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
|JamKazam||Jamulus||JackTrip||JackTrip via MTA||Sonobus|
|Nature||Commercial||Open Source||Open Source||Open Source + Commercial||Open Source|
|Cost||Free is limited, 3 tiers of paid subscriptions||Free||Free||Server for hire||Free|
|Architecture||Not disclosed||Hub and spoke||Peer-to-peer||Hub and spoke||Peer-to-peer|
|Audio quality||Reasonable, codec not disclosed||Reasonable, Opus codec||Great, DVD quality PCM||Great, DVD quality PCM||Great, even supports hi-res PCM but can be compressed if needed|
|Latency||Really depends on finding jams with local musicians||Decent if musicians are close enough, best of all tested||Higher as a trade-off of the higher audio quality||Higher as a trade-off of the higher audio quality||Higher as a trade-off of the higher audio quality|
|Configuration||Easy, follow GUI instructions||OK, needs some tech experience||Requires experience with IT / tech||OK, needs some tech experience||Easy considering it’s peer-to-peer|
|Usability||Polished GUI, really looks like a commercial music app||Simple GUI, easy to understand and setup the mix for the session||Requires experience with IT / tech||Server is easy, but each musician needs to start Jack and the use the command line||Simple GUI, easy to understand and setup the mix for the session|
|Sessions||Private or public||Private or public||Private||Private||Private or public|
|Extra features||Video calls, broadcasting, recording and even busking. Social media – like platform.||Chat box, recording on the server||None||None||Ability to add backing track and metronome, recording|
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.
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. And here are a few videos on the services mentioned above.
If you need assistance in setting any of these up, or support with your Home Studio projects in general, don’t hesitate to email me by clicking here.
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