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Myth or reality? Volume control in Windows

oivavoi

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I've read on a couple hifi forums that the digital Volume control in Windows can have detrimental effects on audio quality, more so than with mac or Linux. I have yet to understand why. Is there something to this? Or is it just an audiophile urban legend which arose at some point? For the record, I'm running Roon from Windows 7, and using the DSP volume control in Roon which is based on Windows. Haven't noticed any bad effects so far.
 
I don't know about it being worse than Mac or Linux but yes, using the volume control or the Windows stack will measurably degrade performance. I plan to show that in a future article.

Briefly, when you use the audio channel in Windows normally, all sound gets converted to floating point internal representation. They are also converted to a single sample rate and bit depth defined in the Sound control panel for your default output device (same thing happens in MacOS). Mixing of sound from multiple apps and volume control is performed. Then the final data is converted back to PCM integer data with dither and sent out to the sound card. All of this processing will change the performance of the system and hence the reason people will say this pipeline is not "bit exact."

WASAPI and ASIO interfaces were designed to get around this issue. When you use them in exclusive mode, you will get a direct pipeline to the sound card and no processing occurs. You will lose Windows volume control and any mixing of sound from multiple channels. But you get "bit exact" performance. For best fidelity this is the mode you should be using and is how I test everything.

MacOS/iTunes do similar thing unless something has changed in recent releases.

BTW, the above is our new member, j_j's doing so he can explain more. :)
 
Great, thanks Amir! Good to know. But if I want to stress and be neurotic about this and also want to continue using roon - does this mean there's no way I can control volume digitally from a Windows machine without losing performance?
 
Great, thanks Amir! Good to know. But if I want to stress and be neurotic about this and also want to continue using roon - does this mean there's no way I can control volume digitally from a Windows machine without losing performance?
Use WASAPI or ASIO output.
 
Thanks. I'm all new to this computer audiophile thing, so I've had no idea until now how I implement that and how it functions. But reading up on it now!
 
Great, thanks Amir! Good to know. But if I want to stress and be neurotic about this and also want to continue using roon - does this mean there's no way I can control volume digitally from a Windows machine without losing performance?
Roon provides a volume control of its own so you are good there. That said, I am a fan of a real, hardware remote control to operate on the DAC or pre-amp. It is just more convenient but yes, you can still change volume using Roon while still using WASAPI/ASIO.
 
Why are we not told by Windows to not use their digital volume control?
Why are they not doing it right in the first place, or correct the issue?
I always have problems with sound quality from various Windows versions.
I lost precious time in trying to find out the reason why.
Today I still don't use the Windows 10 volume control; it sounds so bad that I'm having nightmares in the comfort of my sleep @ night.

By the way, I lost the Audio "Enhancement" feature a long time ago.
I found Windows very mediocre on both the audio and video aspects.
Many times when I open my laptop the camera is gone!
The audio is highly distorted, ...and many other issues.
Computers are not my field of expertise.
Simplicity of life is. I'm just about to switch on the other side of the wall, the brighter side...the Apple side.

WASAPI/ASIO...first time ever in my life I'm just reading it.
Why isn't it not mentioned in Windows audio troubleshooting, on the wide Web world, on the Internet highway of global communication?
 
Main reason is that Windows and MacOS are designed for the masses. For them, the current system provides convenience: one sound card can be used with multiple sources of audio. You can be playing music and hear the "bing" alert that you have a new email. Since these sources could be at different sample rates and bit depths, they need to be converted and mixed. There is just no perfect solution to provide full fidelity and convenience.

Among computer audiophiles these issues have been discussed immensely and are quite popular. The notion of "bit perfect playback" comes from this.
 
Why are we not told by Windows to not use their digital volume control?
Why are they not doing it right in the first place, or correct the issue?
I always have problems with sound quality from various Windows versions.
I lost precious time in trying to find out the reason why.
Today I still don't use the Windows 10 volume control; it sounds so bad that I'm having nightmares in the comfort of my sleep @ night.

By the way, I lost the Audio "Enhancement" feature a long time ago.
I found Windows very mediocre on both the audio and video aspects.
Many times when I open my laptop the camera is gone!
The audio is highly distorted, ...and many other issues.
Computers are not my field of expertise.
Simplicity of life is. I'm just about to switch on the other side of the wall, the brighter side...the Apple side.

WASAPI/ASIO...first time ever in my life I'm just reading it.
Why isn't it not mentioned in Windows audio troubleshooting, on the wide Web world, on the Internet highway of global communication?

WASAPI or ASIO can make sure you get bit perfect transfer of audio in or out of Windows. I too have long tired of trying to fine tune, re-tune or just check the Windows isn't messing with audio in some way I don't wish done. So I pretty much stick to WASAPI or ASIO connections of audio streams. This info isn't new, it has been discussed for years on the internet.

