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Latency in audio production using MAGIX Music Maker 2016 Premium

Latency in audio production using MAGIX Music Maker 2016 Premium

MAGIX Music Maker 2016 Premium is an easy-to-use, entry level digital audio workstation (DAW) package that is the first step for many who are just beginning to dive into the world of digital music creation. While this DAW has an easy learning curve, it should not be underestimated in terms of its production value and quality of the final mix, as it is the “little brother” of professional-grade MAGIX packages such as Samplitude Pro X2 and Sequoia 13, which use an advanced, hybrid audio engine used by producers and mastering engineers worldwide. Taking this into consideration, Music Maker should be integrated into a home-studio setting within the proper context that it is an entry-level tool that was designed to be modular, expandable, upgradable, and above all, easy to produce music.

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As a builder of digital audio workstations, a reseller of the MAGIX lineup, and an independent music artist, I want to make sure that other producers using Music Maker have a better understanding of where Music Maker fits into their production workflow, how it can be used to its maximum potential, and to answer some of the most common questions I am asked by customers. This article will be one in a multi-part series that will attempt to break down complex topics and ease frustrations with musicians who are not familiar with hardware-software configuration issues inherent with digital music production.

Making music using a store-bought PC? You’re sharing vital resources.

For many new artists, Music Maker is installed on laptops or desktop computers that are built for home and entertainment purposes. These machines are not configured to edit and produce audio out of the box, and editing audio in a multitrack environment is more complicated for computers than what it seems due to available system resources. Even some computers that are sold for multimedia production are nothing more than game machines resold as multimedia workstations. The biggest complaints online are stemming from customers who have personal computers, some which are new, who are having performance issues with their music recording and playback.

There are many reasons for such performance concerns, which break down to a number of factors involving:

  • The computer’s CPU architecture and speed,
  • The amount of system RAM available,
  • Background processes and system latency,
  • Audio drivers and buffers,
  • Installed hardware that could be causing latency,
  • How your DAW interprets and works with all of these factors.

The points of interest described are not only relevant for Music Maker, but any DAW software on the market due to how audio is handled and processed on a PC. Therefore, any computer is prone to poor performance issues if the software is not setup specifically for the hardware it’s being installed on. There are no “one size fits all” presets that can be used, and this method of configuring your DAW is more of an art form rather than a science.

Before you start producing, check your latency.

Audio latency is the number one reason for poor music production performance on the PC. Before beginning serious work with Music Maker or any other lineup in the MAGIX family, a test for system latency should be performed to narrow down programs running in the background. These programs, or processes, are often hidden and can fight for resources on your system and cause the dreaded popping, crackling, lag, and distortion that can ruin projects and the production experience. Free tools are available that can be downloaded, but my easiest recommendation for new users is LatencyMon by Resplendence. This tool should be used by itself without any other programs running to get an accurate measurement of your system’s resource use.

Figure 2 - LatencyMon will check all running processes to see what could be slowing you down.

Figure 2 – LatencyMon will check all running processes to see what could be slowing you down.

This is a quick and simple tool that can assess the real-time audio capabilities of your PC by checking for latency. If background processes and programs are found, you will see a message on the main screen of this program that will state that your PC is not capable of real-time audio, and the latency bars will contain information to track down the offending program or process for creating latency. Examples of programs that can cause latency are:

  • Archiving and backup programs connecting to an external hard disk or in the cloud,
  • Network interface cards, including WiFi and Bluetooth,
  • Drivers to external devices through “configuration apps” that are typically installed with the hardware when it’s plugged into the PC, such as customizations to mice, trackballs, and keyboards,
  • Automatic software update checkers that are loaded on system startup.

If everything is “in the green” after your checkup, then your system is suitable to use in its current form. If there are programs and processes slowing down the performance of your DAW, then the status indicators will determine which tasks may be at fault. Running this tool for approximately ten minutes should provide enough feedback to evaluate if there are potential problems, such as page faults (known also as hard faults) and high deferred procedure calls (DPCs) or interrupt service routine (ISR) times, which primarily deal with drivers and allocated resources
occurs when the system doesn’t have enough physical memory and pieces of the program you are running are stored in virtual memory for recall. A program may be transferring so much information to virtual memory that it interferes with audio playback and processing. The term ‘fault’ shouldn’t be used as a negative term in this case, but instead thought of as a description of a transition status with the chunk of information that’s being transferred to and from physical memory.

Figure 3 - The "Processes" tab can assist in your search for heavy page faults.

Figure 3 – The “Processes” tab can assist in your search for heavy page faults.

To quickly view processes that may be interfering with system resources, the “Processes” tab can display a list of resources and the number of Hard Page faults that are occurring. This is important to know, as programs providing a high amount of page faults can be eating through system resources, including physical memory, and can indicate a program or process to monitor. Remember that this is an investigative process, and each computer will be different, so there are no rules to follow. Hard page faults can be viewed in ascending or descending order in the program by clicking on the heading of that column.

Figure 4 - The "Drivers" tab will provide information to track down high DPC and ISR execution times.

Figure 4 – The “Drivers” tab will provide information to track down high DPC and ISR execution times.

High execution times with DPCs or ISRs will be flagged by the program, and can be viewed under the “Drivers” tab and results can be sorted just the same as with the “Processes” tab. Typically, issues in this category will deal with hardware installed on your system that requires a driver, and that hardware may or may not be essential to your PC’s normal functioning. So, the device or service may be able to be switched “off” during times when music production needs to occur. Each symptom will have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and it will never be perfect.

Goodbye latency… hello audio drivers!

Please know that while there are references in the marketplace with hardware and software that advertise zero latency,always latency present, even if between 1 and 3 milliseconds, and anything under 10 milliseconds is generally unperceivable to most human beings. Instead, think of low latency >as your friend, and don’t drive yourself crazy trying to eliminate all latency from your PC, because it’s not possible. Once latency issues have been tracked down and controlled to the best of your ability (and what your system can handle), then Music Maker needs to be setup in preferences to be using the right audio drivers with the right buffer settings. This is also an art form more than a science. This will be discussed in the next article on our journey through Music Maker as we cut through the mysteries behind why our recording and playback can be glitchy.

Derek NeutsDerek Neuts

Derek started down an IT, multimedia, and musical pathway as a young child and has nine years of private musical training in classical piano performance and composition. He worked and trained as a PC hardware technician, worked in broadcast as a technician, editor, and videographer, and possesses over 20 years of experience in technology. Derek earned a Bachelor of Arts in business and communications from Marylhurst University, and is finishing his Master of Science in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Capella University. He is the owner of DAW Studio Systems, a custom audio workstation provider that integrates the MAGIX product lineup.

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