Downscaling and upgrading

For years I’ve used Focusrite Firewire interfaces, first the Saffire Pro 10 IO and after that its successor, the Saffire Pro 40. Both great devices but recently I decided to make the switch to USB. The reason was twofold:

  • I was barely using more than 2 ins or outs simultaneously
  • Firewire is being phased out and my notebooks don’t have any Express Card slots either, only USB ports
  • The Pro 40 isn’t very portable

So when switching to USB I would need:

  • Same or better quality preamps and AD/DA convertors
  • At least 2 ins and outs
  • Portability
  • Possibility to achieve similar latencies as with the Pro 40
  • Works well with Linux

This narrowed down the choice significantly. I could go for a Focusrite Scarlett but from what I found on the net there were some issues with these devices. I’ve also looked at some Presonus devices but actually I had already set my mind on a different device: the RME Babyface.

RME Babyface

So when I found a webshop that offered the Babyface at a reduced price (almost 15% off) I put my Focusrite up for sale and bought the Babyface. The Focusrite was sold within a week and the Babyface easily met my expectations:

  • When in CC (Class Compliant) mode it works out of the box
  • It’s highly portable, the Babyface is actually specifically made for this purpose as it comes with a nice pouch
  • It has 2 ins and outs and the great thing is that it’s possible to extend the IO via ADAT
  • The preamps and AD/DA converters are simply top notch, they’re so good that I’m considering switching cans and studio monitors as this device is merciless, it simply doesn’t work well with my current setup
  • When connected to an USB3 port (XHCI) the Babyface can run with nominal latencies of 0.5ms (this is with 8 samples), i.e. it beats the other two OS’s mentioned on the RME product page

I can live with not being able to control the device from within Linux, almost all settings can be done on the device itself. Upgrading the firmware can be done with a VM so that’s covered too. The only real drawbacks are that it’s an USB device so it’s a bit more picky with regard to your system setup and it consumes a bit more CPU compared to Firewire. But all in all this is a great sounding device that works well with Linux when in CC mode and it fits my specific user case very well.

Downscaling and upgrading

Using a Raspberry Pi as a piano

Recently I posted about my successful attempt to get LinuxSampler running on the Raspberry Pi. I’ve taken this a bit further and produced a script that turns the Raspberry Pi into a fully fledged piano. Don’t expect miracles, the sample library I used is good quality so the RPi might choke on it every now and then with regard to disk IO. But it’s usable if you don’t play too many notes at once or make extensive use of a sustain pedal. I’ve tested the script with a Class 4 SD though so a faster SD card could improve stability.

Edit: finally got around buying a better SD card and the difference is huge! I bought a SanDisk Extreme Class 10 SD card and with this SD card I can run LinuxSampler at lower latencies and I can play more notes at once.

Before you can run the script on your Raspberry Pi you will need to tweak your Raspbian installation so you can do low latency audio. How to achieve this is all described in the Raspberry Pi wiki article I’ve put up on After you’ve set up your RPi you will need to install JACK and LinuxSampler with sudo apt-get install jackd1 linuxsampler. Next step is to get the Salamander Grand Piano sample pack on your RPi:

mkdir LinuxSampler
cd LinuxSampler
wget -c
wget -c
tar jxvf SalamanderGrandPianoV2/SalamanderGrandPianoV2_44.1khz16bit.tar.bz2
tar jxvf sgp44.1khz_V2toV3.tar.bz2 -C SalamanderGrandPianoV2_44.1khz16bit

Please note that decompressing the tarballs on the RPi could take some time. Now that you’ve set up the Salamander Grand Piano sample library you can download the script and the LinuxSampler config file:

mkdir bin
wget -c -O /home/pi/bin/piano
chmod +x bin/piano
wget -c
/SalamanderGrandPianoV3.lscp -O

