Old 01-13-2018, 05:54 AM   #1
quadrifoglio
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Default Low latency crackle, help needed...

Hello everyone,

I am using Reaper for more than 7 years, and for all this time it was a brilliant experience. For me, Reaper is synonym for stability, performance, low latency, and power.
I am so delighted with this piece of software so I converted several of my friends to it, and all of them have the same experience, they work and do not think about performance, buffer, CPU, memory, and anything other than music creation.

However, few days a go another friend wanted to try Reaper and for him things look different. He has mid 2014. MacBook retina with I7 processor, and 16 gigs of RAM, Apollo Twin Thunderbolt, SSD inside, and one USB 3.0 HD for samples and projects.

The problem is crackling at low latencies, actually for anything lower than 256 samples. No matter how many channels he use, Reaper crackles while just playing few audio channels at 64 samples without any plugin and virtual instrument, while 32 samples is unusable.
Yes, I know you will say that this is too low, but actually it is not. I am using Reaper and 32 samples latency all the time with my I5 16 gigs of ram Hackintosh, and the same with my old Core2Duo I3, 4gigs of RAM laptop, and it works flawlessly. It is maybe limited to 20 or 30 plugins until it starts crackling, but at 32 samples it MUST play audio tracks without problems, which is somehow not the case here.
My Hackintosh is connected to Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 via FW, and laptop via USB 2.0 to Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, and again, everything works perfectly at 32 samples latency.
I must say, he does not want to work at 32 samples latency, we just use those figures to find out what is wrong with his setup. With this problem even 128 is to low, and just at 256 it works relatively good, but with just few channels. What would happen if he uses the full project, we do not know.
I forgot to mention that CPU usage is always at 15%, at most 25%, so it has nothing to do with computer being too slow.

We also tried with built-in audio card, and it acts the same. Then we used Logic, and at 32 samples Logic works without any problem, even with some projects with more than 30 channels, around 25 plugins and 10 virtual instruments Logic plays the projects without any crackle or click, but Reaper simply can not.
We tried to edit buffer settings in preferences, but still nothing, it crackles all the time. Then we tried to copy everything to the SSD drive, maybe it was something to do with that slower external drive, but no. It simply does not work well.

I know it is very simple, and it should work well after installing, but is there something we are doing wrong?
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Old 01-13-2018, 08:17 AM   #2
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What happens if you connect your audio interface to his computer?
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Old 01-13-2018, 08:18 AM   #3
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Well, we did not try that. But, I do not believe it is because of his interface, it has the same problem with Built-In soundcard.
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Old 01-13-2018, 08:44 AM   #4
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This is what I am used to:

https://youtu.be/xOOk7DqiqHM
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Old 01-13-2018, 09:44 AM   #5
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First for background, the goal here is playing live through a virtual instrument plugin and thus the need for low latency operation right?

Are you saying that on your system you need a block size of 32 samples to achieve the low latency you need for performing with the virtual instrument plugin(s) you use?

If you need that low of a setting to make the latency low enough, I would make the comment that that sounds close to the edge of headroom right out of the box.* What is your round trip latency with your interface with the block size you usually run and the sample rate you usually use BTW?

So... If you're already close to the headroom of the system, now just about anything unexpected might push you over. And something unexpected has come up on your friends system. Leaving all the Apple 'call home' stuff (alerts, location services, etc) on could eat up system headroom for example. That's what I would look for first. Obviously that computer should be quite powerful for live sound work!

Where are you at with block size vs. round trip latency at the sample rate you are running right now?

* For live work, if you get an interface that comes in at < 11ms round trip latency with a block size of 128 samples for example, you will have decent headroom for all kinds of plugins. Start with an interface that needs a block size of 32 samples just to get below 11ms RTL and you have almost zero headroom left right out of the box.
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Old 01-13-2018, 05:50 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by quadrifoglio View Post
Well, we did not try that. But, I do not believe it is because of his interface, it has the same problem with Built-In soundcard.
Yep, but it's still an easy test to confirm that again.

