latency using USB MIDI on plug-in soft-synth?

I’m running 4.2.1 (2099) version of N. I noticed there is a plug-in synthesizer instrument with the newest version, although I can’t find any documentation on it on the main site.

I’ve toyed with it using my mouse to play the keys, and some of the analog sounds are really cool!

I just ordered a Midiman USB 2x2 MIDI interface. I plan to take MIDI OUT of my little Kawai keyboard to the USB jack of my laptop.
I’m running a Dell Inspiron 600m, and I run all my .SNG files off an external USB hard drive.

What sort of latency issues can I expect if I try to record in real-time?
Will I need to tweak any settings to get the MIDI interface to talk through the USB port and to the soft-synth built into N?

Thanks for your help - this will be my first experience running MIDI through a DAW and am somewhat of a newbie at it.

The audible latency will depend on how efficient your soundcard drivers are AND how big a CPU pig the virtual instruments are that you want to use. As far as MIDI event signal latency, it is so small as to be insignificant. If it IS a problem, most likely it’s a crappy interface. I have a Midiman 2x2 USB. It has worked perfectly on several computers.

What soundcard are you using? The built-in on the Dell?

D

Yeah, I’m embarrassed to say I am using the built-in Dell soundcard. I figured that might be the case. Oh well, I’ll have to see how bad it is and spring for that fancy M-Audio interface if it doesn’t work!

Thanks for the info, Diogenes.

Hold the phone there JG. IF audio latency is an issue, you may try the ASIO4ALL driver. Some guys have made use of built-in cards for playing virtual instruments in a live setting. It’s really just a “wrapper” that encapsulates the cards WDM driver and presents it to the host as ASIO. It appears to work well for what it is… It was originally written as a patch to make software that requires ASIO available for folks whose cards did not have an ASIO driver. It has grown quite a bit and improved along the way. Worth a shot IMO.

D

PS I use ASIO4ALL with my laptops built-in for mixing and “noodling” while traveling and I don’t have my US-122 with me. It seems to get along great with n-Track.

Thanks for the quick response, Diogenes, I really appreciate it.

This is where my lack of knowledge is selling me short - I’m not up on ASIO drivers, and not even sure if my soundcard supports them.

Apparently the driver for my built-in SigmaTel audio card is called “SigmaTel C-Major Audio” and I can tell you unequivocally that I get
a) terrible lag when recording direct to hard-disk using Audacity or nTrack using the line in jack or built-in mic, and
b) no simultaneous I/O in Audacity (but I do get simultaneous I/O in nTrack, even though it’s serious lagging)

So I assume it might work the same with the MIDI in, except that it’s USB and I was already surprised to learn recently that I get better performance running my .SNG’s off my external USB HDD than I do off my internal HD.
(yep, newbie stuff here, I know)

I will wait for the Midiman to arrive and see what happens.
However…is there any reason not to go ahead and get the ASIO driver now? Is it guaranteed to work, or could it kill my system? Again, not sure how this whole biz works. I just barely learned the basics of multitracking, let alone the idiomatic foibles of DAW recording. :D

Yeah. Go ahead and grab ASIO4ALL. It won’t hurt a thing and is easy to uninstall if you don’t like it. I’m betting you will. I have that SigmaTel audio chipset in my Dell laptop at work. Don’t tell the boss but it has seen use as a recording tool. Using the ASIO4ALL thing. Works great.

D

Thanks again, Diogenes.
I’ll go get that driver and schedule a little play date.

I’ve been using my Zoom PS-04 to do all my recording and transferring the files from SmartMedia card into nTrack, which has worked great except I don’t have
a) numerous drum sound options (the Zoom has about 4-5 kits), or
b) a synth or other keyboard to do all the analog pads and bleeps & blips I like to add to my songs.

so, hopefully this will help open up a new realm of possibilities.

Thanks much for the advice! :D

Yup, I use ASIO4ALL on my laptop for live playing, using Native Instruments B4 and my free jRhodes3 soundfont. ASIO4ALL rocks!

Also, built-in soundcards get a bad rap, but they’re still better than most tape recorders of yore (like 15 IPS 1/4" 4-tracks) – at least, many of them are. No shame in using them at all. In fact, I highly recommend starting out that way, giving yourself time to figure out what you really should invest the bucks into.

IMHO, the most important thing to spend bux on at first is decent monitors – because you can make great recordings using decent but cheap mikes, preamps, and soundcards. But if you can’t hear what you’re mixing, you’re flying blind.

