Frustrations w/ hardware/software setup

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mrguitar
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Hey guys,

I've been an ardour user on and off for the past few years (i love the software), but I'm really fed up trying to get all my stuff working and sounding right. I just recorded another promo and it's filled with a ton of xruns.

I'd really appreciate it if someone can give me some recommendations for improving things. I'm open to upgrading hardware, changing distros, you name it. I really just want a reliable setup. I don't really want to buy a Mac ...but I'm close to pulling the trigger on it.

PC: AMD Athlon(tm) II X4 640 Processor w/ 8GB RaM
Sound card: maudio 2496 w/ Audio Buddy

running F18 w/ RT kernel from planet ccrma. i do the basics like run jack w/ RT and disable speed stepping on the processor.

All I need to do right now is lay down a single track at a time. Typically just guitar or bass from a Kemper (direct like a Pod), and I need it to sound good. I also get my drums from Hydrogen and that works well enough for my needs. Should I buy better a better sound card? Faster processor? Any all thoughts are much appreciated.

Thanks,
-Ben

linuxdsp
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You don't need a faster processor (at least, not yet) - if you can't get one track working without xruns (I regularly test with much lower powered hardware than you have and don't have problems). If you are running hundreds of tracks with lots of plugins... then possibly a faster processor would help.

Better soundcard.. or different soundcard might help, although you don't say what your JACK configuration (buffer settings etc) is at the moment - there may be some issues there. By far the most common cause of xruns is soundcard / driver related.

(My personal experience is that you need to remove Pulse audio if your distro has it - I don't care what anyone says, its bad news for pro-audio and likely always will be. Almost all the problems I've ever encountered have been in some way resolved by ripping out pulse audio - sure you can't do some other desktop sound stuff quite so easily, but that unfortunately is one of the trade-offs with a PC for serious music production - and not just on linux)

You could also try an audio-specific distro - I'd recommend AVLinux or Dream Studio

Seb
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With regards to "removing pulseaudio", what I do is use pasuspender.

Leaving pulseaudio installed (on F18 for example) makes using sound with other applications simple, and audio isn't the only application my computer is used for (and I'm not the only user).

Could anyone with more technical insight comment on whether that has potential to work as well as actually removing pulse?

i just invoke qjackctl with pasuspender and ardour recording does work, which it doesn't when just invoking qjackctl/jack on its own, but i'm not sure if this completely mitigates the "pulseaudio recording suckage".
P.S it took me a while to figure this out: pasuspender works a bit like "nice" or "nohup" in a sense that it takes another command as its argument, which is then invoked in a pa-suspended fashion. That chokes off any other applications' sound, which is what you'd expect.

dbra
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Hey, nice tip with pasuspender. I didn't know it before. Thanks!

johmue
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What kind of graphic card do you have? Nvidia?

I had severe xrun problems using the nouveau driver shipped by ubuntu 12.04. I switched to the proprietary nvidia driver and the problem vanished. Ubuntu 12.10 is using a newer nouveau driver which doesn't lead to xruns either, so I switched back to nouveau.

Try switching off the desktop effects. That also helped a lot in some configurations.

In recent years ubuntu distro upgrades were somewhat risky. When I started audio work on linux back in early 2010 everything was working perfectly. I had single core Athlon with 2GB of RAM. My sound interface is quite good, a Focusrite Saffire 24 pro. Then I upgraded to a i5-quadcore processor because mixing sessions with lots of tracks and effects was to much for the somewhat old single core athlon.

With this system I was happy until the upgrade to Ubuntu 11.10 came. At that time I managed it by switching off desktop effects, using a launchpad rt-kernel. The upgrade to 12.04 brought the xruns back. Fortunately I suspected the video driver and thus could solve it by changing it.

The current Ubuntu 12.10 seems to be quite stable again concerning xruns. Even with desktop effects switched on. I have also PuseAudio running parallel to jack. I even connect it to jack. No problem.

At least on my hardware.

Good luck.

linuxdsp
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The problem with these kinds of discussions is that there is almost never a 'right' solution e.g. one that works for everyone. I've seen countless threads (that go on for weeks or months) filled with suggestions about what will fix such problems and for every "I did x, y and z and it fixed all my problems..." there's always a response later that goes "I did the same thing and it made it worse"
All that can be said with any certainty is that any modern system should be more than capable of running multi-track record / playback and several plugins so I would caution against spending significant amounts upgrading hardware until all other options have been exhausted.
(as an example of both the problems I've mentioned, I upgraded a single core, low powered system which had been rock solid, to a faster CPU with more memory etc, and had terrible x-run problems - which highlights that, things which should improve matters don't, and the problem - as in this case was more of a driver issue than hardware).

mrguitar
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Great stuff guys! I was running the nouveau driver, so I'll be interested to see if switching to the proprietary driver helps. I'll also try the pasuspender.

linuxdsp: I totally agree that we're shooting in the dark here, but at least it's beneficial to me to get some of these items back on my radar.

