Ardour 8 has arrived with easier editing, automation, improved tempo mapping, arpeggiators, Launchpad Pro controller support, and more. The DAW is a workflow powerhouse – and it’s free and open source for macOS (through Sonoma), Windows, and Linux.
It’s not just that they’re free; community-driven, open-source tools can be uniquely focused on what you want. We’ve seen that with the incredible Surge XT synth. So Ardour continues to respond to a dedicated, impassioned group of users – and benefits from the tireless work of creator Paul Davis (even when he’s not, typically with good reason, pointing out bugs in my writing now and then).
These features also migrate to the excellent Harrison Audio Mixbus, which bundles all the Ardour goodness with some specific fit and finish and Harrison’s beautiful consoles in one of the most underrated bargains in sound.
Ardour 8.0 landed yesterday. On top of some significant improvements in the 7.x sequence, this release adds some major new features. Some are unique to Ardour, and some help add features you may know from other DAWs – meaning that thanks to a lot of feedback, the current Ardour is likely to be more comfortable than any previous version. That’s welcome because, cool as it is to have a free DAW that does stuff other DAWs can’t, this makes trying it a lot gentler if you’ve had a background from other tools.
One quick note for those of you new to Ardour – if you run on Linux, the whole DAW is free. An easy way to do that is via Ubuntu Studio. (Linux means choice, of course, but if you’re looking for a beginner-friendly way to start for music and creation, it’s hard to beat.) It’s also free if you build your own DAW. That can get tricky with dependencies, so Ardour charges a very small fee for those binaries on Mac and Windows.
Paying is a good idea anyway if you can afford it, as it supports development. But yeah, this is free as in freely licensed and open source, and truly free on Linux, not free as in you just keep clicking past the nag screen in Reaper. Ahem. (Though that’s also a great piece of software. But yeah, I see you!)
Now, on to what’s new:
Arrangement features and grouping
Ardour 8 adds a dedicated arrangement ruler – define sections, and then copy and reorder. There are three-point edits with start/range and destination. That’s a huge feature to me, especially as what you may want from something like Ardour is the ability to take materials generated elsewhere and get them in order.
Related to workflow, Ardour 8 also adds quick mixer groups, atop track and bus groups and VCAs. They’re persistent and work across views. And that’s what I mean, in that you now have some easier, quick entry points on your way to some of Ardour’s deeper and more powerful functionality.
You can also create groups of regions for non-contiguous region editing and those groups are persistent. That is a huge deal for a lot of use cases.
Side note, re: VCAs and the mixer – this is a v5-era Ardour feature, but if you missed it, it’s worth a look. Developer Paul Davis explains:
In mixing consoles — and in Ardour and Mixbus, etc. — a VCA is a mixer-strip object that controls various parameters of other mixer-strip objects (typically gain, solo, mute, and record enable). They can be combined in different ways. They can be hierarchical: VCAs can be controlled by other VCAs. They can operate in parallel: more than one VCA can control a track. Different console companies offered one or the other of these schemes. Ardour, naturally, offers both.
Classic example: a drum kit is controlled by a “drum” VCA. The drum VCA and various percussion tracks are controlled by a “percussion” VCA. The percussion VCA and bass are controlled by a “rhythm” VCA. Now, you can bring the entire rhythm section in and out from one fader but also control each element independently. You can imagine something similar for a large-scale vocal arrangement.
Tempo mapping – now with a custom grid tool
Tempo mapping – dynamically mapping tempo tracks to recordings – was added in 7.5 early this summer, as covered in this Mixbus32c video (though also applicable to vanilla Ardour). New in this version is a grid tool – hit ‘y’ and drag the grid to the waveform as the waveform stays in place.
I really like what they’ve done with implementation here – enough to consider tracking into Ardour for live jams. The (cough) “intelligent” features in some other DAWs can be weirdly hard to use. Having something you can manually override can actually save time.
A review of what they did in 7.5:
More options for velocity and automation editing
Here’s another instance of Ardour adding something to its existing tools, giving you a familiar toolset – without taking away some of its more powerful options. MIDI velocity editing now adds “lollipops” – those vertical bars like in many other DAWs.
Also new in this version:
- Freehand automation (easily combined with segmented automation)
- Updated MIDI Track Piano Roll Header, with standard names support (useful with both hardware and plug-ins)
- Novation Launchpad Pro controller support – which, by the way, joins Softube Console1 support
- New arpeggiator plugins (details), and this follows the tempo map (so feel free to go invent a new genre, folks!). These aren’t like what you get from other DAWs, either, with unique approaches to mapping accents and controlling generative options, so even if you’re not into Ardour, you should go geek out about arcane arpeggiators.
- No more macOS notarization nags because … they gave Apple money
And don’t forget Ardour launches clips now, too
Ardour v7 late last year quietly introduced clip launching. It’s best to understand this isn’t an Ableton Live clone – in fact, there’s even a document explaining how they’re not the same, and this feature is in progress:
Instead of thinking of this as a Live competitor, think of it as clip launching being brought to Ardour’s native, timeline-based approach. Cue markers on the timeline mean that playback always repeats the same way. There’s also a more flexible approach to how clips follow one another, including looping. (I’ve long been critical of Live’s inflexibility, even as a great fan of that DAW, partly because I recall its beginnings when you couldn’t unwarp or even unloop anything. For a from-scratch approach, the Ardour way makes more sense. That’s why it’s good there’s more than one DAW on Earth.)
Again, you’ll enjoy that readthrough even if you’re just a design nerd. (Sure, I sometimes spend time sitting around pondering the philosophy of timeline launching instead of making music, but I mean, artists don’t spend 100% of their time painting, either. Sometimes, you want to sit and just study the sunlight.)
Part of why it makes sense to revisit these v7 features is that features I’ve mentioned all pair nicely with v7’s introduction of clip launching and mixer scenes. Just watch:
Mixer scenes are excellent – and mean you not only can try what-if scenarios while mixing, but also can use Ardour as a digital mixer setup with scene recall.
And worth revisiting:
And it’s not free, but Mixbus closely tracks Ardour functionality and adds a ton of extras, combining Ardour with a Harrison analog console at a fraction of the price. (Plus, recall what I just said about mixer groups? Yeah, with that.) See Harrison’s site.