2 or more sound playback devices simultaneously in Win 8?

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2 or more sound playback devices simultaneously in Win 8?

Postposted on Fri Jan 11, 2013 3:35 pm

So what's the deal with MS deciding not to allow you to use more than one sound playback device (in Win 7 anyway)?

On the off chance that MS may have finally implemented this simple feature, it might give me a reason to upgrade to Win 8.

I realize you can use 3rd party apps such as Virtual Audio Cable that let you assign a virtual playback device that then splits the signal to multiple devices. The problem with this is that it requires manual setup every time you want to use it. Yes you can make batch files, etc, to automate doing this on startup, but it's a bit messy to accomplish something that should be so simple. Plus, there are apparently delay issues and difficulties with more than 2-channel sound with Virtual Audio Cable...

With onboard sound and sound devices coming ubiquitously with every motherboard and video card these days, USB speakers/headsets, not to mention actual sound cards and external DACs, the number of available playback devices available to the average PC user is increasing. Yet in Win 7, you must choose. But choose wisely.. No thanks MS.

So why would anyone want to playback the same output signal with more than one device? Some examples:

1) You want to play music in multiple rooms (zones) in a house, the amplifiers in one or more zones having a digital input (DAC)

2) You have a surround sound system and you, say, want to use a separate device to play the surround speakers than that that plays the fronts, at least one of them being a digital input (in this scenario, the delays encountered with Virtual Audio Cable are a deal breaker)

3) You are playing an instrument along with music and want to output sound to both headphones and a stereo powered by separate amps

So, had Win 8 added this obvious feature?
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Re: 2 or more sound playback devices simultaneously in Win 8

Postposted on Fri Jan 11, 2013 4:36 pm

Or you bought the Soundblaster REcon 3D and you need to use integrated audio microphone input so that you can be heard in a game.
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Re: 2 or more sound playback devices simultaneously in Win 8

Postposted on Fri Jan 11, 2013 10:59 pm

Windows requires you to set 1 default, but that doesn't stop you from using any of your other devices on a per application basis. You just need to set that inside the application's own sound options.
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Re: 2 or more sound playback devices simultaneously in Win 8

Postposted on Sat Jan 12, 2013 12:50 am

Yes, but the point is you can't play the audio from said program through more than one device at the same time.
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Re: 2 or more sound playback devices simultaneously in Win 8

Postposted on Sat Jan 12, 2013 8:56 am

cynan wrote:Yes, but the point is you can't play the audio from said program through more than one device at the same time.

I see. That does sound useful, but I haven't thought of it because I never needed it before.
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Re: 2 or more sound playback devices simultaneously in Win 8

Postposted on Sat Jan 12, 2013 12:26 pm

cynan wrote:Yes, but the point is you can't play the audio from said program through more than one device at the same time.

You can, if the application itself supports it. Planetside 2 for example supports routing the audio from the game through one device, while the VOIP goes to another device.
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Re: 2 or more sound playback devices simultaneously in Win 8

Postposted on Sat Jan 12, 2013 2:04 pm

He's referring to playback on multiple devices, not recording on a separate device. You can always record from a different device.

Seems like latency would continue to be a problem. All audio devices have different latency characteristics.

As for solutions, you'd have to hunt for them. I see some software that could help around the internets but I'm not about to try any of it.
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Re: 2 or more sound playback devices simultaneously in Win 8

Postposted on Sat Jan 12, 2013 6:15 pm

Savyg wrote:Seems like latency would continue to be a problem. All audio devices have different latency characteristics.


Hmmm. I was wondering about this, but even if two playback devices did have noticeable variance in latency, would it not be a simple matter of implementing a software delay slider for each additional device after the primary, say in millisecond increments (similar to what AVR receivers have, for example) to get things close enough? Or would the delays be variable over time, for example due to changes in CPU thread priority or hiccups in one device that may not occur on all?

As for 3rd party software, there is a program called Virtue Audio Cable, as mentioned in the OP, but I guess I think that this should just be built into Windows by now - given how common multiple audio devices and multicore CPUs are these days.
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Re: 2 or more sound playback devices simultaneously in Win 8

Postposted on Sat Jan 12, 2013 6:25 pm

I was speaking of other tools...not likely exactly what they're looking for though.

None of that sounds likely to happen, really...if they're unwilling to keep WMC free for the percentage of users who use it, they're unlikely to add this for even less people. It is entirely possible some higher end audio software supports it but I wouldn't know anything about that.
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Re: 2 or more sound playback devices simultaneously in Win 8

Postposted on Sat Jan 12, 2013 6:37 pm

Savyg wrote:He's referring to playback on multiple devices, not recording on a separate device. You can always record from a different device.

I'm sorry if I wasn't clear, I meant that playback on multiple devices is possible if the application supports it. That's the way it is in Planetside (although I haven't confirmed it as I don't use the in-game VOIP): You choose the playback device for the in-game sound effects, and you choose both the recording and the playback device for the in-game VOIP. The playback device for the sound effects can be different from the playback device for VOIP.
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Re: 2 or more sound playback devices simultaneously in Win 8

Postposted on Sat Jan 12, 2013 6:45 pm

cynan wrote:Hmmm. I was wondering about this, but even if two playback devices did have noticeable variance in latency, would it not be a simple matter of implementing a software delay slider for each additional device after the primary, say in millisecond increments (similar to what AVR receivers have, for example) to get things close enough? Or would the delays be variable over time, for example due to changes in CPU thread priority or hiccups in one device that may not occur on all?

