Preventing Audio Dropouts in Digital DJ Software

When DJing, one of the worst things you can hear is sudden, unexpected silence. Audio dropouts with digital DJ gear happen all too easily. In today’s article, guest contributor Tenova shares a guide of common solutions to problems that cause most audio dropouts for DJs.

Audio Dropouts: A DJ’s Worst Nightmare

There are few worse things that could happen in a DJ set than an audio dropout.

Unfortunately, audio dropouts are far more common than one may think, and they equally impact Traktor and Serato users. Any DJ who has ever had a dropout happen during a set knows the agony that can result from dead silence in the club and the anxiety that can follow these incidents.

What’s more, often times these issues can be no fault of your own. Even the most resources and best prepared/supported DJs can have problems. Hell, even Tiesto has experienced audio dropouts before:

As unfortunate as these occurrences are, there’s almost always a logical explanation. Sound suddenly stopping is actually a symptom of a larger issue. The cause can almost always be diagnosed and addressed, and precautions can be taken to prevent them from happening.

This guide is by no means a comprehensive list of every issue that can possibly cause a dropout. Instead, it highlights the most common causes of one of the worst technical issues a DJ can face.

Did your DJ software crash, or did the audio simply stop?

There is an important distinction to be made here when diagnosing why your audio has dropped out in your DJ software of choice. Did the program quit entirely, or did the program stay open and the audio simply stop?

If the program itself has closed unexpectedly, it’s most likely a software-related, and you can skip ahead to the software causes section of this guide.

Physical Causes of audio dropouts:

Is your computer up to specification?

I am often amazed at which many DJs choose to trust with the integrity of their performance. Below are the suggested specifications for optimal performance of both Traktor and Serato. To me, these are the absolute minimum requirements any working DJs should have in their machines if they expect expects their software to function flawlessly.

  • Traktor Pro 2: Intel Core i5, 4 GB RAM
  • Serato DJ: Intel Core i3, i5 or 1.7, 1.07GHz, 4GB RAM, USB 2.0 port or higher

It is possible to run Traktor or Serato on less sophisticated setups, you are inciting potential trouble in doing so.

Solution: Only use a machine that is up to specification.

Photo credit: Windows Central 

Are you using a PC?

I’ve diagnosed/fixed numerous DJs’ laptops suffering from a myriad of issues. There’s no doubt: catastrophic issues in digital audio processing are far more common on PCs than on a Mac. (My bias: I own a PC for production and a Macbook for DJing)

Here’s a story of one of those issues from my own experience.

I once diagnosed technical issues for a notable touring DJ (name withheld on request). He wanted to save money and purchased a PC to tour with as opposed to a Mac. While practicing for a festival set, awful distortion started pumping through his monitors playing tracks from his Traktor setup.

He called me. Twelve hours of research later, I found that his particular model of PC had a BIOS setting where the processor would intermittently discharge additional electricity throughout the motherboard. This somehow affected the audio card, and distortion ensued. The manufacturer had no solution, and Native Instruments has very little incentive to try to find a fix. It’s a weird issue – but the kind of thing that just doesn’t happen with Macbooks.

Apple is a vertically integrated company across their hardware and software products. Very little variation exists between Apple laptop models. This isn’t the case with, where literally hundreds of thousands of manufacturers exist.

The more standardized DJ’s setups are, the less fewer resources software companies have to spend diagnosing why an issue is occurring on a particular device. This leads to faster turnaround times when addressing tech issues. For these reasons, more DJs use Macbooks than any other computer.

Updates to operating systems and DJ software are notorious for causing issues, and each update presents a new opportunity for an issue to arise based on the unique makeup of each user’s machine. Think about it: if an incompatibility were to arise between a DJ software update and an operating system/piece of hardware, which group of users do you think that the technicians at Traktor or Serato would give priority to?

Solution: Consider buying a Macbook. 

What quality of USB cables are you using?

Not all USB cables are created equally. A USB cable is one of the most mass-produced items on the planet, and there are different degrees of quality.

