Are a lot of ASIO drivers fake, meaning they don’t bypass the Windows mixer?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by back2vinyl, Jan 26, 2017.

  1. back2vinyl

    back2vinyl Forum Resident Thread Starter

    London, UK
    I’ve only recently realised that a lot of my ASIO drivers don’t appear to bypass the Windows volume mixer and therefore don’t appear to be true ASIO drivers at all. I’m puzzled by this and can’t seem to find an answer to the question by Googling it. Are a lot of ASIO drivers out there actually fakes – just plain old WDM drivers clad in an ASIO wrapper to make them look as if they’re functioning in ASIO mode, like ASIO4ALL?

    Here’s what I’m talking about. Let’s say you’re listening to music from your PC through an external USB soundcard. You’ve downloaded the ASIO driver for this soundcard and carefully selected the ASIO driver as the ASIO playback device in your media player or DAW (in my case, JRiver or Adobe Audition). You start ASIO playback and then, out of curiosity, you click on the volume icon in the bottom right-hand corner of your Windows PC screen. This opens the Windows volume mixer. By definition, your ASIO playback device shouldn’t be visible there because the whole point of ASIO is that it bypasses the Windows audio stack. But there it is – and what’s more, by altering the volume slider, you can change the playback volume!

    Now, that can’t be right.

    I’ve tested the ASIO devices that I have readily to hand on my Windows 10 PC and so far, I’ve found three “fakes” and two true ASIO drivers, as follows:

    1. NAD M32 all-digital integrated amplifier with USB connection to PC. Fake! The ASIO driver goes through the Windows volume mixer and the volume can be changed from there.

    2. Lynx Hilo D/A and A/D Converter. True ASIO! The ASIO driver NEVER appears in the Windows volume mixer at any time.

    3. Yulong U200 headphone DAC/amp. Fake! The ASIO driver is there in the Windows volume mixer and you can change the volume using the slider.

    4. iFi Nano DSD headphone DAC/amp. True ASIO! The ASIO driver never appears in the Windows volume mixer.

    5. NwAvGuy ODAC + O2 headphone DAC/amp. Fake! The ASIO driver (supplied by Savitech Corp.) is always there in the Windows volume mixer.

    Incidentally, in all cases where the ASIO driver goes through the volume mixer, the Wasapi driver does too, which is also incorrect.

    I’ve written to Steinberg asking if there are a lot of fake ASIO drivers out there but in the meantime, I wondered if anyone here could explain it? Also, I’d be interested to hear if other people can see their ASIO drivers in the Windows volume mixer and change the playback volume using the mixer controls.
  2. Black Elk

    Black Elk Music Lover

    Bay Area, U.S.A.
    Can't answer why they're 'fake' but can confirm that the driver for Oppo's 105D can be added to the fake list.

    A word of warning to those checking this: use PCM for your tests. You will get glitching if you use DSD (mute or level change, but the level change will result in a glitch then mute!).
  3. Davey

    Davey very clever with maracas

    SF Bay Area, USA
    Well, it may get more complicated than that. The volume control may only be disabled if a device has a hardware volume control that makes itself known to the system on boot-up, and the driver is operating in exclusive mode, so it depends some on implementation of the driver. I don't think that makes them "fake", just different. Could be that the ones disabling the volume are the "fakes" :)

    On my Win 10 system with wasapi exclusive it does get disabled when using an external USB device even though that device has no volume control. I use the foobar master volume control. Of course, it does get enabled when playing back locally on the computer, even though still wasapi exclusive mode.
    PhilBiker and Mike-48 like this.
  4. Black Elk

    Black Elk Music Lover

    Bay Area, U.S.A.
    Let me just add, confirmed this behavior in JRiver and Foobar2000 using the various audio options (ASIO, WASAPI, DS, etc.).
  5. back2vinyl

    back2vinyl Forum Resident Thread Starter

    London, UK
    That's a very interesting thought. I can see the sense in that - and yet, if for whatever reason the volume control in the Windows is enabled, surely that means that in effect that you're not getting true ASIO? Because the audio is being diverted through the Windows audio stack instead of being sent directly from the driver to the device.

    I agree the word "fake" is not really satisfactory but I do think something strange is going on with ASIO drivers quite a lot of the time and there doesn't seem to be much information available on what's happening.
  6. C. Cushman

    C. Cushman Well-Known Member

    Colorado, USA
    The Windows audio stack is always involved. It manages exclusive vs. shared streams. ASIO is an exclusive stream- so it can (but not always) lock out shared streams. I think this question is hard to answer because all of this stuff is closed-source and proprietary-- but the volume sliders are just API calls and who knows what those manufacturers are doing with their drivers.

