substantial just isn’t available in the Linux world.

Application support: Anyone who works in a studio probably very rarely lets a sample or track out without effecting it in some way. In the Mac and Windows world, there are a range of plugin standards, the most profilific standard being Steinberg’s VST plugin archetecture. Well, there’s no VST support in any Linux audio app that I’ve seen. Come to think of it, I have yet to see a VST even compiled for Linux let alone a SDK so that you could make one. So you’re limited to built-in effects or buying expensive outboard effects gear, the latter being contrary to the general trend in computer music today.

The MIDI sequencers that I’ve seen are bare bones, feature-wise. More akin to what was available for the Atari ST twelve years ago. Rosegarden seems to be the only shining star of “Studio Linux” right now, but it’s still severely limited by a lack of comprehensive plugins, track and effect automation, and true multi-track mixing features.

Granted, sound apps for Linux have come some way in recent *years*, but nothing revolutionary or breath-taking has come forth as a serious contender with the Logic Audios, Cubases, Reasons and Abletons out there on Win and Mac. Linux for the most part is still in catch-up mode.

My overall feeling is that using Linux in the studio is fine if you’re going to use it for just audio conversion and chopping up wav files with a sound card from Best Buy… but at the moment, anything more than that would be a waste of your time and severely limiting in terms of the tools available. It’s not Linux’s fault. I just think Linux shouldn’t be sold as a viable alternative for the modern studio… just yet.