Updated: Feb 25
In the recent past we've covered an extensive number of solutions that allow you to jam online. Initially my tests and focus were on Jamulus, which I used with my band during months of lockdowns and other restrictions.
But soon I found out SonoBus, and was convinced that we were talking about next level online jamming software here. Don't get me wrong, Jamulus is still a great tool to jam online with socially-distant bandmates. But here are a few additional features to qualify my Sonobus claim:
Relatively simple to install considering it's a peer-to-peer solution. Most hub-and-spoke solutions are easier to setup, but this solution is simple, and feels like you're installing a server - which is really just a group alias - and then adding all musicians and audio sources.
Has some cool effects built in to enhance your sound
Allows you to select codecs, including lossy and even lossless (PCM) audio at different bitrates
Allows recording at a variety of different formats
Can be hosted inside OBS, so you can stream your jam out to, say, facebook or twitch without any extra software
Can be hosted inside your DAW as a plugin, so you can process your sound with your favourite plugins before it goes into your online jam session
You will need a computer running Mac, Windows or Linux and a fast internet connection. While SonoBus doesn't seem to have a specific recommendation regarding bandwidth, generally you need broadband and 'a few' Mbps upload and download speed to be able to jam. In this case, you can reduce the requirements by moving to lower bitrates and even a lossy codec in the options - send quality.
Like other solutions we've reviewed and used before, it is recommended that you keep your computer close to your router, and connect to it via Ethernet, not WiFi.
Besides, you need an audio interface, your instrument and/or a microphone.
A good example of interface is the Focusrite Scarlett Solo:
Getting Started with SonoBus
I have covered the basics about latency and Internet requirements in the article linked earlier, even with external sources and studies on why it matters so much. But every developer of online jam solutions has their own take and their own recommendations when it comes to internet speed, distance between players and how that affects latency. That's why I've linked here their user guide, particularly in the section that talks about the distances and their relationship to latency.
Note: one very cool and quite unique feature of SonoBus is called latency match. Once connected you can find it by clicking on your name at the top. This feature allows you to normalise the latency with your peers so everyone experiences more or less the same latency, which presumably is given by the worst case (longest path) between players. This has the potential to make your experience a bit more consistent, as different players playing the same song while hearing others with different latencies can be quite a challenge.
Download SonoBus from here. During installation, you will notice that you can install it as a standalone, but also as a plugin for your DAW as mentioned before.
Following that, you have to click on the gear icon on the left and configure your audio interface. Pick your interface and the inputs you are going to use - so basically where your instrument(s) and microphone(s) are connected. Interesting to note that you can select more than two channels if you are on a multi-channel interface, presumably down mixing them to a stereo pair for the session mix.
Another interesting aspect is the sample rate, while 48kHz is recommended, you and your band mates can work at different rates and it will all be re-sampled for the session. Neat.
Finally, the initial buffer size recommendation is between 128 and 256. As you probably know, the higher the buffer the higher the latency, so start low and go up only if you need to.
Connection is super easy: it is based on a group name, which you will share with your band mates, even with a password if needed. And you set a display name for you so they can see who you are. You can also make groups public if you feel like jamming with others you don't know.
Once connected, it's all controlled via the main screen, where you can adjust your sound level, pan and effects, as well as for the others connected to the session. So a real mixer experience for each player, with some additional perks:
You can record the jam session
You can add a metronome
You can play audio from a backing track
Streaming via OBS
Now you can go beyond the basics and stream your jam to your friends and fans. With solutions like Jamulus, I've done that using other tools like Loopback by Rogue Amoeba and then tapping the Jamulus output and sending to OBS.
Well, SonoBus does this out of the box. It appears inside OBS as a filter for the audio sources. You basically add an audio input source and then install a filter that, once clicked, will look like another OBS instance.
First, please note that even if you've installed SonoBus as an Audio Unit as well (for later use inside Logic Pro X as a plugin for example) inside OBS it appears as a VST, so you must install it as a VST as well.
Second, you need both instances, standalone and inside OBS for this to work. The instance inside OBS does not have audio input configuration and is used to send 'everybody's' audio into the stream.
OK but what about the video ? Well SonoBus does not have video yet, but you can add video from Zoom without its audio and then adjust the offset of the audio to match audio and video. Just head on to my YouTube channel, as I have a few videos there showing how this is done.
The plugin approach
This use case is triggered by the need to process your audio even further before it goes into a session. There are some limited effects inside SonoBus, and you can add metronome and audio from a file as a backing track directly.
But what if you want to use more complex plugins like for example an amplifier simulator for your guitar sound ? Or you want to use your favourite reverb plugin on your voice ?
You can host SonoBus inside the DAW as a plugin - put it on the master bus and all audio from that project will go into SonoBus. This is not in addition to the standalone, in this case you could use it inside the DAW instead of the standalone, and send DAW-processed audio instead of straight from your interface.
Note that the plugin will appear under the sonosaurus brand name. And in this instance you don't select audio inputs inside SonoBus, rather the audio into that instance is whatever is coming into your master bus.
Last but not least, this configuration also works with OBS, launch the OBS counterpart and you can stream the session out to several services like you did with the standalone setup.
This is certainly a next-level solution in terms of online jams, as it eliminates the need for other software to be able to stream out via OBS and also to be able to process sounds with a DAW before the mix with the other players.
It's free and it makes the whole process of configuring peer-to-peer solutions way easier than other solutions I've tested. And it has a few different codecs to try.