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When recording direct input instrument audio using Ableton, my recording is plagued with a terrible noise interference that sounds like the clicks and movements of my PCs internal Hard Disk drive. This noise is relatively subtle, but when using VST amplification effects with drive or distortion (such as those found in Guitar Rig, or in some DAWs) the noise becomes so severe that it makes the audio useless for any music production. To me, the noise sounds different from a low frequency hum or constant buzz. This noise is, somehow, directly related to my computer's hard drive movement noises.

Here's some information on my setup and various test setups that I've used to try to eliminate this interference:

  • Guitars (Both single-coil and humbucking pick-ups tested. No significant change.) [TS cable running from guitar to...]
  • Inexpensive DI Box (LiveWire PDI. Bought for this issue. No significant change.) [XLR cable running from DI Box to...]
  • M-Audio Delta1010LT PCI Audio Interface.
  • Audio is being recorded using Ableton and NI Guitar Rig 5.

[Just yesterday I had a friend bring over his Focusrite Saffire FireWire Audio Interface in order to test to see if the interface itself was the problem. Unfortunately, the noise continued to exist in the signal... I completely removed the Delta1010LT from my computer when testing my friend's Saffire.]

My PC, Monitors, Speakers, etc. are all plugged into 2 surge protectors which are plugged into two adjacent power sockets on the same 2-socket wall power outlet. Both of the surge protectors have ground indication lights, which are lit up.

Finally, I should also mention that the interference only occurs when recording (and playback of said recordings). Playing back audio from synth/sampler VSTs, youtube videos, games, other people's music, etc. is always fine and without interference. The interference occurs only when I record audio and playback the audio that I've recorded on this setup.

What steps can I take to remove or greatly reduce this strange hard-drive noise from my audio recordings?

edit: Here's a quick sample recording of the noise. (Recorded in Ableton, using some drive from Native Instruments Guitar Rig 5 VST.)

http://soundcloud.com/katanaswordfish/recording-noise-sample-example

edit: AND here's a second recording of the horrible noise pattern. This is broken into 3 chunks. In the first chunk, it's telecaster -> DI -> interface -> DAW -> GuitarRig.. In the second chunk I removed the guitar from the equation. The noise changed, but if you listen carefully you can still hear that same interference pattern! In the third and final chunk I removed the DI box as well, so it's only the internal PCI audio interface, the DAW, and GituarRig!

https://soundcloud.com/katanaswordfish/recording-noise-sample

This noise is killing me! Any ideas how I can fix this?


3 Year Update: Just wanted to update this post to potentially help anyone out. I never solved my audio noise issues. However, I did manage to somewhat significantly decrease the noise by disabling some power saving options and "C states" in my motherboard BIOS options. I was never able to detect a ground loop or any problem with my the ground connection at the wall socket.

By reducing C states and other power efficiency options I was able to reduce the noise. However, it is still there and still noticeable - it becomes especially bad in 3D applications like games, game editors, and 3D modelling tools. Also, for some strange reason the noise comes back when I boot into Ubuntu Linux on my other partition (it's possible that Linux has it's own override on c states and power management options? I'm not sure..).

So, I wasn't able to eliminate the issue but I was able to mitigate it a bit. Unfortunately, I removed the sound clips from my soundcloud account a while back.

migrated from avp.stackexchange.com Jan 24 '14 at 12:01

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    You can upload your sample to Soundcloud and then link to the soundcloud file. It will then render itself inline. Check out this meta post. – JoshP Oct 15 '12 at 12:34
  • Please do upload the sample. "Like a hard drive" seems to me most likely to originate from a computer's switching power supply – a very common problem, but usually turns up only when using unsymmetric lines between an interface that's connected to the computer's power supply's ground, and another device that has its own grounding, which doesn't seem to be the case in your setup. – leftaroundabout Oct 15 '12 at 13:29
  • Since you're recording the guitars directly from the guitars output and not actually recording the guitars using a microphone, I don't see how anything would be picking up any of the noise you're describing. I don't think your pickups would do that either... have you tried it without using the DI Box? – Travis Dtfsu Crum Oct 15 '12 at 14:35
  • One thing you can do, and it's probably easier than it sounds though I know it's fairly radical is to swap your hard drive. You would do this by imaging your current drive to another drive. The method would depend on the imaging software which you'd need to research. I've used Rdrive image in the past and found it good. Then once you have it imaged you should be able to swap the drives and run some tests. If the problem is still there then you know it can't be the physical hard drive. You will ultimately probably have to remove pieces of the system one at a time like this to deduce the issue. – byronyasgur Oct 15 '12 at 19:32
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    You don't mention if you tested recording audio without any cables, connections and equipment attached (just guitar rig and the effects enabled) – horatio Oct 16 '12 at 16:10
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Yup, that's definitely switching–power-supply bursts. (Has nothing whatsoever to do with hard drives, though it may sound somewhat similar.)

How exactly this gets in the signal path I don't know, but you might be able to eliminate it by changing your grounding configuration. One thing to try is to directly connect the interface to ground, for instance by connecting an unused TRS input of the interface to any jack of a turned-off (but mains–plugged-in) guitar amp. That sometimes has an effect for external (USB or FireWire) interfaces, for an internal PCI one I'm afraid it's less likely. Similarly, you could try to ground the DI-Box by connecting its link output to a guitar amp (in fact, that's quite usually done anyway when recording guitars: one channel DI, one channel amp mic).

