Three months ago I built a Ryzen 3800x + Nvidia 1080ti workstation for making stuff on Linux (Manjaro is my OS). So far I’ve beeen learning Blender and working with WordPress, but in May I started to get my audio production setup working. Here are some notes on the software choices I ended up making.
The goal is to make soundtracks for videos and games.
I also need to pay bills, and would love edit podcasts, work on sound design, or mix music / albums for money. If you’re interested in a 1-off, or seeing if we mesh, send an email. If you just want to send me money so I can try to blog about Linux daily (this was a lot of research!), please paypal me at bobby at tech dot haus. I accept.
I’m going to be working at 96kHz, btw. I kind of want to do 192kHz, but we’ll see how the 3800x and my nvme drives hold up. My desire to use high sample rates has to do with a lot of the plugins I’m going to be using not having “oversampling” or proper anti-aliasing filters. It is my understanding that at a higher sample rate, you get less nasty bounce back aliasing by raising the nyquist limit. Also, shorter latency. I should be able to afford a $100 1gb ssd every month if I plan to take this seriously, so I’m not going to worry about the extra storage space higher sample rates use up. Quality first.
Digital Audio Workstations (DAW)
I was a Mac user for 19 years. I used Logic to record bands since before Apple even owned it, Reason from version 2.5, all the way up to Reason 10, and Ableton Live for a time while I lived in Brooklyn (because of course). None of those work natively in Linux.
For now, Reaper is the one. I’m watching Reaper Mania videos on Youtube by Kenny Gioia and doing tons of research. If you have 11 minutes, he made a video called “Why Reaper?”
Pretty much everything you can think of is customizable in Reaper, allowing the user to make it the perfect tool for most tasks. I couldn’t be more psyched to switch to Reaper. I feel like this is going to be a long-term tool for me.
As far as Tracktion’s Waveform 11 Pro goes, there’s a FREE version, as well, and I need to spend some time with it someday. I’ve started it up and played a few synths in it, I just don’t have the time to learn two DAW’s right now. (Tracktion sends me 40% off coupons a lot in their emails, btw.).
Bitwig is so fun to demo, I just wish I had $400 to get it (Bitwig sends me $299 sales often in their emails, and the 8 track version comes with the keyboard controller I want to buy). To me, Bitwig is a step up over Ableton Live, but after spending time learning Reaper, I know I want to be mixing and editing in Reaper. If I need a different workflow for production, though, maybe I will turn to Bitwig someday.
All 3 were available to install from the AUR. All 3 are awesome choices. I just think Reaper is the one.
I know you can use Windows software on Linux through “Wine”, and there are also Windows vst wrappers, and many have reported great success with those solutions, but I’ve decided to try to run as much as possible with Linux builds, buy from companies who support Linux, or use software from open source projects (and also contribute to those projects even if it’s just by promoting them or by reporting bugs, etc.)
Synths and Sounds
Some of my goals for this year include getting much better at left hand synth bass playing, and getting much better at sound design, especially long evolving soundscapes and stuff that would work for movie or game soundtracks.
For now, I’m working with free vst synths that I was able to install and get running in Manjaro. An underrated aspect of using free synths is the amazing wealth of presets other people have made. It’s worth having these installed to scroll through for inspiration from time to time (you can also learn these synthesizers by backwards engineering patches that catch your ear).
Vember Audio Surge is Open Source!
I actually used Surge back in 2010 or something on my old white Macbook. I think it was like $199. Now it’s free and hopefully will keep being developed and improved.
Setting Surge up and playing with it conjured up a a lot of good memories. I read the manual and I feel very confident that I can produce with Surge, which is loaded with sound sculpting features and capable of amazing digital sounds.
The version I installed is a VST3, which is rare for Linux – mostly VST2’s here.
u-he Synths Are a Blessing
If you’re only going to be limited to a few plugin makers making plugins for your operating system of choice, you couldn’t do better than that company being u-he.
I have 4 (soon to be 5?) free synthesizers made by u-he: Podolski, Triple Cheese, Beatzille, and Tyrell N6. I’m going to try to install their flagship Zebra demo because I think the free “Zebralette” comes installed with it.
I’m eager to buy a few of their synths someday: Bazille (after I learn Beatzille deeply) and Repro (because I just sold my Korg Monologue and I dig their analog emulation in this plugin). Maybe others like Zebra or Hive someday. Hans Zimmer is supposedly a big user of Zebra, so if I’m getting into soundscapes, that should be on my long list.
Installation was super easy on the free ones. There’s an install.sh file in the downloads folder, and you just run the following in the terminal:
I see plugins for sale “used”, and you can transfer the licenses, but I want to support companies who support Linux, so I’m going to try to buy “new” licenses for any u-he stuff, which means I will be waiting a while, due to lack of funds, unfortunately. Luckily the free stuff is awesome and it will take me a while to explore the limits of them.
