Online music jam sites?
February 26, 2022 7:25 PM   Subscribe

A friend and I live about 400 miles apart, but we would like to play guitar (electric or acoustic) together, live and online. I know that there are web sites available for online jam sessions, but which one to use? While it need not be 'free', we would like to stay budget conscious. Neither of us are virtuoso players; This is casual music. I wanted to ask for recommendations. As always, thank you for your wisdom!
posted by dfm500 to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I only have experience with one of these apps: JamKazam.

I went in extremely sceptical, but I was astonished at how much the audio experience mimicked playing together in real life. A violinist friend and I (piano) used it during height of the pandemic and the audio quality was so good with virtually no perceptible delay. We made sure to follow the guidelines from the site - use a wired internet connection, wired headphones, and a decent mic.

The app is a bit clunky, but the experience was good enough for me to look past that.
posted by bkpiano at 7:42 PM on February 26, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah, I've been playing weekly in an old-time music trio (fiddle, banjo, guitar) for the last 18 months or so on JamKazam. It's been great. You'll want a decent audio interface (Behriger UMC204HD, Scarlett 2i2, and MOTU M2 have all worked well for me, and I've heard that the more budget-friendly Behringer UM2 also works, with some off-label driver installation), wired ethernet to your router, wired heaphones, wired everything. Reducing latency is the key, and digital wireless protocols all add some latency. If you're on Windows, you want an audio interface which has an ASIO driver, which the first three I recommended do. The fourth works with the drivers for a different device; if you ask on the "Jamkazam Jammers" facebook group someone can probably hook you up. If you're on a Mac, drivers aren't really a concern.

I pay either $5 or $10/month for the Silver or Gold plan on JamKazam, I forget which. We don't use the video feature; in our experience it just causes problems.

Free options I've also tried include Soundjack and SonoBus. Of those, I'd say SonoBus is easier to use. They both worked well for me, but the others I play with are happy with JamKazam, so that's what we've been using.

Another platform that's seen a lot of use and development during the pandemic is Jamulus. In my experience, it can't achieve as good low-latency performance as the others do, but it is much, much better at handling large groups. In your situation, I'd probably try JamKazam or SonoBus. Unless one of you is using Linux, in which case I'd try SonoBus and Soundjack. JamKazam is only available for Windows and MacOS.

There are entirely web-based apps which claim to be able to do this sort of thing now, but I am skeptical. Both Soundjack and JamKazam have web interfaces, but the actual audio streaming is handled by a separate application, and I just don't see WebRTC or whatever the pure web apps are using as being able to get as low-latency as those.

Anyway, yes, I have Opinions in this space. Feel free to MeMail me if you set something up and run into problems; I'd be happy to offer troubleshooting tips.
posted by hades at 9:11 PM on February 26, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Correction: it's the UMC22 interface which works with ASIO drivers from another product, not the UM2. If you're on Windows, you really want a native ASIO driver, not the generic ASIO4ALL driver that many lower-end interfaces use. (ASIO drivers provide lower-level access to the sound hardware, bypassing delays introduced at higher levels. ASIO4ALL doesn't actually provide access to the lower levels, it just provides the interface to the API so that programs like JamKazam which require that low-level access can use the hardware at all. Under the hood, ASIO4ALL is just sending those low-level calls to the high-level generic drivers, so it actually adds latency rather than lowering it.)
posted by hades at 9:22 PM on February 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: JamKazam would have been my pick back when (waves hands) online things are happening (for reasons). There are previously requests on this topic. Latency is the key for 'jamming' as I understand it. Wired everything and even the 400 miles might be a thing depending on where you live. It all depends on how many router hops you have between the participants and buffers and delay. I'd give JamKazam a try.

I've done this a decade ago across three sites spanning the entire US but it was a technology demonstration where we could set up direct paths and such. Piano here, strings there, dancers somewhere else all in HD audio/video. Easy, but research-y easy. I wish good luck on commodity internet that you have. You'll want something that is an app that can go Point-to-Point once set up vs. some sort of central web thing. And if you're close (few hops), and the network is decent nowadays, it might just work. The latencies might just be good enough for a good 'jam session'. Good Luck!
posted by zengargoyle at 12:19 AM on February 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One way to solve latency is to stabilize and extend it: ninjam lets you play with your friend in the past, while they play with you in the past. Hard to explain but it's fun and make sense when you do it.

There's also Source Connect Now, which is entirely browser based, a nice plus.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:23 AM on February 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My band used Jamulus all through the pandemic (and we still are using it now, with one member uncomfortable practicing indoors). Sometimes it works great; sometimes there is a bit of latency. In almost two years, though, there was only one time it was bad enough to keep us from practicing altogether. It's easy to set up and use, also, which may be important if some of you are not all that tech savvy.
posted by something something at 6:52 AM on February 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Another recommendation for Jamulus here. With Jamulus, you listen to what's coming back from the server, so everybody hears the same thing and can play in time.

Minimal latency is not the most important factor - minimal jitter (variation in latency) is, since it's fairly easy to get used to playing with constant latency. I'm in Scotland, and I play a couple of times a week with traditional music groups on a Jamulus server in Germany at about 50ms overall latency - which may sound like a lot, but that's only the equivalent of sitting 17m apart in a room, so it's not really any different from playing in a church or orchestra.
posted by offog at 8:08 AM on February 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

Farplay is a newer option.
posted by cushie at 7:19 PM on February 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Hey Everyone!

Thank you for taking the time to answer, and for the wealth of solid information!

Have a fabulous day!

posted by dfm500 at 10:47 AM on March 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

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