How can an audio signal be read

No sound? - That's why you don't hear anything in your DAW

10 tips why boxes stay silent

The ultimate checklist for technical problems

Credits: Shutterstock / Aaron Amat

Nothing is more frustrating in production than not hearing any sound from your speakers or headphones and not knowing why. Many producers who are just starting out, who have to (and want to) learn and understand technology, music, genre, arrangement and mixing at the same time, stumble over it in the first few months of production. We have collected the most common sources of errors and solutions. Universal, not related to a DAW and especially for beginners. And maybe there is a trick or two for the professionals ...

“I can't hear anything!”, “Yesterday everything was still working”, “I clicked twice and there was no more sound!” - we all went through this dark, early days riddled with screens thrown out of the window and bitten keyboards who is sitting helplessly in front of his computer, just wants to make music and nothing works. No matter what you press, no matter where you click, the DAW plays, you may even see level swings, but the speakers remain silent. Friends are written to in panic, their fingers googled sore, every tip tried, all forums read empty.

We have put together a uniform checklist of the ten most common sources of error. This does not claim to be complete and (very important) is universal. In addition, each DAW brings its own peculiarities, settings and tricks with which you can make them sound. But today it's about the general. You don't have to adhere to an order here, each tip stands for itself and can be checked individually.

# 1 hardware: everything on?

The larger the number of devices, the more likely that one or the other power button will be forgotten. Audio interface with external power source? Monitors turned on? With passive the amplifier? There are even some studio headphones that have a separate on / off button on one of the headphones. Checks for all devices whether they are switched on and the respective power supply unit or cable is supplying power.

# 2 hardware: everything included?

The number one source of error here is headphones. Especially when there are studio headphones with the large jack sockets and you have a new interface, the sockets of which you have to plug in with a bit of taste at first, it can very quickly happen that a cable is only 80% plugged in and you can hardly see it. Check all cables here: USB, headphones, monitors, interface - pull them all gently and then plug them in. Not by force, of course, but make sure that the cable is really inserted.

# 3 hardware: everything ok?

If you have done everything up to this point and are sure that there is no source of error on the software side, take the arduous path of cable and device testing. One part of the signal chain is exchanged after the other - initially, of course, the cables. First borrow everything from your circle of friends in order to gradually narrow down the source of the error with spare parts. Important with cables: also change the sockets! Sometimes a complete socket of an interface or a USB hub, for example, can become useless due to static discharge. Step by step you reconnect your equipment, swap cables individually, and try out the interface of your best friend if necessary.

Very important: always do this with the devices switched off and corded off, nothing may be connected to the mains. Risk of electric shock!

In Cubase 10 Elements you set the correct interface in the "Audio connections" area.

# 4 software: interface confusion

Nothing a DAW forgets faster than its last audio interface. Since (see point 1) the power from the interface was not present at the last start, somehow a driver trip (see point 7) breathed the “output (integrated)” into the DAW, some plug-in (reference from Sonarworks or Pro Tools Aggregates are common culprits) has thrown in between. Check in the settings of your DAW (often in the audio area, in Pro Tools it is the "Playback Engine") which audio device is being communicated with. With Windows users, there is still the fact that you can choose between an ASIO and a Direct-X / mme version. In addition, most of the slightly better interfaces often have their own dedicated mixer and routing software in addition to their own drivers. Sometimes this has to be started before the DAW so that the interface works properly.

# 5 software: sample rate dispute

Many home producers don't just use their computers to produce. At the same time, the latest tutorials are viewed, samples are searched for and loaded, and the best friend is briefly looked over the shoulder while making beats via Skype. The audio signal must therefore run in many directions at the same time. Most of the time, your operating system can do that. However, if for any reason a sample rate other than 44100 Hz is set in the audio settings of your DAW, this will trip most systems. System audio of all kinds runs at this standard sample rate. If you set 48000 Hz, for example, the respective driver no longer manages it properly when you switch back and forth between programs. So check that in the audio settings.

