ASIO4All is a free Windows tool that provides a generic high-performance audio driver for professional audio production in the absence of an audio interface with a dedicated driver.
If you are a Windows user and you are not using a dedicated audio interface (such as a Focusrite Scarlett 4i4), then you should download and install ASIO4All. Your audio performance will be significantly better than using native Windows audio drivers.
When you’re producing music on a computer using a DAW (such as Ableton Live, FL Studio, Reaper, etc), your computer needs a way to efficiently interface with your hardware.
This can include your microphones, instruments, speakers, headphones, etc. These all communicate with your audio and recording software. The piece of software that manages this communication in a computer is called an audio driver.
In the absence of a dedicated audio driver for windows, then ASIO4All is the next best thing!
The Problem – The Windows Native Audio Driver is Not Efficient Enough
In Windows, the native audio driver that controls communication with your onboard soundcard is not optimized for professional audio production.
Pro audio demands that there be very little lag or ‘latency’ in the communication between audio devices and software. For example, if you play a note on your MIDI keyboard connected to a VST plugin, you should hear the output almost instantaneously with no perceptible delay.
The Windows native audio driver produces significant latency because it involves the software commands having to traverse several software layers to access the soundcard, making it unsuitable for audio production.
To overcome this problem with native Windows drivers, Steinberg introduced a proprietary driver called Audio Stream InputOutput or ASIO.
The ASIO driver bypasses all the software layers that the native Windows driver would have to go through, and instead connects directly with the soundcard. This enables far less latency and makes real-time professional-grade audio production possible.
ASIO has become the standard for professional audio production on Windows systems. Since Windows doesn’t provide an ASIO driver natively, audio interface manufacturers implement their own ASIO drivers for their products which must be downloaded and installed separately to make use of the interface.
What is ASIO4All?
But what if you don’t have an audio interface but still want to experiment with audio production? Or if you’re traveling and only have the option of using your headphones with your laptop’s headphone jack for monitoring? Enter ASIO4All.
ASIO4All is a free tool that provides a generic ASIO driver within Windows for your audio hardware and software to utilize instead of the native Windows driver.
ASIO4All is essentially a ‘driver wrapper’; it packages the native Windows audio drivers to appear as an ASIO driver, thus enabling it to bypass the additional software layers and connect directly to the onboard soundcard.
Downloading and Installing ASIO4All on Windows 10
- Download ASIO4All for your system architecture from http://www.asio4all.org/
- Click on the downloaded file and install ASIO4All. Once installed you should see a triangle symbol appear in the taskbar for the ASIO4All settings. Click and open it.
- You should be presented with an interface that lists all the available audio devices on your system with a power button next to them. Audio devices that are unavailable (typically because they’re already in use by some other program) have a cross mark next to them.
- Set the power button to ‘on’ for all the devices you want to use with ASIO4All. For example, if you want to use your laptop’s inbuilt microphone and headphone jack, you may find their entry under the name of the soundcard manufacturer for your laptop (e.g. Realtek, Beats, etc.) marked as input and output.
- A slider at the bottom controls the buffer size. The buffer size essentially controls your latency, with a lower buffer size meaning lower latency but higher performance demands on your CPU. Experiment with the lowest buffer size you can achieve before your audio starts to crackle or glitch.
- On your DAW (or other audio application), to the settings to select the driver and audio device. Set the driver type to ASIO and set the device as ASIO4All. Select the inputs and outputs you had enabled in the ASIO4All settings. You should be good to go!
Note: ASIO4All cannot use an audio device if it’s already being used by some other program, like a browser or media player. Similarly, if a device is used by ASIO4All, it cannot be simultaneously used by some other program. Therefore, make sure to free up your devices in case you cannot access them with ASIO4All.
ASIO4All for Mac?
Instead of ASIO, Mac systems utilize Apple’s CoreAudio engine and driver system, which is built from the ground up keeping high-performance audio production in mind, so there is no need for any third-party driver to work with audio on Mac systems.
Even professional audio interfaces do not need any proprietary drivers to work with Mac. CoreAudio handles everything natively. Therefore ASIO4All or a similar equivalent isn’t necessary for Mac systems.
Should You Use ASIO4All with a Dedicated Audio Interfaces?
If you have a dedicated audio interface like one from a manufacturer like Focusrite or Steinberg, they almost invariably come with their proprietary implementations of ASIO drivers which can be installed from a CD or downloaded from the internet. (For Mac systems, nothing needs to be downloaded.
Interfaces are designed to work with their own drivers. Either these are ‘plug and play’ or you download and install these when you are setting up your system for use with the audio interface.
In this case, there really is no point in using ASIO4All over the included proprietary driver. ASIO4All will almost certainly have higher latency due to the overhead of driver wrapping and might conflict with the interface which is designed to work with its own drivers.
The purpose of ASIO4All is to provide an alternative in the absence of a dedicated soundcard and driver, so it becomes redundant to use one when you have a soundcard.
Pros of ASIO4All
- Far better performance than native Windows drivers with low latency.
- Doesn’t need a dedicated audio interface to make a Windows machine audio production capable.
- Useful for when you’re traveling and don’t have your soundcard with you.
Cons of ASIO4All
- Performance doesn’t match up to dedicated audio interfaces and drivers.
- Requires exclusive access of audio devices i.e. another program cannot use a device if it’s already being used by ASIO4All. So you cannot use your headphone jack to monitor your DAW while simultaneously playing a video on YouTube.
- ASIO4All is redundant if you have an audio interface with a dedicated ASIO driver.
In the absence of native support from Microsoft for high-performance audio drivers in Windows, ASIO4All is a great free tool to enable professional-grade audio production in any PC without immediately committing to buying a dedicated audio interface.
While in the long run, it is definitely recommended to get a dedicated audio interface (such as a Focusrite Scarlett 4i4) with its own optimized ASIO drivers, ASIO4All is a great alternative for those getting started with audio production, or to save time in a pinch.