favourite features in ardour 3: stacked regions, connection matrix, aux bussing

Easter is a holiday weekend in Australia, and the extra days off gave me time to get back to the piano-driven song that I’ve been working on for some time. I’ve had the arrangement largely complete for a while, so I quickly finished the lyrics and then recorded the vocals.

Until now, this track was all MIDI in Qtractor, and I tried recording the vocals there, too, but I need a lot of takes to get a good vocal down, and Qtractor didn’t make that easy. I suspected that Ardour 3 might, though, so I started a new session, synced it to Qtractor using the JACK transport, and recorded the vocals there.

Stacked region view

Ardour 3 can stack overlapping regions within the one track vertically, making it much easier to work with multiple takes

Ardour has long allowed you to record multiple takes in to the same track, but switching between them in Ardour 2 was time-consuming. In Ardour 3, you can switch a track to “Stacked” mode (under Layers in the track’s right-click menu), which displays the overlapping regions within the track separately, stacked vertically on top of each other. In Stacked mode, you can see clearly what’s in each region (at least, once you’ve expanded the height of the track enough!), and you can rearrange them by clicking and dragging.

It’s also easy to select multiple stacked regions and run the same edit operation on them, such as splitting them at the playhead. It took very little time to split my takes in to individual phrases, and then rearrange and audition them to find the best takes for each part of the vocal.

Matrix-style connection manager

A more fundamental change in Ardour 3 is the new connection manager interface, which is a massive improvement on the old UI for managing connections to tracks, buses, and inserts/sends. It’s intimidating at first, but it’s really quite simple to use: it’s a matrix, with outputs running top-to-bottom on the left, and inputs running left-to-right on the bottom. For each combination of input and output, there’s a box on the grid, and clicking in those boxes creates or deletes a routing between that input and that output.

In specific parts of the UI, you’ll just see subsets of this; for instance, if you open the connections for a specific track, you’ll see the potential outputs on the left, but just the track’s inputs down the bottom. However, there’s also a master connection manager (well, two really — one for audio, and one for MIDI, both available from the Window menu), which lets you make connections to multiple tracks or buses very quickly.

The connection manager can be intimidating at first, but it's super-quick to use

After I finished recording my vocals, I decided to record audio tracks from my MIDI instruments in to Ardour so I could work with just audio for the final mix. For the drums, I used LinuxSampler (discussed a little here), with five separate copies of Analogue Drums’ RockStock kit loaded (one each for kick, snare, toms, hats, and cymbals), each routed to its own pair of JACK outputs. In Ardour 2, it would’ve taken ages to connect those LinuxSampler outputs to my track inputs, but with the master connection manager in Ardour 3, it took just 10 clicks and about as many seconds.

Aux busses (again)

Aux buses and sends make shared effects even easier to set up

I’ve mentioned it before, but the aux bussing in Ardour 3 is great. Once I’d recorded all my instruments in to Ardour, I set up a reverb bus (a convolution reverb using the excellent IR plugin), and added sends from some of my tracks. Not only are they easier to add, but you can see and adjust the send levels straight from the mixer.

While I ran in to some problems with MIDI in Ardour 3 last week, working with just audio this weekend has been rock-solid. A lot of bug fixes have gone in to Subversion since the last alpha release, so I’m hoping we’ll see a beta release soon.

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