So you’ve just set up your home studio, bought a Notebook and it’s time to run the first few tests. You’ve installed Pro Tools, tried to open it and it didn’t work – it said you need an ASIO driver. So you decide to read about it and find out ASIO only runs on external audio cards. Is there any other solution? Yes! What is Asio4all? It’s a software that emulates ASIO, making it possible to use DAWs without an external component and improving latency problems. This Windows-compatible software saves the lives of many sound engineers and independent producers at the beginning of their careers (and it allows you to open Pro Tools). The best news is that you can download it for free.
All in all, what is Asio4all and what does it do?
- Reduces latency in the recording;
- Compatible with practically every DAW;
- Runs on almost every version of Windows;
- Works with low buffer sizes;
- Doesn’t require an external interface;
- Doesn’t interfere with the emitted signal a lot;
- Free and easy to download.
So, if your interface doesn’t have the ASIO built in it, Asio4all can help you a lot. If you don’t know what an audio interface is for is for, read more it in our other article. When talking about Asio4all, we also need to talk about the reason for its existence, ASIO itself.
After you get a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), you also need an audio driver in order to get started on your audio productions. Yes, you do have an audio driver – after all, your computer has an onboard sound card. That much is true, but DAWs don’t run on onboard cards. None of them. Not Cubase, Nuendo, Ableton Live, Logic Pro, Fruit Loops, none. Protools won’t even launch.
Native drivers, such as MME (Multimedia Extensions), Direct X and WASAPI weren’t built for audio production. So, every DAW requires the professional music production driver for Windows, ASIO. It doesn’t come with Windows, it comes with the external audio interface. You can’t download it from the internet.
ASIO – Audio Stream Input Output – is a protocol that records and simultaneously plays many audio sources without hindering quality or getting out of sync. Steinberg, the same German company that brought Nuendo and Cubase to the world and created VST plugins, developed it. It allows for faithful communication between the DAW and the audio interface, with no signal interference. With ASIO, you can run multiple plugins at the same time. This happens because the driver builds a path linking the DAW and the interface (your onboard sound card), without passing through the sound hardware on Windows on its way, helping the signal play with much less latency, a great problem in digital recordings.
It refers to the time it takes for a digital system and an audio signal to communicate. In other words, it represents how long it takes for the recorded signal to play. The time it takes for the computer sound card to process information is known as buffer size. An increased buffer size makes it easier for the computer to process it, but it also makes the latency higher. If the buffer size is reduced too much, the latency may even disappear, but processing it overworks the computer, creating bugs, pops, clicks, snaps or even causing the software to crash.
How do you monitor latency?
When you raise the track meter on the virtual fader of the DAW and the audio has its volume raised only a few seconds later. It’s obvious things are happening slowly inside the machine.
Another example: when you play an instrument, even if it’s virtual and the sound plays with a certain degree of delay on the speakers. You usually want to listen to what you’re recording live. If there is a delay when listening to what you just played, that is latency. Let’s agree: that makes working impossible.
Why does this happen?
In normal computers, the onboard sound card and its respective drivers weren’t built for sound production. The main job of Windows hardware was to enable the operation of multiple applications simultaneously. Thus, Windows audio devices originally struggled to process sound in real time.
An operational system has layers of drivers carrying out the process: they receive the signal, digitalize it, apply all the effects and send it out. This takes time. If you’re using several plugins, then it takes even longer. The problem is more evident when the sound comes from a sound source played live. Take a keyboard, for example, you play a note and it takes about one second for it to be heard. In this case, latency is high.
Latencies under 7 milliseconds can be considered “real time”. Up to 15ms of recording can happen without major issues. Anything above that and the person recording starts facing difficulties.
In 2003, Michael Tippach, a German programmer, decided to help those who didn’t have native ASIO. He launched Asio4all, a software that emulates an ASIO environment so the DAWs work. Like ASIO, Asio4all doesn’t depend on hardwares – the great secret to solving latency problems.
Asio4All – what do you need to install it?
Created in a combined 32/64 bits version, Asio4all supports Win 98SE/ME/2k/XP/MCE/2003 / XP64 and Vista / Windows 7 x86/x64/Windows 8.x x86/x64. If you have any of these models, you can download the software.
Asio4all works with the WDM – Windows Driver Model driver pattern. This device exists in almost every model of Windows, except for Windows95 and Win98 Gold. It also works with WDM Kernel-Streaming and sometimes even other driver models.
Asio4all requires exclusive access to the audio driver. In many cases, when you turn on the computer, the device is automatically activated, which may prevent Asio4all from successfully booting. The software even replaces some functions of the driver, like volume, buffering time, and others. It presents new features the native audio doesn’t have and needs adjustments so you can make the best use of it.
The Asio4all website advises against modifying or replacing your computer native drivers or trying to add components from other audio devices to Asio4all.
Can I use any DAW with Asio4all?
This software is known for its abundance of DAWs (Ableton even recommends Asio4all for those who don’t have native ASIO). To set it up, you need to access your DAW Preferences and choose Asio4all as the driver.
All in all, you just need to install and open the DAW and everything will be fine. If you have some type of problem, it’s important to configure the Asio4all and DAW functions very carefully according to your taste so the quality of the sound produced is maintained. Slowness may happen if you use many plugins at the same time and your computer doesn’t have a lot of RAM memory and the hard drive doesn’t have a lot of space. Increasing the sample rate to export a track also demands a lot from the processor, which may cause problems. On the other hand, a low sample rate may cause decreased sound quality. The punchline: computers in home studios need to be high-performance.
Macs não precisam de Asio4all. Os Core Audio, drives de áudio nativos dos computadores Apple, apresentam ótima resposta. Claro, nem tanto quanto o ASIO dedicado de uma interface externa. Mas o suficiente para quebrar um galho em uma sessão com poucos plugins. (DAWs não se recusam a abrir com o Core Audio dos Macs!)
Macs don’t need Asio4all. The Core Audios, native audio drivers in Apple computers, have a great response. Of course, it isn’t as good as a dedicated ASIO of an external interface. But it’s enough to help during a session with few plugins. (DAWs aren’t shy about launching with Core Audio in Mac computers!).
Asio4all: besides downloading it, what do you need to play without an interface?
Don’t overdo it! Audio interfaces come with a bunch of different resources for high-performance productions. Using Asio4all, you’ll still be using a single channel to record, since the computer has one single input. That’s the P2 connector, which isn’t ideal when talking about signal quality. Recording straight from the microphone in your computer creates very low-quality sound. Interfaces can also work as preamps, besides having better D/A and A/D converters. They can come with several jacks and accept P10 and XLR connectors, recommended for better signal transmission. Besides, without studio monitor outputs, you’ll be fated to produce using headphones.
Asio4all can help you during an important phase when starting out with your home studio, helping you to develop your skills as a producer. Download the driver and jump in head – and ears – first!