You are now free to rock, online

MusicianLink takes the latency out of online jamming, enabling real-time musical collaboration.

Technology trends and news by Matt Bowman
November 24, 2009
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/c03

 Raise your hand if you had a garage band in high school. Keep it up if you’ve reconnected with your old bandmembers on Facebook.

The rest of you are dismissed.

OK kids, you know you’ve thought about this. You’ve wanted to jam online. You checked out eJamming and Ninjam, but never got hooked playing music with friends over the Internet because the lag time quickly destroyed your vibe. This month, garage bands the world over are one step closer to their virtual reunions, thanks to a little technology from Stanford and a team of Silicon Valley musicians.

San Jose-based startup MusicianLink has launched a $299 product called Jamlink which contains a sound card connected directly to a network card and some algorithmic magic sprinkled on top. When connected to a 1 MB upload / 2MB download internet connection and a musical instrument, users hundreds of miles away can jam with clarity and no perceptible lag in real time over the Internet.

Hands up if you just pictured Jack Black leading a live-streamed concert with band members spread across the planet, launching a heavily distorted global revolution of peace, love and awesomeness.

I tested the product at the MusicianLink apartment in San Jose, CA on Friday. The video below captures CEO and cofounder David Willyard playing with the company's music director Dan Meblin, who was 80 miles away in Novato, CA at the time. The sound was as clear and immediate as though Dan were in the room.

MusicianLink CMO and angel investor Sean McKenna says the zero latency works for about 500 miles. From San Jose, he holds jam sessions with fellow rockers in LA and the sound is clear.

So how does MusicianLink tackle the latency issue? McKenna responded to my initial skeptical email with the techy runown:

What the jamLink does really well is packetize and stream uncompressed audio in the minimum time possible. It is optimized for the best performance achievable on the current Internet infrastructure. Research done at Stanford has shown that delivering audio from one person to another in less than 25 milliseconds allows them to interact “or jam” in real time. A 25 millisecond lag is analogous to two musicians playing instruments 25 feet away from each other in the same room.

The delay introduced by jamLink is less than 8 milliseconds; this includes both sending and receiving. Out of the 25ms one-way delay budget required for true real-time music playing, jamLink users have an 17 extra milliseconds of Internet travel time in their delay budget. In comparison, getting sound in and out of computers with audio and network cards takes on average 40 to 50 milliseconds end-to-end. Playing music through computers are already over budget before ever reaching the Internet, and that’s why they don’t work.

Real-World Example

I’m in San Jose, and when I do a “ping test” with Los Angeles the round-trip result equals 32 milliseconds. This means that the trip down to LA is only 16 milliseconds.

A) JamLink Send/Receive (8ms) + Light on fiber to LA (16ms) < 25 milliseconds = in-the-room jam B) Computer Send/Receive (40ms) + Light on fiber to LA (16ms) = 56 milliseconds

We are also not claiming that you can jam with someone on the East Coast when you are on the West Coast. However, over greater distances, you still can interact with a high-quality audio connection, which is great for song writing, lessons, and collaboration.

The biggest drawback is the bandwidth required. AT&T’s “elite” bandwidth subscription offers up to 786 kb upload, about 200k short of the 1meg MusicianLink recommends. The necessary bandwidth can be found for about $30-$50 a month through business services like AT&T's Uverse.

Up to four Jamlink users can participate in the same session. The product comes with an online network of Musicianlink users to facilitate jam sessions with other users. The more users, and the better the latency, the lower the sound quality. To get the right balance between latency and quality, the accompanying software program comes with a gauge the company calls the “Jigger.” Turning the Jigger up to “eight” reduces pops and cracks, but increases the lag time slightly.

I had to ask Willyard and Meblin if the Jigger goes all the way to 11 (Spinal Tap fans?). Apparently, that was the right question. They paused, and with a look of pregnant intensity, replied in unison, “It goes to 12.”


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