Now things are somewhat better and you can manage to get audio with Windows that isn't mangled, but for the reasons you mention I just don't do that unless I have an ASIO or WASAPI connection to devices. That way I don't have to go into the sound controls and check bit depth and sample rate everytime I change what files I am using.

As for Windows in general, I purchased my first Mac computer two weeks ago after more than 20 years on Windows and about 15 years on Linux. I am sure the audio is not sure fire in Mac OSX (damn you iTunes). Linux is a problem though a solvable one too. I just became tired of MS insisting on updating my computer to the point it was not mine to use when I want as I want. There are of course ways to work around that, but it is WORK. I feel the stuff should work for me not the other way around. So far the Mac has been better than I expected even though I generally don't care for many of the default decisions made by the Mac OS.
 
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OK, I'm ready, please educate me on how to get rid of Windows audio volume control and operate/install WASAPI or ASIO.

And forgive my ignorance on simple facts of life, on Windows failures.
 
OK, I'm ready, please educate me on how to get rid of Windows audio volume control and operate/install WASAPI or ASIO

Select one of those in your "player" software.
 
OK, I'm ready, please educate me on how to get rid of Windows audio volume control and operate/install WASAPI or ASIO.

And forgive my ignorance on simple facts of life, on Windows failures.
If you are running the Creator's update, USB DACs will automatically provide WASAPI interface. You will however need to select that interface in your audio player.

On ASIO, you need to install drivers from the manufacturers to enable that. Alternatively there is an "ASIO4ALL.DLL" that does that but I find that it is not very reliable. Again, you need to select ASIO in your audio player if you go this route.
 
OK, I'm ready, please educate me on how to get rid of Windows audio volume control and operate/install WASAPI or ASIO.

And forgive my ignorance on simple facts of life, on Windows failures.

For a start, tell us what software you are using to play music. (Music player like JRiver or Foobar2000, dedicated player for a subscription streaming service or browser output. Otr more than one of these)

Also tell us what DAC or other output devices you are using and the way it connects to the computer you use to play music.

How you get to Nirverna depnds on where you are now.
 
Roon provides a volume control of its own so you are good there. That said, I am a fan of a real, hardware remote control to operate on the DAC or pre-amp. It is just more convenient but yes, you can still change volume using Roon while still using WASAPI/ASIO.

Ok, great. I just need to get this absolutely idiot-proof (being an idiot with all things computer-ish, I have used macs all my life for that very reason. But somehow this Windows 7 Nuc managed to creep into my life). When controlling volume with Roon, these issues with Windows that you mentioned are not an issue. It will be an issue, however, if I play sound from computer from other sources, youtube etc. In that case, I can try to install ASIO for example. Did I get it right?
 
Ok, great. I just need to get this absolutely idiot-proof (being an idiot with all things computer-ish, I have used macs all my life for that very reason. But somehow this Windows 7 Nuc managed to creep into my life). When controlling volume with Roon, these issues with Windows that you mentioned are not an issue. It will be an issue, however, if I play sound from computer from other sources, youtube etc. In that case, I can try to install ASIO for example. Did I get it right?
Correct except for the last sentence. An application needs to be written to use either WASAPI or ASIO. Most standard Windows apps are not. So things like youtube will continue to play through the standard Windows audio pipeline. Only programs that let you select the output format like Roon can use WASAPI or ASIO.
 
For a start, tell us what software you are using to play music. (Music player like JRiver or Foobar2000, dedicated player for a subscription streaming service or browser output. Otr more than one of these)

Also tell us what DAC or other output devices you are using and the way it connects to the computer you use to play music.

How you get to Nirverna depnds on where you are now.

See above.
 
How do I find the software I'm using?
If the question is too complicated just pass.
How do you play any music on your computer Bob? If it is youtube, see my previous answer.
 
How do you play any music on your computer Bob? If it is youtube, see my previous answer.

I think I'm using Windows Media Player, for hi-res audio files.
For youtube lo-res music, I have no clue, it sounds super mediocre.

And the speaker driver is from Realtek.

I might try some footers under my laptop, like hockey pucks? ...To absorb the distortion.

I feel real good today, every day, the sun is shining and the autumn leaves are splendidly colorful. It's like paradise with some flies buzzing around. Flies, and Dragonflies seem to like Fall too. The buzzing of them flies is like the distorted sound from my laptop.
 
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I think I'm using Windows Media Player, for hi-res audio files.
In that case unfortunately there is no way to bypass Windows audio processing. You would need a different player like Roon, Foobar2000, etc. to access WASAPI/ASIO.
 
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