A problem being mysteriously fixed through no clear action of my own bugs me. A problem this weekend with my mixer is just such a case. After upgrading to the latest version of my operating system, a flavor of Linux that I prefer called Kubuntu, I could not get the software driver I had been using with my mixer working. I could get close but not to the point where my audio workstation would see my mixer. Of course I discovered this right when I sat down to record. Last night, last thing, when there wasn’t time or will left for extensive research and troubleshooting left in the weekend. When else would I discover a problem resulting from upgrading my OS? Not when it would be more convenient to investigate and fix.
The break bugged me so much, especially losing an opportunity to record when I had the will to do so, that I spent some time this morning before work to see if I could get things working again. I installed the latest version of my audio workstation, Ardour 4, because I had been meaning to, anyway. Through some experimentation, I stumbled upon the fact that letting Ardour directly drive my mixer, rather than using an external software controller worked. Doing so only worked using an option I didn’t think had a chance in hell, just using the basic audio stack that comes with Linux.
I was simultaneously relieved to have my mixer back but vexed as to why something that previously did not work, suddenly did. I dislike mysterious fixes almost as much as random breakages. If I don’t understand why something suddenly starts working, I feel helpless to deal with any subsequent breakage. This situation is usually a recipe for cascading frustration.
I did a bit more searching, just now, and I think I found the explanation.
Very current versions of the Linux kernel will support most of the same devices that FFADO can support, directly via the normal ALSA audio device driver layer.
That is from Ardour’s own documentation, specifically on its requirements. FFADO is the separate driver I used to use for my mixer since it is a Firewire mixer, an increasingly less common way to connect peripherals to a computer but one still very well suited to the demands of audio. ALSA is basically the core sound handling component of Linux. As a consequence of my operating system upgrade, I indeed do have a very new kernel.
Mystery solved. Of course, I have only done several seconds worth of testing. In past versions of ALSA, it hasn’t done well with the demands of high quality audio, such as working with a prosumer mixer. It is entirely likely there are frustrations still yet ahead but at least they won’t be entirely mysterious. And I will hopefully get some new recording in soon, regardless.