Released under the terms of the GNU General Public License (version two or any later version), Ardour is free software.
Users who download from ardour.org are asked to pay at least $1 for downloading prebuilt binaries of Ardour; those users then have the right to obtain minor updates until the next major release.
Another option is to subscribe, paying $1, $4 or $10 per month. Subscribers can download prebuilt binaries of all updates during the subscription period. (This makes Ardour an example of commercial free-libre software.)
Without paying, users can download the full source code for all platforms, or a prebuilt OS X binary which lacks the ability to load or save AU plugin settings.
Currently (as of June 2013) the OS X binary is an older version without MIDI sequencing capabilities.
Ardour's intention is to provide digital audio workstation software suitable for professional use.
Bring it to the computer
Grab yourself a nice audio interface. Plug in a microphone or a keyboard. Add a track. Press record. Got it.
Use what you've got
Import audio or MIDI from your hard drive or the Freesound database.
The work to be done
Cut, move, stretch, copy, paste, delete, align, trim, crossfade, rename, snapshot, zoom, transpose, quantize, swing, drag, drop.
The tools to do it
All with unlimited undo/redo. All in the same window.
All the buzzwords
Mute, solo, fader, automate, EQ, dynamics, insert, send, pre-fader, post-fader, sync, monitor, isolate.
Less of the pain
Floating point fidelity, the most flexible mixer architecture in the industry, hundreds of plugins, and external control surfaces.
Isn't This A Really Complicated Program?
There is no point in pretending that Ardour is a simple, easy to use program. The development group has worked hard to try to make simple things reasonably easy, common tasks quick, and hard and/or uncommon things possible. There is no doubt that we have more to do in this area, as well as polishing the user interface to improve its intuitiveness and work flow characteristics.
At the same time, multi-track, multi-channel, non-linear, non-destructive audio editing is a far from simple process. Doing it right requires not only a good ear, but a solid appreciation for basic audio concepts and a robust mental model/metaphor of what you are doing.
Ardour is not a simple "audio recorder" - you can certainly use it to record stereo (or even mono) material in a single track, but the program has been designed around much richer capabilities than this.
Some people complain that Ardour is not "intuitive" to use - its lead developer has some thoughts on that.
Why Write a DAW for Linux?
It is fairly understandable that existing proprietary DAWs do not run on Linux, given the rather small (but growing) share of the desktop market that Linux has. However, when surveying the landscape of "popular operating systems", we find:
- older versions of Windows: plagued by abysmal stability and appalling security
- newer versions of Windows seem stable but still suffer from security problems
- OS X: an amazing piece of engineering that is excellent for audio work but only runs on proprietary hardware and still lacks the flexibility and adaptability of Linux.
Let's contrast this with Linux, an operating system which:
- can stay up for months (or even years) without issues
- is endlessly configurable down to the tiniest detail
- is not owned by any single corporate entity, ensuring its life and direction are not intertwined with that of a company (for a contrary example, consider BeOS)
- is fast and efficient
- runs on almost any computing platform ever created, including old "slow" systems and new "tiny" systems (e.g. Raspberry Pi)
- is one of the most secure operating systems "out of the box"
Having written a DAW for Linux, it turned out to be relatively easy to port Ardour to OS X, mostly because of the excellent work done by the JACK OS X group that ported JACK to OS X. Although OS X has a number of disadvantages compared to Linux, its ease of use and its presence in many studios already makes it a worthwhile platform.
Why write another DAW?
There are already a number of excellent digital audio workstations. To mention just a few: ProTools, Nuendo, Samplitude, Digital Performer, Logic, Cubase (SX), Sonar, along with several less well known systems such as SADIE, SAWStudio and others. Each of these programs has its strengths and weaknesses, although over the last few years most of them have converged on a very similar set of core features. However, each of them suffers from two problems when seen from the perspective of Ardour's development group:
- they do not run natively on Linux
- they are not available in source code form, making modifications, improvements, bugfixes by technically inclined users or their friends or consultants impossible.
Pick your audio interface based on your needs and budget.
If your OS supports it, Ardour can use it. PCI, USB, Firewire interfaces, along with the option to use network audio too.
True tape-style transport allows any combination of master record and individual track arming at any time; no prior setup is needed. Per-track setting of layered, non-layered, or destructive recording modes. Flexible input monitoring options can handle it automatically or allow you to take control with individual monitor buttons. Punch in/out points can be set in a multitude of ways, and can be combined with loop playback. Stop&Forget feature allows you to cancel a recording pass and recover the disk space instantly.
