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Ableton is one of many digital audio workstations (DAWs) available for the home musician. DAWs allow the home musician to record (using an audio interface device such as the Scarlett products), edit and mix their music.
While the consensus is that Ableton is one of the most user-friendly and easiest DAWs to learn, there will inevitably be issues and challenges that arise when using the software.
One such issue, which is very common, is that the audio will click and pop and overall become distorted while listening to the recordings and compositions on playback. Sometimes these clicks and pops become so bad that it is impossible to determine what is happening in the music.
When I first started using Ableton, this issue was a constant occurrence and sometimes left me so frustrated that I would stop using the program altogether for several days.
While certainly frustrating, thankfully, most of the time, this issue is easily solved. Once the issue(s) are identified, there are a few quick solutions that typically get rid of the problem.
So how do you get rid of clicks and pops in Ableton?
The main ways to get rid of clicks in pops of the audio in Ableton are to adjust the buffering rate, adjust the sampling rate, lower the overall CPU usage, ensure all of your applications and software are up to date, and ensure you are using the correct audio driver within Ableton.
Let’s take a closer look at some possible reasons why clicks and pops in the audio are happening in the first place, as well as a deeper discussion into how to solve this issue.
It should be noted, I am working with Ableton Live 11. While earlier versions are similar, there may be some differences.
Why Are There Clicks and Pops in the Audio and How to Get Rid of Them
Clicks, pops, crackles, and distorted audio is extremely frustrating if you are trying to mix your songs. It can make the process miserable to the point where it might be impossible to work with. Thankfully, there are solutions, most of which are pretty straightforward.
The video below is from the official Ableton company and provides an excellent tutorial on many potential computer performance issues while using Ableton. While it goes beyond just clicks, pops, and audio issues, it is a great video covering many common audio problems encountered within Ableton and a good place to start.
Further, Ableton’s website offers a lot of good information, much of which I talk about from my own experiences below.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the potential reasons causing clicks and pops in the audio in your projects and how to get rid of them. If you want to skip all the reading, I have created a video at the bottom of the article explaining these reasons.
Reason #1: Buffering Size/Latency Issues
The buffering size is one of the first places you should look at if you are having clicks and pops in your audio. Often, the buffering size will be too low for your computer to handle the audio playback, resulting in clicks and pops. In extreme cases, it distorts the audio so much that it becomes intelligible.
There is a fine line between too-low and too-high buffering. If your buffering is set too low, you will likely run into the crackling and popping of the audio. However, if your buffering is set too high, you risk increasing the latency, which is essentially a time delay (typically in milliseconds) between signal input and output, according to Sweetwater.
More latency can cause serious issues if you are trying to record or play live, as it will likely mess up your timing. Finding the correct buffering size is a balancing act to avoid the crackling and popping but also to keep latency as low as possible.
Solution #1: Adjust the Buffering Size
Thankfully, in Ableton, this is a relatively simple fix. With a few clicks, you can easily adjust the buffering size to the point where the crackles and pops disappear.
The way I do this is to start at the lowest buffering rate and keep moving up until the crackles and pops disappear.
To find where to adjust the buffering size, click options, then click on preferences at the bottom.
The next step will differ depending on your driver type (I will explain more about drivers in reason #4).
If you use an external driver like I am with the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20, which plugs right into my laptop with a USB driver, you will ensure the drive type is set to ASIO (Audio Stream Input/Output).
From here you click on hardware setup, which leads you to the buffer size setting options (see the below picture). You can also adjust the sample rate from here, which I will discuss in more detail below.
If you are not using an external driver/ASIO and instead are using MME/DirectX, the hardware setup will not be an option. Instead, you would simply adjust the buffering size by typing in which buffer size you want in the “Output Buffer Size” box (picture below).
Solution #2: Adjust In/Out Sample Rate
The second solution is to adjust the in/out sample rate. The in/out sample rate is set at the default of 44.1kHz, which is typically described as the optimal frequency for audio recording, according to Sweetwater. However, if you read different forums, many have had success with 48kHz and even 96kHz.
The sample rate can be found in the same areas as the buffering size (see pictures above).
The only time I mess with the sample rate is if I am away from my external driver and am trying to show somebody my music. When I am using the MME driver (differences in drivers explained below), I sometimes have to mess with the sampling rate to get rid of the crackles and pops, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.
Reason #2: High CPU Usage
The next reason that can cause crackles and pops in your audio is pretty straightforward. The more your computer’s processor is working, the more likely you will experience pops and clicks in your audio.
The CPU usage indicator in Ableton can be found in the top right corner (see the picture below). You can click on the CPU usage to expand the screen and see your current as well as average usage over time.
Solution: Reduce CPU Usage
The obvious solution here is to decrease CPU usage as much as possible. The lower the CPU usage, the less likely you will have audio issues.
First, you want to ensure you do not have a lot of other applications up and running. I have even heard of many people who disconnect from their Wi-Fi while working on recording to help reduce overall CPU usage.
Within Ableton, the more tracks you have operating, the more likely you are to start running up your CPU usage. One way to reduce the impact of each track is to “freeze it.”
Freezing a track means that you turn the track into an audio file, which disables all of the plugins and makes the track unable to be altered. This decreases the overall load the track places on the CPU, which allows you to create larger projects within Ableton without continually upping the CPU usage.
You can also unfreeze a track whenever you want to continue editing it.
To freeze a track, hover over the desired track, right-click, scroll down to the “Freeze Track” option, and click it (see below).
Reason #3: The Software Is Not Updated
Another simple problem that can often arise is that either Ableton, the plugins you are running, or other applications on your computer are not updated to the current version. If you are running older versions of these programs, it could cause audio issues.
Pay careful attention to plugins if you use any, as I have found the plugins to require updates most frequently.
Solution: Update Everything
Again the solution here is relatively simple. Just make sure everything is always updated, and you shouldn’t have any issues with this causing any crackling or popping. Ableton also mentions making sure none of your plugins are being run in demo mode, which can cause some issues.
As a side note, the type of computer you have is important as well. While you will likely be able to record on most computers, there are certain laptops and desktops that are designed with the musician in mind and make the whole process smoother.
Reason #4: Using the Wrong Driver Type
In fact, this has been one of the only times that I have had serious issues with crackling and popping audio. If I plug my speakers or headphone directly into my Scarlett 18i20, I do not have any audio issues and have never really had to mess with buffering size or sampling rate.
Solution: Choose the Optimal Driver Type
The solution is to choose the correct driver to process your audio. If you have external hardware as I do, it is as simple as selecting the right driver option, which is located in the same place as buffering size and sample rate.
There are also ASIO options available to download, but like any other type of downloaded application, do your research before you select a random application and download it.
In this video below, I cover all of these reasons in more detail:
Crackling and popping audio can be extremely frustrating when trying to record, edit and mix your work.
Thankfully, most potential reasons you might encounter in Ableton are easy to troubleshoot.
I hope you have found this article helpful, and best of luck with your recording and editing!
Hi everyone! I have been involved with music most of my life, beginning in grade school with the trumpet. I am a largely self-taught multi-instrumentalist (drums, guitar, bass, and starting the piano and violin). I currently play drums in two bands and write and produce many genres of music in my home recording studio. I am also an avid guitar and drum collector.