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H/W Buffers – friend or foe?? November 22, 2008

Posted by ConnorSmith in : Digital Audio Workstations, Project Studio, Troubleshooting , trackback

We’ve all been here:

You are tracking a great band and they are really grooving this take (the best one of the day).  Halfway through the song, the sound glitches, recording stops, and the dreaded “H/W BUFFER ERROR” message appears… which is the equivalent of a big middle finger.

What is a H/W buffer (sometimes also called audio buffer)? Why do you need to change it? What’s the difference between a 1024 sample buffer and a 32 sample buffer?  How do buffers affect latency?

H/W buffer stands for hardware buffer.  When using a computer based recording system (other than TDM systems and the like) the computer processor is handling all the processing, playback, etc…  To keep things accurate (time) and steady, a buffer is employed.  The computer needs to fill the buffer with data before it can send it.  A smaller buffer (say 32 samples) takes less time to fill, whereas a larger buffer (say 1024 samples) takes longer.  However, if you have 2048 samples of audio that need to pass through the buffer, the large buffer only needs to be sent twice, whereas the small buffer needs to be sent 64 times.  Some general rules of thumb:

A hardware (H/W) buffer error occurs when the computer can’t send all the data fast enough, given the chosen buffer size.  Larger buffers don’t have to be sent as often (since they contain more data), so the chance of H/W buffer errors is lower.

Let’s relate it to real life:

You have a large room full of garbage (aka audio files).  You need to get that garbage out to the dumpster (playback on your speakers).  You have different choices of garbage cans to transport the garbage in, ranging from really big to really small (large buffer, 1024, to small buffer, 32).  If you use a large garbage can, it will take longer to fill it up, but you won’t have to make as many trips to the dumpster.  If you use a small garbage can, it will fill up quickly, but you will be running to the dumpster many more times.

Make sense?

Be aware of your buffer size.  Always check it at the beginning of a session.

To change the H/W buffer size in Cubase, go to the Devices>Device Setup

Device>Device Setups will get you here.

To change the H/W buffer size in Pro Tools, go to Setup>Playback Engine

Setup>Playback Engine

To change the H/W buffer size in Logic Studio Pro, go to Logic Pro>Preferences>Audio

Logic Pro>Preferences>Audio

If you need more specific information about the H/W buffer in your DAW, post in the comments.


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