I'll report back if any of this helps tonight.

mrguitar
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Wow, getting rid of nouveau made a HUGE difference.

originally: hundreds of xruns per track (too many to count)
no nouveau: down to 7 xruns
no nouveau + pasuspend: down to 3 xruns

I think I have jack running at 64 frames/periods, 41000, 2 period/buffers. That should be pretty standard. I might also play w/ the latency-performace tuned profile. I've never messed w/ that on an RT kernel.

Anyway, I really appreciate the thoughts here. One more lame question:

What would be a better sounding sound card and/or interface that will just work w/ linux? Any recommendations?

linuxdsp
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64 Frames is most likely way to short - even if you are playing live you can probably have 128 or even 256 and the effect on both CPU usage and stability / x-runs should be very noticeable (CPU usage increases as you reduce the buffer size, and is not directly proportional e.g. CPU usage almost goes up exponentially towards the exteme low latency end of the buffer settings). Contrary to popular myth, extreme low latency in PC audio is not as important as many people think (or any kind of metric of 'quality'). However, understanding when low latency can be important in some cases, and why, is important. Top of the list of soundcards that 'just work' is the M-Audio delta 1010 (PCI card) or anything built around the chipset it uses.

vtech
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I've recently built a new PC for my audio stuff and the only thing I really focused on was: no NVIDIA nor ATI. Period. The only reliable way to have stable low latency audio on Linux is integrated Intel graphics (my experience). Even when you make it stable with Nvidia (and I did it before), next kernel or driver update will break it probably. I have now Pentium G870 (w/ integrated gfx) + 8GB + Delta 1010LT and I see maybe one xrun in a week, when I run too many things together. I have Gentoo/Fedora18 dual boot (for development purposes) and both work without a hitch.

seablade
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@vtech

While I won't argue that Intel has a decent track record, some of their newer graphics stacks have had issues on Linux IIRC. Also playing devils advocate of I have been able to get perfectly stable machines running NVidia cards before as well(In fact am running one now). There are really so many factors it is hard to place the blame on just one or the other.

Seablade

GMaq
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Hi,

Interesting comments,

All three can potentially have their issues no doubt, on the distribution side of things ATi is by far the hardware that has the most complaints and very dodgy proprietary driver support (they recently pulled support for a large number of Radeon HD cards). nVidia by and large is pretty well supported over a large number of chipsets and also going back over a reasonable timespan.

Although newer Intel chipsets did recently wreak havok with older versions of Xorg you gotta love having the OpenGL support right there in the Intel Xorg driver, it's a shame that nouveau isn't better in that regard by now.

linuxdsp
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quoting myself from earlier in this thread...

The problem with these kinds of discussions is that there is almost never a 'right' solution e.g. one that works for everyone. I've seen countless threads (that go on for weeks or months) filled with suggestions about what will fix such problems and for every "I did x, y and z and it fixed all my problems..." there's always a response later that goes "I did the same thing and it made it worse"

I'm currently running a system with nVidia graphics and one with ATi neither of which gives me any x-run problems at all, my experience with Intel has not been so good.. just goes to show :)

(My only problem with the ATi machine has been that for some reason I cannot get any of Harrison's free mixbus plugins to work - the GUI just flickers or is corrupt - I believe this is a GL issue, but all other GL applications on the same system work just fine)

mrguitar
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Sorry for the delay in responding things have been crazy for me lately. Anyway, thanks again for all the great info. After looking at these idea (and especially linuxdsp's comments around increasing the frames to 256) I decided I needed to go do some RTFM. I realized that the source of my issues was not taking the time to setup hardware based monitoring . It sounds so obvious now. Anyway, that's working like a champ and now I'm not trying to squeeze everything out of my system while recording so I'm not getting any xruns. ....at all. It's fantastic.

Here are the raw tracks of the promo I re-recoreded: http://db.tt/IgNxurk0

I think it sounds pretty good for just dry tracks that aren't mixed.

Cheers,
-Ben

Seb
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"pasuspender" revisited: In combination with Fedora 18 and the ccrma kernel, it works beautifully for me now, even with a relatively "lame" USB1 sound device.
As far as I can tell, running jack with pasuspender is just as good as removing pulse, maybe apart from some memory consumption but hey, it's no longer 1985 so a few kB are not so precious any more.
The stock Fedora kernel is hopeless for jackd though. Yes it has the permissions set up correctly and all, but work, it does not.