Ardour

by Ben Powers

Introduction

Ardour uses the JACK Audio Connection Kit to route audio internally between tracks and busses, and externally to and from other software and hardware devices. Refer to the JACK Quickstart Guide if you don't have JACK set up already.

Starting Ardour and Creating a New Session

Make sure JACK is running at the sample rate you require for your project, and then launch Ardour from the Sound & Video menu. The session control window will appear and present you with a number of options. For now, just choose a name for your session and a directory to store it in. Your session will be saved as a collection of files and directories, inside the directory you just selected from the drop-down menu.



Figure 1: Ardour session control window: new session


It's best practice to keep your audio projects on a separate hard disc from your system disc. This is because the root filesystem is often accessed by the system, and when dealing with the large volumes of data you can expect to use in an Ardour session, throughput can suffer. Having said that, a single hard disc works fine for small to medium sized Ardour projects, as long as your system is fast enough.

The Main Menus

Welcome to Ardour's main window. Looks good, doesn't it? Even if you have little to no experience with recording, you'll notice some familiar features right off the bat. Along the top edge of the window is the menu bar.



Figure 2: Ardour's editor window (click for full size).


The Session Menu

The first item in the menu bar is the Session menu, which is analogous to the file menu in most other programs. Some notable differences in the session menu are snapshot, Add Track/Bus and Add Existing Audio. Snapshot will save a backup of your session; add track/bus and add existing audio are self-explanatory.

The Transport Menu

The Transport menu contains a variety of controls for the system's transport. You can move the playhead, enable recording, start and stop playback. It would be well worth your effort to learn some of the keyboard shortcuts in this menu. For example, Shift+R enables recording, and ctrl+space stops and forgets the last capture.

The Edit Menu

The Edit menu contains typical editing operations, as well as controls to position the edit cursor (more on that later) and work with regions. Take a look at the keymouse operations, they can save you time when using Ardour.

The View Menu

The View menu has items that control the layout and positioning of elements in Ardour's editor window. At the bottom of the menu you'll notice the "Show editor mixer" option. Click on that option now and notice the editor mixer strip on the left side of the window. This is a one-strip embedded mixer window that stays attached to the editor window and shows only the mixer strip for the currently selected track. We'll discuss the details of mixer strips more in the next section.

The JACK Menu

The JACK menu is next, and it allows you to disconnect or reconnect from the JACK server. This can be useful if you need to alter your JACK server settings, or if the JACK server crashes. There's another option in this menu called latency, which is the same thing as buffer size in Jack Control's setup window.

The Windows Menu

The Windows menu contains links to all of Ardour's windows. You can also maximize editor space from here, or by pressing F11. This has the effect of hiding the controls and lists, allowing you to focus on the canvas. The Options Editor is where you should go to set the outputs for the click and audition tracks, among many other things. The Track/Bus Inspector lets you examine all the ins and outs (not to mention redirects) of a track or bus in one window. You may like to enable the big clock as well, to get a clearer view of the session's timing.

The Options Menu

The Options menu contains various options which go beyond the scope of this tutorial. Consult the Ardour manual for more information on each one.

The Help Menu

Lastly, the help menu provides a link to the about box. When the Ardour manual is complete, it may be referenced here as well.

To the right of the menus are various numerical indicators showing (from left to right) your sample rate, latency, playback and capture buffer sizes, processor load, amount of audio recorded for this session and time of day.

The Controls

The Transport Controls

Directly below the menus are the main transport controls, including the fast forward and rewind buttons; the jog/shuttle controls; the play loop, play range/selection and play from playhead buttons; the stop button and the record enable button (the big red button). Play around with these if you aren't sure what any of them do.



Figure 3: Transport controls.


The Main Clocks

Next to the transport controls are the main clocks. Clocks in Ardour can display time in four formats, which can be accessed by right-clicking on the clock face and selecting a mode. As you become more experienced with audio, you will learn the advantages and disadvantages of each format. For now, leave them on the defaults. We'll go over what some of those do later on. You can float the main toolbar into its own window by clicking on the small chevron in the top right corner of the window.



Figure 4: Ardour's main clock.


Auxiliary Controls

New in Ardour 2.0 are the edit mode selector, the cursor selection buttons and other controls below the transport controls. We'll go over some of these in a later section. To the right of the cursor selection buttons is the edit clock, which shows you the position of the edit cursor.



Figure 5: Edit, cursor, and snap mode selectors; and the edit clock.