Last edited by drumphil; 01-13-2018 at 06:16 PM.
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Old 01-14-2018, 02:35 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by serr View Post
First for background.....
The goal here is to find out what is making his system so unstable and basically unusable. If he decide to listen to my advice and make the change, he wants to be sure that Reaper will work well with heavy project with 50 tracks, 70 plugins, and 10 virtual instruments, all that at 128 or 256 samples.
As I said, it is not about using 32 samples latency all the time, it is about Reaper and his computer that crackles when just playing audio at 32 samples, without any processing, and this is not normal.

If you look at my video, you will see that I am working with 13 audio channels, and more than 50 plugins in real time, all that without problems at 16 samples. This is not what I usually do because there is no need to go lower than 64, but it was a test just to show him how stable is Reaper and what he can expect from it.
Still, his problem persist. Any other DAW on his computer is working well with low latency, Logic, Studio One, even Pro Tools (!), but something is wrong with Reaper.

We tried many things, create new user account, Apollo and built-in sound card, with external disk on, off, without any peripherals, but it simply does not work.
I will bring him my USB Focusrite, but even if it works with my cheap USB interface, which I doubt, this does not solve the problem why it does not work with integrated audio, or UA Apollo.
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Old 01-14-2018, 07:41 AM   #8
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New info, with virtual instruments only everything works good. We can use 4 or 5 virtual instruments with 32 samples of latency, and it works without any problems, Superior Drummer 2, Trilian, one or two Kontakt library, and EZ Keys. This is the limit because all sample banks are located on external 5400 RPM disk connected to USB 3.0, which is slower than internal WD Black at 720 RPM for example.

But, the problem is with streaming audio files, no matter the location, external 5400 RPM disk or SSD drive. Transport Bar is glowing red when crackling is happening, so I suppose it has to do with slow disk streaming, but again, 3 or 4 mono audio files at 44.1 khz and 16 bit, it can be streamed from USB 2.0 without problems.
Is there any settings for SSD in High Sierra that we are no aware of?

Technically, sample based virtual instruments are also audio files, just with most of the sampled data loaded in to RAM, but still there is no sense they work well while audio tracks crackle.
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Old 01-14-2018, 09:19 AM   #9
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I ask that question first because I see absolutely no comment about performing live through the system.

We can get into the nuts and bolts of it and get the system up to snuff for low latency (below the threshold of perception) for live performance use. But if the use is actually post production mixing and there's no live performance through plugins even going on it wouldn't be worthwhile. In that scenario the correct answer would be to set the block size high (eg. 1024 samples) since there's no live input to keep a live output in sync with. Hence the question.

And if live performance is in fact the scenario...
My first question still includes: What is your round trip latency baseline right now with the block size in question and the sample rate you chose to use?
The discussion starts with that.
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Old 01-14-2018, 11:46 AM   #10
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@serr Thank you, I understand. But as I said earlier, we want his system to be stable and usable in all working conditions, no matter what he choose to use it for, just mixing or live performance. There is simply no logical reason for this behaviour to be hidden under the carpet just because he will maybe only do mixing, it will always be an active problem waiting to show up, temporarily covered with higher buffer size.
Also, there is no need to talk about treshold of perception because it is totally subjective. Some people can not hear latency at 128 samples, while others hear at 16 samples. I will repeat, he does not want to work with anything lower than 256 samples, we used 32 samples in our testing so we can clearly hear the problems. As far as it goes, even 256 samples crackles from time to time with just few instruments, audio tracks, and plugins.

My setup is at 64 samples most the time, which gives 4.3/3.1 ms round trip latency, with 44.1 khz and 16 bit.
This setup gives very nice latency for playing virtual instruments, even with recording audio, but when I record my self I go down to 32 sample.

My friend's setup is not clear yet because of this problem, but here are some figures:

32 samples 2.8/1.3 ms
64 samples 3.5/2.0 ms
128 samples 4.9/3.5 ms
256 samples 7.8/6.4 ms

All 44.1 khz 16 bit.

Last edited by quadrifoglio; 01-15-2018 at 01:27 AM.
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Old 01-15-2018, 08:04 AM   #11
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OK, so truly doing live performance and requiring low latency.

The only thing that might slow down a high spec machine like that MBP is one of the more CPU intensive synth instrument plugins - and a number of them.

But that would give you high readings on the CPU use in Activity Monitor like you might expect.

Dropouts when you are far from heavy CPU use are usually caused either by a misbehaving buggy plugin or a conflict between different apps both making requests to core audio.

