How to Get Plugins to Work With Ardour

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When recording music in the post-hardware era, even the most powerful digital audio workstations can seem limited without plugins. Though the current stable version of Ardour, a free and open-source DAW for Linux and OS X, doesn't support MIDI-based instrument plugins, it can load effect plugins in a variety of formats.

Things You'll Need

  • OS X or Audio-centric Linux distribution
  • QJackCtl
  • Ardour
  • Close any audio-capable applications, including any media players and Web browsers with multimedia plugins. If following this step requires you to close the browser you're using to read this article, print it out and refer to the rest of the steps on paper.

  • Open the audio category of your Linux distribution's applications menu and click "QJackCtl" to launch the graphical user interface for the JACK Audio Connection Kit. OS X users should click on the QJackCtl launcher icon. Click "Start" to begin the JACK server. If you get an error message stating that "the playback device hw:0 is already in use," return to Step 1 and make sure you have closed all audio applications. If you can't pinpoint the application giving you trouble, restart your computer and launch QJackCtl in a new session.

  • Launch Ardour and name your session when prompted. After Ardour has loaded completely, select "Show Editor Mixer" from the "View" menu.

  • Right-click in the black space above the fader in the docked editor mixer to choose a plugin to load as a pre-fader insert. If you'd like to load a plugin as a post-fader insert, right-click in the black space below the fader instead.

  • Select "New Plugin," then "Plugin Manager" from the context menu that appears to launch the Plugin Manager -- a complete list of all plugins installed on your system. In the standard version of Ardour for Linux, the Plugin Manger will list LADSPA and LV2 plugins, which use the Linux Audio Developer's Simple Plugin API. The Plugin Manager for the OS X version of Ardour will also list Audio Units, or AU, plugins. On the Vestige version of Ardour for Linux, the Plugin Manager will list plugins in the Virtual Studio Technology, or VST format as well.

Tips & Warnings

  • For users running Mixbus, the proprietary version of Ardour from Harrison Consoles, you can control built-in effects from the mixer editor -- including tape saturation, compression, filtering, limiting and equalization.
  • If you installed a VST-enabled version of Ardour for Linux and do not see any VST plugins listed in the Plugin Manager, copy all of your VST effect plugins to /usr/local/lib/vst or user/lib/vst to ensure that Ardour can find them on your system.
  • Ardour does not maintain a master list of supported effect plugins, so in some cases you'll have to test compatibility through trial-and-error.

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