Cheaply manufactured USB cables offer little protection from outside interference. Sources of outside interference include cell phones, radio waves, and a multitude of other things you wouldn’t expect. Any interference on this path can cause a disturbance in the signal, as well as in your music. Quality USB cables will include at least one ferrite core, or a magnetic clasp that attached to the outside of your cable to prevent interference.

Solution: get professional-grade USB cables. DJTT manufactures Chroma Cables, some of the best USB cables on earth.

Editor’s Disclaimer: we didn’t ask Tenova to mention or endorse Chroma Cables, but we’ll take the compliment. 

How well do you take care of your cables?

Cables, particularly USB cables, deteriorate over time. Improperly wrapping USB cables will cause them to deteriorate faster.

For this reason, “over/under” wrap your USB cables to ensure the longest lifespan out of them. Here’s a great video demonstrating this:

Solution: Over/under wrap your USB cables and replace them regularly to be on the safe side.

Voltage Fluctuations: a big issue that nobody talks about

Some nightclubs are notorious for cutting costs in every way imaginable. What may appear to be a top-notch operation could very well be poorly wired. Here’s another story:

At my first big club residency, myself and another resident DJ experienced multiple audio dropouts on both of our respective nights. Both of our audio devices would randomly disconnect from our laptops during the night. The program would not crash, but rather the connection between the mixer and software would be lost.

He was a Serato DJ. I was using Traktor. This nightmare went on for two weeks. The club owners insisted we keep opening and would continually hound us about our “technical difficulties.” By process of elimination, it would be very highly unlikely that we both had faulty equipment.

Several hours of research led me to believe that the entire DJ booth at this particular nightclub was powered off of one circuit. Despite the club’s constant attempt to cut costs, they outfitted the DJ booth with two DJ setups, two mini refrigerators, a fog machine, a fan, and at one point, a Fireball Whiskey machine.

I mentioned this setup to club management, but it largely fell on deaf ears. It wasn’t until their DJM-900 mysteriously quit working altogether that they began to listen.

Plugging a multi-meter into a free plug on the power strip revealed that the voltage was jumping around drastically throughout the night, particularly when the fog machine would engage.

This voltage fluctuation is terrible for electronics, and years of it eventually led the club’s mixer to the Pioneer repair center. In the short term, however, these fluctuations are enough to cause a disconnect between a laptop and an audio device, resulting in an audio dropout.

If you are doing everything right and are still experiencing audio dropouts, I highly suggest taking a look at the outlets from which you are getting power, asking the club management about how the booth is wired, and potentially plugging a multimeter into a free outlet on the circuit to watch for these fluctuations.

One solution for this is plugging your computer and audio device into an Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS for short). This ensures a constant flow of electricity, and voltage fluctuations have no impact. UPSs are cheap and plentiful, and can often be found at your neighborhood electronics store. I have one on my rider for club gigs, and always take one along for my mobile gigs.

Solution: Learn the wiring of your DJ booth, and make sure that there are multiple circuits to power your setup and whatever else is in the booth. Avoid plugging devices that hog electricity into the same circuit as your laptop and soundcard.

Software Causes of Audio Dropouts

How much Hard Drive space do you have available?

A hard drive can become full very fast! A large DJ library can fill a drive very quickly, and it’s easy to lose track of how much free space one may have.

If you’re experiencing glitches or dropouts, make sure that you have the absolute minimum of 20% of free space available on your drive. Filling it past 80% can create issues with drive indexing, local caching, etc and potentially cause audio issues.

Solution: Use an app like OmniDiskSweeper to clear out unnecessary files clogging up your hard drive. Consider upgrading to a larger Solid State Drive if necessary.

Corrupt files wreak havoc!

One of the unfortunate realities of digital audio processing is the potential for file corruption. To save a lengthy discussion about drive sectors: File corruption can happen at any moment. That being said, a corrupt audio file can crash either Traktor or Serato when loaded. Serato users have it better than Traktor users in this arena, as Serato will display an icon next to the track name, indicating that the file has become corrupt.

Multiple programs exist for scanning one’s collection for corrupt files and fixing them.

Solution: Run an app like MP3 Scan + Repair weekly to ensure no files have become corrupt. Import & analyze each file prior to playing them at a live gig.

Have you streamlined your Mac?