    Exclusive-Mode Streams (Windows) »
    PhilBiker likes this.
  7. Mike-48

    Mike-48 Forum Resident

    Portland, Oregon
    Make sure all sound enhancements are switched off in the Windows sound control panel and that the application is using "exclusive mode".
  8. back2vinyl

    back2vinyl Forum Resident Thread Starter

    London, UK
    I think I understand what's happening now. The answer is in what Davey and C. Cushman have said above.

    I did another test and discovered that, although the "fake" ASIO drivers appear in the Windows volume mixer, they do not in fact appear in the Sound control panel. Yes, you can see your audio device in the Sound control panel but it's not the ASIO driver you're looking at - it's the WDM driver, which isn't actually functioning while you're using the ASIO driver. There are at least two ways of establishing that: first, the volume level of the driver in the Sound control panel doesn't move above zero when you play music through the ASIO driver, and second, if you try to play the Windows test signal through the WDM driver, it refuses to comply, saying the audio device is in use by something else (which of course is the ASIO driver, which has exclusive use.)

    So, I think these "fake" ASIO drivers are in fact genuine ASIO drivers and are mostly bypassing the Windows audio stack but they have incorporated some code whereby they cause a volume control to pop up in the Windows volume mixer.


    Let's take the example of a headphone DAC/amp. Of course, you have a volume control on the amplifier section of the DAC/amp so you could say you don't need a volume control on the DAC as well. You'd probably be right, but it is just conceivable that you might find a situation where the DAC's output was too high and was driving the amplifier into clipping, and in that case, you might be very glad to have a way of reducing the DAC's output. So I think this is offered as an amenity, though there doesn't seem to be any reference to it in the user manual.

    If I look at my devices, I can see some sense in the way it's offered:

    1. My Lynx Hilo D/A and A/D converter doesn't offer a volume control for the ASIO driver in Windows. But it doesn't need to, because the Lynx itself has input and output volume controls.

    2. The Yulong DAC/amp offers an ASIO volume control - and this is probably a good thing because there's no other way of controlling the volume on the DAC stage of the DAC/amp when in ASIO mode.

    3. NwAvGuy ODAC + O2 DAC/amp: same as (2) above.

    4. NAD 32 all-digital amplifier: this offers an ASIO volume control in Windows. I'm struggling to make much sense of this but I suppose it's conceivable that you might need to reduce the volume level of the amp's DAC output to the other amplifier sections when in ASIO mode.

    5. iFi Nano DSD headphone DAC/amp: this doesn't offer an ASIO volume control in the Windows volume mixer. Maybe it should!

    I'll report back here if I get an answer from Steinberg but otherwise, thanks for helping solve the mystery. I've never seen this explained anywhere else.
  9. back2vinyl

    back2vinyl Forum Resident Thread Starter

    London, UK
    I'm reopening this thread, as promised, to report the answer I received from Steinberg. They said:

    "The fact that an ASIO compatible interface is available in Windows simply means that it comes with an additional driver that makes it available for common programs and Windows itself. Otherwise, an ASIO interface could not be used for listening to YouTube, Spotify, iTunes and so on."

    They also added this link, which is just basic background stuff on the difference between ASIO and WDM:

    Steinberg's answer fits with what we'd figured out so I think it's case closed. It was kind of them to reply.
  10. Monstieur

    Monstieur New Member

    Most devices have ASIO and WDM drivers in parallel. All talk of shared and exclusive typically pertains to WASAPI and not ASIO. Many people confuse the two incorrectly.
    In WASAPI shared mode, the volume control and mute button work.
    In WASAPI exclusive mode, the mute button alone works.
    In ASIO mode, if the WDM driver reports a hardware volume control, the volume control or mute button or both may work.

    Also, ASIO is obsolete and you should be using WASAPI exclusive mode instead.

    This is incorrect. The audio stack is not involved in ASIO. ASIO is not an audio stream - Windows does not know what it is.
  11. Slippers-on

    Slippers-on Forum Resident

    St.Louis Mo.
    Just you guys use Fidelizer? I do and love it!
  12. noway

    noway Active Member

    I've used 2 different Thesycon ASIO (one for a USB-->S/PDIF converter and another for a USB DAC) and neither provided exclusivity. I could play a song on Foobar2000 and at the same time go to Youtube or VLC media player and all the sounds will be playing at the same time. My solution on the DAC was to output S/PDIF from the computer sound card to the DAC and make it default in Windows playback devices and run the computer USB to the DAC and use the DAC's input selector to either play Foobar (using USB (ASIO)) or everything else (Coax (S/PDIF)). Switching back and forth is a bit of a hassle and not all DACs have input switching but at least the main audio doesn't get corrupted when playing a Youtube video or something.

    Or.....use WASAPI exclusive mode.
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2018
  13. noway

    noway Active Member

    Just to update my post above (cannot edit!) I seem to have got it working with current DAC and Thesycon ASIO driver.

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