March 2021
Playing together online – for REAL!
by Gwyn Roberts
One year into this pandemic, most of us have been pining for the opportunity to sit down and play recorder with friends. But that’s impossible, right? If you’ve tried it on Zoom or Facetime, you know that there’s a big delay that ruins any sense of ensemble. That delay is called latency, and it’s a result of the time it takes for your audio data to travel from your recorder through your home equipment to a central server, get processed, be sent out to your friends, and then back to you. Video conferencing platforms try to keep latency below 150 milliseconds, which is considered the maximum that allows for realistic conversational flow. But, as we have all experienced, that’s way too much latency for music-making, and often falls short for conversing too.
Several platforms exist now that address this problem effectively, delivering latency low enough to let small groups play together almost like you’re in the same room. They come with names like SoundJack, Jamulus, JackTrip and JamKazam. These platforms all require varying degrees of technical savvy and have slightly different capabilities. Some are free and some are not; some have video and some don’t. I’ve been using JamKazam – a paid platform – because it is the easiest to set up and run, comes with its own dedicated app including good video, doesn’t require me to fiddle with settings while I’m playing, and is actively being improved by its developers all the time. This article is mostly about JamKazam*, but much of what I discuss will help get you going with the others too.
For a taste of what’s possible, here’s a clip from a concert that my ensemble, Tempesta di Mare, recorded in January, using JamKazam to play together. The five of us were in four different states, spread across more than 300 miles. Latency in our connections ranged from 12 to 28 ms — much less than the 150ms Zoom benchmark.
Tackling the latency enemy
Latency accumulates over all of the legs of the journey that your sound takes from when it leaves your recorder until it reaches your friend’s ears. There’s latency between the microphone and your computer, in your computer’s audio processing, between your computer and your router, in your upload speed, at each step the signal takes along the internet between your house and your friend’s, and then the same in reverse on the other end, culminating in the connection between computer and headphones – and yes, you do need headphones or earbuds, because echo cancellation itself causes lots of latency, so it’s not available on these platforms. The name of the game is to shave off as many milliseconds as you can at every junction you control. Some steps are necessary, or it really won’t work. Others are improvements that you can make later on.
Here are the must-dos:
1) Check your internet connection, especially your upload speed: Using a website such as, assess your current internet connection. JamKazam specifies a minimum of 25mbps in both directions for good results, although faster is better. If your internet is cable-based, you may find that you have blazing fast download but very slow upload. If your upload speed is lower than 25mbps, you may still be able to use JamKazam. Try it with the minimum equipment described in this article, on a one-month free trial Gold plan. If you experience too much latency, you’ll need to talk to your internet company and ask to improve it if you want to proceed. Or switch to a different type of internet, like Fiber Optic.
2) Wire EVERYTHING: Connect your computer to your router with an ethernet cable, and listen over wired earphones or earbuds. This is essential. Wifi has MUCH more latency than ethernet, despite having displaced ethernet as the current standard connection method. It’s also why there’s not a version that works on a phone or a tablet, neither of which can connect by ethernet. If you have a newer computer, you may need a usb-to-ethernet adapter.
3) Geography matters: distance = latency, so you and your duet partner will need to be no more than 200 miles apart for good duet playing while using your computer’s built-in audio. The more advanced equipment discussed below can extend this range to about 300 miles, or maybe even more. Experiment.
Give it a try
Log on to and create an account. Right now, you’ll get a free month of the Gold plan, regardless of what you elect moving forward, which is great for figuring out if this platform is for you. Then, download the app for your OS. Open the app on your computer and log in.

Next, click on the little white downwards arrow next to your name in the upper right corner of the window and select Audio Gear. Move through these screens to select the audio input and output that you plan to use – probably your computer’s built-in defaults at this point. Once you’ve made your selections, you’ll receive a latency score, color-coded as Green (good to go!), Yellow (good enough for now) or Red (NOPE! – see the next section of this article for remedies). You can ignore all the things about jam tracks and chat microphones, as they’re not relevant to you unless you’re trying to jam with your electric guitar. Just keep clicking NEXT until you’re back on the home screen.
If you have a green or yellow connection, talk a friend through these same steps. Then search for your friend’s name in the Search field back on the home page and send a connection request. Once your friend accepts, you can start a session (big orange button on home page) and invite each other. Play duets!
Make it better
If you have connected successfully with your built-in audio and a free trial of the Gold plan but have opted for Free or Silver after that month expires, you’ll experience a big drop in quality at that time. The Free and Silver ($4.99/month) plans look like a bargain, but they throttle your sound quite severely and make recorders sound terrible. I highly recommend upgrading to the Gold plan for $9.99/month. 
If you want to reduce latency further, or if you had a Red latency score when you did your setup, you’ll need to purchase an external audio interface. This is a device that takes over processing audio data for your computer’s CPU and does a much better and faster job of it. I have a Focusrite Scarlett Solo, which costs about $100, but there are other options out there. Just make sure that what you choose is compatible with your computer’s operating system. You’ll also need a microphone with an XLR connection (different from a USB mic) and the cables to connect the mic to the interface and the interface to your computer, plus probably a mic stand. There are bundles for sale with all of these things, if you don’t want to make too many decisions. Once you have this gear, set it up, and redo the Audio Gear setup process in JamKazam. You’ll need to click the Add New Gear button so that it sees your new equipment.

There’s more to say and more to learn, but this should get you started. I heartily recommend JamKazam’s own tutorial videos, which are accessible on their website,

*The information provided about JamKazam does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation by the ARS, which has no relationship to the company. 
Gwyn Roberts, an American recorder and traverso soloist, and educator, is a founding co-director of the Philadelphia baroque orchestra Tempesta di Mare with Richard Stone. Roberts also serves as the Director of Early Music at the University of Pennsylvania and is on faculty at the Peabody Conservatory of The Johns Hopkins University.

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