Latency and ASIO Driver | Installation and setup

Asio Driver | Introduction

When we are dealing with home recording and ASIO Driver, sooner or later we will find out that the sound card that we have onboard is insufficient. The main reasons why we should consider buying a new sound card: poor quality of analog to digital converters (AC) and digital to analog (CA), as well as high the latency of the integrated sound cards.

Bad AC converters will be noticeable in no time, when trying to record sound from external sources, the sound won’t be very dynamic, it will be highly distorted and noisy. The high latency we will get, won’t allow us to use the computer for real time recordings.

Playing the guitar, using the software like Guitar Rig (emulation of guitar amps and effects), or using VSTi plugins with keyboard MIDI controllers will be impossible. To put it simply latency is …

ASIO, Steinberg Media Technologies GmbH

… is a delay between audio or MIDI going into our computer, and sound coming out. That time depends on the sound card we are using, and how many calculatios our computer has to make before sending the signal to the sound card’s output.

asioWe won’t notice it, when playing mp3 files, the latency is too small, because this operation is not very complicated, especially for today’s computers and their sound cards. However if wanted to listen to 20 tracks in a DAW*, whilst applying a number of effects on every track (even essential – compressor, noise gate, limiter, EQ or reverb) we would certainly face a problem, the delay would be noticable.

I have to explain, that the trick is to set the latency with caution e.g. a little delay, so the computer could keep up with the sound processing, when the calculations are way too complex.

In the Windows environment processing sound with low latency involves ASIO Audio Strem Input Output drivers. These drivers, made by Steinberg, and designed to help you use computer as a part of the recording studio.

Unlike the drivers supplied with (once MME, now WDM), which are quite good when listening to music, watching films or playing, the ASIO ones should be used for production, where latency can be a critical factor.

The principle is quite simple, if we can use ASIO, do it. The majority of audio interfaces sold nowadays, internal like PCI, PCI Express, or external, like USB, Firewire support this type of driver

A screenshot from Cubase by Steinberg:

As you can see, the total latency is slightly more than 5ms (0,005 s). It consists of input latency 2,667 ms and output – another 2,667 ms. This the time, our computer needs to convert the signal, send to the sound card (via AC), process it (DSP processor on the sound card), and convert it once again (CA), and then send it to output.

This list shows us all the drivers installed on your computer, in this case ASIO:

– ASIO 2.0 – ESI Juli@ is a dedicated driver for your sound card, it’s supplied with the card. Provides the beat (lowest latency)

– ASIO DirectX Full Duplex Driver driver based on DirectSound. We can choose a dedicated driver (with the name of our sound card) we should select it. If not, the DirectX Full Duplex driver will be the next best thing.

– ASIO Multimedia Driver is probably the worst option. Latency of 900 ms is guaranteed.

– ASIO4ALL v2 after installing ASIO4ALL (you can read about it below) it will be able in all the DAWs. It gives us the option of choosing the card we want (if you have more than one), and the ability to control the latency more smoothly.

– ReaRoute ASIO is a driver supplied with Reaper (from Cockos).

Each card should have their own settings, where we select the level of latency.

Latency is given in samples, smallest sound parts. We usually work with sampling frequency of 44,1 kHz (Audio CD standards), to calculate the latency in ms, we divide the number of samples / sampling frequency e.g. 512 / 44100 = 0,0116 s or 11,6ms. After changing the latency on the driver level (selecting the numbers of samples) in DAWs (not all of them), we will have the information about latency in seconds/milliseconds.

Warning! You shouldn’t set the lowest latency possible at all costs. It can lead to stuttering sound. However, we can easily set the latency to10ms (5ms input, 5ms output), because the sounds we get with a delay up to 15ms are still treated as a one signal by our ear. Thus in the software like Guitar Rig, when we are playing with such latency, we should not hear any delays.

If needed, i we have a lot of different effects on multiple tracks, we will hear an intermittent sound, we can increase the latency, and go easy on your computer. We will give it more time to make the necessary calculations. Especially when working on a recording, when it is not important for us to do it in real time. (e.g. guitar/keyboard as MIDI)

ASIO4ALL, or ASIO without ASIO

The ASIO4ALL is an attempt to create a universal ASIO driver for all sound cards running under Windows. 3 steps are necessary to install ASIO4ALL:

– to have the WDM drivers installed (it’s an integral part of Windows XP)

– visit www.asio4all.com

– download and install the drivers.

It’s probably the best to download the latest stable version ( 2.9), you can face some problems, when dealing with beta. Once installed we can enjoy it even with integrated Realtek cards.

ASIO4ALL allows us to choose the sound card we want and latency according to our preferences.

What do we get with ASIO4ALL?

We won’t be able to change our card on a hardware level, but we a get a very useful tool, that can be used for latency regulation. Despite the thing that ASIO4ALL still uses the WDM drivers, we at least have a chance that the algorithms used by these drivers will improve the ergonomics a little. You just have to try and compare, especially when it’s free.

* DAW – Digital Audio Workstation is a computer program, used for music production. Modern DAW program is a great solution for capturing, editing and publishing recordings. They support low latency drivers as ASIO 2, Core Audio (MAC), various plug-ins – VST, VSTi, DirectX, RTAS (Pro Tools) and MIDI standard. Popular DAW programs: Cubase [Steinberg], Sonar [Cakewalk], Samplitude [Magix], Pro Tools [Digidesign], or Logic [Apple] and Digital Performer [MOTU] (the last two are MAC only).

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