How To Build Jenny’s Budget Mixing Desk

Jenny did an Ask Hackaday article earlier this month, all about the quest for a cheap computer-based audio mixer. The first attempt didn’t go so well, with a problem that many of us are familiar with: Linux applications really doesn’t like using multiple audio devices at the same time. Jenny ran into this issue, and didn’t come across a way to merge the soundcards in a single application.

I’ve fought this problem for a while, probably 10 years now. My first collision with this was an attempt to record a piano with three mics, using a couple different USB pre-amps. And of course, just like Jenny, I was quickly frustrated by the problem that my recording software would only see one interface at a time. The easy solution is to buy an interface with more channels. The Tascam US-4x4HR is a great four channel input/output audio interface, and the Behringer U-PHORIA line goes all the way up to eight mic pre-amps, expandable to 16 with a second DAC that can send audio over ADAT. But those are semi-pro interfaces, with price tags to match.

But what about Jenny’s idea, of cobbling multiple super cheap interfaces together? Well yes, that’s possible too. I’ll show you how, but first, let’s talk about how we’re going to control this software mixer monster. Yes, you can just use a mouse or keyboard, but the challenge was to build a mixing desk, and to me, that means physical faders and mute buttons. Now, there are pre-built solutions, with the Behringer X-touch being a popular solution. But again, we’re way above the price-point Jenny set for this problem. So, let’s do what we do best here at Hackaday, and build our own. Continue reading “How To Build Jenny’s Budget Mixing Desk”

Ask Hackaday: The Ten Dollar Digital Mixing Desk?

There comes a point in every engineer’s life at which they need a mixing desk, and for me that point is now. But the marketplace for a cheap small mixer just ain’t what it used to be. Where once there were bedroom musicians with a four-track cassette recorder if they were lucky, now everything’s on the computer. Lay down as many tracks as you like, edit and post-process them digitally without much need for a physical mixer, isn’t it great to be living in the future!

This means that those bedroom musicians no longer need cheap mixers, so the models I was looking for have disappeared. In their place are models aimed at podcasters and DJs. If I want a bunch of silly digital effects or a two-channel desk with a crossfader I can fill my boots, but for a conventional mixer I have to look somewhat upmarket. Around the three figure mark are several models, but I am both a cheapskate and an engineer. Surely I can come up with an alternative. Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: The Ten Dollar Digital Mixing Desk?”

The Linux Kernel 5.14 Audio Update

You may remember the Pipewire coverage we ran a couple weeks ago, and the TODO item to fix up Firewire device support with Pipewire. It turns out that this is an important feature for kernel hackers, too, because the Alsa changes just got pulled into the 5.14 kernel, and included is the needed Firewire audio work. Shout-out to [Marcan] for pointing out this changeset. Yes, that’s the same as [Hector Martin], the hacker bringing Linux to the M1, who also discovered M1racles. We’ve covered some of his work before.

It turns out that some Firewire audio devices expect timing information in the delivery stream to match the proper playback time for the audio contained in the stream. A naive driver ends up sending packets of sound to the Firewire device that wanted to be played before the packet arrives. No wonder the devices didn’t work correctly. I’m running a 5.14 development kernel, and so far my Focusrite Saffire Pro40 has been running marvelously, where previous kernels quickly turned its audio into a crackling mess.

There is another fix that’s notable for Pipewire users, a reduction in latency for USB audio devices. That one turned out to be not-quite-correct, leading to a hang in the kernel on Torvald’s machine. It’s been reverted until the problem can be corrected, but hopefully this one will land for 5.14 as well. (Edit: The patch was cleaned up, and has been pulled for 5.14. Via Phoronix.) Let us know if you’d like to see more kernel development updates!

PipeWire, The Newest Audio Kid On The Linux Block

Raise your hand if you remember when PulseAudio was famous for breaking audio on Linux for everyone. For quite a few years, the standard answer for any audio problem on Linux was to uninstall PulseAudio, and just use ALSA. It’s probably the case that a number of distros switched to Pulse before it was quite ready. My experience was that after a couple years of fixing bugs, the experience got to be quite stable and useful. PulseAudio brought some really nice features to Linux, like moving sound streams between devices and dynamically resampling streams as needed.

Continue reading “PipeWire, The Newest Audio Kid On The Linux Block”