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

#51
Easo
Sorry, but when a news post is written like this, I automatically qualify it as a whining. It's just... bad.
Posted on Reply
#52
HugsNotDrugs
lexluthermiester, post: 4104429, member: 134537"
[Hardware accelerated audio] never went away if you buy a dedicated sound card.
Is this correct? I thought the audio pipeline in Windows was software only after XP and the dedicated sound cards were really just for cleaner sound output.
Posted on Reply
#53
djisas
danbert2000, post: 4104680, member: 165365"
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.
It's not all about gaming, a lot of people dont go around buying 50€, 7.1 gaming headsets, there's a whole HI-FI world where people play a lot for marginal improvements in audio quality and own expensive HI-Fi cans. And not everyone wants to invest a small fortune on a good DAC, i bought a fiio E10K and sounds inferior to my sound card using my stereo headphones, i can connect a 7.1 speaker set as well.
There is a market for expensive sound cards, not many good offers on store...
Posted on Reply
#54
Houd.ini
I just make sure to get a motherboard with a toslink out, skipping onboard DA altogether. With that said, the line out on my two last motherboards (realtek 889 and 1220) have sounded absolutely fine with my DT770 Pros.
Easo, post: 4104707, member: 70901"
Sorry, but when a news post is written like this, I automatically qualify it as a whining. It's just... bad.
Maybe that's why it's not a news post, it says "editorial" right below the headline or even before the headline in the forums.
Posted on Reply
#55
R-T-B
btarunr, post: 4104355, member: 43587"
Drawing inspiration from the other world-famous Washingtonian product,
This was actually made after boeing snubbed us for tax reasons and moved to Chicago.

Can't blame us.

eidairaman1, post: 4104366, member: 40556"
Still require drivers...
USB Audio Class 2 drivers are technically drivers yes, but they are integrated in every OS around. It needs drivers like your HDD does.
Posted on Reply
#56
gamefoo21
Stutter? What stutter?

10 Pro x64 1903...

Installed and updating on the following close at hand:

Xonar older one on PCI-e with headphone amp
Strix Raid Pro Dlx
T61 onboard
T420s onboard
HP 800 SFF
HP Elite 1012 G1
HP Elite 1013 G3
HP Zbook Studio x360 G5

No stutter here. A mixture of dedicated sound hardware and onboard codecs.

Should I hook up my XFi Platinum, I can stuff it into my 7700K box.

Often audio stutters are the result of

1. Shitty hardware that has excessive subsystem latency. Notebookcheck tests it, and it's wild how much latency some systems have.
2. Software conflicts, usb stuff tends to conflict like mad with that crapware Corsair has. Drivers... Looking at you Creative...
3. Unstable hardware.

And yes...

4. OS problems.
Posted on Reply
#57
Axaion
Also the hilarious DPC is ... reee..
Posted on Reply
#58
lexluthermiester
trparky, post: 4104669, member: 170376"
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 have and fully disagree. I would rather use an old SouldBlaster Audigy or Turtle Beach card than use Realtek's current offerings, if there is no other choice. That said, I will admit to being an audio snob. Even slight imperfections in audio reproduction drive me bonkers. Credit where it's due, Realtek and others have made great strides in improvement. They're just not at the level that dedicated audio hardware is.