Unlimited Multichannel Tracks
No limits on number of tracks, buses, plugins, inserts, or sends. Tracks may consist of overlapping layered regions, non-overlapping regions, or true destructive (single-file) regions. Tracks may be mono, stereo or multichannel. Flexible plugin panner architecture allows sensible panning of multichannel tracks into buses. Multichannel tracks also have individual outputs so a multichannel track can be routed to separate mixer strips for panning & processing, while still retaining the benefits of one-touch recording and editing.
Use existing material in a huge variety of file formats (including but not limited to WAV, BWF, AIFF, CAF, FLAC). On OS X, freely browse and use AppleLoops and Garageband loops. Browse the enormous Freesound.org repository of free samples and import directly into your session. Sound effects, instruments hits, atmospherics - more than 160,000 samples free for you to discover and use.
Non-destructive, non-linear editing with unlimited undo/redo, even across editing sessions (reload and undo your changes from last time).
All editing is in-window: no switching to piano roll or other dedicated dialogs/displays for specialized operations.
Overlapping regions, opaque regions, transparent regions: work the way you think is best.
Vertical stacking mode for displaying overlapping regions
Strip silence, push-pull trimming, Rhythm Ferret for transient and note onset-based editing.
- Import a single video and optionally extract the soundtrack from it.
- Display a frame-by-frame (thumbnail) timeline of the video.
- Use a separate video-monitor window, or full-screen display, of the imported video in sync with any of the available Ardour timecode sources.
- Lock audio and MIDI regions to the video and move regions with the video at video-frame granularity.
- Export the video, cut start/end, add blank frames and/or mux it with the soundtrack of the current-session.
- One machine: all video decoding, video monitoring and Ardour audio
- Two machines: separate video-monitor and Ardour
- Three machines: separate video-server (for timeline decoding and file-archive), dedicated video-monitor and Ardour
Route anything to anywhere (for more than ten years!). Matrix-style patching/routing. Connect Ardour tracks or busses to hardware, each other, other applications, the network ... input, output, sends, inserts, returns all managed in the same way.
Sophisticated solo model includes listen (AFL/PFL) as well as solo-in-place. Continuously variable solo-in-front control. Solo Isolate and Solo Lock modes per mixer strip.
Optional monitor section, complete with dim, cut, mute controls per channel and globally. Outputs are indepedent from the master bus outputs.
Inline Plugin Control.
Display plugin parameter controls directly inline in the mixer strip, without opening plugin editors. Bypass plugins. Drag-n-drop plugins between tracks (and busses), retaining settings. Create track/bus templates complete with plugin chains and settings predefined.
Stereo panning with independent (coupled) width and position.
Sample accurate automation for everything. Write + Touch modes. Record control movement or enter automation data with the mouse. Full copy-n-paste. Automation data can move with regions or belong to a track.
Mix groups allow grouped control of basic track properties like record enable, solo, mute. But not just the basics: share selection (editing) behaviour, colors, monitoring state. Hide/show groups en-masse. Sub-group in a couple of mouse clicks. Route groups via dedicated aux busses. Fit group to window.
Hundreds of no-cost plugins in LV2, native VST and LADSPA formats on Linux and OSX. On Linux install them with your system software manager. On OS X, Ardour includes a selection of plugins for use "out of the box".
AudioUnit (AU) plugin support on OS X, allowing use of all effects and instruments plugins from Waves, u-he, iZotope, PSP, Stillwell and many, many other plugin manufacturers.
High quality proprietary plugins on Linux from LinuxDSP, Loomer, Pianoteq/Modartt. Excellent open source plugins from Distrho and others.
Export to many different data and file formats, including but not limited to WAV, AIFF, CAF, BWF, FLAC, Ogg/Vorbis.
Multichannel (>2) file exports. Any number of channels. Whatever you need.
Export multiple formats and sample rates at once.
Add, Edit and manage export format specifications directly from the export dialog.
Stem Exports ("one file per track") of one or many tracks.
Create CUE and TOC files for use by CD mastering applications and companies.
Third party tools such as AATranslator to convert your entire session for use with other DAWs including Logic, ProTools, Cubase and more.
Your CPU, audio interface and disk system are the only limits to what you can do with Ardour.
Limiting System Features
Number of tracks
Disk system, CPU
Number of busses
audio interface, CPU
Sends/Inserts Per Track
Plugins Per Track
As a general rule of thumb, most modern computers will be able to handle 24 tracks with moderate plugin processing (some EQ and other less intensive processing per track, plus compression and reverb on busses) without much of a problem as long as your latency settings are not too demanding.