Your computer's power supply is almost certainly grounded, however the problem might vanish if you remove the ground connection. I would not recommend this, though, it's just a (very unsafe) last resort that will sometimes fix such noise problems, but might as well worsen them.

As for the DI-Box, this seems to be a passive model? (Couldn't now find any details through Google, though... seems to be a really cheap no-name thing?) Passive DIs aren't really suited for high-impedance passive instruments such as electric guitar, they tend to have quite a substantial effect on the pickups' response. A normal active DI probably won't fix your problem, either, but a proper preamp might; for instance I like using my Presonus TubePre, which also gives a nice natural soft overdrive. With such a preamp, you can put the gain on the interface much lower; if that's where the noise comes in its level in the recording should then be so low that an ordinary noise gate can well deal with it.

  • Interesting. Thanks for the info. Does this problem come from bad grounding inside my PC or something? Also, I should probably note that I built my own PC. Maybe something inside isn't grounded correctly? Unfortunately I don't know that much about electricity and grounding. - Also, the DI box is a super cheap (maybe 20-30usd) LiveWire Direct Box that I picked up one night from my local 'giant music store'. I spent ages trying to solve this, and I decided to experiment with the DI box in hopes that it would help. I believe it's passive and it has a 'ground lift' switch... – MrKatSwordfish Oct 17 '12 at 5:58
  • In a custom-built PC it's of course more possible that something's wrong with the internal grounding, but still hardly likely: the power supply certainly has a C13/C14 input that's properly connected to its shielding, which in turn should inevitably ground the entire PC by only attaching it to the housing with the correct screws. – leftaroundabout Oct 17 '12 at 9:33
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Have you considered investing in a power conditioner? They are used in most studios and also live venues. It's basically like a rack mounted power bar, but it does so much more than just basic surge protection. Looking at the Furman PL-8C, it offers noise filtration for delivering cleaner power, and also isolated banks which reduces inter-component interference, which both could help out your situation.

A common scenario (to illustrate): Lights with dimmer switches can cause a lot of hum and buzz in audio gear that's on the same circuit. Plugging your audio gear into a power conditioner eliminates this problem.

You should pick one up and try it out. If it doesn't solve your problem you can always return it, so no harm there.

Here's a link for the PL-8C

http://www.furmansound.com/product.php?div=01&id=PL-8C

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I'm sorry to revive this post but to save a lot of people trouble, this is somtimes caused by noise generated by the motor in the hard drive and picked up by other components in the pc or even the data cable. To fix this you can 1) buy shielded cables, but you motherboard may still pick it up, 2) buy a solid state drive or SSD, or 3) get high quality hard disks and depending on what frequency is distorted, choose a higher or lower Rpm hard drive to further avoid distortion issues.

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SSD hard drives are many times quieter than HDD with single coil guitar pickups. You can record with an SSD laptop on your lap even with no problem whereas an older HDD laptop may be noise up to two metres away. Move the guitar around, put pickups out of phase and see. Unplug your laptop and see if the noise goes away. Studios keep a 'clean mains' and 'dirty mains' for this reason. Try plugging anything digital or with switch mode power supplies into a different mains loop, not just a different wall socket. Many wall sockets may share common earth loops which can get noisy.

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Here are a few things I found relevant:

a) remove your computer from your recording room. Don't have any parts with moving fans or hard disks in your recording room. This may require a multicore cable/stagebox leading from your monitor room to your recording room.

b) Check for ground loops created by connections. One annoyance I have found are cheap Midi cables wired badly (the cable shield should run from pin 2 to pin 2 on each side, the connector shields should not be connected at all: bad cables put the cable shield elsewhere with the worst choice being from connector shield to connector shield which is almost only good for ground loops and nothing else) and/or Midi connectors (on Midi Out and Through, pin 2 should be connected to chassis ground or similar, on Midi In, it should be disconnected, and the socket housing should be disconnected on either side).

Midi is great for avoiding ground loops because it works with galvanic separation through optocouplers, but bad sockets (for example, screwed into chassis ground) and cables can establish a ground loop good for digital noise.

Basically, try reducing your setup until you don't get ground loop noise, then see what the culprit was (note: there is often a combination of culprits where one alone does not yet cause damage).

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I had the same problem. In short - I was getting a irritating background pulsing noise in sound files or in the line going to the house mixer from my synth rig (combination of physical and soft synths). After disconnecting each element of the rig one at a time to isolate the source, I found that the external hard drive used to store all the soft synth sound files was generating the noise (and imparting it into the audio chain). The pulsing sound was being generated and transmitted through the grounded electrical cable of the hard drive, and that cable was plugged into one of two power strips daisy chained together to power the live rig (including the digital interface). So the DI box was recording the ground loop pulse generated by the hard drive since they were both using the same power circuit. The solution, at least for now, was to plug the hard drive into a different wall outlet from the rest of the equipment in the rig. Problem solved. Another option could be to buy a power conditioner and plug the hard drive into a dedicated outlet on the conditioner and then run the power strips that the DI was connected to off a separate outlet on that conditioner. But that costs a little money so I'm doing it the cheap way for now. Hope this helps someone.

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