11.12.17

The Linux Experryment


For many years the Dubbhism studio-computer has been running versions of Cubase; first on the Atari ST and later on Windows. Now there's nothing wrong with Cubase, but Microsoft never felt right. The release of Windows 10 was the final insult. Time to start looking for alternatives. Running Reaper on Linux seems to be a realistic option.

Why Linux?
For one thing, we don't like the Silly Con Valley of the 21st century. Megacorporations like Microsoft, Apple, IBM, Google, Facebook and Amazon have become an integral part of the military-industrial complex. Furthermore there are stability issues, security issues, privacy issues, UI issues, crap issues, financial issues and so on.

One more thing: forced Windows 10 updates that last an hour when you're ready to start recording. Thanks guys! How utter, utter, utterly stupid, unprofessional and disrespectful of you. In august 2017 Microsoft finally 'promised' to stop this policy because of a lawsuit (they may even have realized that so much anger and frustration could reduce their market share and lower their profit). But this doesn't mean that the force feeding of crap has stopped. Microsoft wants to control your computer. It's as simple as that. So the real question is: what's your excuse for building a professional studio system on a bloated heap of malware? Which automatically leads to the next question.   

How good is Ubuntu?
Although the Ubuntu UI is far from perfect, at least it's 100% crap free. Looking at stability, security, privacy and cost, Ubuntu is very competitive ~ at least for people who just want to run a studio pc. So in the long run Linux seems like a good bet. If all you want to do is to record and mix music, this can be done using Linux. In principle.

Having said that, there are some serious challenges for anyone who wants to run a studio on Linux:
  • hardware support is very limited;
  • native music software (Ardour, Rosegarden etc.) totally sucks;
  • only two professional DAWs: it's either Reaper or Bitwig;
  • Windows emulator required to run your favorite plugins (potential problems with stability, speed and security).  
Clearly, migrating to Linux is not for everyone. But if
  • you are unhappy with your current system; 
  • your sound doesn't depend on incompatible plugins; 
  • you haven't locked yourself in otherwise...
you could try to migrate because there are a few realistic options. The first thing you'll need is a Linux compatible soundcard.

Linux compatible hardware
With Linux, hardware-drivers are always a potential issue so you have to do your homework. A solid hardware choice would be to go with RME. The new Dubbhism studio is based on the RME HDSPe Raydat and a Ferrofish A16 MKII. That's 16 analog ins and outs with 0.7 millisecond latency. This means that a 'full duplex' digital~analog feedback loop is now possible for certain sound effects. The old MOTU 828 MKII runs alongside this duo via a nifty FFADO driver.

Other specs of the new Dubbhism studio-computer include a Fujitsu 'industrial' motherboard, Intel core i7-6700T, 32Gb RAM and a Samsung 960 EVO M.2 SSD for running KXStudio (Linux). It's a fanless, silent system in a military grade 19'' case and it's fairly snappy.

KXStudio
A product like Windows 10 is very generic, but certain Linux-distributions are actually fine tuned to perform specific tasks, like working with audio or video. Our distribution of choice is KXStudio. It is based on Ubuntu and optimized for professional audio production. There's only one potential problem: KXStudio is pretty much a one man show run by Filipe Coelho aka falkTX. Having said that, Filipe is doing an absolutely great job. He's a bona fide Linux audio guru.

Linux native Reaper
Let's get one thing out of the way: Cubase doesn't sound better or worse than Pro Tools or Reaper. What you buy into is an ecosystem, and what you want is a fast, flawless professional workflow. You don't want to notice the DAW while making music or mixing.

The basic idea behind Reaper is total flexibility. Everything can be customized. So if you're tired of Pro Tools, or sick of Windows, Reaper actually allows you to customize yourself back to ~ say ~ 90% of your old workflow, routing, keyboard shortcuts etc. For only $60. And you get a lot of new features as well. The code is very efficient (just 9 Mb!!) and the developer team are working hard to iron out problems and add new functionality. The same guy who created Reaper also designed the Winamp ecosystem, and it shows.

Again: why Linux?
Choosing the right audio hardware, the right OS and the right DAW is a personal thing. But if you think that we're nuts, consider this: the Dubbhism sound is essentially based on analog gear like tape echoes, spring reverbs and a big fat Eurorack modular system. This means that the creation of the sound is done mostly 'outside the box'. For mixing and mastering, only basic plugins like eq, compression and reverb are used. No virtual Neve console, fancy digital fx or expensive synths. That's why this setup already works for the Dubbhism studio. But if all goes well with the development of Linux Reaper, especially when it comes to plugin support, it may become much easier for other kinds of studios to migrate in a few years. So if you're interested and you're thinking about buying new hardware, you might as well go for something that's Linux compatible.

Reaper resources
An official pre-beta version of Linux native Reaper can be found here. It's work in progress, but stable enough. Check out the Reaper for Linux wiki for basic documentation and the Reaper Pre-Release forum for discussion. Some Linux audio basics are over here. If you want to install popular extensions like SWS or ReaPack you have to become a Linux nerd (as in build them yourself) or get some technical support.



If you decide to migrate to Reaper from a big DAW like Pro Tools or Cubase, there are quite a few resources available to help you get started. Below are some tutorials we found especially interesting and helpful while setting up preferences, routing, shortcuts and so on in Reaper. One guy has even taken the trouble of replicating Pro Tools. Really nice for people who are fed up with Avid Technology.