Monday, August 26th 2019

Windows 10 1903 Has a Nasty Audio Stutter Bug Microsoft Hasn't Managed to Fix

Windows 10 May 2019 Update (version 1903) is the pinnacle of neglect and contempt Microsoft has shown towards the all-important audio subsystem of the modern PC. With it, Redmond has one-upped its last big move against audio, by killing the DirectSound hardware pipeline and mongrelizing PC audio under Intel's lousy and fundamentally anti-competitive Azalia specification that solves common audio compatibility problems under a scorched-earth guiding principle - "kill any feature that could possibly lick our aftersales support budget, by dumping every aspect of audio onto a very restrictive host-signal processing (HSP) architecture, let people come up with their own soft DSPs, because CPUs can handle them." Windows 1903 proves how this approach wasn't a silver bullet against PC audio problems, and is fallible.

I've never owned a PC without a discrete sound card. My first "multimedia PC experience" was powered by a Creative kit that included a Sound Blaster PCI, an Infra-CDROM drive, a clip-on mic, and tiny stereo speaker boxes. ISA-based integrated audio solutions back then were bested by greeting cards. I've since made it a habit to buy a sound card every 5 or so years. No gleaming SNR numbers by Realtek can convince me that an integrated audio solution can best a $100 discrete sound-card, and I've owned plenty of motherboards over the years with the most premium Azalia implementations (be it the ALC889 or the modern ALC1220). My current machines feature an ASUS Xonar AE (a bang-for-the-buck ESS ES9023P implementation with a 150 Ω amp), and a Creative SB Recon 3D. Both cards implement the Azalia pipeline at some level, to survive operating with post-Vista Windows. The SB Recon 3D uses a chip that converts PCIe to the HDA bus; while the Xonar AE uses a PCIe to USB chip and a USB (Azalia) to I2S chip (essentially a USB headset laid out on a sound card with a high-quality analog side). Both cards are borked after the "upgrade" to Windows 10 May 2019 Update (1903), and two successive "Patch Tuesday" updates haven't managed to solve it.
Symptoms
Audio stuttering and glitching, and lots of it. Think Winamp circa 1999 running on a Pentium 133 with its CPU priority toggle set to "low," and the CPU being subject to the rigors of Internet Explorer rendering Yahoo.com over a 56K PCI soft-MODEM. That bad! My AMD Ryzen 7 2700X has 8 cores and 32 GB of DDR4-2667 memory at its disposal, and yet iTunes playing back Apple Music Radio in the background with Google Chrome rendering Twitter is sufficient to send me 20 years back in time. My Intel Core i5-9400F doesn't fare any better.

What's Wrong
Drawing inspiration from the other world-famous Washingtonian product, the Boeing 737 MAX airplane, Microsoft introduced Windows 10 1903 with a boatload of insufficiently-documented under-the-hood changes. Some of these changes affect Deferred Procedure Call (DPC) tick-rate, causing spikes in DPC latency, affecting the audio pipeline. Focusrite beautifully summarized DPC affecting audio:
DPC (Deferred Procedure Call) is the operation that Windows uses to assign a priority to processes/drivers that run simultaneously in the same system. If processes that are involved in streaming audio aren't assigned high enough priority then various issues can occur since the audio will not be streamed correctly in 'real-time'. These can include pops/clicks, "glitchy" audio and device disconnections.
It goes on to postulate that outdated drivers for audio devices that have gone EOL (end of life) that aren't ready for dynamic DPC could effectively render your otherwise physically-perfect discrete sound cards unusable. "A common cause for DPC latency is out of date device drivers and Windows processes that are not optimized correctly. Many processes/drivers are involved in streaming audio and many other processes/drivers can cause interruptions in the audio stream."

First Public Acknowledgment by Microsoft
Pete Brown, among other things, heads client-segment audio hardware user-experience at Microsoft, and Tweeted the first acknowledgment by Microsoft that it screwed up:
In the above Tweet, Pete posted a link to an Update applicable to Windows 1903 chronicled under KB4505903. This update was touted to fix audio glitches, and would go on to be part of the August Patch Tuesday rollout (you can separately download it here).

Did the Patch Work?
No. At least not in case of my sound cards. ASUS and Creative are possibly the last two discrete sound-card manufacturers with extensive lineups of discrete audio solutions in various form-factors (internal cards, external USB boxes, USB headsets, etc.), and even they haven't begun unpacking the mess that is 1903. The two have dozens of EOL sound cards between them (many still in the retail channel), and haven't updated their Windows 10-compatible drivers in years. My Xonar AE isn't EOL, yet. Realtek released updated HD Audio drivers for both its UAD and legacy driver-models. Most online tech communities simply advocate updating these single-origin Realtek drivers, and with KB4505903, the overwhelming majority of PC users who listen to Realtek CODECs have possibly solved their audio problems, prompting Pete's team to call it a day. But those on discrete audio solutions that don't get driver updates as regularly as Realtek CODECs do, are shortchanged. Pandering to "creators" no more?

