Pro-Tools & Windows audio troubleshooting, aka how (not) to have a nightmare

I am a DAW beginner, probably even a noob. However, I feel, I can pick software products up fairly quickly, a DAW is just another one, albeit a very complex one. I have spent a couple of longer sessions over the weekend with Pro-Tools recently in order to get through some college assignments and learning outcomes. Now, although I love the tasks and learning the workings of Pro-Tools, what I did not enjoy at all is to experience every single audio issue you can have in the DAW and in Windows.

Yes, yes, I know I can hear you saying, “well, well, you have to learn to set it up correctly and properly route your signals!”. That is absolutely true, but I had issues, which had very little to do with proper routing and everything with playback engines, drivers, Windows setups and sample rates. Most issues were due to, that I have used existing sessions which all used different sampling rates, so I had to change my settings every time I have loaded another session up.

So here are some of the troublesome instances I have faced:

Correct output is not showing up when you bring up the list on the tracks:
The issue was, that the playback engine in Pro-Tools was not set correctly. You can check this by going
Setup -> Playback Engine. Select your appropriate audio device, Pro-Tools will restart and you should be good to go. If you only see the Windows default option, you have an issue with your audio interface/ soundcard and you have to solve the problem in Windows (after this). You can do that in the Device Manager. Type device manager into the search bar and look for Audio inputs and outputs. Right-click on your device – Update Driver and let Windows to do its thing.

If you cannot find your audio interface in Pro-tools you have to go and update/ reinstall the driver for your device. Don’t assume that the drivers are fine. My one broke from one moment to another – no warning – and had to be reinstalled to make it work again, so save the headache and just update it straight away. While you are at it, you should update your default audio engine (what Windows is using), more of that below
After that, your device should show up in your output list.

There is audio in Pro-Tools when it is running, but not in an internet browser. You close Pro-Tools, the sound returns.
At this instance, I was experiencing extreme frustration, which eventually resulted to me smashing up my headphones into tiny little pieces (and hence I have gained an instant DIY microphone project)…. It was a cheap Behringer, but still, don’t do it. It is silly….
Sooo, the solution was about sampling rates and bit depth. If you unsure about sampling rates/ bit depth or why they are important, you can read my Digital Audio Conversion jargon buster.
There is a sample rate set for your Pro-Tools session, which you can determine when you are setting the session up fresh. If you are already working on a session and you are unsure, you can check it here: Setup -> Session

The sample rate is clocked by an external clock which is usually your audio interface or Windows audio (No idea about Macs, sorry). So you need to make sure that the sample rate and “bit depth” in the Windows settings, even if it is an external interface, is set to the same as your session. If the sampling rate set higher than the session, Pro-Tools will still start up, but you will have no audio outside Pro-Tools, unless you have a good enough interface which can handle clocking to different sampling rates. Playing your track, you will also hear a great example of aliasing and why the Nyquist Theorem is important (see jargon buster). If the system sampling rate set lower than the Pro-Tools session, it will give you an error message and the session will not be loaded at all.

There are three places in Windows where you can change sound settings. I could not figure out why is that, it is confusing and frankly ridiculous.
You have the settings, device manager and control panel. Only one of these places which gives you the necessary option to set what you want.

You need the control panel -> Sound

Select “Sound”, select your device, select it again in the pop up window (double click) for Properties, then click on the Advanced tab. There you can set the sampling rate and bit depth you desire. By default, it is set on 16bit 48kHz.

The problem is, that you have to do that every time there is a session with different sampling rate. There is a workaround which I have seen on a couple of forums. You can route the default audio out (using the motherboard’s own soundcard) into your interface input, but for that you have to determine what software is using what engine (as one engine only can handle one kind of sample rate). You can access this menu by right-clicking on the little speaker icon in the bottom-right corner for Settings, then click on Advanced Sound Options (bottom of the screen), which brings up the menu for “App volume device preferences”. Madness….. You can select the appropriate sound engines for your major applications.

I hope this will help some people to keep their sanity.

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