gamefoo21, post: 4104855, member: 189595"
Stutter? What stutter?
Not everyone is experiencing it.
Posted on Reply
#59
R-T-B
Axaion, post: 4104874, member: 74362"
Also the hilarious DPC is ... reee..
What?
Posted on Reply
#60
Axaion
R-T-B, post: 4104909, member: 41983"
What?
Its messed up
Posted on Reply
#61
lexluthermiester
HugsNotDrugs, post: 4104713, member: 164532"
Is this correct? I thought the audio pipeline in Windows was software only after XP and the dedicated sound cards were really just for cleaner sound output.
It is. While the process of rendering audio is complicated, all audio devices with a dedicated DSP are hardware accelerated. This means that Windows and the system CPU are not involved in sound reproduction after a certain point in the processing stage.
Posted on Reply
#62
btarunr
Editor & Senior Moderator
HugsNotDrugs, post: 4104713, member: 164532"
Is this correct? I thought the audio pipeline in Windows was software only after XP and the dedicated sound cards were really just for cleaner sound output.
Even after XP, you could do hardware audio over OpenAL and ASIO. Some post-Vista games actually leveraged OpenAL for hardware features like EAX 5. Winamp 5 had an AL output plugin that dumped much of the audio stack onto the X-Fi processor. Creative came up with a DirectSound to OpenAL translation layer called ALchemy.
Posted on Reply
#63
trparky
lexluthermiester, post: 4104878, member: 134537"
Even slight imperfections in audio reproduction drive me bonkers.
You need to bring your expectations down a bit there.
Posted on Reply
#64
lexluthermiester
trparky, post: 4104941, member: 170376"
You need to bring your expectations down a bit there.
No thank you. My expectations are precisely where they need to be. I expect excellence and am unwilling to accept less than such.
Posted on Reply
#65
Makaveli
I'm also on 1903.

Older build x58 i7-970

x fi fatl1ty pro pcie and there is no stutter for me and Latency Mon is all green.
Posted on Reply
#66
Athlonite
djisas, post: 4104413, member: 40410"
I still own an X-Fi fatl1ty pro pci, besides the ocasional driver nightmare it's working like a dream and it will be hard to get a proper PCIE replacement...
I have the PCIe version and after the latest driver update from Creative it's also a no problem audio card under 1903
Posted on Reply
#67
lexluthermiester
Easo, post: 4104707, member: 70901"
Sorry, but when a news post is written like this, I automatically qualify it as a whining. It's just... bad.
Considering that it was stated as an editorial, that complaint seems a bit ironic.
Posted on Reply
#68
trparky
lexluthermiester, post: 4104946, member: 134537"
No thank you. My expectations are precisely where they need to be. I expect excellence and am unwilling to accept less than such.
When most Realtek stuff gets within 95% to 98% of that excellence, it's usually good enough for me.
Posted on Reply
#69
lexluthermiester
trparky, post: 4104952, member: 170376"
When most Realtek stuff gets within 95% to 98% of that excellence, it's usually good enough for me.
And that's cool, no worries. Not trying to imply that you, or anyone else, are lesser computer users for being ok with that 95% to 98%(which I could debate but won't).

However, in relation to the topic of this editorial, everyone needs to expect Microsoft to be on top of problems like this, expecting & demanding excellence and attention to detail. Microsoft is getting sloppy and needs to be reminded that they have a high bar to uphold.
Posted on Reply
#70
trparky
lexluthermiester, post: 4104954, member: 134537"
Not trying to imply that you, or anyone else, are lesser computer users for being ok with that 95% to 98%
What? ...
lexluthermiester, post: 4104954, member: 134537"
everyone needs to expect Microsoft to be on top problems like this
That I can agree with you on.
Posted on Reply
#71
Athlonite
trparky, post: 4104684, member: 170376"
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.
my ears are shit but I can still tell the difference between my PCIe X-Fi Fatality pro vs the onboard Realtek ALC 889
Posted on Reply
#72
trparky
Athlonite, post: 4104959, member: 80893"
onboard Realtek ALC 889
Well yeah, but that's a pretty old audio chipset. Realtek has come a long way since then. The newer ALC1220-based onboard audio is miles ahead of what they used to be.
Posted on Reply
#73
lexluthermiester
trparky, post: 4104958, member: 170376"
What? ...
It's been suggested that I come off a bit condescending sometimes. Wanted to be clear that's not what I was implying..
Posted on Reply
#74
trparky
Yeah but the idea that you think I'm settling for that 95% to 98% range within so-called perfection is a bit offputting here. Now if I still had an ancient Realtek audio chip like @Athlonite has with his old ALC889 I'd have to agree with you, those old Realtek chips were just godawful. But that's not the case anymore, Realtek has brought some really good audio to the masses with recent audio chipsets that are within a very small margin of the so-called premium solutions.
Posted on Reply
#75
Mussels
Moderprator
How odd. havent seen this one at all on many systems.
Posted on Reply
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