This guide covers information on how to detect and resolve audio performance issues (crackling, dropouts, high CPU) on Windows systems.
You can also view the video version of this article.
Please note however that the below sections 'BIOS / Chipset / Component Drivers Updates' and 'Further Recommendations' are not covered in the video.
Introduction - Why you need to tune your computer
The list of brands for Windows computers, as well as the possible combination of hardware used in PCs, is practically unlimited. This can lead to compatibility issues or undesired interaction of components.
Many computers and their components are designed to deliver good performance for office applications or gaming. The demands placed on a computer used for music production are usually quite different than those for office or gaming computers. As a result, it will often be necessary to tune off-the-shelf or self-built computers into systems capable of processing audio data in real-time. This article provides the most important system tuning tips for real-time audio processing.
Please note that each of these tips may contribute to improving the overall performance of your system. Therefore, in case you are experiencing audio dropouts and artifacts, take the time to read this article carefully and try one suggestion after another.
Disclaimer: This article mentions some third-party tools which are not related to Native Instruments. Though we have successfully tested them in-house for some time, we cannot guarantee their functionality and safety.
Adjusting the Audio Settings
The Audio Preferences in your DAW or NI application will always have certain features in common, namely, the possibility to configure an Audio Driver, Device, Sample Rate, and Buffer. In this example, we are configuring a KOMPLETE AUDIO 6 Mk2 in MASCHINE's Preferences.
1. Audio Driver
Option 1: Typically, audio interfaces designed specifically for music recording and production have better performance and are equipped with ASIO drivers specific to the device. An audio interface that provides its own ASIO driver usually performs better than using other options. To ensure best performance, please refer to your audio interface manufacturer's homepage and find out if it comes with a dedicated ASIO driver.
If a dedicated ASIO driver is not available for your sound card, you have more options:
Option 2: You can download and install ASIO4ALL, a generic ASIO driver. You can download the latest ASIO4ALL driver from their website.
Note: Watch this video to learn how to configure ASIO4ALL for your sound card.
Option 3: Some DAWs offer a Generic Low Latency ASIO Driver. In case ASIO4ALL doesn't improve the performance, please try it out. Here's Ableton Live 11 as an example:
Here is where you choose the specific audio device you're using.
3. Sample Rate
The Sample Rate field defines the audio quality during recording and playback. The higher the sample rate, the better the sound quality. A sample rate of 44100 Hz equals CD Quality. A sample rate of 48000 Hz is common for use with pro audio equipment. Choosing a higher sample rate can further enhance the sound quality, but this also places a higher workload on the computer.
4. Buffer Size / ASIO Config
The Buffer Size field defines the amount of time an audio application has to process the audio signal. In this example with MASCHINE when using an ASIO driver, you will find an option labeled Open Panel. There you can adjust the application's Buffer Size. If using WASAPI Exclusive Mode, you will be able to adjust the Buffer size directly via the slider.
We recommend using one of the following values: 128, 256, 512, or 1024. Lower values may be chosen on purpose-built computers for audio production. To reduce latency while recording, we recommend using a lower buffer size of 128. If mixing with a lot of plug-ins, you will want to give your computer more processing time. Thus, a buffer size of 1024 is more suitable. If you want to set an in-between number suitable for most recording and mixing duties, 256 or 512 will suffice.
When setting the buffer size, the aim is to find the lowest possible value that still provides clean audio playback and recording. This way, the latency can be kept at a minimum which will make it easier to play software instruments and create tight recordings.
If the sound coming from your audio interface is distorted or skips, go back to the Buffer Size and try a higher value. If the audio playback is clean, you can even try a lower value. You may have to increase the buffer size when you start adding a lot of effects and instruments to your songs.
Further information on Buffer size and how it affects Latency
Computers make use of an audio buffer in order to temporarily store audio data while the computer’s main processor switches between different tasks such as the graphical display, hard drive access, data exchange with connected peripherals such as MIDI controllers, and of course, audio processing. Because the system cannot process all of these tasks simultaneously, it needs to buffer data from the various processes. This is where the audio buffer (also named latency, process buffer, sample buffer) comes into play. The rule of thumb is, the faster the computer, the more calculations it can handle in a short amount of time and the smaller the audio buffer can be.
