Best services for online music jam (2021)

Updated: Jun 18

Introduction


It's 2021 ! Last year I've published an article on the subject and it's now time for a review of the latest online music jam services.


Let's have a look at what you need to jam online with other musicians while in isolation (or for other reasons).


Gear required:


· Computer (Windows or Mac) connected via Ethernet to your router


· Audio Interface, here are a few examples:

o Focusrite Solo

o Presonus AudioBox

o MOTU 2x2

o Universal Audio Solo


· Microphone, unless you can plug your instrument straight into the interface. Here are a few microphone options:

o Rode NT1-A

o Shure SM58

o Audio-Technica AT2020


· Headphones:

o AKG K72

o Audio-Technica ATH-M20X

o Sony MDR7506





Notes on Latency


What is latency and how much is tolerable ?

In a nutshell, when you are playing with another musician on the same room, the sound travels from your instrument to his ears at the speed of…. sound !


But when jamming online, the sound will be converted to electrical signals and the travel time will depend on many factors as discussed further here. The total time that sound takes to reach the other musician's ear is latency.


In this Stanford paper there is a summary of research done with real musicians to verify how much latency is tolerable. For this context, the latency measurements are one-way (so from musician A to musician B):


· Ensemble performance was possible with latency at or below 30 ms. This is equivalent to around 10m, so similar to being 10m away from the other musician when in the same room.

· Up to 50 - 70 ms was tolerable but performers would switch to leader/follower mode, no longer 'jamming' with each other.

· This of course depends on the person, their experience, their coping mechanisms for latency, their instrument and the type of music being played


Latency sources:


· Acoustics. Whole in general minor compared with the other sources, this depends on how distant from the microphone you are (if singing), so the recommendation here is to stay as close as possible.

· Audio Interface. Even best USB interfaces will add a bit of latency due to the processes used to perform analog-to-digital and digital-to analog conversions. So recommendations are to a) use a professional interface not your computer's sound card, b) avoid USB microphones.

· Home Network. Avoid Wifi, use Ethernet cables plugged to your computer and then directly to the router.

· Internet service latency. Fiber-to-the home will be the best, and DSL will be the slowest of most broadband services available. High bandwidth does not necessarily equal low latency, so test and optimise or change ISP if needed. Jitter and stability of connection are important factors here.

· Geographical latency, Internet backbone. Of course this depends on your region's infrastructure, but generally across the ocean is a challenge, and you're likely to find out that you can jam with people around 300 to 500km around you (190 to 310 miles).

· The software being used. They will have different audio codecs, different buffer settings for audio interface, and different ways to deal with network jitter and latency.


Architectures


Peer-to-Peer


Pros

· No central server

· Lowest latency

Cons

· Higher computer processing requirements, as each machine processes streams from every musician

· Higher Internet bandwidth required

· Tricky to configure



Peer-to-peer architecture
Peer-to-peer architecture


Hub and Spoke


Pros

· Easier to configure

· Minimal processing and bandwidth requirements

Cons

· Requires a central server

· Adds latency as signals have to be routed via server for every musician



Hub and Spoke architecture
Hub and Spoke architecture


Services


List of Online Jam Services tested
List of Online Jam Services tested


These are the latest online music jam services I've tested. Of course it is an ever growing list...





My tests - some real world data


Jamulus - all musicians in Mebourne, VIC, Australia - around 50ms round-trip (25ms one way). The 'overall' latency and ping-time (round-trip) can be seen on the GUI.

We did once jam from Melbourne VIC to Brisbane QLD, which are 1776 km apart (1100 miles) and latency round-trip was around 70~80 ms (so 35 to 40ms one way) and we were in leader/follower mode with the drummer in Brisbane and other musicians in Melbourne.


JackTrip via MTA (Musicians Together Apart) - slightly higher latency, better audio quality. This was measured with an experiment as the GUI does not show latency.


SonoBus - close or below Jamulus, with better audio quality. The latency to each musician, and on each direction can be seen on the GUI (it's peer to peer so numbers will vary for each pair of musicians).


JamKazam - not tested in Australia, but US-based friends report it's a bit higher than with Jamulus. One-way latency can be seen on the GUI and seems to vary for each musician connected, which indicates a possible peer-to-peer architecture behind the scenes.


Links


· Wondernetwork ping time

· Sonobus

· JamKazam

· Jamulus

· Jacktrip

· Musicians Together Apart


Conclusion


The latest online music jam services evolved quite a lot over the past year. We are now in a much more evolved state, with great offerings in terms of apps and services, and heaps of people jamming online. Can't wait to see how this will evolve over the next year.




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