Any other audio apps running? Media player? Browser app?
If so, either quit them during critical audio work or make sure they run at the same sample rate as the live audio system.

It looks like you are reading the numbers off the top of the screen for your system latency. The actual measured latency might be larger FYI. That aside, if you play with the system with no plugins inserted, does it respond as expected? Meaning, does stability follow the block size settings as expected? And then does adding that instrument plugin push it over the edge?

If yes and also with a big CPU hit, then you may have found a ridiculous modern plugin that uses heavy resources. If yes but hardly any CPU hit? Might be a buggy plugin.


Re: 44.1k and 16 bit.
It sounds like you are trying to lower the audio quality to make up for the system limitations. Have you tried 48k (and without reducing the word length to 16 bit)? This is usually the sweet spot for live sound work for latency vs. CPU hit.

There are more samples going through in a shorter period of time. That means the same block size translates to a lower latency. Even though this is more work in a shorter time span, the same latency (as at 44.1k) can now be achieved with a larger block size which gives you more headroom in other areas. This crosses the line if you go to HD (96k) but 48k is usually the sweet spot. (Again, keeping the audio at 24 bit.)
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Old 01-15-2018, 10:02 AM   #12
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No spikes in Activity Monitor, it stays steady at 10% to 15%, but it crackles.

As for buggy plugin, well we used to it back then when we used Pro Tools, so we renamed Audio folder and deleted all Reaper preferences, and started fresh again with only Reaper plugins, still the same.

There is no other app running except Apollo mixer, but the system can not work without it. We tried the built-in audio card, and the same is happening.

The system respond as expected with every latency setting. The difference in latency can be heard easily, and we feel the difference when play VIs.
At 256 it is somewhat sable, but as I said, it is still prone to crackling here and there. The lower we go, the more it crackles.

In my previous post I explained new info about virtual instruments, we can use 5 or 6 instruments with 32 samples latency without problems. As soon as we introduce audio file in project, problem starts.
I know this does not have any sense because VIs are basically audio files streamed form the disk, but that is what is happening.
I will say again, we import 10 audio files in empty project, without any plugin or virtual instrument, and Reaper can not play the project without crackling at 32 samples. So, no processing at all.

As for 44.1 vs 48 khz, please do not go that way.
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Old 01-15-2018, 02:07 PM   #13
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OK, so the live system with performing with the virtual instrument plugins you use works flawlessly. The problem is when you try to also have backing tracks? Any pre-recorded media you try to play with your live performance latency setting has dropouts?

1. Is the pre-recorded audio at the same sample rate as the project?
2. You have the pre-recorded audio on the internal SSD right? (Don't entertain the idea of running this from an external USB drive for live performance.)
3. Is the pre-recorded audio is in wav format? (Decoding FLAC shouldn't push this over the line but it might. Worth a check if you're doing that.)

Re sample rate:
If you tested the system and have lower CPU use with 44.1k and also reduced to 16 bit than all good. I mentioned 48k and leaving it 24 bit because that's the sweet spot for latency vs. CPU load I get with every interface I've tried. Many other's see the same thing in live systems. A few others have an interface like yours that is counter intuitively lower CPU use at 44.1k. If you were needing that last bit of headroom for a resource hungry plugin, 48k might just do it with an interface that behaves as such. Again, if you tested it and got the opposite result, then case closed.

It sounds like this doesn't have anything to do with performance. Something is messing with you with the pre-recorded audio. I'm assuming a few things not discussed but it sounds like you have shaken down the live performance setup properly and have good stable results. Then the thing that 'broke' the system was adding playback of pre-recorded tracks.

The 3 questions above are the next thing I can come up with to ask.
Are you all running the same version of OSX?
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Old 01-16-2018, 12:56 AM   #14
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Virtual instruments work well with their large sound libraries located on this 5400 RPM USB 3.0 disk. I find this normal, because Reaper works so well I often go to someones studio and forget to copy my project but use it directly from USB 2.0 stick, and after few hours of recording I realize that I recorded all tracks directly to USB where I initially prepared my project.
This 5400 RPM USB 3.0 bandwidth is not good as some internal WD Black, but it should be good enough to stream from it 10 audio files 44.1 khz and 16 bit. However, we use system SSD for our testing just to be sure.