Other Free Synths
Can’t overlook OB-Xd, an opensource Oberheim-a-like that DiscoDSP is now maintaining (just download it, pretty sure it’s free). Again, there are just so many presets for this, and it covers a lot of bases for classic 80’s sounds.
Speaking of 80’s, Dexed is an FM synth modeled after classic Yamahas, and yes, it can load DX7 patches. There are a lot of synths that do FM now, but think about the thousands of patches for DX7’s that have been made over the years. Oxe is a very ugly FM synth that had some presets that made me want to revisit it in the future, too.
Free Chiptunes Synths Galore
If you’re into chiptunes or bleepy blops, Soca Labs made a little series of emulations that are called 8-bit Treats on the Tracktion site (check out the audio samples to see if these are your cup of tea), but I got them from the Manjaro software installer (pamac), i think.
DiscoDSP also maintains the free OPL Yamaha synth emulation that was used in old Soundblaster PC cards, and can do some awesome fm video game sounds.
It’s funny, after a few minutes of playing with Surge the other day I had my own chiptunes sounds coming out it. I mean I love the Castlevania soundtracks like everyone, but I have no specific desire to produce chiptunes. Keeping an open mind. Maybe I’ll reach for them. Again, I’m trying to think about the concept of building blocks in sound design. Maybe these are the start to something special I chain together.
There Are More Paid Synths, Too…
Tracktion, DiscoDSP, Audio Damage, and TAL (Togu Audio Design) all offer several paid synths worth checking out.
I got a synth called Biotek 1 from purchasing a Focusrite interface and a Novation controller years ago. Great perk!, but it crashes for me. I wonder if I’m missing a dependency. Regardless, it offers me a cheaper upgrade path to Biotek 2, so I have to see if that works on my system or not.
There are probably dozens of free and paid synths that I’m forgetting, but look how much I have to learn already!
What About Samplers?
Good question. I’m still researching here.
Sitala is a free drum pad style sampler with a few ways to tweak your sounds. I’ll probably make some templates in Reaper that start with Sitala somewhere. When you initiate an instance of this plugin in Reaper, it asks if you want it to have a stereo output or 32 outputs, and it can create them automatically.
There are three commercial/paid samplers that I want to demo, and I can see myself picking up at least two of them.
The first, which I think will be an insta-buy once I have a spare $60, is TAL Sampler. The workflow and sound stand out to me. It’s like a synth where the oscillators are old school hardware sampler engines.
Another sampler that I am intrigued by is Renoise Redux. This is a weird one. Redux is a sampler that comes with the tracker from Renoise built in as a phrase sequencer. This seems really unique and being able to bring that tracker workflow into any DAW as a plugin for only $65 is quite compelling. However, do I know how to use a tracker? No…and I have a lot to learn right now. I want to hear the included effects too.
The third option I want to try out is Bliss by DiscoDSP. It’s supposed to be able to sample your other vst’s easily, and that workflow is interested to me, because building sounds from other sounds is very satisfying. So if that works as advertised in Reaper on Linux, this is a contender for my THIRD sampler.
I feel like if I had Bitwig, I’d probably be super happy with their built in sampler, but the portability of these plugins and different workflows they present still make me want to try and probably buy all of them.
As far as I know, the modeled pianos from Pianoteq by Modartt are the best option here. These are very expensive, but on my list of things to check out. There are a few other pianos and organs and electric pianos etc. to check out on Linux so I’ll report back, as well as testing some of the products I own from my Mac days in a vst wrapper someday.
But as of right now I don’t exactly have to emulate a piano. I just don’t have a need for a “real” one. I like weird synth piano-like things, or whatever.
Effects in Reaper
Reaper comes with some high quality plugins! They don’t have a graphical user interface, so no fancy knobs or wood paneling on the ummm “side” of the plugin, but the sound and functions are there. I’m especially excited to use ReaComp, the compressor, and ReaDelay, their delay that has unlimited taps. (Check out some delay ideas from Sound on Sound. This is sort of how I will be applying ReaDelay)
Included with Reaper are also plugins that are not vst’s, called Jesusonic (JS). There is a lot here. I count at least 6 compressors and limiters, for example. I will post about these someday in the future, just want to note that you already get a large collection of tools included with Reaper. This is a deep DAW.
VST Effects – “Building Blocks”
One of my favorite things about Reaper is that the tracks, routing, and folders system almost encourage you to build parallel processing into your workflow. Plugins start to look like building blocks for signal chains. This is where I’m most excited about exploring. I know I can build sonically exciting mixes with this software.
Airwindows, Another Blessing.
Back in 2009, I bought 7 plugins from this company Airwindows for like $59.99 each. Today, all of their 100+ plugins are free and supported by a patreon account (I just donate $1.66 a month for the past 2 months. I’m not kidding, I’m poor). They were Audio Units only at the time (a Mac-only format I was using in Logic). The fact that these are on Linux now is a gamechanger for me.
This is a truly overwhelming collection of tools, sometimes very similar, but with different flavors and nuances. There are not a lot of jack of all trades here – think niche, specialty plugins. Exactly the kind of stuff I’m looking for to build up some signal chains for mixing!
