Recording music on a linux laptop

I have spent too many hours in my life trying to get a good, reliable audio recording solution on my linux laptop. For a while, I defected to mac but this evening I’m back in linux world and very happy.

I figured the first rule out a while ago: don’t use any kind of internal soundcard. Computers generate loads of electromagnetic interference. You want to do your analog->digital conversion as far from your PC as possible. Plus, you probably want some preamps and maybe some XLR inputs too. The Presonus Inspire ticks all the boxes. I’ve had one for a few years and I love it. Two XLR, two 1/4″ jack and two phono inputs plus two builtin preamps and a headphone socket. If you’re tempted to save money and use an internal soundcard – don’t! You’ll waste hours of your life trying to track down and minimize buzzing noises. Life is too short – buy an Inspire and move on.

The Inspire uses Firewire, and my laptop doesn’t have any firewire ports. No problem, the Belkin PCMCIA Firewire card is pretty cheap and works perfectly under linux – Ubuntu recognized it immediately.

Linux support for the Inspire comes from the FreeBob project, which provides a driver which allows jackd to talk to the device. A bit of help from this page got me going. Important: you need to plug the power supply into the Inspire – the PCMCIA firewire card doesn’t appear to supply power directly.

Once jackd is up and running, qjackctl should show that you now have 4 inputs and 2 outputs (they’re named “system”).

Here’s the core software stack I use for recording and mixing:

  • qjackctl: patchbay management. The software equivalent of plugging in cables between things.
  • Ardour – digital audio workstation. I spend most of my time here – recording, mixing and editing.
  • Hydrogen – jack-enabled drum sequencer. It’s no BFD but it’s fine for demos.
  • alsaplayer – jack-enabled audio file player. For play other people’s music when I’m bored of my own stuff.
  • fmit: a really good tuner app. It works well and looks pretty.

Anyone else out there got a similar setup?