Tuesday, May 19, 2020

DeFuddling JamKazam Vol 1: What you really need


This is the first installment of a series on demystifying JamKazam for newcomers.  As previously mentioned, there are video tutorials and a pretty good forum that can help you get through the setup step-by-step. You can start with those.  There is also a Facebook Group, Subreddit, etc. where people are chatting about their JamKazam experiences.  I would stay away from those for a little while - there is some helpful info, but also a lot of misinformation. Once you are up and running, you can explore those in-depth discussions, and weigh what you read with your own experience.

Another word of warning: Unless you have a working home studio already, you are very likely going to have to spend some "real" money to get this running.  It could be $50 for a few odds and ends, or it could be around $1,000 if you just have a guitar and an internet connection.  It really depends.   If you want to jam online, listen to my advice and the things I tell you not waste time with, and forge onward my friend!

To that end,  I am here to give my perspective on some of the concepts that people seem to be missing, which help a lot.  I have been using JamKazam for many weeks now.  I have tested it on various equipment and I have assisted many musicians with getting their JK setups tweaked.  At this point pretty much every session I get into has very tolerable latency and basically no dropouts.  There are a lot of seat-of-the-pants "experts" out there who think they know what you need to have in order to make it work.  Here are some of the conclusions I have reached about what is required.



The first thing you are going to need is a decent laptop or desktop computer running Windows or MacOS. Sorry folks - this is not going to run on your iPad, iPhone, Android, or even a netbook.  Dual core Intel Core i3 minimum.  It doesn't have to be new, but a good rule of thumb would be something made in the last 5 years.  

Ethernet Cable to Your Router/Modem

Believe it or not, this seems to be the deal breaker for a lot of JK tire kickers (I guess its a sign of how dependent we have become on WiFi). There are real reasons why using an ethernet cable will result in lower latency, and a good JK experience depends on the lowest latency possible.  Even if you are jamming fairly distant from your router, you can buy really long ethernet cables - I saw a 200' one on Amazon for around $20.  Anyway, again, we'll get into this more later, but just know that if you have to use WiFi, you may not have a good experience and end up deciding that JamKazam is not worth using.

Audio Interface

No, you can't use your computer's built-in sound for JamKazam.  An audio interface is like an advanced sound card that converts sound to/from bits that your computer can manipulate.  Even though your computer has some built-in capability already, it is not designed for the performance you need for JamKazam.  Currently, the best interface for JamKazam is the 3rd gen Focusrite Scarlett.  The "Solo" (one mic input, one instrument input) is $109 - that is, if you can get one (but of course right now they are all on backorder because everyone is buying them for online jamming).  There are certainly other audio interfaces that will work, but YMMV. We'll get into that later.


You will want to have a good set of over-the-ear headphones.  If you are looking for a recommendation, the Audio Technica ATH-M50x is a favorite of mine. You can get by with earbuds, but if you do, I feel sorry for you. A good set of headphones can make you forget you are not in the same room together with other musicians.


No, you can't use your computer's built-in microphone for JamKazam.  Even if you could get this to run through your proper interface (you can't), it's going to pick up all kinds of sound from your computer.  And for two, come on, that mic is going to be garbage.  A good dynamic microphone like the stalwart Shure SM-58 is probably the best option here.  In a pinch you can communicate your USB chat mic/headset, but it's going to make you sound like garbage when you are talking or singing.

Instrument DI or Microphone(s)

If you are playing guitar or bass, keys, etc., you will ideally want to use a pedal or DI box.  Having  a lot of room sound is not conducive to a good mix for you or anyone else in the session (honestly, this is the case even if you are jamming in the same room, but don't bother telling the guitarist who brings his Marshall half stack to rehearsal).   You will plug this into one of the the inputs on your audio interface. 

If you are a drummer, a popular option is to use an electronic kit.  Obviously that is not going to work for everyone.  On a real drum kit, you can use an entry level mic kit like the Samson 7-kit. These typically run about $300-$400.  You can also get by with a couple of SM-57s (see the Glyn Johns configuration). Run these into a mixer and then plug the mixer into your audio interface.

Effects (Optional)

You may wish to have some effects on your vocals or instrument(s). The best and simplest way to do this is to run an outboard effects unit before the audio interface.  Examples of this include your effect pedal chain or a rack mount processor of some sort.  Other methods, such as running effects on your computer, are technically possible but at best complicated, and at worst, induce too much additional latency and/or stealing too much CPU from JamKazam.

If you have all of the above needs met, you can move on to getting setup. In the next installment, we will discuss the concepts that make all of these specifications important.

Next Post in Series: Don't Believe Everything You Read

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