The Rulers

Below the controls are the rulers. These thin horizontal bars display the timelines which help you see when exactly a region or sound starts or stops. Also displayed with the rulers are the meter and tempo markers, the location markers, the range markers and the loop/punch ranges.



Figure 6: Rulers (click for full size).


The tempo and meter markers help you define the speed and structure of the session's rhythms. The location markers are how you generate index marks for a CD, as well as place markers at important moments in your session. The range markers allow you to bounce or export any section of the session to an audio file. The loop/punch ranges are last; they allow you to either loop a certain section of the session or define punch ranges.

The Canvas

The largest and most important section of the editor window is the canvas. This is where all your recorded audio will go, and where you will spend most of your time moving, shaping and editing regions. The canvas, as you can see, is divided in columns by bar, beat, etc. It is also, as you will soon see, divided in rows by tracks.

Tracks

Tracks are where your audio goes. Each track has one or more inputs which receive audio signals and one or more outputs which transmit audio signals. Before you can record or playback any sounds with Ardour, you'll need to add at least one new track.

Tracks have controls, which appear in the track list to the left of the canvas. More information about tracks and track controls is presented in the chapter on tracks later.

Regions

Regions are how audio is arranged in your tracks. Each region corresponds to a single audio file, but one audio file may have many regions associated with it.



Figure 7: An example region


Regions are what you will do your editing and arranging with, so it pays to get to know them. See the chapter on editing later for more information

The Notebook

The notebook is the name for the collection of lists on the right side of the editor window. The notebook automatically "takes notes" on everything that you've done so far. Every region, track or bus, snapshot, group or chunk that you've created or used in a track will be represented in the notebook, even if it is not displayed in the mixer or canvas. The notebook is comprised of five tabs.



Figure 8: The notebook showing the region list

Region List

The region list shows all the regions associated with the session. By right-clicking a region in the list, you can hide, audition or remove a region. Removing a region does not destroy the recorded audio on your disk, though. You can also import external audio through the region list's context menu. More on importing is in the chapter on importing audio.

Tracks/Busses List

The tracks/busses list displays a list of all tracks and busses in your session. You can show or hide tracks or busses by clicking the check-boxes to the right of their names. You can also rearrange tracks in the canvas by dragging the track names in the track/bus list.

Snapshots List

If you make any snapshots of your session, they will appear in this list. Clicking on a snapshot will load it immediately. You can rename or delete snapshots as well, by right-clicking.

Edit Groups List

In the edit group list, you can see all the edit groups you've created. Edit groups work like selections in that you can use them to perform operations on multiple tracks at once. Edit groups are going to be phased out in upcoming versions of Ardour, to be replaced with something called "named selections".

Chunks List

Chunks are sections of a playlist that you define. For instance, you may create one chunk for the verse and another for the chorus. This allows you to edit your session on a grander scale with greater ease. Chunks contain regions and silence, and can optionally span multiple tracks. Chunks don't have a visual representation, they only appear in the chunks list.

Now it's time to get better acquainted with the mixer strip that we enabled earlier on by examining each of its components. If you have disabled the editor mixer, re-enable it now by pressing Shift-E.

The Mixer


Figure 9: Mixer strip

Mixer Strips

Ardour's mixer has a very efficient and well-built design. It's interface graphically represents the signal path of each track. Imagine the audio signal flowing downward from the input to the output, through the various widgets present in the mixer strip. Each track and bus has its own mixer strip.

Mixer strips appear by default in the order in which you create them. You can rearrange mixer strips by dragging their titles in the mixer window's track list, to the left of the mixer strips.

At the very top of each mixer strip are two buttons that hide and minimize the mixer strip, respectively. In between these two buttons is an area which clearly shows the track's colour. The button directly underneath shows the name of the track, and lets you rename, switch polarity, or assign a MIDI controller ID number.

Pre-fader Sends

Audio signals flow downwards from the input button to the pre-fader sends list. This is where sends, inserts and plugins are added (these will be discussed later). Directly below the pre-fader sends are the mute and solo buttons. Next, the signal goes through the fader.

The Fader

The fader is the primary level control for the selected track. You can adjust the fader bar with your mouse, or input a specific numerical amount in the small box directly above the fader. To the right of the fader is the meter, which will show you when your levels are peaking. The number above the meter tells you the maximum value that the track's level has reached. You can reset this counter by clicking on it. It's a good idea to keep levels below zero to prevent clipping and distortion. Below the fader, the small "M" button changes the automation mode on the selected track (more on that later).