Macbooks aren’t ready to DJ with straight out of the box. Fifteen minutes of tuning can go a long way, as far as increasing performance and negating any potential issues.

Solution: Follow Mike Charles’ awesome Macbook optimization guide. Note that much of this is still relevant even though the article is from 2009!

Come prepared, be proactive!

If there’s one theme of this article, it’s “sh*t happens!” Being a proactive working DJ can prevent technical mishaps.  As the old adage goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

All clichés aside, I encourage all DJs to have an emergency backup in the event that something goes seriously wrong. Even beyond the realm of technical mishaps, drinks get spilled, hard drives crash and bad things can happen.

  • Keep a 1/8th inch cable in your DJ bag & an iPod full of DJ mixes.
  • Have a backup laptop. While not necessarily related to the discussion of audio dropouts, I keep a cloned version of my Macbook Pro the trunk of my car in the event of a major disaster. The show must go on, after all!

Consider going without the laptop when possible.

Every time I’m in a situation where I’m playing more House centric and there are CDJs available, I opt to ditch the laptop entirely. While I don’t find it reasonable to do this for a mixed format club set, eliminating the laptop is a surefire way of eliminating the threat of a dropout.

Barring a mechanical error, which would be the fault of the club who owns the gear, I find using CDJs and a thumb drive to be far more reliable than any digital DJ software.

Tenova (Thomas Hricik) is a guest contributor to DJ Techtools. 

Have your own audio dropout horror story or solution? Share in the comments.

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Comments (31)
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  • Barry

    I experienced some issues with Traktor All solutions in this article are so basic and will in 99% of the cases not solve anything. Most problems are caused by: latency, process buffer, USB buffer, sample rate and last but not least the famous Windows interrupts. So make sure you run the last drivers for your audio card (ASIO) and play with the latency settings if you have issues. In a lot of cases USB is causing trouble due to buffer issues. Do not use USB hubs! Use NI system performance test tool (only for NI hardware) to test and change process buffer, USB buffer and sample rate settings. And then maybe the most important thing is…. interrupts! A quick explanation of this Windows culprit. Interrupts are caused by everything which is running on your computer. Even a program which is not used but running in the background or a visual enhancement from windows OS creates interrupts. When you use audio software (DAW or Dj stuff) you don’t want your audio software process to be interrupted by some stupid other not relevant software process. Why…. because each interrupt will more or less demand processor time and therefore interrupt the audio process. This is how windows works. What to do….. limit the amount of potential interrupts! How? Use a script like the djtt bat file to disable all processes which are not relevant to audio processing, change the script to your computers needs. Different vendors implement a lot of crap, services and programs which run on startup so change the script to disable these services and programs. Check for programs which are running in the background and disable them. Turn of your virus scanner and all other protection software. Disable all visual windows enhancements (themes and yes your pc then will look like it is running Windows 95 LOL.) Another thing is graphic cards, they also create a lot of problems. There are some tools which can identify this issue. Apply all these things and the solutions mentioned in the article above and your Windows machine will perform a lot better while running audio software. Last tip…. voltage fluctuations…. use a circuit breaker for every device you plugin to a socket. Small device which goes in between your power cables and plug sockets.

  • Ben Merker

    is there any app for MAC that is similar to the mp3val fronted ? or maybe an online platform ????

  • Dj Fernald

    Mutiple Effects at a time with traktor in numark mixtrack

  • david singh

    most major problem with dj software have a clean pc with (windows or max os)

    do not install antivirus on pc this runs in the background and uses up resoures and cause sound drop out distortion and freeze up of system while playing live.

  • couic

    I have more issues with my current macbook-based set up than with my previous PC-based set-up.
    and the worse is that my PC wasn’t even a performance-dedicated machine, but my macbook is.

    all-time protip (PC & mac) : if it works perfectly don’t update.

    “Have a backup laptop” : lol. you definitely don’t do international gigs.

  • Koitz

    In my first contact with Serato and MacBook, both freeze after 10 mins with light scratch and mixing session. Luckily, it was at my friend’s home.