Almost there. We’ve installed the necessary software and downloaded the sample library, LinuxSampler config and piano script. Now we need to dot the i’s and cross the t’s because the script assumes some defaults that might be different in your setup. Let’s dissect the script:


if ! pidof jackd &> /dev/null
  sudo killall ifplugd &> /dev/null
  sudo killall dhclient-bin &> /dev/null
  sudo service ntp stop &> /dev/null
  sudo service triggerhappy stop &> /dev/null
  sudo service ifplugd stop &> /dev/null
  sudo service dbus stop &> /dev/null
  sudo killall console-kit-daemon &> /dev/null
  sudo killall polkitd &> /dev/null
  killall gvfsd &> /dev/null
  killall dbus-daemon &> /dev/null
  killall dbus-launch &> /dev/null
  sudo mount -o remount,size=128M /dev/shm &> /dev/null
  echo -n performance
| sudo tee /sys/devices/system/cpu/cpu0/cpufreq/scaling_governor &> /dev/null
  if ip addr | grep wlan &> /dev/null
    echo -n "1-1.1:1.0" | sudo tee /sys/bus/usb/drivers/smsc95xx/unbind &> /dev/null
  jackd -P84 -p128 -t2000 -d alsa -dhw:UA25 -p512 -n2 -r44100 -s -P -Xseq
&> /dev/null &

This is the first section of the script. An if clause that checks if JACK is already running and if that’s not the case the system gets set up for low latency use, a simple check is done if there is an active WiFi adapter and if so the ethernet interface is disabled and then on the last line JACK is invoked. Notice the ALSA name used, hw:UA25, this could be different on your RPi, you can check with aplay -l.

jack_wait -w &> /dev/null

jack_wait is a simple app that does nothing else but checking if JACK is active, the -w option means to wait for JACK to become active.

if ! pidof linuxsampler &> /dev/null
  linuxsampler --instruments-db-location $HOME/LinuxSampler/instruments.db
&> /dev/null &
  sleep 5
netcat -q 3 localhost 8888
< $HOME/LinuxSampler/SalamanderGrandPianoV3.lscp &> /dev/null &

This stanza checks if LinuxSampler is running, if not LinuxSampler is started and 5 seconds later the config file is pushed to the LinuxSampler backend with the help of netcat.

while [ "$STATUS" != "100" ]
  STATUS=$(echo "GET CHANNEL INFO 0" | netcat -q 3 localhost 8888
| grep INSTRUMENT_STATUS | cut -d " " -f 2 | tr -d 'rn')

A simple while loop that checks the load status of LinuxSampler. When the load status has reached 100% the script will move on.

jack_connect LinuxSampler:0 system:playback_1 &> /dev/null
jack_connect LinuxSampler:1 system:playback_2 &> /dev/null
#jack_connect alsa_pcm:MPK-mini/midi_capture_1 LinuxSampler:midi_in_0 &> /dev/null
jack_connect alsa_pcm:USB-Keystation-61es/midi_capture_1 LinuxSampler:midi_in_0
&> /dev/null

This part sets up the necessary JACK connections. The portnames of the MIDI devices can be different on your system, you can look them up with jack_lsp which will list all available JACK ports.

jack_midiseq Sequencer 176400 0 69 20000 22050 57 20000 44100 64 20000 66150 67 20000 &
sleep 4
jack_connect Sequencer:out LinuxSampler:midi_in_0
sleep 3.5
jack_disconnect Sequencer:out LinuxSampler:midi_in_0
killall jack_midiseq

This is the notification part of the script that will play four notes. It’s based on jack_midiseq, another JACK example tool that does nothing more but looping a sequence of notes. It’s an undocumented utility so I’ll explain how it is invoked:


<command> <JACK port name> <loop length> <start value> <MIDI note value> <length value>

jack_midiseq Sequencer 176400 0 69 20000 22050 57 20000 44100 64 20000 66150 67 20000

JACK port name: Sequencer
Loop length: 4 seconds at 44.1 KHz (176400/44100)
Start value of first note: 0
MIDI note value of first note: 69 (A4)
Length value: 20000 samples, so that's almost half a second
Start value of second note: 22050 (so half a second after the first note)
MIDI note value of second note: 57 (A3)
Length value: 20000 samples
Start value of third note: 44100 (so a second after the first note)
MIDI note value of second note: 64 (E4)
Length value: 20000 samples
Start value of third note: 66150 (so one second and a half after the first note)
MIDI note value of second note: 67 (G4)
Length value: 20000 samples

Now the script is finished, the last line calls exit with a status value of 0 which means the script was run successfully.

exit 0

After making the script executable with chmod +x ~/bin/piano and running it you can start playing piano with your Raspberry Pi! Again, bear in mind that the RPi is not made for this specific purpose so it could happen that audio starts to stutter every now and then, especially when you play busy parts or play more than 4 notes at once.

