Please enable javascript to view this site

Windows Audio
Go Crazy-O for ASIO

So, how do you get the best from your Windows XP, Vista or 7 computer when it comes to setting up your audio for use with your Skoog?

As a badge wearing, flag waving, Apple convert you may detect a slight Mac bias in my tone (Okay, it's true - Macs really do make your life easier) but please remember that Windows is just as capable when it comes to audio - it just needs some caressing into place.  In the first of my articles on the subject of windows audio, I'll try to explain why setting up audio on Windows is so much more complicated than on a Mac.  In my next article I'll guide you through the main steps you'll need to go through to set up your XP and Vista/7 machines for optimal performance with the Skoog (or any other pro audio software for that matter).

Windows Schmindows

On a Mac, audio setup is generally pretty straightforward, and you need do little more than plug in your Skoog, turn on the audio and, well, that's that. Enough said - it just works. When it comes to Windows however, things get a little more complicated.

On a hardware level, you hear sound through loudspeakers/headphones that are either built into your laptop or plugged into your PC. In either case the sound is processed through a sound card, built into your laptop or PC.

Now, unless you have paid extra for something a bit more special, this soundcard can usually only take audio information from one (software) source. So, if you are listening to Bucks Fizz on Windows media player, blasting zombies on a shoot'em up, and being "pinged" by Windows to let you know you have an email, how does Windows let you hear all these sounds at the same time?

Mo Software

Sticking with the tradition of running applications "in the background", Windows uses an additional layer of software to intercept audio from the different software applications and "mixes" them together before sending them to the sound card. So the audio information arriving at the sound card is received from a single source, but in doing so, Windows has introduced an additional software layer which can, in turn, royally mess things up for pro-audio applications (such as the Skoog), by adding a significant overhead to your audio processing. In real terms this can mean that you may experience anything from a general degradation in sound quality, slight to severe crackles and pops in your audio, or noticable delays in audio response.

So can we bypass this additional software intrusion?

Thankfully, yes we can.

Go Crazy-O for ASIO

ASIO (Audio Stream Input/Output) is a soundcard driver protocol that allows our audio software to speak directly to the soundcard with no intermediate software "mixer" layer to soak up our processing. The result is a low-latency and high fidelity audio. This is a good thing.

For a more detailed description of the ins and outs of ASIO (gettit?) take a look at this wikipedia article on ASIO.

There are basically 2 options for Windows users when it comes to ASIO:

  1. Install ASIO4ALL

    Its great.  Its free.  ASIO4ALL is a hardware independent low latency ASIO driver for Windows audio devices.  So no matter what sound card you have, you too can experience the benefits of ASIO.  Whoopee!  Just go along to to download and install the latest set of drivers.  There's a great and long standing user forum over there too, so if you have any questions I'm sure that in most cases they will already be answered.

    By design, ASIO4ALL will only allow you to use audio from one software source at a time  - this is the only way to bypass the "mixer" layer in Windows.  The downside is that it will give rise to conflicts between the audio demands of your various software applications - applications (including those running in the background) can take a strangle-hold on the audio processing and not release it when a new application is started.  There are a few simple tweaks you need to know about to work around this -  I'll go into more detail on this in my next article.

  2. Buy an ASIO compatible soundcard

    There are quite a few of these on the market - both internal (that slot neatly into your PC to replace your existing bog-standard sound card) and external sound cards (that are plugged straight in to a USB or firewire port of your Windows computer). From a quick scan of the Internet you can pick these up from around £50GBP.  One of the main benefits of using a souped up ASIO compatible device is that it will allow low latency, high quality, glitch free sound from more than one software source - so you can run Audio from the Skoog and MIDI from your software synth at the same time. Great, huh? (bear in mind that you can do this on a Mac anyway, without all this extra fuss, but hush my Mac-loving-mouth).  We've not yet had a chance to try out any of the internal/external sound cards on the market right now with our Windows machines, but we have plans to do so and we'll keep you updated as and when we do.  Speaking from past experience, though, Focusrite and M-audio do great little external boxes.

So I guess it all comes down to a balance of cost versus hassle.  If you have no budget for extra gear and are willing to get stuck in and make some minor tweaks to your system from time to time, then go for the ASIO4ALL option - it does the job well, and it's free.  If you are willing to shell out a bit extra to upgrade to an ASIO compatible soundcard then you will reap the benefits both in terms of convenience, sound quality and latency, plus you'll be able to use Skoog audio and MIDI simultaneously.  

Or there is a third option: Choose a Mac instead.