    Mac better than PC is half true, there are so many computer to say this. I was mixing for 5 years with an Acer (rara avis) CoreDuo with almost error free (and WinXP!!), although I prior made some optimizations (not to many users)

    BUUUT, a year ago, I have a Microsoft Surface Pro 2, and have solid rock stability OOB, with only some problems first days when I updated to Win10 (too fast on my own). And it’s full of software (Traktor, Ableton, Premiere, Maschine…) but I don’t use to download untrusted files or soft.

    In other hand, I like OSX (or macOS) little more than Win10, but this is very capable and by now, the only with touchscreen PCs (more handy that it seems).

  • Sevenkami

    Regarding Traktor.

    Before you tell people to buy macbooks, you might want to look into the Native Instruments forums and find out how many DJ’s are having these drop-out issues. They are similar to the problems Windows user are facing with Traktor.

    An example:

    There have been problems with Traktor + multicore processors for ages now. The last stable build (if you disable multicore) was 9.6.8. The switch to 64 bit kicked off the new era of Traktor stability problems we’re looking at now. Including the OS upgrade audio dropout / glitch problems both platforms (Apple & Windows) are having.

    I think it all boils down to NI. They need to take a good look at the audio engine they build for Traktor when they switched to the 64 bit software. It is appallingly bad. And, as mikefunk already stated, a time bomb waiting to explode.

    My audio 10 works flawlessly in any software except for Traktor.
    There are zero audio problems in programs that max my pc’s peripherals.
    Traktor does not even remotely do that (3% cpu) and still has audio dropouts.

    So yeah. It’s Traktor.

  • No Qualms

    I actually find it’s the opposite with CDJs. I find they are the weakest link in the chain. I know my MacBook Pro is clean and stable, but the CDJs get the shit kicked out of them in the clubs and get all types of stuff spilt on them. When ever I get a technical issue its with them not Traktor.

  • kebzer

    DJs are not IT wizards and shouldn’t be necessarily. Our job is to play music, not tuning laptops. Therefore, the solution is simple: clean Macbook Pro + verified working Serato version. Anything else is a disaster waiting to happen and it has been repeated enough times already to become a standard rule nowadays.

    • Oddie O'Phyle

      Every time I see a comment like this, I think to myself “good thing that person isn’t a guitarist.” It’s like a musician not being able to tune or string their instrument. As for Mac… because, Yosemite was such a stable update before El Capitan ran that ship aground.

      • kebzer

        “It’s like a musician not being able to tune or string their instrument” – I guess you’ve never been close to a keyboard player.

        “As for Mac… because, Yosemite was such a stable update”. – If you’re dumb enough to jump ships on every new OSX update, then you deserve your ill fate. I’m still on Mavericks with zero problems.

        • Oddie O'Phyle

          Most syth heads I know own a soldering iron… repairing 1/4″ jacks, chip swapping and circuit bends are common reasons to know your instrument. Yep, I spend time with keyboardist too. I’ve personally repaired both my JV-80 and my SH-201.

          If you heavily rely on a laptop, shouldn’t you at least know basic maintenance? People rely on cars and maintain those… change a tire, charge a battery, clean air filters. How is that different than learning ACMT or A+ HW and OS? It’s not like you are trying to qualify for an MCSE or MCITP.

          • kebzer

            I’m also repairing mixers by myself and/or upgrading. Is that a necessary skill for a good DJ? No. it just saves me money, nothing else. The same applies to laptops and everything else.

          • Oddie O'Phyle

            Isn’t that level of knowledge the difference between trend and lifestyle? Hobby and professional attitude? Most serious DJs I know do simple maintenance on their own gear. Some of the biggest leaps in technology and innovations in DJing have been from DJs with self taught knowledge. Others adopt an education path because they want to know more about peripheral skills and knowledge base… learning for learning sake.

    • The_KLH

      Even Apple products crash. If you want to minimize failure, then don’t use a laptop. It is easily the weakest link in the chain – regardless of OS. If you are going to use a laptop, practice for MANY MANY HOURS with it as the likelihood of failure decreases the more you use it. And above all, do NOT update anything until you have multiple hours to test it. If your setup is solid, wait until you don’t have a gig to update/upgrade.