Using a Raspberry Pi as a piano: quick demo

Using a Raspberry Pi as a piano

First Dutch Raspberry Jam

The first Dutch Raspberry Jam will take place on Thursday September 26 at the Ordina HQ in Nieuwegein. I’ve offered to do a presentation about doing real-time audio with the Raspberry Pi which has been accepted. Internet visibility of this event is minimal at the moment though, let’s hope it caches on.

So expect a presentation/demo about using your Raspberry Pi as a sequencer, synthesizer, sampler or virtual guitar amp. I will show how to configure, tweak and tune your RPi for real-time, low-latency audio and what the possibilities of such a set-up are. I’ll probably do a live demo too of some tracks generated by one or more RPi’s

Ordina Raspberry Jam

Raspberry Pi Playlist @ AutoStatic’s YouTube channel

First Dutch Raspberry Jam

More ARM goodies II

Received the BeagleBone Black (BBB) and the MK808 with a RK3066 SoC. My first impressions are really positive. Especially the BBB is quite an awesome device that I’m probably going to use a lot in favor of the Raspberry Pi. At first glance I had something like, the BBB blows the RPi away, but as soon as I started looking for documentation on how to put Debian on it for instance it became clear that the RPi is still the device to beat. The RPi community is huge, documentation for it is well laid out and working with the RPi is just so easy. The BBB on the other hand lacks a vivid community, is $10 more expensive and a lot more difficult to work with. Take the Debian install for example, seems quite some work to get that going.

The MK808 is surely an improvement over the UG80X I already own. It comes with a HDMI port instead of a HDMI plug, has an extra USB OTG port, a heatsink, hardware serial console access, a reset button and a power indicator LED. The pre-installed Android version looks better too. I flashed my RT kernel recovery image on it, inserted the Micro SD from my UG80X and it booted without any issues. So I’m going to pursue my goal to get a real-time, low-latency environment running on a RK3066 based device on the MK808 and find another purpose for the UG80X.

Edit: Getting Debian to work on the BBB is actually quite easy:
Next time I’ll promise to make better use of my Google skills.

More ARM goodies II

Laagst mogelijke latency met USB

Een tijdje terug kwam er een draadje voorbij op de Linux Audio User mailinglijst over wat de laagst mogelijke softwarematige latency zou kunnen zijn. USB geluidskaarten draaien kennelijk het beste met een latency die een veelvoud is van 1ms omdat dat de “interrupt period” van USB apparaten is. Kan zo snel niet vinden wat dat nou precies inhoudt, een “interrupt period”, maar dit verklaart wel waarom er veelal wordt aangeraden om USB geluidskaarten op 48000Hz en een buffer van 3 in te stellen. Hierdoor wordt de latency inderdaad een veelvoud van 1ms. De minimale latency die je op deze manier met een USB geluidskaart zou kunnen bereiken zou dan 4ms moeten zijn (48000 Hz en een buffer van 3 met 64 frames: 64/48000 * 3 = 4ms) want met een frames waarde van 32 zal JACK gaan protesteren. Maar is de waarde 64 voor het aantal frames echt het laagste wat je kunt gaan? Wat nu als je bijvoorbeeld 48 frames gebruikt en een buffer van 2 zodat het rekensommetje 48/48000 * 2 = 2ms wordt? Heb de proef op de som genomen met mijn Edirol UA-25 en inderdaad, het werkt. En nog redelijk stabiel ook. Niet dat het veel zin heeft want wat is nou een verschil van 2ms op de totale latency, maar voor real-time applicaties, zoals effecten op akoestische analoge bronnen, kan het nog van pas komen.

Laagst mogelijke latency met USB