A smaller audio buffer is preferable because there is a direct relationship between the audio buffer size and the resulting latency. The term latency describes the delay between performing an action (e.g. singing into a microphone) and reproducing the result (e.g. hearing your voice come back out of the speakers). The larger the buffer size, the larger the latency, and with it, the longer the delay between the execution of an audio event and hearing the result. This can be distracting when performing or recording.
The downside of using a smaller buffer size is that the smaller the buffer size / latency, the bigger the processing load on your computer. If your computer can’t handle all the work it is tasked with at the selected buffer size, you will experience pops and clicks or other artifacts in your audio output. This means that you will have to increase the audio buffer size so your computer can handle the workload.
Audio Driver Updates
Ensure that you have the latest driver (and firmware if available) installed for your sound card.
You will find the latest driver on the sound card manufacturer's website.
If you use a Native Instruments audio interface, you will find the latest drivers and firmware updates here.
Verify USB and Firewire Devices
For the purpose of identifying which device or driver may introduce the audio problem you are experiencing, disconnect all USB and FireWire devices attached to your computer, except for your audio interface. Then test if the audio problems persist. If not, connect one device at a time and test again. If the problem re-appears after re-connecting a specific device, look for an updated driver or updated firmware for that device or contact its manufacturer.
If you use a bus-powered USB audio device, the device may not be receiving enough power from the USB port. Likewise, if several devices are connected to the same internal USB root hub (for instance via a self-powered USB hub), then the total demand of these devices may be consuming the shared available power. After ensuring that the problem has stopped when disconnecting all additional devices, connect one device at a time to the various USB ports on your computer and test if any of the ports work better.
Energy Options and Power Plan Settings
- Open the Windows Control Panel by clicking on the Start button (Windows icon) and typing 'Control Panel'.
- In the Control Panel, choose System and Security > Power Options.
- Set the Power Scheme to High Performance (if this setting is not available, click on Show additional plans first). Then click on Change plan settings.
- On the next page, set both Turn off the display and Put the computer to sleep to Never.
- Then click Change advanced power settings. In the Power Options window make sure to adjust the following settings:
- Hard disc > Turn off hard disk after > Setting (Minutes) = Never
- Sleep > Sleep after > Setting (Minutes) = Never
- USB settings > USB selective suspend setting > Setting = Disabled
- Display > Turn off display after > Setting (Minutes) = Never
- Processor power management > Minimum processor state > Setting = 100%
- Processor power management > Maximum processor state > Setting = 100%
Important Note: Many laptop manufacturers install a proprietary application that takes over the control of the energy settings of the CPU and other computer components. As a result the energy settings made in the Windows energy options do not become effective. Deactivate any such application and test if the settings described in this section then solve the performance issues you experience.
USB Ports Power Settings
- Open the Windows Device Manager by clicking on the Start button (Windows icon) and typing 'Device Manager'. Click on the option that appears.
- In the Universal Serial Bus controllers section, right-click each USB Root Hub, choose Properties.
- In the Power Management tab of the USB Root Hub Properties window, untick the Allow the computer to turn off this device to save power option.
Using LatencyMon to Identify Audio Issues
Installing and Using LatencyMon
The LatencyMon application can be used to identify which device, driver, or service is causing a latency issue on your system.
- Go to the Resplendence Software downloads page.
- Download the latest available LatencyMon version from the System Monitoring Tools section, then install the software.
- Close your browser and all other running applications.
- If the audio problems occur in combination with an external audio interface, make sure the interface is connected and configured as an audio device.
- Start LatencyMon. By default it is found here: C: > Program Files > LatencyMon > "LatMon.exe".
- Click the green Play button.
For LatencyMon to provide useful analysis results, the test must run for at least 5 minutes. This will ensure enough time for the artifacts to appear. Then stop the test by clicking the Stop button next to Play.
After the test is finished, a text box under the Main tab will display either of these messages:
'Your system appears to be suitable for handling real-time audio and other tasks without dropouts.'.
'Your system appears to be having trouble handling real-time audio and other tasks. You are likely to experience buffer underruns appearing as dropouts, clicks, and pops...'.
