Category Archives: Audio Workstation

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Ubuntu-Studio vs DreamStudio

update! 3/2016

DreamStudio is no longer a complete distro.  It is now a package of applications available for Windows, Mac and Ubuntu and KXStudio.  It was last updated 10 months ago and is available on Sourceforge.  Dick MacInnes has let his domain names Celeum.com and dreamstudio.com expire.  I hope Dick is doing ok, with his, and his wife’s health issues.

 

Ubuntu-Studio is a very cool Linux distribution for folks who want to do audio, video, graphics, animation or other media production using open source software.  It uses a very utilitarian XFCE user interface.  This has the advantage of simplicity and lightweight overhead on processor chips, leaving muscle for DSP processes.  Ubuntu-Studio is a derivative of Ubuntu, a distribution for regular computing based upon  Debian, but much more user friendly.  Ubuntu-Studio is dependent only upon software with the same open source licenses that are available to regular Ubuntu.  As a result there are a bunch of programs, many of which are free, but not sufficiently liberally licensed, that are not natively included in the distribution, such as an .mp3 codec.  Many of these can be easily added, but are not available in the distribution itself Ubuntu-Studio

Ubuntu-Studio has the advantage of a large user base. Its release schedule is synchronized with its bigger brother Ubuntu.

DreamStudio from Celeum Technologies is a gorgeous media suite also based on Ubuntu, but it uses regular Ubuntu’s Unity user interface, which diehard Ubuntu users complain about, but once you learn the basics is incredibly intuitive, helping to get work done.

Dreamstudio was a complete operating system distribution or “distro”.  which you would install on a blank machine or set up as a dual boot.  The last version was based upon ubuntu 12.04LTS, which is quite old.  The new version is a suite of programs that you overlay on a regular Ubuntu installation. This makes some sense, as the low latency kernel is now standard in Ubuntu 14.04 and later, so there is no need to dicker with replacing the kernel.

I have not tried the new suite yet, and will try this out when I have another machine to set up.  There are applications in the suite that can be complicated to set up properly, and I am sure that it will be a lot easier to get them all playing together using DreamStudio than trying to install them one by one.  I am not sure what happens when you install DreamStudio on UbuntuStudio instead of Regular Ubuntu.DreamStudio

Celeum Technologies is a tiny company in Saskatchewan, Canada run by musician/technical guru Dick MacInnes.  DreamStudio has no open source rules, as does Ubuntu Studio including best of the pack open source, commercial and free or limited license software where it makes for a better workstation.

DreamStudio is not updated as often as Ubuntu and is intended to be installed on  Ubuntu Long Term Support (LTS) releases.  Sometimes the releases are delayed a bit from the Ubuntu LTS release.  This is because DreamStudio is a labor of love for Dick, and he works on it among other demands on his time (performance, family, running a small business).  The craft he does during the long Saskatchewan winter nights may very well be worth it if you need the additional features and pretty interface.

The audio workstations in Ubuntu-Studio includes Audacity, a fine basic audio editor without the fine graphic control of levels in other editors, and ease of time dragging program elements.  Ardour, a full featured recording editor is also included.  Many people are afraid of Ardour because it won’t work until set up with jack2.  Fortunately, both  Ubuntu-Studio and DreamStudio have it already set up, so those headaches are gone.  It is still complex and powerful in the same class as Pro-Tools.

DreamStudio also comes with a demo version (upgradable to full version for $80) of Harrison MixBus 3 DAW that has full professional analog simulation with everything that a recording studio would want.  (You need a high quality multi-channel audio card to use it to full effect)  This is a SERIOUS audio editor which does not support compressed audio file formats, so have a big hard disk.  DreamStudio also comes with a host of professional video, animation, 2d and 3d graphics, film post edit, web design and other tools.  The list is amazing, and most are free, and the rest are affordably priced like MixBus 3 and Lightworks NLE award winning video editor.

If your plan is to do a Rivendell – Jack installation for a radio station and Ardour (or Audacity) is suitable for your needs, Ubuntu Studio is the obvious choice.  If you are doing a wide range of  multimedia creations, then DreamStudio is your dream.


