Best services for online music jam (2021)
Updated: Feb 25
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).
· Computer (Windows or Mac) connected via Ethernet to your router
· Audio Interface, here are a few examples:
· Microphone, unless you can plug your instrument straight into the interface. Here are a few microphone options:
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
· 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.
· No central server
· Lowest latency
· Higher computer processing requirements, as each machine processes streams from every musician
· Higher Internet bandwidth required
· Tricky to configure
Hub and Spoke
· Easier to configure
· Minimal processing and bandwidth requirements
· Requires a central server
· Adds latency as signals have to be routed via server for every musician