The former case indicates that your system should not present any latency issues. Should you experience performance issues in spite of the positive results of the LatencyMon test, verify the following:
- Check the settings in the control panel of your sound card (buffer size, sample rate).
- Make sure that no other applications or services are running while operating your audio application.
- Update your audio interface with the latest driver and / or firmware version.
- Make sure that your computer meets the minimum system requirements for the audio software you are using.
- Verify if your processor's Speedstepping may be affecting your system performance (see the Speedsteepping steps below).
The latter case indicates that the latency issue needs to be resolved at a system level. The results of the LatencyMon analysis will provide help identifying the source of the issue, as will be explained in the next sections.
Identifying Problematic Drivers
After the LatencyMon test is finished, switch to the Drivers tab in order to obtain individual latency measurements for each of your system drivers. These values will be displayed in descending order in the Highest execution (ms) column. The image below shows no problematic drivers since every value is significantly lower than 1 ms.
By comparison, the next image shows a driver reporting a latency value of 17,92 ms. This value is clearly higher than 1ms and the driver associated with it (in this case NVIDIA Windows Kernel Mode Driver), needs to be deactivated, updated, or reconfigured in order to reduce its latency values and ensure a problem-free audio performance.
Please note that individual latencies of single drivers may add up to more than 1ms total latency (for example, if two drivers are reporting 0.9 ms and 0.5 ms respectively, both values may add up to 1,4 ms which then can also create problems, in the same way as a driver with 1.4ms latency would).
If your drivers show latency values above 1 ms, check to which devices the affected driver belongs, then disable the affected device in Windows Device Manager if possible. This is explained in the next chapter "Disabling Devices in the Windows Device Manager".
If you are unsure whether the device can be disabled without posing any harm to your system, search the web for the driver's name and/or the description of the device (as shown in the column Description of the LatencyMon Drivers overview) in order to find out if this device can be safely disabled.
We have compiled a list of drivers often reported as causing high Highest Execution values in LatencyMon. This list provides recommendations on how to reduce the latency of these drivers. It can be found at the end of the next chapter "Disabling Devices in the Windows Device Manager".
Disabling Devices in the Windows Device Manager
A common cause of audio dropouts is drivers or background services that are not related directly to audio processing. They task the CPU regularly and take up the resources required to process audio data without interruptions.
LatencyMon should have given you an idea on which drivers or components on your computer may contribute to your audio performance problems – if necessary, you should have searched the internet to find out which of the file names LatencyMon listed as problematic belongs to which devices or drivers on your computer. With the list of names of potential problematic devices or drivers in front of you, start the Windows Device Manager by clicking on the Start button (Windows icon) and typing 'Device Manager'.
Please be very careful not to disable devices whose functionality is essential for the operation of Windows. Below is a list of devices that you should never disable:
- System timer
- System CMOS/real-time clock
- Microsoft ACPI-Compliant System
- Numeric data processor
- Primary IDE Channel
- Secondary IDE Channel
- Graphics Controller
- Ultra ATA Storage Controllers
In general, you should not disable anything listed in the branch System Devices.
In the Device Manager, locate the device(s) LatencyMon reported as problematic. If this is a device that is not essential for the basic operation of your computer (see list above), right-click on the component and choose Disable device (not Uninstall!).
Once you have disabled the problematic devices (according to LatencyMon), restart your computer and test if this has resolved the audio dropouts issue.
Additional devices that can often be disabled to further preserve system resources (or to test if saving additional resources helps resolve the problem), even if LatencyMon may not have listed them as problematic, are the following:
- Network adapter
- WLAN card
- Bluetooth port
- Infrared Port
- ACPI compliant battery
- Trackpad (only disable if a mouse is also connected)
- Video camera
- DVD drive
- Any third-party component that is not an essential part of the system (be careful and only deactivate components you recognize and whose functionality is not vital for the normal operation of Windows)
- Built-in sound card (only if you are using an external sound card such as TRAKTOR AUDIO 6/10 or another USB sound interface from a third-party manufacturer).