With some DAWs such as Logic Pro X, the sample rate can also be changed later in the audio settings, others only allow this when creating a project.

# 6 software: up-to-date

Never change a running system! The number of studio owners and producers who work with what is now age-old Logic 7 or Pro Tools 5 or Cubase SX 3 systems is larger than you might think. A system is set up once, doesn't make any complaints, an update would only cause unnecessary trouble. Therefore, be careful when updating systems. The rule of thumb for many professionals is to always be one or two versions of the operating system behind. So you can be sure that all DAW, driver software and plugin manufacturers have pulled along.

But as soon as new hardware comes into play, or (God forbid) your operating system has accidentally automatically moved itself to the next version (make sure you turn it off!), The problems often start. And you will often only be able to solve this by loading the latest versions available on the respective manufacturer's website step by step for all software components. Make sure to create backups on external hard drives, preferably as a complete mirror, so that you can switch back if a new version of the software proves to be incompatible.

Cubase 10 Elements is exemplary when it comes to "I-can't-find-the-solo-button". As soon as "Solo" or "Mute" is activated for a track, the corresponding button lights up in the top left and is clearly visible in the title bar and can be deactivated if necessary without having to search.

# 7 software: find the mute button!

Once everything has been checked on the hardware side, one of the main reasons is why you don't hear anything in the first few months, even though you play it, hear everything except a track, although you just recorded it in the finest quality, an overlooked oneMute- orsolo-Button. Some DAWs like Logic Pro X indicate when a tracksolo is switched, this can then be deactivated again globally. With others you have to look for clues. The tricky thing is:solo- andMute-Functions are not only available on individual tracks, but also on groups and in the instruments themselves! Especially when the routing becomes more complex, you create groups and subgroups, such a small one can dosolo-set ever get lost.

In addition, software instruments such as Battery 4 or Kontakt often have the function of individual cells or instruments within the plug-insolo orMute to deliver. Zack, the string arrangement is suddenly without cellos or the beat without snare. Final source of error: automation. Especially when you sendTouch- orLatch-Automation have recorded beautiful volume or filter movements, it can quickly happen that you forget to set the mode back to "Read". Every one becomes spontaneousMute-Places recorded the next time you listen. Simply unmute does not help, the automation must then be deleted from the track, otherwise it will remain silent forever.

DAWs like Logic Pro X, Pro Tools or Cubase offer different automation modes.

# 8 software: no input

Modern DAWs are basically designed in such a way that some things relating to routing and signal flow happen automatically in the background (if you take Pro Tools outside). Nonetheless, if you click the wrong way or press "OK" too quickly, tracks can be created that lack input. So if you want to record something, you have created an audio track and there is no level, first check whether an input that matches your chosen interface has been selected for the track input. The situation is somewhat different with MIDI tracks.

Basically: MIDI cannot be heard! What you play on your keyboard or controller are tiny control commands, which then ensure that the corresponding sample is played in an instrument on the track such as a piano or a drum machine. If you have created a MIDI track but have not placed an instrument on it, no sound can come out.

In this routing scenario in Logic Pro X, the AUX channel at its input "Bus 4" was inadvertently left without a track output. Anything that would be routed into this channel would not be heard.

# 9 software: wrong output

What can go wrong at the entrances has even more potential to disappear into silent nirvana at the lane exits. At the latest when the routing becomes more complex, when bus groups and AUX channels are created, it can happen that an output has not been set correctly at one point. As of each track, it traces the signal path over all buses and channels to find out where the signal is lost.

# 10 software: reset.

Operation successful - patient dead. Sometimes all of this doesn't help. Everything has been checked, everything is up to date, but nothing can be heard. And everything works fine on your best friend's computer? When in doubt, reboot. Everyone who has been trained in technical support for parents and grandparents knows how often simple reboots or a brief 10-second switch-off and switch-on again magically solve software problems. If the DAW is still twitching and not making a sound, the only thing that helps is a reset. For every DAW there is a passage in the respective manual on how to reset all settings. In the worst case, a new installation will help.