The problem with audio is with pre-recorded tracks, as well when we turn on Record Arm on just one track, Reaper starts crackling.
I have noticed this on my system if I Record Arm more than 20 tracks, but I suppose this is normal.

1. Pre-recorded audio is the same samplerate and bit depth.
2. Pre-recorded audio is on both disks, external USB 3.0 and system SSD, and both acts the same.
3. Pre-recorded audio is wave 44.1 khz and 16 bit.
4. We both run High Sierra 10.13.2.

The story about 44.1 khz and 16 bit dates back then when we used Pro Tools, and then every bit of performance was needed because Pro Tools was the best and worst DAW in history.
So, we are familiar with everything you ask because we know all about DAW gremlins because Pro Tools was (and still is) a champion in this area.
Now, we simply do not think about samplerate and bit depth because there is no need for those low latencies and when it comes to better sounding audio, well we do not want to go that route if you understand what I am saying.
However, we use 32 samples and less just to check this problem, because I use Reaper for more than 6 years and I almost never change buffer size because I need more performance, for me Reaper works flawlessly no matter I tested 16 samples yesterday and forgot to change it back to my usual 64 samples setup, it is simply bullet-proof. And the same is with few other friends I converted to Reaper, they work and they enjoy it, it simply works. This is the first time we have some problems with it.

The only thing we did not try is to install new High Sierra. It has no sense because Logic and Studio One, even Pro Tools works fine, also Mac OS is so simple when it comes to installation, there is no registry or any other Windows complication. Still, we will try this soon because there is nothing else we can try, and no one from Cockos support is answering our emails.
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Old 01-16-2018, 09:54 AM   #15
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I've asked a few loaded questions here...

I get the sense that you never actually ran loopback tests at different block size settings and at every sample rate to initially shake out your system and see where the true limits are. I suspect it just worked well enough out of the box the first day and you just ran with that. (Not the worst thing. The success part speaks for itself. Just that this means you might have been closer to some edge than you realized.)

This is how I'd approach this:

1. Boot from an install of OSX 10.12 or 10.11 (or whatever older known stable system you've used without error in the past). Yep, we're shotgunning OSX right off the bat because of all the badmouthing of it going on!

2. Do that initial system shakedown to find your baseline round trip latency for every sample rate. Your replies above suggest you believe this is a sound quality discussion. It is pointedly not! This is purely about most efficient operation with the attitude that ANY sample rate that is more efficient for the system is just fine for sound quality.

3. Understand that a slow drive connected by USB is a CPU hit. Not just from the drive speeds or the USB speeds either. USB requires CPU cycles to manage. There's always an initial lag from both USB and seek time of slow HDDs that could easily shut you down in a live system. Always try a faster drive if you have problems. (Like that screamin' pci connected SSD! Since you have this style drive that is so many magnitudes faster than literally any other available technology, basing everything - OS, samples, backing tracks, live multitrack recording - on it would be higher performance than introducing any slower drive into the system.)

You have mentioned doing some post work with the system in some of this conversation. (Or I misread.) Let's keep live work and post work separate! You can always (and should) set the block size to 1024 samples for post work since you're never monitoring live real time events in sync with a live mix/processing. The issue is with the low latency live sound settings, so keep these jobs separate. It's typical to switch between live settings and post work settings FYI. Running the system with a low block size for post work would be like driving on the freeway in first gear (for a bad car analogy).

I hope some of this helps!

PS. I don't see a direct clue anywhere or I'd come right out and say so. All I can offer is to go through the system methodically and to actually measure your latencies at different settings so it isn't a mystery variable.

My guess is you are going to find two things. Probably a bug or incompatibility of some 3rd party plugin with OSX 10.13 and then possibly a more efficient setup - and thus more headroom - for your system.
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Old 01-16-2018, 10:22 AM   #16
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Well, I never checked Reaper for its limits because there is simply no need for this. It works well with any sound card, system, OS version, or latency setup you use, it simply works. There was no need for any troubleshooting for the past 6 or 7 years, and it is still the same except this weird case.
You are right, this is not very scientific way to find Reaper limits, but I really do not care about its limits, I care about functionality, stability, and performance, which was always spot on, whenever I installed Reaper on my computers or anyone else's computers. It works out of the box. Except this time.