List of drivers often reported as causing high execution values in LatencyMon
The below is a list of drivers often reported as causing Highest Execution values in LatencyMon. Here we provide recommendations on how to reduce the latency of these drivers.
|Disable the entry 'Microsoft ACPI- Compliant Control Method Battery' in the Windows Device Manager.
atapi.sys / ntfs.sys / iaStore.sys / iaStoreA.sys / ataport.sys / storport.sys
|Update the drivers for the chipset and IDE / ATAPI / SATA controllers on your computer. You may also do a web search for the specifc name of your IDE / ATAPI / SATA controller in order to find older drivers which reportedly offer a better performance. Look for information about the DPC performance of the respective driver version. You can find the specifc name for your IDE / ATAPI / SATA controller in the Windows Device Manager.
dxkrnl.sys / nvlddmkm.sys
|Install the latest driver for your graphics card. Also try older versions if the most recent one does not solve the issue. Additionally, try disabling all visual effects in Windows. Furthermore, switch off all power saving options for your graphics card. For ATI cards the power saving function is usually labeled "PowerPlay", or for NVIDIA cards "PowerMizer". In case that these options do not show up in your driver settings panel, you can use tools like "Powermizer Switch" (only for NVIDIA cards), "Rivatuner" (for ATI and NVIDIA cards) or "ATITool" (for ATI cards). Finally, we recommend to search the web for your graphics card model (e.g. NVIDIA 9800) and the term 'DPC'. In many cases, you will find tips from other users who experience the same issue. Additionally, contact the manufacturer of your graphics card in order to learn more about disabling the power saving for your card.
|This is the driver for your PS2 ports. Update the drivers for the devices connected to your PS2 ports and also install the chipset drivers for your mainboard. Alternatively, you may replace your PS2 hardware (usually mouse or keyboard) with USB devices.
ndis.sys / tcip.sys / netio.sys / tunnel.sys
|Disable all network adapters in Windows Device Manager when you are running your audio applications. You can enable the network adapters again afterwards.
|This is the driver for your USB controllers. Disconnect all USB devices which are not required when running your audio applications (e.g. printer, scanner, camera) and update the drivers for the chipset and the USB controllers on your computer. If you are using a notebook computer, try to update the drivers for the touchpad. In some cases, it is interfering with the USB bus internally. You may also disable the trackpad and use a mouse instead.
ntoskrnl.exe / ntkrnlpa.exe
|These drivers belong to the Windows kernel. Update all available system updates for your computer, including the BIOS, Chipset, IDE / ATAPI / SATA controllers, USB controllers and graphics card. Also make sure that all available Windows updates have been installed. Some users have reported issues with these drivers when connecting USB 2.0 devices to USB 3.0 ports. If this is the case on your system, install the latest drivers for your USB 3.0 controller or connect the devices to a USB 2.0 port instead.
If the latency values of your system drivers are clearly below 1 ms but audio problems still occur, switch to the Stats tab of LatencyMon after having stopped the performance test. Under CPU Speed you will find two values: Reported CPU Speed and Measured CPU Speed (in MHz).
It is normal for the measured CPU speed value to be lower than the reported CPU speed value (as in the image above) since the reported CPU is only a theoretical measurement which is affected in practice by several factors (heat, amount of active cores, overall processor design, etc.). However, if no drivers are displaying high latency and the Measured CPU speed value is significantly lower than the Reported CPU speed value (as well as significantly lower than the CPU speed defined in our minimum system requirements), then the cause of the audio performance problems may be Speedstepping.
Speedstepping (or its equivalent for AMD called 'Cool'n'Quiet') is a technology implemented on some Intel processor models which allow for the CPU speed to decrease dynamically, helping save resources, reduce heat and extend battery life. However, this decrease in CPU clock may be detrimental to the stability of your audio data processing. To disable speedstepping, adjust the settings of your system's power plan.
Note: If your audio problems persist after having adjusted your power plan and an additional LatencyMon test reveals no increase in the measured CPU speed, you may consider deactivating Speedstepping directly in the BIOS of your system. Additionally, other technologies such as TurboBoost may be interfering with the stability of your CPU clock speed. Please seek advice from your system's manufacturer before performing any changes in the BIOS as they may potentially damage your system.
BIOS / Chipset / Component Drivers Updates
BIOS stands for Basic Input Output System, a boot-up routine that runs on a chip on your mainboard. The BIOS controls how the mainboard’s individual components work together (on a hardware management level, before Windows is launched). BIOS updates typically improve the performance of your mainboard’s components – mostly by fixing bugs. Just like with brand new software, updates for the BIOS are often released after new computers are sold, and resolve bugs or improve performance – sometimes dramatically.
