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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Q. Can I use three different soundcards at the same time?

By Martin Walker
MOTU's 24I/O interface provides 24 simultaneous inputs and outputs from a single PCI card.MOTU's 24I/O interface provides 24 simultaneous inputs and outputs from a single PCI card.
I use a large analogue Soundtracs desk with wonderful EQ, coupled to various bits of outboard gear. I want to output my audio from my PC into the desk for processing. Using all three of my soundcards simultaneously will give me 24 balanced outs. However, these soundcards are different models from different manufacturers. Is there a workaround or do I need three identical cards?

David Fleming

PC music specialist Martin Walker replies: The answer all depends on which MIDI + Audio application you want to run, and which type of soundcard drivers it uses. Although Steinberg's Cubase can run with multiple soundcards from different manufacturers, it can only do so on the PC when running its ASIO Multimedia or ASIO DirectX drivers, neither of which provide low latency. Only true ASIO drivers on either Mac or PC will give you the responsiveness of latencies lower than about 20ms, but unfortunately you can only choose a single ASIO driver from within Cubase, so you could only use one of the three cards at a time.
If, on the other hand, you're using Cakewalk Sonar on the PC, you'll probably be taking advantage of its support for WDM drivers, which can be run in tandem across multiple soundcards of differing makes and models, as well as providing fairly low latency. In most cases you'll be able to run several different soundcards side by side without problems, although there are no guarantees, and some rare combinations may suffer from audio clicks and pops, or cause your computer to crash occasionally or even refuse to boot up at all.

However, if your cards are different, and even if you do manage to run them all simultaneously from a suitable application, you will have to lock their timing together externally. Most 8-in/8-out cards offer S/PDIF I/O, and sometimes word clock, and either of these can be used for sync. Designate one card as Master (therefore running from its Internal clock signal), wire its S/PDIF or word clock output to the S/PDIF or Word clock input of the second card and set the second to expect an external clock. Make the same connection between the second and third cards, with the third also relying on external sync.

If you don't do this, the three cards will 'freewheel', and while they may start in perfect sync they will gradually drift apart during the course of a song, giving rise to possible flanging between tracks running on the different cards, and eventually (on long songs) more obvious inter-track timing problems.
Some manufacturers write soundcard drivers that support multiple cards of the same family, and which can also be internally synchronised to sample accuracy using proprietary sync cables. This is by far the easiest way to approach your problem, since with three identical soundcards of this type you simply end up with an assembly that acts as one huge soundcard with 24 ins and outs, but which appears to ASIO audio applications as one device that can therefore be used with Cubase.

Personally, if I owned a large Soundtracs mixing desk I'd find out which of the three existing cards has drivers that support expansion, and then buy two more cards of the same type — this is the only real way to get professional results when transferring 24 simultaneous tracks from a computer. Alternatively, MOTU's 24I/O interface provides 24 ins and outs from a single PCI card. You could also combine a 24-channel digital audio card with external D-A converters.

Published June 2004

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Q. Where has all the bass gone?

By Hugh Robjohns
I recently moved house and, having now set up my equipment in a new room, I seem to have lost all of the bass end. My monitors are set up as they should be and my setup worked and sounded fine at the last house, but now for some reason the bass is only prominent at a point just behind my head in my normal sitting position. The closer I get to my computer monitor the less bass I get. Do you have any suggestions?

Speaker positioning.
Steve Carter

Technical Editor Hugh Robjohns replies: This sounds like a classic room mode problem to me. The low frequencies are reflecting back and forth between the front and rear wall (and almost certainly the side walls and elsewhere as well), and are creating what is called a 'standing wave'. When the reflected waves meet, they will reinforce each other at certain points in the room and cancel each other out at others, causing the uneven bass response and 'dead spots' that you are experiencing. As you move forwards and backwards your ears effectively hear different parts of that standing wave. So when you get closer to the monitors you are hearing a quieter part of the wave, and as you move back you are getting closer to the wave's peak. The dimensions of your particular room will dictate which frequencies are most affected and how severely — the room's 'modes'.

The only real way to resolve this problem is to install some bass trapping. This will help to reduce the amount of low-frequency sound being reflected, and thus reduce the standing-wave problem. Switching to monitors with a less extended bass response will reduce the scale of the problem, but if you have to have deep bass, acoustic treatment is the only solution.

This is a topic that has been discussed in these pages many times before, as well as in several of the Studio SOS features. Paul White's five-part 'Room For Improvement' series on studio acoustics from 1998 and Mallory Nicholls' Studio Installation Workshop series from 2002-03 are both archived and available to read on the SOS web site, and are excellent places to start if you're new to the subject of studio acoustics. This subject is regularly debated in the SOS Forum (also accessible via www.soundonsound.com/forum), where I'm sure you'll find plenty of helpful advice and ideas.

Published August 2004

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Q. How can I achieve zero latency from my software synths?

By Sam Inglis
Echo Darla 20 sound card.
I have an Echo Darla20 soundcard and I am a bit worried about the possibility of achieving zero latency when I'm using soft synths like those in Reason. Can you give me any advice?

Emmanuel Okilu

Features Editor Sam Inglis replies: It's impossible to achieve true zero latency with any soft synth. When you're recording an audio input, most decent soundcards allow you to monitor the input directly rather than monitoring the recorded signal, which eliminates latency from the monitor path. In the case of a soft synth, however, the audio signal you want to monitor is generated by the computer in response to a MIDI input, so there's no way of eliminating the delays caused by the soundcard's output buffering, as well as any processing delay incurred by the soft synth itself.

That said, you should be able to reduce the latency to negligible levels with a soundcard such as the Darla20, provided you are using ASIO or WDM drivers, rather than MME or Direct X drivers. If you are having problems with latency using Reason , I suggest you make sure you're using the Darla20's ASIO drivers, and experiment with adjusting the buffer size in the soundcard control panel (the smaller the buffer, the lower the latency).

Published March 2004