No updates for a long time – what happened?
Almost 3 months ago I finally bought a new PC system. I also got a bunch of new software like Komplete 8 and Omnisphere. So, there was lots of installing and configuring going on. Templates to build. New sounds to check out.
And I did write a 2000+ word article on how to choose your music PC components. So why isn’t at least that article online yet?
I simply couldn’t justify an article about how to choose the best components for your DAW, when my own new system wasn’t working the way it should.
Audio Drop-Outs and System Crashes
See, after the first round of toying with the new system and building various Cubase templates I experienced audio drop-outs and system crashes. Not fun after putting down a large sum of cash with high expectations for a well-performing system.
A single Omnisphere instance sometimes caused crackling and drop-outs. Now Omnisphere is a comparatively resource-hungry beast – that’s part of the reason I didn’t already buy it years ago. It simply would NOT have run on my old, measly single core Athlon PC with 2GB of RAM. But on a quad-core i7 with 16 GB of RAM and some SSD drives there shouldn’t be any issues at all.
At least not with a single instance.
Some googling for a solution led me to the free DPC Latency Checker – if you are running a Windows system I highly recommend you download this free program. You don’t even need to install it, just run the .exe file and it will show you the latency of your system in real-time.
Here’s what I was seeing on my system right after a fresh boot-up.
While the status message says that the system should be able to handle real-time audio, yellow bars is definitely not what you want to see from the get-go.
And here’s some red spikes after changing presets in Omnisphere:
So with a graphic confirmation of the problems – what to do next?
- Don’t ever change sounds?
- Live with the clicks and drop-outs?
Install the Latency Monitor program.
This will dig deeper and actually show you the culprits causing the latency issues. In my case I could see that there was something weird going on with the driver of my graphics card.
Fortunately, there was an update available at Nvidia’s website and after installation I suddenly had green bars only. Yippie!
Continued Audio Problems Even After Updates
The Yippie feeling didn’t last long, though. Still red bars galore when changing presets:
Since the main system seemed to be stable and suitable for audio – it was time to tackle the next potential error source.
At that point I assumed that the bottleneck was my old Alesis io2 soundcard. Under Windows XP I was quite happy with it. I didn’t need anything fancier in terms of connections, the sound was more than decent and even the driver performed more than adequate.
Not so in Windows 7. No specific ASIO driver anymore from Alesis and I had to resort to the generic ASIO4All driver, which is almost never the best solution. You definitely need/want a dedicated ASIO driver written for your specific hardware sound card.
Shop Till You Drop – Time for a New Sound Card
With some hope re-gained after the first latency monitor software induced success I figured it doesn’t make sense to buy all that new hardware and software and then skimp around when it comes to the so important audio interface. So after 2 days of researching various options I ordered the NI Komplete Audio 6 interface with the gut feeling that this should solve my problem.
My fantasy was that when the sound card gets delivered I’d plug it in and it would simply work and I’d finally be able to just enjoy and use my new system.
Nice fantasy, huh?
Here’s what really happened.
I installed the dedicated NI ASIO driver, started Cubase and Omnisphere and was greeted by fat red spikes which even made a complete re-boot necessary.
You can imagine how frustrated I was. All the money invested into my new system with all the accumulated software waiting to be used. The time spent reading forum posts and experimenting with system settings, software settings, buffer sizes, etc…
Even trying various esoteric “solutions” like disabling the Windows Aero theme. All to no avail.
And not even the new audio-interface solved my issues. 🙁
The Happy End to My Audio Problems
Just for the sake of testing I borrowed a Firewire sound card from one of my guitar students. I didn’t really expect anything at this point, but fortunately it worked like a charm. No clicks, pops and drop-outs. Even when I changed sounds in the middle of playback with a 150+ track Cubase template open and close to 14 GB of RAM in use all the bars stayed consistently in the green.
I was ecstatic.
Does that mean that a Firewire card automatically is better than USB?
I have to confess – I was thinking about either asking my student to sell me his card (which ironically wouldn’t work on his system anymore due to his latest Mac OS update) or ordering another Firewire card after returning my NI Komplete Audio 6.
But I was still in testing mode and wanted to check into this some more. Now I had the thought that maybe there’s something wrong with the USB set-up, which the high latency values of the USBPORT.SYS indicated. Maybe it wasn’t just driver related but more of a global system-issue.
No joking – but when I unplugged my Akai MPD32 controller, suddenly the NI USB card also worked without a glitch. Apparently there wasn’t enough juice running through my USB ports to power all the USB devices sufficiently, causing the errors and drop-outs.
In the end simply using an external wall-wart power supply for my Akai controller solved my issues and I finally have a stable system that is a joy to work with. And I decided to keep the NI Komplete Audio 6 as well because it IS a great sounding audio card.
My First Full Track With My New System
Here’s a track I produced last week for the stock music site AudioJungle. There’s some Omnisphere in addition to various patches from Evolve Mutations and Synergy X, Shreddage guitar, some EWQL Symphonic Orchestra Harp as well as Spitfire Albion.
On my old system I would have needed to resort to various workarounds like freezing tracks and bouncing to audio but on my new system I was able to add various EQ and compression plug-ins and at a latency setting of 132 samples the CPU meter showed a comfortable 30-40% processor load. When I increased the latency setting to 1024 samples that load reading diminished to a low 10-20%.
Summary and Some Quick Tips
Recording music at home is a fairly complex deal. There’s lots of things that can, and most likely will go wrong at some point. Keep that in the back of your mind and when something doesn’t work as expected, try to isolate the issue as much as possible and eliminate the potential points of failure one by one.
- Is it a software setting?
- Is it a hardware setting?
- Individual PC components?
- Driver issues?
Windows users: definitely use the free Latency Checker and Latency Monitor
Mac people: sorry, but I don’t know if there’s a comparable tool available – hopefully, you wouldn’t even need it in the first place. 🙂
“Dumb” your system down to the minimal amount of components – see if everything is working as expected then add the next thing. Once your system starts breaking down you have a higher chance of arriving at the correct solution faster with less frustration.
P.S.: I’ll post my lengthy PC components post
in a few days. (Editing took me way longer than expected. Anyways, the post about what you need to watch out for when shopping for an audio production PC is up now.) In case you haven’t already, subscribe to this blog so you don’t miss any (of my rather infrequent) posts.