1. All OS versions from 10.6 to 10.13 were stable and worked perfect until this MacBook.
We installed fresh 10.13 today, and then installed only Reaper, nothing changed. So no phantom plugins or anything else that can take CPU time.

2. There is simply no difference whatever samplerate we use, 44.1, 48, 88, 96, 16 bit, 24 bit, it always act the same, it crackles with only audio channels in the project, at 16, 32, 64, even at 128 samples from time to time.

3. As I said earlier, we tested everything with all peripherals connected, and disconnected. We tested everything just with SSD drive, it does not matter, it crackles no matter we put our project on USB 2.0 or SSD drive.

As for post or live situations, I simply do not care about this on my computer. There is no need to make things more complicated than they initially are. Reaper works great at 32, 64, or 128 samples on my computer, with full project with more than 60 tracks, 20 instruments, and over 70 plugins, so I really do not have time, or will, or the need to play with buffer size.
And Reaper works this way since I first installed it on my computer, and it works that way for all other people using computers with lower specs than mine, MACs, PCs, and Hackintoshs.

***

To put things in to perspective...

Today We installed new High Sierra, and tested it against 3 computers:

- My Hackintosh i5 3.4ghz 16gb RAM
- My laptop i3 2ghz 4 gb RAM
- My netbook single core Intel Atom CPU 1.6ghz 1gb RAM

Macbook with i7 16gb RAM crackles at 32 and 64 samples, while all my computer work without problems at 32 and 64 samples.
At the same time Logic and Studio One works flawlessly.

Now I am thinking about APFS and HFS+, because only this problematic MacBook is on APFS...
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Old 01-16-2018, 10:42 AM   #17
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Fair enough on the performance comments. I get that. (And as technology keeps moving we should be able to take things for granted.) I was just think from the perspective of say, if you were to call tech support. They ask you for the number. You say "don't know exactly, it always worked though". Then they say "operator error... Next!". (Sometimes I play with 300+ track - and just as many plugins - mixes and thus use a 1024 sample block size for performance in post. Live sound is a separate gig for me.)

Anyway...

I really think you may have hit on a VERY likely culprit with APFS!
This seems fully beta level at present. Not even many (all?) of Apple's firmware updates will run if the target system is on an APFS formatted drive. (Still true as of last week anyhow.)

Absolutely try HFS+ again!
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Old 01-16-2018, 11:16 AM   #18
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Please do not get me wrong, I am scientifically and technically literate, and I totally understand what you are saying and I think it is appropriate everything you suggested. However I spent more than 10 years fighting with Pro Tools and its asinine quirks so I got tired of it and all those loopback tests, DPC checkers, and system optimizations. After going Reaper way I really enjoy not thinking about technical stuff, numbers and scientific tests.
Maybe my broken English comments sound harsh to you, but I am no ungrateful, just the opposite.

As for APFS, I can choose whether I want to install 10.13 with or without it on my Hackintosh, but I do not know if it is possible on a regular Mac.
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Old 01-16-2018, 01:44 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by quadrifoglio View Post
Please do not get me wrong, I am scientifically and technically literate, and I totally understand what you are saying and I think it is appropriate everything you suggested. However I spent more than 10 years fighting with Pro Tools and its asinine quirks so I got tired of it and all those loopback tests, DPC checkers, and system optimizations. After going Reaper way I really enjoy not thinking about technical stuff, numbers and scientific tests.
Maybe my broken English comments sound harsh to you, but I am no ungrateful, just the opposite.

As for APFS, I can choose whether I want to install 10.13 with or without it on my Hackintosh, but I do not know if it is possible on a regular Mac.
All good.

You can choose APFS or HFS+ with Disc Utility and change it after the fact.

Also, here's what I know about the installer for 10.13 and patching it to work around bugs. (Disclaimer: I know just enough to be dangerous!)
I mention the two patching methods I know in this thread: https://forum.cockos.com/showthread.php?t=201037

The dosdude patch works on either an HFS or APFS formatted drive and leaves your format as you originally made it. The patched version I made includes a firmware updater that can only work with HFS formatted drives. But after installation, it switches the format to APFS. (Dosdude must have removed the firmware updater and format change bits.) So there's that.
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Old 01-16-2018, 02:04 PM   #20
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I am not sure I understand. If we are talking about clean install, is it possible to format partition during install process with Disk Utility to HFS+, and then install it? Will the system force APFS on install or leave it HFS+?
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Old 01-16-2018, 02:51 PM   #21
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Quote:
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I am not sure I understand. If we are talking about clean install, is it possible to format partition during install process with Disk Utility to HFS+, and then install it? Will the system force APFS on install or leave it HFS+?
If you use the dosdude patched installer, it will leave your format as you set it. If you use the installer as I "patched" it (or as is), it will convert your HFS+ to APFS.

