In this tutorial, I will show you how to deal with undesirable cracking audio in Ableton. By ‘crackling’, I am referring to distortion, pops and clicks, audio randomly cutting off frequently, as well as buzzing and hissing. All this happens during recording and playback. I have narrowed these audio irregularities to three leading causes:
- Buffer size: This normally refers to how fast your computer processes incoming audio. Depending on the value you set for this parameter will determine whether you will get lagging glitches and distortions.
- Plug-in overloads: if you are working with many plug-ins in your session, and with a computer with a lesser computing power, these plug-ins will overload your computer, causing your audio to audio randomly cut off frequently.
- Hardware: You will get crackling when recording or listening back in your system with faulty wires. If you also have effects hardware with distortion, flux, or saturation modules, this could cause audio irregularities.
Let us dive into this!
Buffer size quite simply put, refers to the amount of time that it takes for your computer to process the incoming signal. Picture it this way: when you are watching a video online, there are two lines at the bottom of your screen. One indicates the point (timestamp) of what you are watching, and the other line shows how much of the video has already been loaded and can be watched without ‘buffering’. So, therefore, if you increase the video quality, the longer it will take to buffer your video ahead. This applies to your audio in Ableton as well. This is how you affect this parameter:
Step 1: Open Ableton’s preferences
On Mac, go to Live in your control panel and select preferences.
On Windows, go to options and select preferences.
Or simply use the shortcut Cmd + , on Mac or Ctrl + , on Windows
Step 2: Go to the ‘Audio’ tab
Step 3: Under the Latency tab, find buffer size, and from here, you can affect your buffer size
In Ableton, the buffer size is by default set to 512 samples. Buffer size generally refers to the number of samples your computer can process and playback per second (frequency). If you increase this parameter value, you will attain greater audio playback quality, but this will cause latency when you record. When recording, use lower buffer size samples to reduce playback latency but if this value is too low, it will cause crackling and other audio distortions.
I have provided several tutorials on the best plug-ins for Ableton. These plug-ins are incredible tools, but some, unfortunately, take up a lot of CPU processing power, especially if they are very powerful and you have layered many plug-ins. You can see how much of your CPU processing power you are using the CPU Meter tab at the top left of your session. If you reach 100% or over, you will experience crackling or glitching in your audio playback.
You can mitigate this error by:
- Use fewer plug-ins in your tracks, or use Ableton’s native plug-in. Native plug-ins are custom-built for Ableton and use a smaller amount of CPU power compared to third-party plug-ins.
- Freeze your track, this feature will temporarily apply all the plug-in effects to your track. This process is reversible and will release some pressure on your computer. Execute this by right-clicking on your track and selecting ‘Freeze Track’.
- Flattening, this process is accessible after you freeze your track. Flattening fully commits your plug-in effects and instruments to your track. If you save and close your session, this process is irreversible unless you can access your session backups. Flatten your tracks by right-clicking your frozen tracks, and selecting flatten
This solution to cracking and audio distortions is solvable outside of Ableton. There are three main prompts that you need to look out for when resolving crackling audio using this technique:
- Input Devices: you may be using low-quality input devices like low-quality microphones, faulty cables, low-quality MIDI controllers and soundcards that are causing buzzing, clicks and pops, hissing, crackling, and humming.
- Output Devices: just as input devices, you may be using, low-quality connectors and cables, low-quality playback devices (monitors/headphones), or incorrect powering to your sound system.
- Hardware Effects: there may be certain effects modules that you have purchased that have audio effects characteristics to them. For example, if you are using an overdrive effects module on your bass or guitar, they often have a low to medium-level buzz, hum, hiss, or crackle. This is often desirable, but if it is not, it is better for your productions, it is best to bypass these effects modules.
In this tutorial, for the most part, I have provided you with techniques to deal with undesirable auditory artefacts. The buffer size technique is a double-edged sword, as affecting these values can be beneficial and detrimental to your productions, just be intentional with your choices. This also applies to the plug-in selection and affect technique. The hardware mitigation technique is often, desirable unless you are using low-quality connectors or hardware. Be intentional, and figure out what hardware, plug-ins, and buffer size suites your productions, and figure out what works for you. But most importantly, have fun!