      • kebzer

        “If you want to minimize failure, then don’t use a laptop” – Go on,
        please indicate which DVS non-laptop system I should buy then. 🙂

        “If you are going to use a laptop, practice for MANY MANY HOURS” – I didn’t knew there was a “Training” bar inside Serato which fills up the more I practice. 🙂

        “And above all, do NOT update anything until you have multiple hours to test it” – I agree, that’s why Serato labels all beta versions as BETA.

  • John Viera

    CDJs can’t do what Traktor does. And I struggle to find tracks on those little screens.

  • Samuel Agius

    I had an issue due to voltage fluctuation when I was performing during a pool party. When the smoke machine turned on, all in a sudden traktor crashed and I heard some noise from the PA system. I turned off the smoke machine and asked the owner what he had connected, he told me he had 2 freezers, 1 fridge, pool pump and flood lights. Then I disconnected the smoke machine and quickly I played a mix from my phone and I relaunched traktor and I mixed out and I continued my performance. I thought of the idea of having a UPS as a backup, not only for the laptop but also for the whole sound system.

    • Dubby Labby

      It’s usual to separate the light line from the audio line (avoiding problems with noise hum and so). Obviously dedicated one for freezers and power drainers…

  • Jacob Stadtfeld

    PC’s work fine if you know how to computer. Yes, getting them to be bulletproof for performances takes more configuration and fine-tuning of your system, but I’d rather be able to fix the issues that arise than have to take my machine to the Genius Bar when stuff actually does break.

    That being said, machines are sadistic; any and all hardware will try to fail occasionally. So no matter what you’re using, as the author writes, backups are essential. I did a wedding this past weekend with a relatively new laptop. It had given no sign of trouble, but I borrowed a friends CDJ and had my phone plugged in at all times just to be safe. I’ve done the same with my laptop as a backup for CDJ’s that have also failed on me in critical moments.

    • Dubby Labby

      B plan everytime!

      • Jacob Stadtfeld

        And C

        • AX11

          Supposed you have three minions to carry your equipment. And then you could still break your fingers or end up being drunk 😉
          There’s no complete security unless you want to “perform” playback.

  • Martullia

    Reason why the CDJ’s are club standard and not your laptop. Macbooks are just to expensive for the hardware you get. Why are there less problems whit Macbook different software? Or less variation in the Hardware so meaning less work to fix it if there is a problem.

  • mikefunk

    Traktor on PC is a time bomb waiting to explode. I tried many PC’s, even my gaming rig. All of them had problems (motherboard timings, other peripherals, drivers, voltage fluctuations, etc.). No matter how strong your PC is it will crash your Traktor sooner or later.
    Only solution is to either have completely separate (fresh, clean and lean) laptop or separate partition with separate Windows dedicated only for DJ’ing (dual boot). (Plus – I still use DJTT Traktor Optimize .bat file – thanks guys!).
    Overall after years of using software for DJ’ing I am now planning to buy XDJ’s and ditch computers entirely form my DJ booth.

    • LudovicLubit

      I think it depends. I toured with an Asus computer back in the days. Minimal problems. Switched to Mac and shit is weirder. Core Audio has problems – apparently fixed on the new upcoming OS, but older soundcards aren’t supported anymore. So i’m stuck with a Audio 8 and a Audio 4 soundcards and both have audiodrops and glitches. I don’t play with Traktor that much nowadays but it’s still a pain with Ableton Live or simply with media on the browser.

      • SweetGwendoline

        That the older soundcards aren’t supported any more does not mean that they are not working anymore. So far I read / heard about a few who are running Sierra with the Audio 8 without any problems.

        • LudovicLubit

          Yeah, I know about that. NI told me by email that the update my solve my problems. Still, during the whole lifetime of El Capitan I was having problems.

    • SweetGwendoline

      I played fail free on a windows laptop, 2 different macbooks for over 8 years with Traktor. Recently updated OS X and bam massive sound problems (audio degrading) on two gigs. So today just did a session on CDJ 2000 nxs2 to be prepared better. And guess what… one CDJ had a critical error and one of them kept jittering and had some weird behavior when looping. In the end those are also just overpriced little computers with a giant jogwheel.
      You can never be sure ever. Always have a plan B and ideally a plan C.