Question Ineradicable audio crackling on both internal and USB DAC

diamond225

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Apologies for the slightly dramatic title, but this is an audio problem that seems to defy (my) comprehension. I recently purchased an ASUS Zephyrus M15 laptop (GU502LU-HN080T, i7-10750H, GTX 1660 Ti), and have been plagued with audio crackling ever since, the sort that sounds like a fireplace. The crackling is audible whether I am listening to music or playing a game, and can usually be triggered in the latter by sudden audio cues (like menu selection sounds). I listen to FLAC and sometimes SACD music using my external DAC, which would have to be set to WASAPI exclusive for the latter (DoP); and I can hear occasional crackling with that, too, though far less common (every ~5 min).

The difficulty is that the same crackling can be heard on both the external DAC and using the internal headphone jack, which eliminates hardware problems relating to the two. Furthermore, I have tested different pairs of headphones (on different cables), eliminating the headphones as a factor. I have then proceeded to do the following in a series of maddening attempts to fix the problem:
  • BIOS reset to default settings;
  • CPU reset to stock (no undervolting/overclocking);
  • Windows high performance power plan (with Armoury Crate 'Turbo' mode);
  • Windows audio sampling settings (tested 16 bit 44.1 kHz, 24 bit 48 kHz, 24 bit 96 kHz);
  • Disabling Fastboot;
  • LatencyMon, which reports <400 μs in Turbo mode (and in which the crackling still persists);
  • Disabling all audio enhancements (a bit of a journey, I tell you):
    • The laptop comes with Nahimic APO (Sonic Studio 3) preinstalled, a rather notoriously difficult to remove software. Even when you turn off all effects, the APO insists on affecting your audio (it makes it sound worse). Only by using the Windows device installation restrictions policy could I prevent Windows from reinstalling the drivers upon a restart, allowing me to delete whatever traces of Nahimic I could find, or at least prevent them from running. All Nahimic processes/services are disabled, the APO software device is deleted, and Windows no longer reports that there are any 'audio enhancements' available to turn on.
  • Factory reset with OEM recovery partition;
    • Factory reset with OEM recovery partition, then immediately upgrading to Windows 11;
  • Ensured all audio and Intel ISST drivers were the latest OEM, as well as updating Intel & Nvidia display drivers (apparently these can cause DPC latency?);
  • Moving music/games from HDD to SSD (no difference);
  • Setting all available devices to Message Signalled Interrupts;
  • Running TestMem5 with the 'extreme@anta777' config, and Prime95, both with no errors after 1h (the problem could still lie here, but it seems rather improbable?);
  • Turning off Game Mode and hardware-accelerated GPU scheduling.
The one thing that seems to have reduced the severity of the popping is uninstalling Nahimic, though I have not tested whether that affected the audio on the external DAC. The other thing I would mention is that I seem to have reduced the crackling to tolerable levels in my music by setting the WASAPI event mode hardware buffer to 1000 (as high as it goes), though I am uncertain as to whether this is a placebo. At any rate, the problem is still quite noticeable when playing a range of games (from ARMA 3 to Control to Read Dead Redemption 2 to Minecraft).

If anybody could assist me with this, you would be helping a man get to sleep at night again. Any suggestions would be absolutely welcome.
 
Last edited:

Lutfij

Titan
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Could you list all the headsets you've tried as well as the DAC's that were tethered to the laptop? Since you're on Windows 11, did you try and reinstall the OS after fabricating the bootable USB installer using Windows Media Creation Tools? Since you mentioned upgrading, you should be able to format and reinstall with the installer as opposed to upgrading again. What BIOS version are you on for your laptop? To note, you should disconnect from the www when you're installing the OS, manually install all relevant drivers on the laptop in an elevated command, i.e, Right click installer>Run as Administrator. You should download the drivers prior to the format/reinstall and store them on an USB drive to use after the OS install is complete.

You can then connect to the www after all drivers are installed.

See if that helps.
 

diamond225

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Hello Lutfij,

Gladly. The headphones I have tested are Sennheiser 280 PROs and AKG K702s. The DACs are my external Topping NX4 DSD, as well as the internal DAC on the laptop, which ASUS says is an ESS Sabre DAC. The laptop BIOS version is 312, the latest.

Regarding the Windows reinstall, the two reinstalls I have done were using the factory reset option, which uses a SWM (WIM) file on a Recovery partition that I imagine is simply deployed onto the boot drive using DISM. The image has all the relevant OEM drivers preinstalled. On the second reinstall, the first thing I did was to use the Windows 11 upgrade assistant, before even installing any updates from either Windows or the OEM (Windows actually refrains from installing any updates until you tell it to, right after a fresh install). I did this in order to have the preinstalled OEM drivers when I upgraded to Windows 11, saving quite a bit of hassle individually installing the drivers. Furthermore, the only reason I wanted a clean upgrade to Windows 11 was to see if Windows 11 solved my audio problem. It did not.

I hope you understand my reluctance to attempt another Windows reinstall, especially since I am quite content with the laptop as it is set up now, barring this sound problem. Of course I would be more than happy to try it again if I am convinced of its addressing a particular mischief.

Thanks for your suggestions.
 

diamond225

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I've done some further testing, and you can disregard that the problem seems to get better on battery vs AC. The culprit there was Nvidia Battery Boost, which limited the framerate of the game I was testing the problem with to 30 FPS. Specifically, in Control, limiting the framerate to 30 FPS (even on AC) eliminates the problem as it manifested in the menu selection sounds. However, testing both scenarios (Battery Boost 30 FPS, AC 30 FPS) in other games showed that the problem was not impacted at all.
 

diamond225

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Jan 11, 2013
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My current theory is that there is a problem with the Intel Smart Sound Technology DSP, since it seems that the audio problems occur before the DAC stage in the audio chain, but after the CPU. Could anybody direct me to resources for / similar problems about ISST? I have already tried a reinstall of ISST drivers to no avail. Many thanks.
 

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