That and good instruments, of course!

You should definitely consider recording using the Dell’s soundcard. I doubt you’ll regret it.

If you want to find out whether the Dell is half decent, do an RMAA loopback benchmark test and compare it with other soundcards. Yes, benchmarks aren’t everything, but they are good at finding out when something truly stinks, or dividing into general quality categories.

For more info, see my collected RMAA results or http://audio.rightmark.org/rmaa.shtml.

Thank you for the links LearJeff. I checked out my soundcard’s test results and was surpised that it did a lot better at 16 / 48 than 24 / 96. How is that possible?
I’m currently using a Creative Audigy Platinum EX.
Seems like the frequency response and the IMD (some kind of modulation distortion?) had the biggest difference.
Does this mean I’m better off running at 16 bit instead of 24?
James

Most lower-cost (but decent) soundcards record best at 24/48k, it seems. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a card that works better at 16 bit than 24 bit, so stick with 24 bits. Also, the difference between 44.1k and 48k is usually marginal, and since the end result is usually for CD at 44.1k, most of us record at that rate. The translation from 48k to 44.1k at the end will probably cause the same kind of problem. (Come to think of it, that statement is testable, so I’ll put that on my to-do list!)

However, with a soundblaster or audigy, always use 48k, because they just don’t work well – tracks won’t sync up – at 44.1k. Not sure why, but it’s a well known problem.

Almost all soundcards use a technology called delta-sigma modulation. Google it to find some pretty good descriptions of how it works. In a nutshell, soundcards actually run at megahertz rates – REALLY – but only sample one bit at a time (whether the signal went up or down). Surprisingly, this stream of data is easier to filter digitally than what soundcards used to have to do (an analog low-pass filter to chop off everything over 20 kHz). And then this stream is downsampled and converted into whatever format you’ve chosen.

Now, while lots of cards report the ability to run at lots of different rates, they’re often designed with a specific rate in mind – usually 48k for some reason. Using other rates causes ripples in the frequency spectrum, which I assume is an artifact of the downsampling algorithm. Also, to get equivalent qualitly results at higher sample rate data, the clocking needs to be better (less “jitter”), and clocking is not easy to do well. There are units that cost a thousand bucks that do nothing but generate a pristine clock signal for high-end pro studio soundcards to use. So, don’t expect perfection for $50!

BTW, there’s a trick some folks use: get one really good soundcard with a clock known to be excellent, and use that soundcard’s clock to drive the other soundcards. So, say you need 24 channels, you can get one really good 8-channel card and 2 less expensive 8 channel cards and the sound on the cheaper ones will be far better than they would be using the expensive card’s clock.

Oh, James927, for Creative cards there are “KX” drivers that most folks use to get ASIO. Post a new thread and just ask about kx drivers. I’ve been wanting to collect the info for the n-Track wiki.

jamesmgregg, with ASIO4ALL – if it works with your soundcard and it’s well worth the try – you should be golden.
You shouldn’t have to do anything special with your MIDI device setup.

In n-Track, go to “Preferences -> MIDI Settings -> MIDI Devices” (or something like that) and make sure the MIDI devices you want to use are selected. (Control click to pick more than one.) Make sure NOT to use the “MS Wavetable” software synthesizer – it just ain’t no good for DAW work because it has terrible latency that is uncorrectable.

I’m still running N V3, so I can’t help you with details about N’s built-in synth.

Oh – in MIDI settings, make sure “Keep devices open” is checked.

Now, create a MIDI track. Right click on the track and choose “Output To”, and then pick the MIDI device you want the track to feed. (I.e, n-Track’s soft-synth). Next, click the LIVE button, and try to play notes. You should hear them, and the latency should be reasonably low (using ASIO4ALL).

Don’t get too fussy about latency. If you feel it, fix it. But don’t fret the numbers. There are folks who swear they need 3 msec max latency, but they can tolerate playing with speakers 10 feet away. Well, that’s clearly BS, because sound travels at roughly 1 msec a foot. So, if you can move your speakers 5 feet further away and not notice the difference in latency, then a 5 msec change won’t matter.

In practice, I find that anything under 10 msec in ASIO panel is acceptable. It’s different for folks who are feeding AUDIO in and processing it (e.g., guitar amp modeling), in which case both input and output latency add up, and 20 msec latency is definitely noticeable. So those folks want to get latency lower but us keyboard players don’t. Unless your monitors are 10 feet away …