So you bought a computer-DJ system, followed all the instructions, and set everything up. Now what?
A typical PC or Mac DJ setup may contain software and hardware products from a number of companies such as Apple, Native Instruments, MixMeister, Akai Professional, and Numark. Even with a minimalist setup, getting all the separate hardware and software components to work together smoothly can be tricky. One component’s manual might not pick up exactly where the other one left off, and there are very few manuals that will discuss how to optimize your system overall for the best performance. In this article, we'll cover some measures you can take to optimize your system for maximum performance, prevent audio dropouts, and manage latency.
You can’t walk into a car dealership and buy a car that’s ready to enter a race. Even high-performance sports cars come tuned for the road, not the racetrack. The suspension, gearing, and timing all need to be tweaked before a car is ready to be pushed to their limits.
The same is true of computers. While most new computers will perform well right out of the box, whether you buy a Mac, or a PC, you still have some work to do before you’ll see your new computer perform to its maximum potential. Performing and mixing music is one of the most demanding tasks you can ask of your computer, sometimes more taxing than professional graphics and video work.
The suggestions below can be used to squeeze more speed, more tracks, and more plug-in power out of any computer. Before you begin, make sure that your software and your audio device drivers are up-to-date. Of course, visit numark.com for the latest drivers for any of our products.
Make sure to leave about 20% of your computer’s main hard disk free for system tasks and virtual memory operations. This is crucial to maintain system speed. If your main hard disk gets more than 80% full, it is time to go out and buy a second hard disk, or either get rid of some files. External USB and FireWire drives are more affordable than ever. Internal drives are even less expensive! While you’re at it, buy an extra drive just for backing up!
Your operating system can use up to 1GB of RAM all by itself. On a DJ computer, you’ll want to have more than that so your power-hungry applications have all the resources they need. 2GB is a great place to start. If you’ll be using lots of virtual instruments, samplers, and other sound generators, you’ll want to get even more… Think 3 or 4GB. Is there such thing as overkill? At this point, yes, there is. While many of today’s computers can accommodate 8GB or more RAM, even in virtual instrument and sample-heavy projects, it’s almost impossible to use up that much RAM. For the most part, the only time you’ll need 8GB of ram is in video and 3D-modeling applications.
While even the 5,400 RPM drives in most laptops can handle recording eight or even 16 simultaneous tracks, you can really improve system performance by dedicating a 7,200 or 10,000 RPM drive to your recording projects. Certain files on your computer change all the time, such as your email, internet search history, and bookmarks. Other files stay more or less the same. These include music and photo libraries, and large audio files. Your system will perform better and won’t have to work as hard if you get a second drive to house your library. This will result in less fragmented drive space, and faster loading and writing of large files. This is also makes things easier when it comes to backing up your files.
Keep in mind that the latest audio device drivers, and the latest computer DJ software are designed on the most current version of XP. If your computer isn’t up to date, it’s performance will likely suffer. Go to windowsupdate.microsoft.com to easily update your installation. It may take a few visits to the site to get all the fixes to the updates (install updates and then do the Windows Update scan again).
The icons at the bottom-right of the screen, next to the clock represent most of the programs that are running in the background. This will include virus protection, spyware protection, and more. While recording, it is advisable to exit from these. Right-clicking any of these icons, choose it so that you have exited out of any background programs. You can double-check which applications and processes are running by looking at the Applications and Processes tabs of the Task Manager. (To access the Task Manager, press Ctrl+Alt+Delete, and then click "Task Manager.")
Make sure your hard drive is not set to sleep or turn off after a short amount of time. If your hard drive goes to sleep (stops spinning to save power) while you are recording, your recording will be interrupted. Click on the Start Menu at the bottom left of your screen and select "Settings," then "Control Panel." Open the Power Options control panel. Set the Turn Off Hard Disks option to "Never."
It can be a good idea to turn off any scheduled tasks. The last thing you want is for a 150MB update to start downloading in the middle of a recording session. Open the Automatic Updates control panel, and select Turn off Automatic Updates. This means that it's up to you to manually check for updates yourself. All you have to do is either revisit this Control Panel, or go to windowsupdate.microsoft.com.
Wireless networking can sometimes interfere with or interrupt recording. Wireless cards in computers automatically scan the airwaves for available networks. This take up some of your system resources and can sometimes hurt performance. If a removable wireless networking card is being used on a laptop, the card can simply be removed. If you are on a wireless network, and the card is internal, you can disable the card in the device manager while you record. It's easy to turn back on when you’re not recording.
For additional tips on optimizing Windows XP, check out this excellent article.
Install the Microsoft fix for FireWire bandwidth: WinXP SP2 KB885222.
When troubleshooting or optimizing system performance issues in Windows 7 or Vista, it is often a good idea to disable some or all of Windows 7 or Vista's graphical effects. While they look nice, these effects can actually be just as demanding or more demanding on your computer's system than many professional level programs available on the market. Performance on even the highest-end systems can suffer if too much demand is placed on the processor(s) at once. Disabling these graphical effects is one step towards getting the highest level of performance out of your existing computer. To disable the aero effects:
1. Right + click the background picture on your computer's desktop.
2. Select Personalize from the drop-down menu that appears.
3. In the window that opens, click on Window Color and Appearance.
4. The Window Color and Appearance control panel will open. Click on Open classic appearance properties for more color options.
