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I'm using Ableton Live 11 Suite. I have a USB microphone, which I can record with in Ableton. I also have a Native Instruments Audio Kontrol 1 (henceforth AK1), which is an audio interface with various inputs and outputs.

The AK1 has a built in sound card which works really well with Ableton, so it's great to use it just for that. I never have any audio inputs going into it but sometimes I plug midi devices into it.

Anyway, when I enable the AK1 in Ableton, I can no longer use the USB mic. It seems Ableton expects all inputs to come via the AK1. When Ableton starts it has seperate options for Input and Output, but they disappear once the AK1 is activated.

It might be the case that I need to have Driver Type set to MME/DirectX for the USB mic, and I need to have Driver Type set to Asio for the AK1, and so it's simply not possible to enable both at the same time.

Does anyone know a way I can set Ableton so that I can still use the AK1 as an interface but use the USB mic as an audio input?

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    It's not an Ableton problem, it's how digital audio and computer audio works. Sell the USB mic and buy a regular analog XLR-connected microphone to use with the NI interface. On the Mac you can create "aggregate" audio devices, which might work to some extent. On Windows, I don't know. Maybe you'll find some kind of a workaround kludge. Search for "aggregate" and "multiple audio interfaces". But really, just don't buy USB microphones. There are multiple questions about this issue on this site at well. Dec 28, 2022 at 17:30
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    "USB microphones" are really audio interfaces. They contain: (1) microphone, (2) mic preamp, (3) A/D converter, (4) USB audio interface which talks with a USB host computer. Many "USB microphones" also contain an audio output, so you can connect headphones to the audio interface that's inside the "microphone". This is a bad idea. Don't buy. Dec 28, 2022 at 18:08
  • Can other apps see the AK1 as MME/DirectX/WASAPI/WDM/whatever device? Or in more general terms, can apps that don't support ASIO see the AK1?
    – ojs
    Dec 28, 2022 at 18:21
  • @piiperiReinstateMonica since your comments got upvoted I feel oblicated to inform you that you're more or less misinformed about how digital audio in general works. But it's always great to put down the newbie.
    – ojs
    Dec 28, 2022 at 21:30
  • @piiperiReinstateMonica ok, let's start from the inability to use different devices at the same time. It's a problem with the poor design of Windows audio subsystem and the tradition of using ASIO drivers to work around it. ASIO itself is another poor design from the 90s that doesn't have any concept of multiple audio devices (an ASIO driver itself can implement one but apps that use it won't know a thing). You're correct that Core Audio on MacOS can handle it quite smoothly and on Windows hacks like ASIO4All or FlexASIO can work around it
    – ojs
    Dec 29, 2022 at 8:01

1 Answer 1

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The USB microphone contains an audio interface that's logically just like the NativeInstruments box, but it's just hidden inside the mic. The same thing applies to e.g. USB headphones, webcams etc. If it's connected with USB and it transfers audio to or from your computer, then it is a USB audio interface.

Audio applications such as DAWs are usually written with the assumption that one audio device handles all I/O, and particularly in Steinberg's ASIO driver "standard" this assumption is baked in the system. There are valid technical reasons for this restriction and assumption. Ableton allows you to have different devices for input and output, but not with ASIO. You'll see that if you switch to ASIO - you can only select one device in Ableton's settings. If you use Windows multimedia drivers or Mac, you can have different devices for input and output, and if they are independent devices with their own unsynchronized clocks, Ableton handles differences between clock speeds in some way. The handling of different speeds may create audible artifacts and add latency, and I think that's why Steinberg haven't wanted to support it in the ASIO system.

What comes to Ableton (and AFAIK all other DAWs as well), there is no facility for using multiple audio interfaces simultaneously. But it is possible to try and create virtual "aggregate" audio devices. On Apple Mac computers it is a built-in feature of the OS, but on Microsoft Windows you'll have to resort to tricks like the ASIO4All driver thingy. These solutions utilize some kinds of tricks in order to make the different devices look like one unified device from e.g. Ableton's point of view. There's probably some additional buffering and resampling/time-stretching going on behind the scenes. (which can add latency and maybe introduce wow/flutter artifacts in the audio)

Sweetwater has a guide article on how to build an aggregate audio device. I have not tried this on Windows.

https://www.sweetwater.com/sweetcare/articles/aggregate-audio-devices-and-drivers-for-pc-and-mac/

Quote from the article:

Aggregate devices don’t always perform as well as when the interfaces are alone. You might experience digital clock source problems, dropouts, noise, or other playback-related issues. If you experience poor performance or connectivity issues, an aggregate device may not be ideal.

It may work with some combination of hardware and software, for some use. If you absolutely want to keep the USB microphone and Windows, you'll have to go and try if you can get it to work well enough. However, having to do that at all is optional. I recommend buying a regular microphone and connecting it to your regular audio interface's microphone input instead.

Related questions:

Recording two mics in garageband going out of sync

Aggregate audio interfaces and use outputs into analog mixer - possible?

Audio Interface and USB Mic

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  • This is fairly correct, except for one detail: With ASIO you don't select a device but a driver. If a device manufacturer decides to do things like supporting multiple physical devices maybe synced to external clock, it happens inside the driver and the app isn't aware of that (except the external clock, it has a flag for some reason). This of course rules out interoperation between different brands.
    – ojs
    Dec 29, 2022 at 19:15
  • Thanks. Looks like I need to get an XLR mic instead. Dec 30, 2022 at 14:50

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