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Where to get Ubuntu Studio

Ubuntu Studio 14.04.x is a distribution of Ubuntu that is available for download as a .iso file, which is a DVD image file.  You need to download the torrent or .iso from the UbuntuStudio.org download page.  A .iso is directly downloaded using Firefox, Chrome or IE.  A torrent will download a lot faster but you have to install and run a torrent client like uTorrent.  You can get uTorrent for Windows here.  There are two versions of Ubuntu Studio, the “i386” 32 bit processor version which will probably work ok, but I don’t recommend it, but if you have a 64 bit machine you REALLY want to load the  “amd64” 64 bit version.  (Yes it works on Intel processors)

Ubuntu Studio 14.04.x (at this time x is 2) is a Long Term Support (LTS) version.  This means that this version will have security and bug fixes coming out for a few years, but no new bells and whistles.  You want to use a LTS version because a high priority in a radio automation system is STABILITY.  The other releases of Ubuntu Studio have new stuff added (and subtracted) with each version coming out every nine months or so.  The way that a system that “used to work” could change, no longer providing the same controls and the people who use it can be confused.  You don’t want your everyday tool to break.

Ubuntu Studio 14.04 is designed as a workstation for audio, video, presentations, graphics, etc.  It has the bare bones of what you need for audio, the special part is that it has properly installed ALSA and Jack and mostly configured them.

Because it has Xfce (a very lightweight Graphical Interface) it also is a very good candidate as a server.  Many people don’t want any graphical interface on a server, but some of the things that are needed for an audio server (Like Jack and KXStudio) run in graphical mode only, so Ubuntu Server is not a good candidate because you would have to install a GUI that needs a lot of setup, and Ubuntu Desktop has just too many pretty gizmos clogging things up to hammer out audio production and automation.

As a server, you will have some work to do – putting in a webserver, samba file sharing, routing, etc., but that has to be set up for your configuration no matter what.  The installation part is simple.

After you download or torrent the file to your computer, it needs to burned to a bootable DVD or a 4 Gig or larger Flash Drive.  For DVDs, Windows 7 has this ability built in to Explorer, and for Ubuntu the instructions are here.  For flash drives, you can’t just copy the file over, it needs to be written as a bootable image.  There are lots of free programs out there to burn iso files to flash drives, but Google searching will bring up many listings for the utility that can only write Windows 7 or Windows 8 iso files.  Avoid that utility.

Some motherboards will not boot from a flash drive, and you need to play with the bios to get a DVD or Flash Drive to boot when there is an old operating system on the hard drive.  You will be making the machine a  Ubuntu Studio ONLY machine.  No dual boots or Virtual machines for audio!  You want to lock this machine into one mode only so it will be reliable and simple. Yes you can play with a virtual machine, but it will never be a real “workstation”, as would be the case with regular Ubuntu.

When the DVD or Flash Drive boots, make sure you check the disk before installing.  That is one of the selections on the first menu.  It would be really a shame to spend an hour or so setting up a Ubuntu Studio system only to find that half the stuff doesn’t work.

You will need to babysit the installation for a few minutes.  The machine needs to be connected to the Internet and a DHCP server.  I don’t install the photo finishing, graphics and presentations application installation, and you could drop the video apps if you are sure you will not be needing them.  If you are not going to use my script, let the system update all the files on installation.  You can walk away for a cup of coffee after the initial entries quiet down, then check back later when it is installing MySql for passwords and stuff.  It will stop and wait for the password entry.  When it is done –

Take out the DVD or Flashdrive and reboot – voila!  A fresh Ubuntu Studio installation.

 


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Hardware for Audio – Server and Workstation

The Workstation

A Rivendell workstation with Jack2 and Netjack to work with a server needs a reliable motherboard with an X64 processor  with two to four cores, Several Gigs (3?) of Memory, and if to be used with a server for audio storage and database, probably 120 Gigs of SSD.     If the machine will be in a playout or editing environment, an SSD is important for fast boot  and fast loading of applications. The $50 a little SSD costs is well worth it.  An additional hard drive is needed to keep keep work files in the /home folder.  If you have a good server, you don’t need a big hard drive unless you want to duplicate the library and database on the workstation (this is tricky because they need to be kept sync’ed)

If you work with a server, you need a good quality Gigabit network card which you will set up for STATIC ADDRESSING.