Yeah, given a slider I think you'd be able to match the delays closely enough by ear to deal with differences in latency.

But I don't think absolute latency is the most problematic issue; clock frequency skew is probably trickier to deal with "under the hood". The clock signals used by the two audio devices are unlikely to match perfectly, due to differences in individual quartz crystals. So unless we do some sort of adaptive resampling, one of the devices will periodically need to drop or repeat samples (which will introduce audible artifacts) if we want to keep the two devices in sync with each other.

Making matters even worse, the clock speed discrepancy will likely drift over time, since the two crystals won't be in the exact same thermal environment (and it is unreasonable to expect the clock oscillators in commodity consumer hardware to have high-quality temperature compensation). E.g. one will probably be closer to the CPU, and so will be affected more by changes in temperature due to system load.

Getting this right is actually kind of tricky...
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Re: 2 or more sound playback devices simultaneously in Win 8

Postposted on Sat Jan 12, 2013 7:48 pm

cynan wrote:Yes, but the point is you can't play the audio from said program through more than one device at the same time.

Depends on the program. Cakewalk SONAR X1 allows it, though not in ASIO mode. It lets me set up monitoring through the onboard sound (through my silly desktop speakers) and my external USB device through my much better monitors. I use it when I'm trying out stuff and referencing on multiple speakers.

There's nothing stopping it other than the developer. And yes, they're not synced so you wouldn't really want this solution playing on more than one set at a time.
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Re: 2 or more sound playback devices simultaneously in Win 8

Postposted on Sun Jan 13, 2013 5:36 pm

just brew it! wrote:
But I don't think absolute latency is the most problematic issue; clock frequency skew is probably trickier to deal with "under the hood". The clock signals used by the two audio devices are unlikely to match perfectly, due to differences in individual quartz crystals. So unless we do some sort of adaptive resampling, one of the devices will periodically need to drop or repeat samples (which will introduce audible artifacts) if we want to keep the two devices in sync with each other.

Making matters even worse, the clock speed discrepancy will likely drift over time, since the two crystals won't be in the exact same thermal environment (and it is unreasonable to expect the clock oscillators in commodity consumer hardware to have high-quality temperature compensation). E.g. one will probably be closer to the CPU, and so will be affected more by changes in temperature due to system load.

Getting this right is actually kind of tricky...


Even if the clocks don't match perfectly, you'd think this would be beyond the acuity of human perception for the majority of the time. Excuse my ignorance about how the execution of simultaneous threads are kept in sync (or in sync with their respective clock), but if any old dvd/software media player can execute separate video and audio streams to appear to play in sync with each other, why would it be fundamentally different to accomplish this with 2 or 3 simultaneous sound devices? The latency adjustments (that could be accomplished with a software slider/offset) would be for syncing devices that had more inherent latency in the signal path (ie, a video card connected to an audio receiver on the other side of the house via hdmi, synced with a local sound card).
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Re: 2 or more sound playback devices simultaneously in Win 8

Postposted on Sun Jan 13, 2013 5:56 pm

cynan wrote:Even if the clocks don't match perfectly, you'd think this would be beyond the acuity of human perception for the majority of the time.

The discrepancy in pitch would indeed be so small that it is inaudible; the problem is that one of the streams would need to periodically add or drop samples to keep the two streams in sync. Without some rather clever programming I suspect that this re-syncing *would* potentially be audible.

cynan wrote:Excuse my ignorance about how the execution of simultaneous threads are kept in sync (or in sync with their respective clock), but if any old dvd/software media player can execute separate video and audio streams to appear to play in sync with each other, why would it be fundamentally different to accomplish this with 2 or 3 simultaneous sound devices?

Good question; TBH I'm not sure. But it seems to me that the more potentially out-of-sync streams you have the more difficult it is going to be to keep everything synced without introducing visible/audible artifacts.
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Re: 2 or more sound playback devices simultaneously in Win 8

Postposted on Sun Jan 13, 2013 6:03 pm

cynan wrote:Even if the clocks don't match perfectly, you'd think this would be beyond the acuity of human perception for the majority of the time. Excuse my ignorance about how the execution of simultaneous threads are kept in sync (or in sync with their respective clock), but if any old dvd/software media player can execute separate video and audio streams to appear to play in sync with each other, why would it be fundamentally different to accomplish this with 2 or 3 simultaneous sound devices? The latency adjustments (that could be accomplished with a software slider/offset) would be for syncing devices that had more inherent latency in the signal path (ie, a video card connected to an audio receiver on the other side of the house via hdmi, synced with a local sound card).


Well, the brain uses timing of signals (among other things such as volume) reaching the left and right ear to determine the origin of the sound. If a sound reaches the left ear before it reaches the right, we perceive that as the sound coming from the left. The smallest interval that we can distinguish is very small indeed, if I recall correctly. So, even if we're not extremely sensitive to a video not being in sync with audio, that doesn't mean we wouldn't notice if 2 audio streams are not synced. Anyhow, I think the question of timing and syncing is all rather pedantic for most of us, especially those who'd have to rely on the OS to duplicate streams across multiple devices. People who really need these kind of things done use different software, a different audio interface (ASIO) and different output devices than Joe regular PC gamer.
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