Going down the mixer strip, the group and metering mode buttons are next. With the group button, you can assign tracks to groups to simplify editing operations on multiple tracks. The metering mode button toggles between post, pre and input modes. In post mode, the meter will display the level of the track's output, after being processed by the pre-fader sends, fader and post-fader sends. In pre mode, the meter will display the level of the track after the pre-fader sends, but before the fader. In input mode, the meter will show the level of the track's input, prior to pre-fader sends.

Post-fader Sends

After the fader comes the post-fader sends list. This one works just the same as the pre-fader sends list, only it affects the signal after it has passed through the fader. We'll get into specifics about how to use the pre- and post-fader sends lists later.

Panning

These panning controls are fairly simple to use. In a stereo track, the top controller pans the left channel, and the bottom controller pans the right channel. Mono tracks have just one controller, at the top. You can adjust the panning by dragging the green bar through the panner. The small triangular wedges at the top of each panner are bookmarks for left, right and centre panning; click on them to send the channel's panning to that location.

The link panning control button which looks like a double arrow (⇒) causes both the left and right channels to change simultaneously. Activate it and drag one of the panners back and forth to observe this effect. Now try changing the panning link direction with the arrow-shaped button to the right of the link panning control button.

The small "M" button operates in the same way as the one for the fader in controlling automation modes. We'll discuss automation more later.

Our signal's voyage through the mixer strip is soon to end. The output button controls the track's output and operates in a similar manner to the input button. Below the output button is the comments button, which you can click to leave helpful reminders on your track's comment sheet.

Signal Path Summary

Ardour's signal path is summarized in the figure below from the Ardour manual, designed by Sampo Savolainen.





Figure 10: Ardour 2.0 signal path diagram by Sampo Savolainen (click for full size).

Now that we are a bit more acquainted with the mixer, it's time to create a track.

Mastering your final mix

Mastering is about the presentation of a mix.
The importance of full range, low distortion speakers and D to A converters for monitoring is critical. Mastering is mostly done by listening for and then fixing distractions. This can be tonality, dynamics, noises or distortion. My view is that mastering should not call attention to its self.

Bob Olhsson - Georgetown Masters

Just like playing a musical instrument, mastering is not impossible to do, and with a little practice you can do it yourself.

After a spate of recent loudness war victims (Death magnetic a good example) care should be taken not to master music too loudly only because other people do it that way. More info Here

Before we start:

  • Mastering is as much about the fresh set of ears as it is about all the rest. It is therefore recommended to use someone else to master your own work.
  • The word mastering originates from the process that was taken to prepare the final mix for duplication on the media of choice.
  • Disclaimer - the process described below is not the only method to master music.

Preparation
In able to create a master that will translate well to most playback systems you have to make sure that you are able to hear everything that is going on in the final mix. You need:

  • Exceptional hearing: If you have gaps in your hearing, or limited range to your hearing, mastering is best done by someone that can hear the complete mix. Complete CDs have been recalled because a band, mixer and mastering engineer missed an annoying high pitched whine on the master...
  • A set of studio monitors, that are revealing enough to reveal problems, yet has a wide and flat frequency response to showcase to complete mix in the entire audible range. The quality and range of the speakers and the D/A converters leading to them are absolutely critical.
  • Large quiet room, treated for any unwanted frequency nodes.
  • Accurate dB SPL meter.
  • Calibrate your monitors to ensure the optimal playback of the mix. This will be outlined below
  • Time to get to know the monitors. Listen to a lot of well mastered reference material, and train your ears to the sound. This is the most time intensive step.
  • Playback system should be able to truthfully reproduce 24bit depth fidelity from the final mix supplied by the mixer.
  • Software as required

Calibration
After getting all the hardware required, it is time to calibrate the system.

  • Start Jack and open Ardour.
  • Completely turn down the volume of each monitor and make sure they are off or muted
  • Load the 14dBFS-Pink wav file into ardour, and play out to the monitors. Be sure to leave the faders at 0dB positions on ardour and the playback hardware if applicable
  • Place the dB SPL meter to measure exactly in the spot where your head would be while seated at the mastering rig.
  • Unmute or switch on the first monitor and increase it's volume until the SPL meter reads 83dB. Mute again.
  • Complete the previous step on all monitors, one at a time

Done.
83dB SPL is the highest continuous sound pressure level, scientifically shown not to cause excessive fatigue and hearing loss while exposed for prolonged times. As an audio engineer, your hearing is quite important to you... better keep it protected.

