Cracklin' MIDI
June 30, 2010 12:42 PM   Subscribe

Electronic musicians: help a brother out with MIDI and latency issues?

I recently picked up an Axiom 49 MIDI controller and I'm messing around with it in Ableton Live (Lite for now, might upgrade later). I installed ASIO4ALL and got my latency down to five or six ms with the built-in soundcard on my Lenovo laptop. Things mostly work fine, but when I play some of the more complex MIDI voices that Ableton has, the sound cuts and crackles and is generally terrible. I can fix this to some extent by increasing the buffer size, but obviously this hurts the latency.

Am I correct to think that I need an external audio interface to play MIDI smoothly? Do I need a shiny new one with fancy features, or can I pick up a used Fast Track or something?

I might want to record a bit in the future, but I won't need to multitrack. Right now I just want to run MIDI instruments and effects.
posted by echo target to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Unfortunately, you know the answer - you need an external rig. A built in think-pad sound card is not going to cut it.
posted by four panels at 12:54 PM on June 30, 2010

what version of windows are you running? is your hard drive empty-ish and defragged?

try the native sound card drivers instead of asio4all and see if you also have crackling then.

trigger several midi clips in live, and see if the sound breaks up. (then it's not your midi input).

the axiom is attached via usb? if so, midi in is not going to get better than that.

update all drivers, especially bios on your laptop. if running xp, search for musicxp or message me and i'll send you a link/text for optimization.

it's possible more ram will help you more than an audio interface. as long as you're not performing live, the sound quality of your built in card is not really an issue, aside from latency. (when you render your output the sound card isn't involved).

if you have background tracks running, and they're also midi, try rendering them down to audio/wav.
posted by kimyo at 1:23 PM on June 30, 2010

Watch the CPU meter at the top right of Ableton -- it can sometimes be informative. But the basic problem here is that your soundcard was not designed for this kind of work. An external card, designed for music, will help.
posted by fake at 2:43 PM on June 30, 2010

Dunno if this is appropriate for this thread but: I would totally sell you my Native Instruments Kore 1? It kicks butt. I just don't need it anymore. It beats the Kore 2 because it's not just a midi controller - has the audio interface built in as well. Built like a tank, and I have the Kore 2 software update for it as well. : )

I had the same exact problem trying to use my older notebook to play software synths live until I hooked this puppy up.
posted by bitterkitten at 3:10 PM on June 30, 2010

I'm confused.
I had the same problem with audio + Ableton and got a Lexicon Alpha interface and was then able to do audio.

BUT I've never had that problem with midi. I've always been able to plug my midi controller into the USB port of my (four-year-old) Toshiba laptop and everything works fine, and don't even need the ASIO (I need it for audio).

If your problem is with the midi controller, how would you even plug that into the interface above? does it even have a USB port? Mine just has USB OUT to the computer. IN = places for a mike or e.g. an electric guitar.

So --- I'm confused. I don't really understand why you can't do midi. (BUt everyone else does, so --- good!)
posted by DMelanogaster at 4:40 PM on June 30, 2010

Your computer can't process all the audio fast enough. It's not MIDI, it's a lack of cpu cycle to process the complex audio samples (which have been triggered by your MIDI input) that is the problem. You need a faster computer, or a higher latency setting.
posted by Aquaman at 5:10 PM on June 30, 2010

The CPU isn't going over half or so, so I don't think that's the problem. I was under the impression that MIDI rendering to audio is done by the sound card, and built-in soundcards are limited in the amount of complexity they can handle. Can someone correct me if I'm wrong?
posted by echo target at 7:28 PM on June 30, 2010

I'm running XP SP3, 2 GB RAM, 1.6 Ghtz processor. The crackling gets worse with the native sound card drivers. The Axiom is attached by USB. Freezing tracks I'm not working on at the moment seems to help. Still, it's only the weird complicated pads that come with Live that seem to be causing problems.
posted by echo target at 7:34 PM on June 30, 2010

Sorry I wasn't more clear. Kimyo really has a great list of things you should look at.

Without knowing your setup, all I can say is that at some point in your system's audio rendering path, there's not enough juice to make all those complex samples go through the processor and come out of the audio port in the very small amount of time you've requested (6 ms).

More RAM could be the fix, an external sound card maybe (you should go to the Ableton site and research external hardware options there), etc etc.

Your problem, fundamentally, doesn't have a "fix"; it's just that your system can't do what you're asking of it. If you want that kind of performance from your audio rig, you need to do the research to put together a more capable Audio/MIDI/Ableton setup, and that's not really something I (we?) can do for you here.
posted by Aquaman at 7:48 PM on June 30, 2010

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