The problem that led me to my own (partially) patched version was that a few machines were not included in the whitelist in the dosdude patch.
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Old 01-16-2018, 04:26 PM   #22
quadrifoglio
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We just installed Sierra on HFS+, still the same.

How can we test loopback stress?
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Old 01-16-2018, 07:36 PM   #23
Patrice Brousseau
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Did you tried your Scarlett on his computer to rule out the difference of driver efficiency between the two interfaces?
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Old 01-17-2018, 12:06 AM   #24
quadrifoglio
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Patrice Brousseau View Post
Did you tried your Scarlett on his computer to rule out the difference of driver efficiency between the two interfaces?
Yes we did, it acts the same with all 3 audio cards.
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Old 01-17-2018, 09:24 AM   #25
serr
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Hmmm...

Sanity check time!

Two things:
1. Go back to much earlier than OSX 10.12 and test the system again. 10.6 even! At least 10.10 or 10.11 though.

2. Let's just play dumb and shake that new computer down. What is the smallest block size that you end up at for stable operation? And JUST for playing files back! (No plugins.) Test this with both the internal SSD and your external USB drive for the data point. (What I mean by "play dumb" is forget you know that you are setting the block size high based on experience with other systems and just see what the stable value you end up with is.)

Maybe run a speed test on the internal SSD. (Maybe even do this first.) Could be a comedy of errors like a fluke bad SSD and then the USB connected drive was simply too low performance for the job. So... it seemed like nothing works. I'm not placing bets on this one but it's worth ruling out.
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Old 01-17-2018, 11:53 AM   #26
quadrifoglio
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Today I measured loopback latencies on my system, here are the results:

Saffire Pro 40

44.1khz ; 32 samples buffer size ; 305 samples / 6.916 ms latency ; Reaper reports 3.6/2.4

44.1khz ; 64 samples buffer size ; 368 samples / 8.344 ms latency ; Reaper reports 4.3/3.1

44.1khz ; 128 samples buffer size ; 496 samples / 11.247 ms latency ; Reaper reports 5.8/4.6

44.1khz ; 256 samples buffer size ; 752 samples / 17.052 ms latency ; Reaper reports 8.7/7.5

***

48khz ; 32 samples buffer size ; 304 samples / 6.333 ms latency ; Reaper reports 3.3/2.2

48khz ; 64 samples buffer size ; 367 samples / 7.645 ms latency ; Reaper reports 4.0/2.9

48khz ; 128 samples buffer size ; 496 samples / 10.333 ms latency ; Reaper reports 5.3/4.2

48khz ; 256 samples buffer size ; 3751 samples / 15.645 ms latency ; Reaper reports 8.0/6.9

I can work with any of those buffer sizes, 32, 64, 128, on my system this simply works.
Later tonight we will check this problematic MacBook Pro and I will post the results.

As for the smallest block size, we can play multiple files at 64 samples buffer size. As soon as we introduce one plugin, it starts crackling. But not every plugin, for example Waves SSL Channel does not make problems, but Fab Filter Pro L makes everything unusable. Well, all plugins with larger latency makes Reaper crackle.
It is the same with files located on external USB 3.0 HD, and with files on internal SSD drive.

I thought about bad SSD, and we will check it for sure, but everything else works normal, system is fast and responsive, Logic works like a charm at 32 samples buffer size.
When playing 13 44.1 16 bit audio channels in Reaper it shows 1.6 MB/s Read Speed, and around 1.8 MB/s write speed when we record all those tracks to another 13 empty tracks.
The same project and the same session on my bronze age i3, 4gb RAM, spinning drive laptop shows 1.98 MB/s Read Speed and 2.14 MB/s Write Speed. Maybe it is nothing, but I noticed this yesterday.

Last edited by quadrifoglio; 01-17-2018 at 11:59 AM.
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