Software
Most of the applications needed are installed during your 64 Studio installation. Here is a list of the most important applications needed to create a master CD from a 24bit final mix:

  • Jack and qjackctl
  • Ardour
  • Jamin
  • jkmeter - compile from source : Download page
  • meterbridge
  • gcdmaster

Ear Training
After the hardware has been calibrated, you should train your ears.

  • Start jack, and using terminal: jkmeter -type k14 -V -C
  • Play back reference material, known to be good masters, preferably not from compressed media. and connect the player to jkmeter via jack as well as the output
  • During playback, make sure that the average levels stays around the 0dB level in jkmeter, on the louder sections of the music, if applicable. Adjust the software playback volume down if required.

This is required to be able to use your ears while mastering. Your ears are your most important asset, and during mastering, jkmeter should be used as a reference only.

Mastering
After taking all of the above preparations, it is time to look at the mastering process itself. Before starting to master, the final mix should comply to the following to enable you to master it correctly:

  • it should be at the same sample rate as tracking took place in.
  • 24bit depth or higher preferred. Even if capture took place at 16bit, the mix has much more fidelity than 16bit because of summation effects.
  • No clipping allowed! To be sure specify that the mix should not have a peak higher than -1dB.
  • Supplied either non compressed, on in a lossless compression format

If all or most of these points are satisfied, continue to master the mix.

  • Start jack, ardour, jamin (jamin -p) , jkmeter (jkmeter -type k14 -V -C)
  • Import the mix to be mastered into ardour as a track, and connect its outputs to jamin from within ardour.
  • Create a new stereo bus, called mastering, and connect its inputs to jamin, and outputs to the ardour master bus.
  • Also connect the outputs from the "mastering" bus to jkmeter from within ardour. (connections from within ardour gets saved with the project)
  • In Jamin, make sure all compressor ratios (r) are at 1, and filters and other settings zeroed.

Now the fun begins. The section that follows is all about listening for, and removing or hiding distractions in the material.

  • listen to the track, specifically listening for frequency problems in the sonic field.
  • The first thing to correct is the stereo field. Listen to each of the three subsections below (using solo, and while playing, move the spacial correction slider slowly until the sound feels right, for each section. (Hard to explain)
  • Listen to the whole again, and identify areas in the frequency domain that needs enhancement or damping, and by using a combination of eq and compression fill in the frequency field. Take note that compression decreases dynamic range, and that compression ratios should be kept as low as possible to preserve the punch of the music.
  • Use the bypass button regularly, and try to compare it with comparable volume levels to prevent the placebo effect.
  • play with the settings available, see what they do, and how it influences the sound. Experiment a lot. It is your master.
  • Now, look at jkmeter while playing the track. The average loudness (loudest section) should hover around the 0dB mark in jkmeter. If it does not, use compression and boost to move the average up or down. Do not use the limiter too much, because the limiter has a distortion like effect on the audio, best left alone if possible.

After each track on an album is prepared, the comparative playback volume for each should be adjusted so as to place the tracks in the same relative space. This is needed to ensure coherence of the album as a whole.

Making the red book master CDR
When the master is completed, and you are happy with the sound, and the average levels in jkmeter did not move too far of base, you are ready to make the master disk.
Please follow the CD master burning how-to : http://www.64studio.com/manual/audio/ardour/cdmarkers

Red book export from Ardour for GCDMaster

You have your recording in Ardour. Mixed to perfection, tracks lined up in the correct order. Now you want to export you stuff to a Red-book CD for mastering, or if you did the mastering yourself, for duplication.

Here are the steps to follow...

1. Mark your tracks.

In the editor viewer, there is a bar, marked "CD Markers" Click and drag to mark your tracks, one by one, making sure they don't overlap...

2. Edit track details

Under the "Windows" menu, click "Locations". The following should appear:

Edit your track information for the CD-text functionality

3. Export your stuff.

In the "Session" menu, select "Export" and then "Export session to audiofile"

As in the image above, make sure you have dithering activated. Also, select the source of your export. It would normally be your "Master" channel, as in the image. Hit export, and wait.

4. Open GCDMaster, and click "Open"

In the dialogue that opens, browse to your Ardour project folder. in that folder should be an "export" folder, and in there should be the .wav export plus your .cue or.toc file created with the export. Click on the .cue or .toc file and click "Open".

Your project should load into GCDMaster, and the track markers should be visible. You can check your Project data...

5. Burn.

Click the "Record" button, select your device, select "Burn" in the radio button interface, and hit the big "Start" button. Wait. Serve hot...