Audio interface for low latency live performances

RME Babyface Pro:  My go to audio interface for low latency live performances


Wow, what a pricey, exhausting, long and winding road it has been getting here. Over the past 15 years I have tried a ton of audio interfaces, having owned or tested several USB units (like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, PreSonus AudioBox, Avid Mbox…) -they all had too much of a lag in latency for my use. This is because I track my vocals live while running multiple fx plugins. I’ve got a relatively inexpensive Resident Audio T2 thunderbolt interface which is conceptually ideal, unfortunately the audio driver is old/never updated and not high enough quality. It has tons of unpredictable and intermittent pops/clicks. With the same buffer settings I use on my Resident Audio T2, I never get pops & clicks when using my UAD (Universal Audio) Apollo Twin Thunderbolt interface. Its good quality audio but I dislike UAD Console and I also don’t want to use an AC power adapter.

Which leads me to the lovely RME Babyface pro. Bus powered, thunderbolt comparable latency, solid, USB 2.0 (compatible with any computer), XLR outputs! -what?!! (most small interfaces have 1/4″ outputs), compact, and the tech support for RME products is amazing, knowledgable, and down to earth

I had the babyface on my radar for years but I kept jumping onto the thunderbolt bandwagon, because of my bad experiences with latency on all the other brands that sell USB interfaces.

Finally I took a leap of faith with RME and was pleasantly surprised to find that USB 2.0 has all the capabilities of firewire and thunderbolt in relation to latency reduction. It was simply an issue of the other companies skimping on developing truly high quality drivers and physical connections. RME did not skimp here and that is exactly why a USB 2.0 interface works better than many thunderbolt rivals.

The only caveat about the babyface is that the onboard DSP capabilities can’t handle dynamics like compression, because it gets power from USB which can’t handle such power intensive processing. But that’s totally fine for me, as I prefer to run all my plugins directly inside my DAW anyway. This way I stay in a single environment for everything and don’t have to switch back and forth between my DAW and a DSP mixer. This is especially helpful when using stock DAW plugins that I can adjust live on the fly, for example while using Push 2 in Ableton to tweak the reverb on my vocals. My macbook pro never goes above 30% CPU usage in my DAW despite having more than 5 fx plugins running real time on my live vocal track. So, onboard DSP isn’t really needed when dealing with an audio interface that handles it’s biznass like a champ! (My MacBook Pro specs: 2013 MBP, i7 Core, 16GB ram, 1TB SSD).

Pops and clicks when performing with Ableton Live on Macbook Pro Laptops

Pops and clicks when performing with Ableton Live on Macbook Pro Laptops


Issue:

I perform live with Ableton quite often these days and it can be a frustrating experience when I get random click/pops despite the fact that I have a pricey apple computer with the most powerful specs available (MacBook Pro/i7/16GB RAM/1TB SSD).

I have researched, and researched, and researched some more on how to get rid of the noise glitches that pop up randomly. All this research usually ends without any helpful solutions. After trying everything below, the pops/clicks were definitely “reduced”.  I hope my collection of tips helps you too.  🙂


THINGS TO TRY


First and foremost, according to your budget make sure your audio interface is the best you can get, versatile, reliable, pro quality available. I recommend RME’s babyface pro (read more here).

Adjust the audio buffer (higher number = less pops/cracks)
Yes, this is what everyone recommends first. But when performing live with vocals the only buffer setting that never has cracks/pops is 256 or higher. That’s too high in relative latency for processed live vocals with an effect chain containing reverb, compression, echo, EQ, and so on. On my macbook pro, 128 is the maximum possible buffer setting for achieving simultaneous playback with FX in the mix. So, taking all the steps below is essential to minimizing glitches caused by the lower buffer settings that are necessary for live processed vocals.

Soundcard with onboard DSP effects (ex: UAD Apollo Twin)
For me, this works with a basic micpre and gentle compressor but anything more and it is too cumbersome to pull up a soundcard’s console in addition to Ableton to adjust fx while performing live. More is possible with just one song, but if transitioning between multiple songs it gets a bit tricky opening up different saved profiles in the soundcard’s mixing console.

