Audio drivers are a critical component in any music recording and production setup. These audio components are at the heart of most modern audio arrangements, from professional recording studios to home-based mixing studios. However, with so many options available, where can one even begin?
Well, the best audio driver varies depending on the user and their specific needs. From WASAPI, Direct Sound, ASIO, and more, there are plenty of audio drivers you are likely to come across as an audio enthusiast handling audio and video production.
In our last article, we compared ASIO vs WASAPI, the two being among the most popular audio drivers for Microsoft Windows. Today, we’ll delve into the difference between WASAPI vs Direct Sound and how to choose the right audio driver for your application.
Generally, Direct Sound is among the most popular audio drivers, and it is for good reasons. It offers a perfect balance of sound quality and cost while making audio processing a breeze. On the other hand, WASAPI provides universal compatibility, making it an ideal option for those seeking versatility. That said, let’s learn more about how the two audio drivers compare and contrast.
Understanding Direct Sound
Direct Sound is an audio driver engineered by the Microsoft DirectX library for use with Windows OS. This driver works with typical Windows applications, but in most cases, it is best suited for stereo setups as well as output modes.
This implies that it only accommodates one stereo input or output at a time. So, even if your sound card has multiple inputs and outputs, Direct Sound will only allow you to work with a single input/output at a time.
The idea behind Direct Sound is to offer low-latency audio to the sound card while allowing it to accommodate the recording and mixing of various audio streams. Other benefits of Direct Sound include recording sound, mixing sound, and adding special effects to sound e.g. echo or reverb. Direct Sound also facilitates an easy way to capture sounds when using a microphone or other related inputs.
How Direct Sound works
Initially, Direct Sound was used as the standard mode for gaming and other related applications. Today, the driver is used to reproduce audio in multiple applications thanks to its ability to replicate multichannel audio at high resolution.
Direct Sound utilizes user API mode to offer the interface required by your sound card to reproduce sounds, thereby providing playback music. What’s more, it comes with numerous audio streams that let you access your sound cards and multiple audio applications simultaneously.
The construction of Direct Sound also offers the conversion for sample rates as well as audio mixing for multiple audio sources. To achieve this, it utilizes hardware-accelerated buffers, which you can either access from the sound card memory or the system memory.
Alternatively, you can program Direct Sound to create its own buffers and integrate software specially designed for sound mixing. These buffers are capable of accessing the operating system directly, thereby improving the sound quality greatly.
One downside of Direct Sound is that it is characterized by a relatively huge latency. With a latency of between 50ms to 80ms, this audio driver is somewhat complex to work with, plus it is not ideal for real-time applications. This latency range is also not ideal for time codes or audio applications that require you to use separate audio signals.
Why we like Direct Sound
- One of the best audio drivers in its class
- Unlimited access to audio devices
- Easy to use
- Minimal requirements in terms of setup
- Several of latency issues
Overview of WASAPI
WASAPI is a low-latency and multi-channel audio interface that allows users to manage the flow of audio data between audio devices. Like its predecessor, WASAPI makes it easy to transmit audio streams from select applications to the endpoint of your audio device. Overall, WASAPI outshines the performance of Direct Sound, and this is attributed to its range of design improvements.
WASAPI also tends to deliver superior sound quality than Direct Sound since it provides better latency and bit-perfect music playback. It was designed for Microsoft Windows, and it is compatible with Windows 7 and subsequent Windows versions. That’s not all. WASAPI is perfect for live recording and real-time use, making it popular among serious professionals.
The working principle of WASAPI
Once configured in Windows, WASAPI offers access to several inputs and outputs while allowing the operator to access multiple channels. Furthermore, it provides a latency of up to 10-30ms, meaning it is suitable for real-time applications, including time stamping.
WASAPI also generates a bit-perfect playback, meaning the playback is not altered in any way. So, with WASAPI, the end result remains intact throughout the production process, and it is not resampled or otherwise remixed in whatever way.
You’ll be delighted to know that WASAPI comes with an intuitive and easy-to-use interface, which lets you get down to work within the shortest time possible. Another benefit that WASAPI has over Direct Sound is the former’s ability to transmit unmodified audio signals between devices while providing a high-end mechanism for interacting with other similar audio devices.
Why we like WASAPI
- Delivers bit-perfect playback
- Like its predecessor, the WASAPI interface is also easy to use
- Ultra-pristine sound quality
- Universal compatibility
- Latency-free audio processing
- Straightforward operation, but it requires a bit of configuration
Direct Sound vs WASAPI- Do we have a winner?
If you’re using high-quality hardware/software, then there shouldn’t be much difference between the two in terms of sound quality. Ultimately, the best choice between Direct Sound and WASAPI comes down to how you love to listen to your music.
In addition, the quality of the speakers or the headphones you’re using is going to have a considerable impact on the final sound output. Nevertheless, you should strive to choose a driver that delivers the audio quality you desire.
For instance, if you are a discerning professional looking to mix or edit audio for multiple applications, consider using WASAPI. WASAPI tends to provide its users with better control over the source of the sound, plus it preserves the audio quality every time you work on an audio file. Furthermore, WASAPI provides the best audio possible for Windows, and the sound quality is also not altered by the system.
Something WASAPI users always look forward to is its ability to provide low latency, making it the ideal choice for processing timecodes, scratching, and just about any real-time application. In addition, if you’re looking to enjoy bit-perfect playback, always go with WASAPI.
On the other hand, Direct Sound is a convenient option for applications that do not support WASAPI or any other mode. Luckily, Direct Sound has advanced greatly in recent years, and it is almost impossible to tell it apart from its WASAPI counterpart.
Unfortunately, Direct Sound might not work with all sound cards, and some audio devices might not support this driver. As such, ensure to countercheck your device for the specific requirements for the audio driver. Microsoft always advocates for the use of WASAPI whenever possible or when it is available for your audio application. If it is not available, you can use Direct Sound, but this should be a last resort.