Linux Audio: A Guide For Beginner and Beyond/For the Beginner


This chapter will discuss the steps required to get a basic sound-enabled linux system up and running. While being an expert is not required, this book assumes the reader has some familiarity with using a computer. While keeping the beginner in mind, some advanced topics will be discussed, such as kernel configuration and compiling software from source. If you feel you are uncomfortable with such tasks, do not be discouraged. Installing and configuring a linux system can certainly be an intimidating task, but recent distributions have made this much simpler, and there are even some distributions that can run straight off a CD or DVD, requiring no installation whatsoever!

First Things First: Choosing A DistributionEdit

There is a great variety of distributions available, and choosing the best one for you may take some time. However, with a number of live distributions and virtualization becoming more popular, it is much easier to try different ones out. If you have the time, maybe even try a few out.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of all linux distributions. It is an unending discussion among different users on numerous websites and mailing lists, and in reality there is no one distribution that best for every user and application. This list tries to focus on those distributions which are intended mainly for multimedia creation use and those popular among linux audio users. There is a lot of information around the internet, such as the distributions' websites and various mailing lists. The key things to keep in mind are what your specific requirements are and how comfortable you are with system administration.

Live DistributionsEdit


A distant descendant of Mandriva. According to the official website at it is currently based on Ubuntu.



The Puredyne live CD is dedicated to live audio-and-visual processing and streaming. Puredyne uses a realtime kernel. Puredyne was initially based on the dyne:bolic distribution before the transition to Debian Live and Ubuntu.


Package Manager: apt

Languages: Spanish, English (French and other languages currently being translated)

Studio To Go!Edit

RPM-Based DistributionsEdit

Fedora / Fedora CoreEdit



Debian-Based DistributionsEdit

64 StudioEdit


A distribution intended for professional audio and video use. However, it is no longer maintained and has now become the Debian Multimedia Project.



Ubuntu StudioEdit


Arch LinuxEdit

"Arch Linux is an independently developed i686/x86-64 optimized community distribution, based on a rolling-release package model and targeted at competent GNU/Linux users. Arch provides a minimal environment upon installation, (no GUI), already compiled and optimized for i686/x86-64 architectures. Arch is lightweight, flexible and simple. Its design philosophy and implementation make it easy to extend and mold into whatever kind of system you're building- from a minimalist console machine to the most grandiose and feature rich desktop environments available. Rather than tearing out unneeded and unwanted packages, Arch offers the power user the ability to build up from a minimal foundation without any defaults chosen for them." This makes Arch a great option for competent users to build one of the best possible Audio systems on the hardware available to them.


A unique and minimalist distribution of the Linux operating system and tools. It offers an even more minimal foundation than Arch to build from. Binary package availability depends entirely on the community. Tinycore has a small but friendly community. Consequently, users may have to build packages, if they aren't available or updated. Typically, the OS operates by loading a small base (the kernel and a filesystem with some basic tools ~8M) into RAM, then mounting applications from disk storage (apps can also be configured to load into RAM).

Tips on building a lightweight audio workstation here: Setting up an audio player appliance:

Linux From Scratch / BFLSEdit

This may not count as a distribution, but it does show you how to build a complete, albeit minimal, working system from source. The goals of LFS are mostly learning the ins-and-outs of a linux system, but the BLFS (Beyond Linux From Scratch) does have quite a list of and media related software and libraries. It may not be the best for building a highly-optimized audio workstation, but for the more programming-minded or those who like to experiment, this just may be the thing for you. Another possibility is embedded systems; with the right package selection and some careful scripting, you can have a small but powerful MIDI controller for your live rig... just a thought!


This is a fairly popular distribution with linux audio users.

Software RepositoriesEdit

While not considered full linux systems, these software repositories are provided as add-ons to existing distributions and offer patched, low-latency kernels, and various multimedia software prepackaged for easy installation.

Planet CCRMAEdit


Gettings Those First Sounds Out of the ComputerEdit

More On Hardware And Optimizing For Low-LatencyEdit

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"

Now that you know more about the basics of the linux audio system, let's talk more about how it relates to more hardware-specific issues. As the quote above states, if your system already runs fine, too much tweaking may just lead to system breakage, and the best thing to do is doing nothing at all. If, however, you are experiencing some problems with hardware, or just plain unacceptable performance, some of the tips in this section may be of use to you.