If you have an off-the-shelf brand name computer (e.g. Dell, HP/Compaq, etc.) visit the manufacturer’s homepage and download and install the latest available BIOS update for your exact computer model. Instructions for this are usually posted on the website, or are included with the downloaded update. If you have a self-built computer, visit the mainboard manufacturer’s website to find the latest BIOS update. Running the latest BIOS version is very important if you need to get the best performance from your computer.
Chipset / Component Driver Update
A chipset refers to a group of important processor chips (aside from the computer’s main processor) on your computer’s mainboard, that are handling essential functions, such as hard drive and USB operation, etc. Some common chipset manufacturers are Intel, AMD, and Nvidia. Windows is usually equipped with a set of built-in generic chipset drivers. However, these are often designed as a one-size-fits-all solution for the purpose of being compatible with as many different models as possible. The custom-tailored drivers provided by the chipset’s manufacturer often get much better performance than Windows’ built-in generic drivers.
If you have an off-the-shelf brand name computer (e.g. Dell, HP, Lenovo, etc.) visit the manufacturer’s homepage and download and install the latest available chipset drivers for your exact computer model. Installation instructions are usually posted on the computer manufacturer’s website, or are included with the downloaded update files. If you have a self-assembled computer, visit the mainboard manufacturer’s website to find the latest chipset drivers.
The same applies to all other hardware components installed in your computer: download and install all available driver updates for components such as network adapters, built-in audio interfaces, FireWire controllers, graphics drivers, and any other devices or peripherals installed in, or attached to your computer. For brand-name computers, these drivers can usually also be found on the computer manufacturer’s website. For self-built computers, you will need to visit the websites of the manufacturer of each hardware component and download and install their latest available drivers.
Graphic Card Tools
Some graphic card tools like Ati Power Play and Nvidia Powermizer may interfere with real-time audio since they prioritize the graphic card performance at the expense of other system processes. Try to disable or uninstall these tools.
With some Nvidia laptop graphic chips, simply deactivating the graphic drivers in the Windows device manager can occasionally help to fix audio dropout problems. When you deactivate the graphic driver in the Device Manager, a standard Windows video driver will be activated after the next system reboot. This should help identify if the graphic driver may be a possible cause of the problem.
The Processor scheduling setting lets you choose if your computer should process Programs with higher priority, or Background Services with higher priority. In this context, Programs refers to applications you can see and interact with on your screen. Background Services refers to software that you don't directly interface with but is running in the background and handling essential system tasks. The most important example of a background service in the context of this guide is the driver for your audio interface.
A common reason for dropouts and audio artifacts is the audio interface driver not being able to process all of its data in time. Increasing the processing priority for background services (and with it, the priority of the audio driver) often contributes to improved audio performance. To configure your computer to process background services with higher priority, do the following:
- Open the Windows Advanced System Settings by clicking on the Start button (Windows icon) and typing 'Advanced System Settings'. Click on the option that appears.
- On the Advanced tab under Performance click the Settings... button.
- Once again, on the Advanced tab under Performance Options select Background services.
- Click Apply to confirm the changes.
Note: some applications may work better if the Processor Scheduling parameter remains set to Programs. If your audio performance worsens after following the steps above, revert the setting back to Programs. You may also refer to the documentation of the manufacturer of the software for more information on what setting should be used.
Hard Drive Options
The configuration of your hard drive described below will allow it to work more efficiently when you record and playback audio files:
- Open the Properties of the hard drive (or drives) you use to store your audio files. To do this, open any Explorer window and click on This PC.
- Right-click on the drive(s) you intend to use for audio storage.
- Choose Properties.
- In the General tab, make sure to untick both Compress this drive to save disk space and Allow files on this drive to have contents indexed.'
- Click Apply and then OK.
Notes on Cloud Storage
Syncing content, projects, or samples with a cloud drive can cause performance issues. While it is possible to back up your content to a cloud drive, it is not recommended to configure real-time syncing. The syncing of your content, projects, or samples should only occur when the NI application is not in use.