New Express Card, "Crackling" sound...

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New Express Card, "Crackling" sound...

Post by magritte » Thu Aug 27, 2009 7:14 pm

Hey there.

So I purchased an Echo iox express card as my factor card could only get down to 11ms latency and 512 buffer. This card goes to 2 seconds latency and 32 buffer, BUT, when I (a) dip below 128 it distorts and (b) even at 128 i hear "crackling" every once and a while (not noticeable during a loud passage, but very noticeable during quiet parts). The crackling sounds like digital artifacts--i know that's a vague and generic phrase, but that's what it sounds like.

My specs are: windows xp pro, 2gb ram, dual core @1.73ghz.

Since I spent $200 on this card hoping to fix these problems, I'm really disappointed right now and hoping someone can shed light.

Thanks.
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Post by magritte » Fri Aug 28, 2009 1:11 pm

Oh, and I am running Cubase LE. Forgot about that bit of info.
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Post by magritte » Fri Aug 28, 2009 7:07 pm

Here is a small sound clip of the issue:

http://www.sendspace.com/file/wli34q

I recorded this at 48hz, 24bit.

I tried lowering to 44hz and 16 bit and it still has the same problem.

Latency is in the 11ms range.

When I go lower the problem becomes more pronounced.
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Get ready to open a can of worms...

Post by Aj » Sun Aug 30, 2009 11:23 am

Magritte,

At this point, the problem is probably not the soundcard. It's the laptop.

What laptop are you using - specific model number, that is? Laptops - especially PCs - are notorious for these click/pop problems because they have little routines running in the background to operate the laptop's various built-in hardware devices that eventually overtax the PC at low latency. I'm talking about things like device drivers for bluetooth; wireless devices; the battery componenture; the DVD burner; etc. To be more specific, these "always on" routines intermittently interfere with any attempts at high-speed real-time data transfer (in your case, audio playback/recording).

Technical details... The proper name for this interference is a "DPC spike" (stands for deffered procedure call). It's a fancy name for intermittent moments when the CPU of your laptop is suddenly working very hard, and then goes back to normal. You would never know this was happening until you tried to use your laptop for something taxing like low latency pro audio recording. But... you can actually download a program called the DPC Latency Checker which will tell you if and when it's happening and how bad the problem is here:

http://www.thesycon.de/deu/latency_check.shtml

Try using your recording software and the DPC Latency Checker simultaneously Once you see you have DPC spiking, you can try resolving the problems by going into Window's Device Manager (on the control panel) and ONE BY ONE shutting down individual devices (like bluetooth, etc). To see if the problem goes away, reboot and re-test with the DPC Latency Checker after shutting down each single device.

It's important to realize that the problem could be coming from just about any internal device - a built-in modem, or even the laptop's original onboard built-in soundcard (just because you aren't using that anymore doesn't mean it doesn't still have some sort of DPC routine still running in the background). As a last resort, you can also try updating the device drivers for the offending device. That sometimes works, although it can be tricky tracking down the correct newest device driver for esoteric devices like a particular laptop's onboard bluetooth.

Good luck! You might also try searching for "DPC spike" and your laptop model on Google. It could be very illuminating. Occasionally, a laptop has a DPC spike problem with the actual ExpressCard device itself. If that's the case, you need a new laptop (or will have to try a non-Expresscard soundcard instead).

Aj

P.S. Visit the SOUND ON SOUND forum for PCs. Can't find the link right now, but there's a sticky over there with people discussing DPC latency spike issues on their laptops.

edit: Ok, here's the link to the SOUND ON SOUND forum... there are dozens of people discussing your problem there (that is, people with the right sound card/software still experiencing clicks/pops when doing pro audio on PC laptops):

http://www.soundonsound.com/forum/showf ... t=1#588140
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Post by magritte » Sun Aug 30, 2009 1:19 pm

Thanks.

I'm using a Dell 640m

I downloaded the program you suggested. It shows that everything is working just fine 99% of the time, then there's a big red spike (likely coinciding with the occasional crackle i hear). Now, finding what causes that seems hard. I disabled my Wi-fi card, hard drive, battery, and so far nothing.
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Post by magritte » Sun Aug 30, 2009 3:44 pm

Wow, so I spent the last few hours disabling everything...even in the most basic startup via msconfig with nothing loading it still says "one of your drivers is bad" and the program has red bars.