There is a lot to mess with and learn here – distortions, tape emulations, tone shapers, compressors, reverbs – all of those are plural. And a lot more…
These have no user interface or metering, so their use case really fits this building block idea in that sense, too.
For example, I’m sure I will use some of these “character” plugins from Airwindows in combination with some ReaDelay presets I build, to make some really interesting effects. Maybe throw in some pitch shifters, or some crazy eq to make some sparkling high end soundscape.
I promise I will write about these more in the future.
Reverbs and Delays
There are two paid reverbs I know I will be getting – the reverb from u-he’s Uhbik collection (more on this below), and Audio Damage’s EOS reverb ($59).
If you want something weird, check out Teufelsberg Reverb.
I plan on testing Valhalla DSP reverbs in a vst wrapper someday, but they are Mac and Windows only sadly.
Delays are pretty amazing at creating a sense of space in a mix without clouding things up as much as reverbs can.
However, when it comes to emulating spaces, verbs might come in handy for sound design and mixing for videos or games. Really looking to find the right balance between delays and reverbs.
Reaper comes with ReaVerb which is a convolution reverb. Should i use IR / convolution verbs? Another building block…
Besides ReaComp and the JS compressors I got with Reaper, here is a (full?) list of the compressors that you get from AirWindows:
Podcast, PodcastDeluxe, Recurve, PurestSquish, VariMu, Pressure4, Pop, ButterComp, ButterComp2, Logical4, Surge, Pyewacket, Thunder, Block Party.
There may be more that I missed.
AudioDamage has updated their Rough Rider compressor to Version 3, which has a “Full Bandwith” mode that doesn’t dull the sound like the original. I used to use the original a lot, and am happy to have it back in my arsenal.
If / when I have the cash, I plan to pick up u-he’s Presswerk ($129) compressor. This looks like a beast. For now I want to learn ReaComp deeply, and I think any skills I learn using ReaComp will only make me better at using Presswerk.
There are a few smaller companies who also make free and paid compressor plugins. I just…have so much to listen to right now! Learning ReaComp deeply is my priority, and then comparing it to the JS and Airwindows stuff is the next step.
There are also the Harrison AVA compressor plugins but those aren’t currently on my radar. I think these are highly regarded, though, and I just wanted to note that they are available on Linux.
u-he Uhbik Bundle
People rate a lot of the plugins in this collection very highly based on my research. What’s interesting is that people seem to swear by different Uhbik plugins and have different favorites.
I want Uhbik for reverb (Ubhik-A is on a lot of top reverb lists on Gearslutz), but this collection of 9 plugins fits the mixing approach for the parallel / bus processing I want to be doing in Reaper. If I had $150 I didn’t need, I would be buying this first out of everything listed in this article. These are really high quality “building blocks”.
After researching u-he’s product line and reading their section on the KVR forums, I found out they are about to release a 2.0 version of Uhbik with new interfaces, modulation updates, and a compressor. It’s going to be a free update to current owners! So yeah, i need to snag Uhbik asap. You know I like my compressor choices.
A few free bundles of plugins that I installed, but have yet to evaluate seriously:
LSP VST – stands for Linux Studio Project. This has the potential to fill in a lot of gaps when it comes to utilities. Limiter, Dynamic Processor, Expander, Gate, Graphic Equalizer, Impulse Responses, Impulse Reverb, Sampler, Compressor, Latency Meter, Multiband Expander, Multiband Compressor, Oscillator, Parametric EQ, Phase Detector, Spectrum Analyzer, Trigger, Delay Compensator, etc.
Zam Plugins by Zam Audio (labeled Damien Zammit in Reaper) – these are fugly, but cover a lot bases as far as effects go. Do they sound good? These are easily installed from the official repository from Manjaro.
Xhip Effects – these were originally created to go with the Xhip synth, but hey, I’ll take some more building blocks. Once again, super ugly lol. Includes a clipper, compressor, follower, gate, limiter, modulation delay, multiplier, phaser, quantizer, rc filter, rectifier, reverb, ringmod, tremelo, and vocal filter.
I’m also interested in the Tracktion DAW Essentials Collection. It’s $159 for 16 plugins, which works out the neat price of about $10 each. This has a 90 day trial and the plugins look beautiful. I also see that they are free with a Mackie usb interface, so I might be purchasing one just to get them. I feel like these remind me a lot of the tools I used to use in Logic. For now I’m not convinced I need these, but I’m going to be relying on a lot of plugins with minimal or no visual feedback or interface.
A lot of the best free metering and analysis plugins are Windows and Mac only. That’s a space I have to fill, especially with so many plugins with no graphics or visual feedback. Sometimes I will need to see what they are actually doing.
Midi Helper things
I’m demoing a “phrase arpeggiator” called Phrasebox by Venomode, which I think I will be buying. Sometimes these things can lead to inspiration.
I mean, that’s it. By no means is this a definitive resource, I just wanted to start blogging daily about Linux.
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