Setting up Your Virtual Studio

Easier jamming together over the Internet

Virtual Studio Project

The goal of the Virtual Studio project is to make it much easier for musicians and singers to play music together remotely. Most current solutions require each player to install, configure, and update sophisticated software and hardware on their computers. This necessitates significant technical expertise — including for computers, real-time audio, and even networking — to attain acceptable results. Another big problem with playing music together remotely is avoiding audio delays, called latency. The Virtual Studio project solves these problems in several ways:

  • The device updates its software automatically.
  • By standardizing the hardware and the software, latency can be better controlled. The only remaining delays are from the internet, namely distance delays caused by the speed of light and congestion delays caused by internet service providers.
  • The Virtual Studio project manages computer servers in the cloud, which connect the players together. These servers are easily configured and inexpensive. The project has servers in many locations, so you can choose servers that are nearby to reduce latency.
  1. A microphone — typically one but can be more
  2. Headphones — to hear all the players in your group.
  3. An internet connection — to connect to the Virtual Studio cloud service
  4. An app — a simple web app running on any standard browser, to control everything

The Virtual Studio Device

The JackTrip Virtual Studio Device (“device”) is a small hardware device about the size of 3 decks of playing cards stacked. This is what it looks like, and it comes in white or black.

  • MIC — ⅛ inch (3.5mm) TRS input from a microphone (or from a mixer or audio interface).
  • AUDIO OUT — Two RCA jacks; red is the right channel. Output to headphones (or optional headphone amplifier).
  • POWER — USB-C jack to connect to a power supply.

Power Supply

This plugs into a regular wall power socket and supplies power to the device. The power input on the Virtual Studio device is a USB-C socket, but is used for power only. You should not use a mobile phone charger for the power supply, instead use one of the official Raspberry Pi 4 power supplies. You should be able to get one for $8 (plus shipping).

Internet via Wired Ethernet

The Virtual Studio device should not be connected to the internet via WiFi. WiFi can cause excessive latency and jitter. Note that this is only a problem for hardware that is processing or transmitting audio. Your other connected devices — including the computer, tablet, or phone whose browser will run the web app to control the Virtual Studio device — can use WiFi if desired (or be connected direct into the hub/switch).

Microphone (and other inputs)

Most people will just need a single microphone. You may also need a special adapter cable to go from the microphone to the device.

Microphone

Recommended mics:
Behringer XM8500 Mic from Sweetwater — $23.00
Good microphone from Monoprice, with an on-off switch — $19.99 including shipping
From Monoprice, good Shure mic knockoff, includes mic clip — $29.99 including shipping

Microphone adapter cable

Most good microphones have a male XLR connector. The mic input jack on the Virtual Studio device is a 3.5mm (⅛ inch) stereo TRS. Note that there are two different jacks like this on the device. Make sure you use the one to the left of the RCA jacks (the one labelled “MIC” in the picture above). This cable goes from that jack to your microphone.

Mic Stands and Clips

Unless you are planning on always holding your microphone, you might want to buy a mic stand. Decide if you want a floor stand or a desk stand. You might also need a mic clip to hold your microphone on the stand.

Mic Extension Cable

Your microphone should be a few inches away from the source of sound (your mouth for singing, or your instrument). It is always handy to have an extension cable for your mic, so you can place the mic wherever you want it. The extension cable for a microphone has a female XLR connector on one end, and a male XLR connector on the other.

Pop Filter

If you are a singer who pops their P’s, you might want a pop filter. Of course, Monoprice sells them, as do Amazon, Sweetwater, etc.

Condenser Mics, Mixers, and Audio Interfaces

If you have a condenser microphone you want to use, unfortunately the Virtual Studio device does not supply “phantom power” to it. Condenser mics are popular, but they require a source of power, which is usually supplied through the same cable as carries the microphone signal.

  • Get an audio interface. This is a useful device that will also let you control the volume of your microphone(s). It can also be used with other software for remote music, including Jamulus and JamKazam (and others). They cost $50 and up. More expensive ones have multiple inputs, so you can have multiple microphones, instruments, and other inputs active at the same time. You can purchase audio interfaces from Sweetwater and Amazon. You will use the analog output from the audio interface, and plug it into the Virtual Studio device.
  • Buy a mixer, and use it the same way as an audio interface. A mixer also lets you use multiple inputs. If the mixer has a low-latency USB digital output, it may also work with Jamulus.

Headphones

You should use headphones when you are doing music remotely. If you use speakers, the sound will get picked up by your microphone and cause feedback, echo and other problems. Use wired headphones only (no wireless or Bluetooth, which will cause latency and jitter).