In Ableton:
Enable RAM mode for selected clips (only in 64 bit mode)
Set the In/Out Sample Rate to 44100
Complex and Complex Pro Warping: Don’t use unless needed
Audio Units: If you have or can get VST versions of all the plugins you use, then deactivate Audio Units in Ableton

Push (or other controller) Reset
If you have unnecessary MIDI Ports activated in your preferences, it is good to remove them by resetting Ableton’s MIDI Preferences.
1-Turn Push/controller off.
2-Unplug all other MIDI devices from your computer.
3-Plug the Push USB cable directly into your computer. (USB hubs can sometimes cause issues).
4-Open your MIDI Preferences within Live.
5-Reset the Control Surface & MIDI Ports to “None” and “Off”.
​​
Once you turn on your Push, it will auto-map to the correct settings.

Reorganize Plug-In Library
Put all plugins in Macintosh HD Library, and disable custom user library.
MacHD:/Library/Audio/Plug-ins/VST
Go into Live’s Preferences and deactivate “Use VST Plug-In Custom Folder”.

Updates
Update Ableton
Update Max for Live
Update your Audio interface drivers and firmware
Update all Plug-ins and Max for Live devices
Update the operating system

Monitor how much of your computer’s resources any program is using:
Activity Monitor Utility (Applications > Utilities).

On your Macbook, turn off the following features/settings:
Anti Virus Software
Airport/WiFi
Bluetooth
Firewall
Hard Disks to sleep
System Sleep (Energy Saver System Preferences Panel)
Time Machine
Automatic Updates (System Preferences/App Store)
Any unneeded startup items (System Preferences/Users & Groups/Choose Admin Account/Login Items)
Running any unnecessary programs/applications

Audio MIDI Configuration
Live identifies all drivers from previously-connected devices. Try starting with a clean slate, delete all unused MIDI configurations in your mac system’s “Audio/MIDI Setup”. (Be sure to disconnect all of your devices beforehand). For a more in-depth article on this, visit this link.

Hard Drive Space
If you are on a mac, chances are you use one single partitioned hard drive to store files and that is the same drive you boot/start up from. If so, make sure that hard drive has at lease 20% free space at all times, especially when using Ableton.

Repair Disk:
-Startup in recovery mode and use disk utility to first aid/repair your disk Macintosh HD

Graphics Processor:
My MacBook Pro has two graphics cards and and automatic switching setting for optimizing graphics performance between them. The “automatic graphics switching” option was turned on by default which allowed my computer to automatically switch between the cards, depending on the needs of the  application(s) running.

In this process, the mac switches between:
1) Integrated graphics processor
2) Discrete graphics processor

Unfortunately the switching can also add glitchy noise artifacts in a live music performance.

If you want to use the higher-performance discrete graphics processor at all times, go to: Apple menu > System Preferences and click Energy Saver. Then deselect the automatic graphics switching checkbox.

Your mac only has one graphics processor if you don’t see the automatic graphics switching option. To double check if you have one or two graphics cards go to > Apple menu > About this Mac > System Report > Graphics/Displays.

Macbook pros overheat, and that drastically affects performance. Get a really good notebook cooling pad/stand, like this one: https://www.amazon.com/Thermaltake-Aluminum-Adjustable-Temperature-Notebook/dp/B00J0NZYOK/?tag=imoreb-20&ascsubtag=UUimUdUnU38911

Try turning off Multi-Core support:
Options > Preferences > CPU > Deselect
*Note: This didn’t work for me, it made the clicks/pops worse. Which makes sense since it has less processing power without multi-core support. This did make me think about overheating my laptop and getting a better notebook cooler…
**This issue is associated with the MBP overthrottling issues because of overheating, and trying to keep the CPU temp under 100 degrees. When it overthrottles, the CPU performance is affected a lot, sometimes more than you might expect from an overpriced Apple computer… Here’s a good video that explains it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6TWbXV5xeYE

Network Settings:
Apple Menu > System Preferences > Network
Remove any Network Adapters you are not currently using for Internet or LAN. This includes any Firewire, Thunderbolt, Thunderbolt Bridge or Thunderbolt Firewire devices, a USB Interface, BlueTooth PAN, BlueTooth DUN, Thunderbolt Ethernet adapter. Keep devices on separate busses if using a Thunderbolt Network adapter and Thunderbolt Audio Interface at the same time.


I hope this helps some of you with macs to lower the amount of pops/clicks on your live performance computers.