5. A window titled Appearance Settings will open. Under Color scheme, select Windows 7 or Vista Basic.
6. Click Apply.
7. Click OK to close the Theme Settings window.
8. Close the Personalization control panel by clicking on the X in the upper-right corner of the window.
9. The borders of your windows will no longer be clear, freeing up system resources for other programs.
The icons at the bottom-right of the screen, next to the clock (mostly) represent programs that are running in the background. This will include virus protection, spyware protection, etc. While recording, it is advisable to exit from these. Right-clicking any of these icons will bring up a menu. If there is a Close, Exit, or Quit option for any of these icons, choose it so that you have exited out of any background programs. You can double-check what applications and processes are running by looking at the Applications and Processes tabs of the Task Manager. To access the Task Manager, press Ctrl+Alt+Delete, and then click "Start Task Manager."
It can be a good idea to turn off any scheduled tasks. The last thing you want is for a 150MB update to start downloading in the middle of a recording session. Open the Windows Updates control panel. Then, on the left-hand side of the window, click "Change Settings," then choose "Never check for updates." This means that its up to you to manually check for updates yourself. All you have to do is either revisit this Control Panel, or go to windowsupdate.microsoft.com.
Wireless networking can sometimes interfere with or interrupt recording. Wireless cards in computers automatically scan the airwaves for available networks. This take up some of your system resources, and can sometimes hurt performance. If a removable wireless networking card is being used on a laptop, the card can simply be removed. If you are on a wireless network, and the card is internal, you can disable the card in the device manager while you record. Its easy to turn back on when you’re not recording.
In the Power Options, Control Panel, choose High Performance. Then click Change plan settings button, and set Put the computer to sleep to Never. Then click Save Changes.
For additional tips on optimizing Windows 7 or Vista, check out this excellent article.
In the Energy Saver System Preferences Panel, select the Sleep tab, and set the option titled "Put the computer to sleep when its inactive for" to "Never."
In the same System Preferences Panel, uncheck the option titled Put the hard disk(s) to sleep when possible.
In the upper right corner of the screen, next to the clock, click the AirPort icon, and select "Turn AirPort Off." The airport automatically scans the airwaves for available networks. This takes up some of your system resources, and can sometimes hurt performance. It's easy to turn back on when you’re not recording.
In the Bluetooth Preferences Panel, uncheck On, and uncheck Discoverable. Its easy to turn back on when you’re not performing.
In the Accounts System Preferences Panel, under Login Items, uncheck any items you don’t need open everytime your system boots.
When performing, make sure to exit out of any programs unrelated to your current project. This will free up the most memory possible for your recording apps. You can monitor how much of your computer’s resources any program is using with the Activity Monitor Utility (located in Applications > Utilities).
Every audio program has an Options, Settings or Preferences page in which you can adjust the buffer size. Buffer size governs the amount of time the computer is given to respond to requests (for audio processing in this case). The larger the buffer size, the more time the computer has to respond. Large buffer sizes allow the computer to handle more work, but at the cost of higher latency. Smaller buffer sizes reduce the overall amount of work the computer can handle, but it can do so with lower latency. Latency refers to the time it takes the computer to respond to input. If latency is high, signals routed into the computer and back out to speakers or headphones may be audibly delayed. Buffer sizes should be adjusted in increments of 64 (64, 192, 128, 256, 512, 768, 1024 etc).
The lower the latency, the faster the response of the program and the audio to your commands and requests. Examples of the benefits of lower latency are intense scratching with a controller or real-time manipulation of effects applied to decks in your DJ program. The response will be immediate and musical and will make your audio software feel more like audio hardware.
Another good example of latency is the time it takes for the computer to output a sound when a trigger is struck on a MIDI keyboard or controller connected to it. In this situation, it is important to have low latency so that there is no audible delay between the time the key is struck, and when the note is heard. Depending on the computer, a buffer size of 192, or 128 should result in very low latency suitable for the above situations.
On the other hand, it is often beneficial, particularly for older and less powerful computers, to choose a large buffer size when quality and reliability of sound playback is critical. If you plan to perform lots of real-time manipulations, such as scratching or effecting on a slower computer, a good way to combat audio dropouts and performance degradation is to choose a higher buffer setting. The trade-off may be a more sluggish response from your system. Find the lowest possible latency setting that still offers 100% reliable, high-quality playback even under the most demanding applications.
When you are mainly using your DJ software to provide a continuous playback of music and you want absolutely rock-solid playback, choose a large buffer. When it comes to choosing buffer settings, always remember, every computer is different and you should always road test your software and hardware extensively at various settings to find which setting offers the most desirable results for your performance style.
We hope these steps will have you and your computer on the way to faster, easier, and better recordings. We take pride in helping recording engineers make better use of their tools with the aim of making great music and great recordings. Happy tracking!