What You can Try
If you want to take Microsoft's approach to solving problems (scorched earth) and absolutely, positively want your audio to work (maybe because you're a music composer whose discrete audio hardware puts food on the table), then paste the following line in an elevated Command Prompt and hit Enter (and reboot):
BCDEDIT /SET DISABLEDYNAMICTICK YES
And when Pete's team has finally figured out how to use a discrete sound card, and released a patch that works, you can revert the above change to let Windows 1903 function as intended:
BCDEDIT /SET DISABLEDYNAMICTICK NO
Or you can just disconnect your studio rig from the Internet, flick on CSM, and install Windows XP SP3 x64 over multi-boot.
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130 Comments on Windows 10 1903 Has a Nasty Audio Stutter Bug Microsoft Hasn't Managed to Fix

#26
Dragonsmonk
my_name_is_earl, post: 4104414, member: 66600"
My Gigabyte x370 Xtreme on-board sound is plenty good ty. There's a reason it cost so much.
I have yet to see an onboard card being able to drive my 250ohm headset :(

My new MB will also have the ALC 1220, and I hope it is enough, but I have to wait and see.
Currently running a Xonar DX, no stuttering to be reported there.
Posted on Reply
#27
lynx29
Chomiq, post: 4104434, member: 185703"
And where do you plug the microphone?
Not an issue for my personal use case, never had need for one.

GoldenX, post: 4104436, member: 160319"
Besides latency problems, crackling and overall low performance? It works.
Never had an issue with Mint and my Modi 3 DAC.
Posted on Reply
#28
Chomiq
lynx29, post: 4104450, member: 153071"
Not an issue for my personal use case, never had need for one.
Thing is, if you want a dac/amp with mic input you have very limited selection and using dedicated sound card like the ones from Asus or Creative is often the only solution.

That being said I just checked a review of Creative's BlasterX AE-5 and when it comes to mic input I hear no improvement from ALC1220 on my new board. Same amount of low noise static with gain enabled.
Posted on Reply
#29
Ferrum Master
Never had issues also with my ZxR... althou I haven't been on stable builds for years. Always in insider builds.
Posted on Reply
#30
Metroid
i do have an asus xonar stx and no issues here, i really thought it would be some issues cause asus did not update its drivers for about 3 years, so far so good and i'm on amd b450 which many says is not good for asus xonar series and so far no issues.

And by the way, i would advise any of you to not buy pcie sound cards, you will be better off with external dacs and that is going to be my next sound card, external dac.
Posted on Reply
#31
olymind1
Luckily no issue on my end: B450 Tomahawk + Ryzen 2600 + Creative SB X-Fi Titanium HD (with the latest driver) + Win10 1903.

No crackling, no distortion, no audio cut outs.
Posted on Reply
#32
stimpy88
lynx29, post: 4104359, member: 153071"
Schiit Modi 3 DAC -driverless- for life ~
Hardly what this article is talking about, is it? But hey, you got to brag about your DAC...
Posted on Reply
#33
lexluthermiester
Dragonsmonk, post: 4104449, member: 110388"
I have yet to see an onboard card being able to drive my 250ohm headset :(
And that can be a problem for many.
Chomiq, post: 4104452, member: 185703"
That being said I just checked a review of Creative's BlasterX AE-5 and when it comes to mic input I hear no improvement from ALC1200 on my new board. Same amount of low noise static with gain enabled.
This is because Creative didn't invest as much time on the mic input, sadly, as they did on sound output. It is however, by any reasonable standard, a good and acceptable input. Streamers will have nothing to complain about. Only creators of a certain market sector will want/need better.

For example, I don't stream but I want high quality output because I use an actual HiFi stereo system for sound on both of my PC's. Onboard rubbish is just not good enough. So Creative's Sound Blaster cards fit the need.
Posted on Reply
#34
lynx29
stimpy88, post: 4104487, member: 178509"
Hardly what this article is talking about, is it? But hey, you got to brag about your DAC...
Exactly what this article is about actually, if you want less issues you use something that requires very minimal install... this is basic logic 101. I had issues in the past with Realtek, one of the main reasons I said enough and moved on to a proper DAC, with 2mb auto install of driver.
Posted on Reply
#35
demkd
I had a similar problem on 180x builds with my SB ZxR, the problem was solved by disabling windows quick start in the power options.
Posted on Reply
#36
nurion
It took the Tech Industry and the Tech Media Press, only 4 months to report the issue and possibly resolve it (for all pc's).
People were also reporting issues since 1809 ,when the the system driver structure started to change.
Companys or Organizations true potentials ,shows when there is a situation unresolved ,that affects a major portion of their customer base..and they can't resolve the matter and then hide it under the carpet.
Posted on Reply
#37
Trompochi
It's funny how I always had audio stuttering before 1903 on my x470 taichi+2700x build, no matter what driver version or settings I changed. After installing 1903 I haven't experienced a single audio issue.
Posted on Reply
#38
Schnebdreleg
I also own a Asus xonar ae and did not have these issues. However, I have an other issue with my mic/line in with this sound card across two different systems. Sometimes, when I use discord or TeamSpeak, the mic stops working or sends out noise. I have to switch audio devices or reconnect the mic to make it work again. This does not happen when I use the onboard sound cards for mic input, but it's kind of weard to have one sound card just for the speakers and one just for the mic. Maybe someone heard of this problem before?
Posted on Reply
#39
PanicLake
lynx29, post: 4104432, member: 153071"
I think he is saying sound quality is better in Linux, I know as a high rep member on Head-Fi a lot of people over there use Linux for their audio setups.
That is remarkably ignorant to say. When the audio ones and zeros reaches your sound card DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) it will be the same ones and zeros regardless of the operating system, unless the software or drivers are mishandling those bits.
Posted on Reply
#40
neatfeatguy
I'm not sure about speaker audio quality with the latest Win 10 update, but my younger brother lost all options in the Win 10 Settings window for audio devices to select his headset as the output source for his speakers. He said he used to go into the Sound settings, but it's not working anymore.