This sucks.

What would be a good laptop for recording? I prefer PC
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Post by Aj » Sun Aug 30, 2009 8:11 pm

Ah, recent Dell's are notoriously bad for audio (at least from what I've read). DPC spikes are rampant. Here's a thread about some of the problem:

http://forum.notebookreview.com/showthread.php?t=297054

Some people have tried turning things like eSata and Intel SpeedStep off in the BIOS. You could try that (the BIOS menu can be accessed when you first turn on the laptop BEFORE Windows loads).

Otherwise, well... good luck finding a PC laptop guaranteed to work for low-latency multitrack recording. Check out the thread I started here:

http://messageboard.tapeop.com/viewtopi ... c&&start=0

Aj
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Post by magritte » Sun Aug 30, 2009 8:51 pm

Thanks, man, I'll try the Bios.

What a kick in the balls that in 2009 nobody can make a computer that runs efficiently.
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Post by magritte » Sun Aug 30, 2009 10:26 pm

I just want to say that I resolved this, and the information might be helpful to others, because I didn't see this solution or suggestion anywhere online while I was searchin for the cure.

My suggestion: if disabling one device/driver does not work, keep it disabled but try disabling another along with it.

In my case, the combination of having on the wi-fi card with the cd/dvd driver caused the latency issue. When I disabled both and only both the latency went well below 500us. At one point I turned every driver/device off, and still had latency, so it was this precise combination. This revelation might give some other people out there hope. I tested it well, many times, and let the dpc run for several minutes each time.

This feels really good...twas stressing me out all day and I didn't want to buy a new PC because this model is great, otherwise.

It's late now so I'm not going to test these results in Cubase until tomorrow, but it should be fine. If it's not I'll return and let everyone know.
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Post by Aj » Mon Aug 31, 2009 6:07 am

Congratulations Magritte.... it's almost like a trial by fire to do portable pro audio. Looks like you passed the test. :D

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Post by magritte » Mon Aug 31, 2009 7:44 am

Hey thanks.

But I still have to test it tonight.

The latency bars are all in the green and staying there, but I didn't have cubase open or my mid controller running. So, we shall see if those spoil the party. But the good news is, before my solution it was going in the red with nothing running. So it looks promising.
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Post by magritte » Mon Aug 31, 2009 9:39 am

What about laptops make them prone to this problem?

I just ran dpc on my work desktop, which is from 2003 and has low specs (1gb ram, etc) and the latency is beautiful--all low/green.
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Post by Aj » Mon Aug 31, 2009 9:58 am

My understanding is that it has to do with the minituarized architechture of laptop motherboards. Modern laptops just cram so much stuff together in a tiny space. Components are forced to share resources in order for it all to work. Desktop computers don't have this problem; there's plenty of room for most every component to get it's own bus, interrupt, circuit pathway, etc.

Making matters worse is that recent laptops have added even more features that were previously only available on desktops. Which means more shared resources.

This is part of what happened with the demise of reliable pro audio firewire ports (on laptops). Laptop manufacturers started using "all in one" interfacing chips on their motherboards - that is, instead of a dedicated Firewire chip, many laptops now contain one chip which has to play traffic cop for the Firewire port, the USB port, and even the SD cardslot. The average user never notices the problem. But try something taxing (like pro audio; realtime video; etc), and.... snap, crackle, pop.

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Post by magritte » Mon Aug 31, 2009 10:04 am

Gotcha, that makes sense.

Maybe we should all start a petition to have these companies design laptops for our niche. Seems a good niche for a start-up company, too.

I say "our"...I was literally recording on an analog reel to reel weeks ago. I'm such a poseur!
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Post by Aj » Mon Aug 31, 2009 7:47 pm

Actually, there have been a few custom audio laptop companies. ADK for one; Rain for another. They make powerful and well-reviewed (but pricey) units.

However, my understanding is that they are having trouble getting decent chipsets lately (for things like Firewire) because of this very problem. The firewire chipset of choice for audio is made by Texas Instruments. Sadly, its getting nearly impossible to find a laptop motherboard that uses one. I'm guessing it's just not too profitable for the chipset makers to specialize in audio performance.

We'll see what happens. There are better, faster technologies on the horizon (like USB 3.0) which may solve some of these problems.

Aj
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