Headphone adapter cable

You will also need a short adapter cable to connect your headphones into the Virtual Studio device. The device audio output is two RCA jacks. Your headphones should use a 3.5mm (⅛ inch) stereo TRS phone plug, so you will need a short adapter cable that looks like this:

Headphone extension cable

Headphones almost always come with a built-in cable around 3 to 6 feet long, but if you want to get further away from the device, you can buy an extension cable, in your desired length.
From Monoprice — $0.83 and up
From Amazon — $6.98 and up

Headphone Amplifier

The audio output from the Virtual Studio device is not very powerful and can distort if you try to make it much louder. Some people will want to buy a headphone amplifier. Most headphone amplifiers can drive more than one set of headphones, which is useful if more than one person will be singing or playing over a single Virtual Studio device.
Behringer HA400 from Amazon — $23.99, or Sweetwater — $23.99
Monoprice 4-channel headphone amplifier — $31.99

Purchasing Checklist

What you need to do to get all the hardware you need.

  • Find your internet router and modem (they may be combined). Make sure you have an Ethernet jack that is not occupied by anything you need. If you don’t, you may need to purchase an Ethernet hub or switch.
  • Decide where you will put the Virtual Studio device. Figure out the lengths of the cables you will need, including the Ethernet, microphone, and headphone cables.
  • Read this document to figure out what else you need to buy, and buy it. Some things will be purchased by everyone in your group, so if possible get together and buy in bulk.

Sweetwater Bundle

Virtual Studio Cloud Service

Playing music together happens through a shared server. In order to keep latency low, you need to use a server that is as close to your group as possible.

Setup Checklist

The actual setup is pretty straightforward. This checklist focuses on extra things, including potential problems. The term “device” refers to the Virtual Studio device. The device is managed by a web app, both to set it up, and to control it.

  • If you have not done this already, create a login on the Virtual Studio online app website, and log in. This web app is used to control your device and connect it to a remote group server. When you see the page asking you to log in, scroll down until you see “Don’t have an account? Sign up”. If you haven’t yet finished setting up your device, after you sign up you will see a warning that you don’t have any active devices.
  • Have the chorus/band/group leader invite you to the group server, using the email address that you used to sign up in the previous step. That server will show up in the web app when it is available to you and running.
  • Check to make sure there is nothing loose or rattling around inside the device case. If there is, see the instructions in the “Virtual Studio device” section, above.
  • Hook up the microphone, headphones, internet, and power to the device.
  • At this point it will probably tell you that you have no audio devices registered to this account, or it might first ask you to log on, or to create a new login. Do what you need to do to open up the New Device Registration dialog. If you get an error, see Troubleshooting http://jacktrip.local for help.
  • You should now see the control panel for your device.

Test your Device

To test your device, you need to connect to a server. Probably the easiest (and most fun) way to do this is to have everyone in your group connect to your group server. That way you can get everyone in your group connected, and help each other if you run into any problems. To do this, whoever is in charge with your group will have to start the server.

  • Turn on your device. Each time you power on the device, it may take a minute, as it is checking the software for updates. Make sure the device gets powered off regularly, so it can do this.
  • In the Select Server input of the control panel, find the name of your group server and select it. Make sure it says “Ready”. If not, talk to your group leader. Then click the green Connect button. You should now be connected to that server.
  • Once you are connected to the group server, in the control panel you will normally want to have the Limiter turned on and the Compressor turned off.
  • Unmute both the “Input Volume” and “Output Volume” icons and move both volume sliders to 100%. With your headphones on, talk into the microphone and see if you can hear it. If you are not sure, you can turn on “Boost” for the Output Volume. Adding some Reverb can also help you hear your voice.
  • If you hear distortion in your voice, turn down the “Input Volume”. There is a short delay each time you adjust the volume.
  • If you don’t have enough volume in your headphones, you might want to purchase a headphone amplifier (discussed above).

Creating your own Server

Instead of connecting to the group server for testing, you can create your own server. This is also useful if you are in a group that has multiple sections, and you want to have practice sessions for your small group. Anyone can create and use their own server. Just remember that when server time starts costing money, the creator of the server will have to pay a (relatively small) amount for that use.

Video connection

If you want to see the other people you are playing with, you can use a conferencing program such as Zoom, Google Meet, Google Duo, Skype, etc. Note that these programs will have more latency (delay) than the Virtual Studio, so I would recommend turning off the audio on your conference app by having everyone mute their microphone. Also, there will likely be a delay (up to a full second!) between the audio signal (going through Virtual Studio) and the video from the conferencing app, so trying to conduct a group by waving your hands just won’t work.

Building a Virtual Studio Device

If you cannot find the Virtual Studio device for sale, you can build it yourself. However, it requires quite a bit of technical skill. If you have a friend who is technical, they can probably build it.

  • Steel case for HiFiBerry Dac+/Adc, Pi 4 — $22.90
  • Raspberry Pi 4B 2GB — $44.90
  • No heatsink (unless you want it, which won’t hurt)
  • SD (Micro SD) card 16GB — $12.90
  • If you are building your own device, you need a Micro SD card reader to load software on the Micro SD card (see below) — $6.90
  • You can add the power supply if you need to buy one anyway — $12.90

Further Reading

Virtual Studio online app. Create a login here. Once you do that and sign in, you can create a server or connect to an existing server.

Musician, computer scientist, artist.

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