You need a good sound card fully rated for ALSA compatibility.  I have used M-Audio hardware with good results, particularly the Delta 1010 cards and the all of the 17xx cards work well too.  Ubuntu studio 14.04 has also learned to play nice with M-Audio Fast Track 8R USB rack mounted box. (earlier versions did not)  Rivendell loves the Audio Sciences cards, but they are pricey.

If the workstation is in the studio, you also want high volume LOW NOISE fans. Bigger cabinets seem to have quieter fans because they use larger 120 mm fans that move more air with slower blades. You should also use a good quality power supply and UPS.  The UPS should be connected to the computer USB for graceful shutdown when the power goes out, and stays out.

The current version of Rivendell playout has a fixed window size so don’t go crazy on resolution or the control window will be too small.  (I have heard that this is likely to change in the next major revision).   Your video card does not need to be anything special, motherboard cards work fine.  rdAirplay will work with a touchscreen, and there are many that work with Ubuntu-Studio, but not all.  Your touchscreen mileage may vary.  You are looking for high reliability, not blazing performance. Do not overclock.

Rivendell works with audio switchers such as the Broadcast Tools SS 8.2, and with digital IO cards that talk by RS-232 serial ports.  It would be nice if the motherboard had an RS-232 port, but a high quality USB-RS-232 converter will work.  There are cheap converters that won’t work because they need a special driver that might not be available in Linux.  The machines that will be running RdCatch and RdAirplay will need this if you need these outputs to switch satellite receivers and such.  (Audio switchers may be unnecessary if you have enough inputs and outputs on your soundcards when running Jack2.)

The Server

A server for Rivendell should have similar computing  performance to the workstation, and should have a reasonable amount of memory on a multi-processor X64 chip, with four or more gigs of memory.  Hard drives should start with a 128 Gig SSD for the operating system, and about 2 TB or more of high quality hard drives for audio and database.

You should have two or three Gigabyte Ethernet ports on this machine.

It theoretically could be a “headless” machine, but some of the audio applications just really need GUI interfaces.  Sharing a monitor, mouse and keyboard with a KVM switch with another machine (such as a standby server) would be useful.   Be careful that the KVM switch and the motherboard have the same mouse and keyboard connectors.  USB to DIN adapters generally don’t work on KVM switches. No fancy video card is needed.

If this will be the “master control for audio” it will need a good ALSA compatible sound card with as many output channels as you will have outputs.  The server should have at least a 2 TB  USB removable drive or a Network Attached Storage device for backups.  You may have trouble finding servers that are quiet enough for the average station.  If you will be running the servers in a server closet, I recommend recently pulled 1U to 4u servers with dual power supplies. They will, however, be much too noisy for an office or studio environment.  You probably can’t afford them new, but used are inexpensive, just make sure you get multiprocessor X64 machines with enough memory

Your “music” ethernet network should be built with good Cat6 cables – any that go through the ceilings or floors should be ‘plenum’ rated.  Use high quality gigabit switches.  You probably can do without managed switches unless you have a lot of workstations, and then we have to tune things that I haven’t had to do yet.

It is possible to set up a server standby system for Rivendell, where you have two identical servers for Rivendell and the audio store or the database are kept up to date on both.  This way a failure will not put you off the air until a new server can be configured.  Similarly, you should keep your workstations as close to identical as possible  so you can switch over quickly in the case of an equipment failure.

If you are doing hot standby  servers, it would make sense to have two independent UPS systems – one for each server, and a ups for each workstation.  The idea is “no single point of failure”!  This is where the use of a real router (not bestbuy specials, but microtik or cisco) become important.

When you set up Ubuntu studio on these machines make sure you choose to add .mp3 codec and use LVM.  The account you use to setup will be the main “SUDOER” account.  Use a real password and require it to be entered.  It might make sense to encrypt the main account’s /home folder.

The server might be called on to do more than switch audio, serve the databases, and stream.  You may want to run the station’s phone system using freeswitch, or at least the phone interfaces to the studio.  It may make sense to put these into separate “boxes” using Oricle’s Virtualbox or the more sophisticated OpenStack. If you are thinking about using openstack, you will need at least one processor per “node” so a six or eight processor computer for the server makes sense, along with more memory, as each node has its “own” memory.


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