Firewire might have reached end of life on Windows & macOS, but it’s alive and kicking in penguin land! Let’s see what it takes to get set up and if it’s right for you.
PCIe Firewire Cards
In the studio I use both Syba SY-PEX30016 and StarTech PEX1394B3 PCIe expansion cards. Plug them in and you’re good to go. You will also need a FireWire 400 6-pin cable.
ALSA Drivers: PipeWire & Pulseaudio
The ALSA firewire stack is part of the Linux kernel. That means most interfaces will be detected automatically. This is great for listening to music, playing games, and making the occasional video call.
FFADO Drivers: Jack
The FFADO project provides open-source drivers for most FireWire based pro-audio devices. These are the drivers you want If you plan on using your interface with a digital audio workstation.
In order to use the FFADO drivers you have to prevent the ALSA drivers from loading.
1. Create a blacklist.conf in /etc/modprobe.d/ that includes your device.
sudo nano /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.conf
Common firewire chipsets
snd-fireworks snd-bebob snd-oxfw snd-dice snd-firewire-digi00x snd-firewire-tascam snd-firewire-lib snd-firewire-transceiver snd-fireface snd-firewire-motu
2. Update your initramfs image.
sudo update-initramfs -u
3. Once that’s complete you will need to restart the machine for the changes to take effect.
NOTE: This will prevent Pulseaudio and PipeWire from detecting the audio interface. To reverse this delete the blacklist.conf.
4. Install Jack 2, FFADO, ffado-mixer, and qjackctl. On Debian-based systems you can do the following.
sudo apt install jackd2 jackd2-firewire ffado-mixer-qt4 qjackctl
5. Now you can select the firewire driver from the dropdown menu in qjackctl.
5. If your interface has an internal mixer you might need to configure it. You can do that with ffado-mixer.
How long will firewire be supported on Linux?
Firewire will be supported on Linux until (at least) 2029. After that it will require a new maintainer or risk being dropped from the mainline kernel.
What firewire interfaces are compatible with Linux?
I maintain a list of firewire interfaces that I have personally tested.
Where can I buy firewire audio interfaces?
Ebay, Reverb, Guitar Center, and Music Go Round are my usual haunts.
If you’re looking for a general purpose interface that JustWorks™ check out the MOTU Traveler MK1.
What to avoid?
Anything from Universal Audio.
Digidesign 002/003 (ALSA driver only)