Guest post written by Nicholas O'Toole, Film Composer & Director of Artist Relations at Open Labs (A Lenovo Partner)
If you are new to working with digital audio or creating music on a PC, I know what you must be thinking: “There are so many settings, programs and variables. Where do I begin?”
I suggest you begin with your computer’s hardware and operating system settings. There are certain settings within Windows 8.1 that you can switch off to ensure audio production programs are not competing with power saving settings. These small tweaks are very simple and should not change your Windows experience in unwanted ways. And they can all be made in the power saving options within the Control Panel.
First, the Basics
I’ll describe these simple tweaks from a high level. But first, I’d like to establish a common frame of reference for anyone who’s a beginner with digital audio and describe the basic components.
Digital audio can be taxing on your system’s hard drive and RAM (random access memory). While light audio production isn’t usually a problem, the more tracks you record and play back, the greater your resource requirements will be. All you need to understand for now is that the audio you’re recording and listening to, sometimes simultaneously, is being written to and read from the hard drive in real time.
So what are the factors that can affect performance? Pay attention to how fast your hard drive spins. You probably have one of three types of hard drive (there are more than three but let’s keep it simple for now. If you have a Solid State Drive (SSD), you don’t need to worry about this.) If you have a drive that spins, it probably rotates at a rate of 5400 RPM or 7200 RPM. The speed at which the drive spins is directly related to how fast audio can be written and read.
RAM is also a factor. The software you’re working in will likely be buffering audio by loading some of it in the RAM ahead of what you are hearing. To draw a comparison, think about a YouTube video. Most people will notice that the video is loading ahead of the video playback. This is what “buffering” refers to. Sometimes, with a weak Internet connection, the video will stop until it can “catch up.” The intention is uninterrupted playback, but we all know that this isn’t always the result. It’s pretty much the same effect with audio.
The audio driver is also a factor in playback latency. If you’re using a USB audio interface, it will likely have its own ASIO (audio stream input/output) driver. If you’re using your PC’s built-in speakers or headphone jack, the software is likely defaulting to a native driver like the Realtek Digital Output. If this is the case, I suggest downloading a free program called Asio4All
to minimize latency with playback.
Now, Let’s Tweak Windows
Having an understanding of the roles each aforementioned item plays with respect to digital audio is equally, if not more, important than tweaking them. Now that you have the basics, here are instructions for tweaking your operating system:
Navigate to your PC’s Control Panel and find Power Options. Here, you can customize your settings. Click or tap on Choose a power plan. I select High Performance and then customize a few items from there. Click or tap Change Plan Settings and select Change advanced power settings. This is where you can optimize your hard disk, USB, display and other power settings. As you can see, you really only need to make a few tweaks.
- Hard Disk: Set it to never turn off
- Sleep: Turn everything off or set to “Never”
- USB Settings: Disable “Selective suspend setting”
- Processor power management: Set the minimum and maximum to 100%
- Display: Set to 15 minutes to save energy (or to whatever you prefer)
There’s a multitude of blog posts and articles on the Internet with similar instructions, and you can even find custom scripts from advanced users. But I’ve used only these settings for many years and it’s worked fine for me.
There are other factors to consider, though. Make sure your BIOS and hardware drivers are up-to- date. And if you’re using a third party graphics card, there may be some special instructions you can use to tweak for digital audio. (For Lenovo devices, check Lenovo Support
to make sure you always have the latest drivers.)
Working with digital audio can be lots of fun, and you don’t have to be a professional. Technology continues to give anyone and everyone the chance to explore interests with little-to-no investment. There’s nothing holding you back!
If you’re looking for a feature-rich, inexpensive way to explore your interests in digital audio—whether through music, dialog recording and editing, sound design or DJ mash-ups—I recommend Stagelight
. This product, which I’m a part of creating, already has its own ASIO driver and will save you from having to make some important choices.
Want to learn more about music creation and digital audio? Visit Open Labs
and see what emerging artists are doing with Lenovo devices in the Future Icons
series in Lenovo Companion.
Nicholas is a Film Composer and the Director of Artist Relations at Open Labs, the creators of Stagelight music creation software. Stagelight is preloaded on select Lenovo PCs. Throughout his music career, Nicholas has scored feature films, TV series and documentaries. He has co-composed scores with Jonathan Davis, James “Munky” Shaffer of Korn and Slash, in addition to doing sound programming and custom work with Linkin Park. Nicholas is a frequent guest writer for the Lenovo Companion app.