So, you’ve finally decided to jump into the world of digital audio. You downloaded a program or two, maybe even bought yourself a MIDI controller, and you’d like to get started. You’ve figured out how to load and record a virtual instrument. Things are looking good.
But . . .
There’s a horrible lag between when you press a key on your midi controller and when the note sounds. You notice the same lag when you press play, stop, or any of the other transport controls. But worst of all, you can only load a couple of plugins before your computer starts to stutter. You thought you had a fast machine, but your modest project has sent the CPU meter through the roof. Between this stutter and the lag, there’s very little room for creativity.
Desperate for help, you’ve posted in some of the forums for your software of choice, only to be told that you need to buy an expensive USB or Firewire interface or that you should dump your PC for a Mac. Do you really need to take such drastic measures?
No. Absolutely not.
Your problem is how Windows uses the sound card in your computer. Currently the ‘Microsoft Sound Mapper’ or the ‘Direct Sound Mapper’ or ‘KMixer’ is in charge of how audio gets in and out of your computer. Sadly, they all use up far more resources than necessary. What you need is an ASIO (Audio Stream Input/Output) driver.
Windows puts a lot of software between your DAW (digital audio workstation) and the soundcard or audio device it needs to use. Every layer of software your audio signal travels through adds to the latency of that signal. All the ASIO protocol does is connect your DAW directly to your soundcard or device, thereby removing several layers of latency.
So, where DirectSound fails, ASIO drivers excel. Where can you get one?
Download the latest stable version and install it. Next time you start your audio application, dig into the options->audio menu (how to do this will be different for every program, consult your manual) and select ASIO4ALL. You’ll probably notice an immediate performance boost and better latency. If not, read the manual and make some custom latency/soundcard selections. You’ll still have a limit to how much audio processing your computer can do, but ASIO4ALL will let you maximize your capabilities.
ASIO4ALL isn’t magic, its just a generic ASIO driver designed to access most audio hardware. Any ASIO driver would be superior to Windows’ native sound management tools. Some soundcards, external devices, and software come with their own ASIO driver, so its possible you’ve already got one available. Try it out to see if you can improve your results. If it does not work out, give ASIO4ALL a try.