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0 Latency Real Time Android at NAMM 2015?

One of the Superpowered audio developers brought an interesting announcement by IK Multimedia to our attention.

IK Multimedia will present a breakthrough universal solution that provides near zero latency and real-time audio processing on a wide assortment of Android devices (running Android 4.0 or higher and compatible with USB host mode/OTG mode) at NAMM 2015.

Wow. As anyone who has spent anytime working on Android audio latency challenges on the myriad of Android devices will tell you, 'real time Android', well, that is quite a promise!

Despite representing over 80% market share of mobile devices in circulation, Android smartphones and tablets have not established themselves as a reliable music creation platform. This is due to factors like the OS’s performance, which is not suitable for real-time processing, and the fragmentation of the platform across dozens of manufacturers and carriers.

We absolutely concur.

Even with the addition of standard USB Audio I/O in the recent release of Android 5.0, the platform still lacks the ability to perform rock solid real time ultra low latency audio processing.

This is true as well.

IK Multimedia has solved this problem with a paradigm shift of a universal solution that delivers astonishing near zero latency performance (down to 2 ms round-trip total latency) on every Android device running Android 4.0 or higher and that supports USB host mode/OTG mode independently from the device manufacturer.

Hmmmmm. Now things begin to sound a little odd...

To be fair, we haven't seen (or heard) the solution, so we can only speculate that that purported IK Multimedia solution is likely a customized USB sound card with which the Android media server is intentionally obviated. This is possible because, unlike in iOS, Android allows direct access to USB devices.

The claim of 2 ms round-trip audio latency is, let’s say, “bold” because USB communication as well as ADC-DAC conversion add 1-2 ms to round-trip audio latency.

But here is the most likely show-stopper: let’s assume that IK Multimedia’s code allows for extremely small buffer sizes below 128, it is extremely unlikely that they can get around Android’s poor strategy in thread scheduling, making for unacceptable occurrences of audio dropouts. Fundamentally the problem is that Android doesn’t allow for real-time thread scheduling.

To get around those two, root access isn’t enough. You need system capabilities (CAP_SYS_NICE). And system rights aren’t available on Android, only on custom Android builds.

Regardless, we wish the IK Multimedia team the best and we're eager to see (hear) their solution.

UPDATE

The solution has been unveiled, and our speculation was off. It is not USB soundcard, iRig UA cleverly moves audio processing off of the Android device and onto a dedicated on-board DSP chip.

Certainly clever, not sure we'd call it real-time latency Android, since Android isn't processing the audio.

In the meantime, anyone interested in reading more, should read how we can get to low latency audio on Android and how low latency audio on Android and iOS work.