Monthly Archives: July 2014

Interfacing Real-Time Audio and File I/O

Q: How to stream audio data to/from a file in real-time without glitching?

It’s a question that comes up on the PortAudio mailing list from time to time.

I’ve just published a paper on the use of message passing and lock-free queues to implement real-time-safe asynchronous file I/O. The paper presents one method for interfacing between real-time client audio streams and an I/O server thread. The paper will be of interest to developers wanting to implement their own real-time file streaming code. It also describes a number of lock-free tricks that are generally useful for real-time audio programming. In addition to the paper there are slides, an animation, and example source code linked below. Here’s the abstract:

Programming a computer to record or play a sound file in real-time is not as easy as it may seem. The naive approach is to call file I/O APIs from within the routine that handles real-time audio I/O. This leads to audible glitches whenever the time taken to access a file exceeds the time available to deliver a buffer of real-time audio. This paper describes an approach to streaming file playback and recording that operates correctly under these conditions. It performs file I/O in a separate thread, buffers audio data to mask file I/O delays, and uses asynchronous message passing and lock-free queues for inter-thread communication.

The full reference for the paper is:

Bencina, R. (2014) “Interfacing Real-Time Audio and File I/O,” Proceedings of the 2014 Australasian Computer Music Conference, ACMC 2014. Melbourne, Australia. July 9-11 2014.

A number of people generously gave feedback on earlier drafts of the paper: Tony Holzner, Scott Brewer, Phil Burk, Andrew Bencina and the anonymous reviewers — thanks guys, I appreciate it, your feedback was invaluable.

Here are links to the paper and supporting materials:

For background reading, you might be interested in these related blog posts:

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to get in touch, either by email, or in the comments below.