I had to remind him of the Control Panel -> Hardware and Sound -> Sound
From there he could select his headphones as his audio output to get things working correctly on his headphones.
Posted on Reply
#41
atomiccow
When I first tried 1903 half a year ago, I realized it caused popping with my Oppo HA-1, which uses an ASIO driver. I reformatted to 1803 and stayed on that until I needed to update to 1903 again to use RTX on my new 2070 Super. Low and behold MS actually managed to fix an issue for me for once. My Oppo HA-1 does seem to work fine now.
Posted on Reply
#42
Solaris17
Dainty Moderator
eidairaman1, post: 4104371, member: 40556"
At least 7 isnt hampered by ongoing problems associated with bi yearly forced builds.
Can’t wait to see the problems it’s hampered with when it finally goes EOL.

My sound works fine though.
Posted on Reply
#43
cygnus_1
BCDEDIT /SET DISABLEDYNAMICTICK YES
I would honestly set that on any desktop system that you're not trying to get absolutely minimal idle power consumption on. You'll see better/more consistent performance with the dynamic tick disabled.
Posted on Reply
#44
lexluthermiester
Solaris17, post: 4104597, member: 14803"
Can’t wait to see the problems it’s hampered with when it finally goes EOL.
Windows XP never magically became an insecure OS and interestingly still isn't. Windows 7 is unlikely to become such either. Still being EOL will trigger software and hardware devs to being phasing out support. As irritating and sad as it is, it's the future..
Posted on Reply
#45
Solaris17
Dainty Moderator
lexluthermiester, post: 4104607, member: 134537"
Windows XP never magically became an insecure OS and interestingly still isn't. Windows 7 is unlikely to become such either. Still being EOL will trigger software and hardware devs to being phasing out support. As irritating and sad as it is, it's the future..
None of that is true. Would love to further discuss security in a thread meant for it.
Posted on Reply
#46
micropage7
and at this point newer one not always better than previous one, sometimes i feel the more the patch it the more that used to work well before screwed up then
Posted on Reply
#47
remixedcat
WASAPI / DAC / JRIVER MASTER RACE. Very move l nice and smooth
Posted on Reply
#48
trparky
lexluthermiester, post: 4104489, member: 134537"
Onboard rubbish is just not good enough.
:rolleyes:

I have no idea what you're talking about because if you've used any of the recent Realtek audio products like the ALC1220 you'd know that it's really not that bad at all. I use headphones quite a bit and I have no issues, it sounds great.
Posted on Reply
#49
danbert2000
It's just not very useful to have a sound card for the vast majority of PC users, due to wireless headphones, integrated audio (especially on laptops), USB DACs with better driver support, HDMI audio on the HTPC side. You need to have very specific requirements and equipment for a sound card to be worth anything today.

I know a lot of people don't want to bother with all the driver headaches and extra cost for a subjective improvement to audio. It seems like a lot of the energy behind gaming headphones are to do virtual surround, another situation where there is not going to be any benefit to having a really nice stereo out solution.

So I feel for people with audio issues. Last year I was dealing with some of the regressions around DD Live or DTS Interactive/Connect for 5.1 surround sound, another oft-ignored part of the PC audio equation. There is no excuse for Microsoft not to test their OS with these cards at some point in the process. But I'm not surprised these issues cropped up, I'm not surprised they didn't catch it for a while, and I'm not surprised that there aren't too many people complaining because sound cards are obsolete for 90% of their use cases.
Posted on Reply
#50
trparky
danbert2000, post: 4104680, member: 165365"
I'm not surprised that there aren't too many people complaining because sound cards are obsolete for 90% of their use cases.
I'd have to agree with you on that. Onboard audio works for close to 95% users unless of course, you're one of those people who have those supposed "golden ears" that can tell the difference. Personally, I can't tell the difference.
Posted on Reply
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