Though Live looping has been a musician tool since the fifties, is has became more and more popular in the recent decades. Indeed, it has event reached a broader notoriety with their use by pop stars, youtubers, talent show competitors, etc. This page will help you understand the difference between hardware loopers and software loopers. It will also guide you through turning your computer into a powerful and versatile looper.
The easiest way to live loop is by using a hardware pedal (Click here for a list of Loop pedals). These pedal can be very simple or more complex with built in drum, various audio fx and above all, many features to help performing impressive pieces of music.
The main advantages of an hardware looper is the robustness and the ease of installation at a live show. However, even though there exists very elaborate looper pedals, these devices are always limited when it comes to the structure of the song. Simple looper pedals will force you to stay with the initial number of bars and a multiple of this number. For example, if your first loop was 4 bar long, all the parts of your song will be constraint to be 4, 8, 16, etc. bars. Advanced pedals allow you to have many different parts such as Intro, Verse, Chorus, etc. The use of such different parts in a song helps in making the song not too much repetitive and can lead to a more dynamic musical performance. However, to achieve that with high end pedals, you have to invest a lot of time in learning and remembering how to setup your device and, above all, use it confidently on a stage.
Finally, easily controlling a complex loop pedal while singing and playing instruments is a skill by itself and demand lot of practices.
Software loopers have many advantages over hardware loopers. In short, a software looper is generally more flexible and easy to use than an hardware looper. This is due to the fact that the developers have access to modern computer interfaces : screen, keyboard and mouse for PCs and touch screen for tablets. Also, most software loopers will give you “infinite’ flexibility when it comes to add effects or instruments (through plugins). Furthermore, advanced software loopers will allow you to have elaborate song structures, if you want, but with a much simpler workflow compared to a pedal because the pedal has a smaller screen and a small set of knobs and buttons.
The software looper make it very easy to save and recall song configurations (structure, sounds, midi instruments, fx plugins). It is also a good choice for home studio performers since the computer and the audio interface are probably already in the studio.
On the other side, the disadvantage of a software looper for live performances is that you have to have a computer (Laptop or Tablet) on stage which could be perceived has a higher risk of failure than a hardware pedal. However, the use of computer on stage is not new and more and more common. The advent of SSD drive with fast reboot time also helps in reducing “techno-stress”.
Basic setup for turning your compouter into a looper
It’s easy to turn your computer into a looper. All you need to have is a USB Audio Interface, a Windows PC and software Looper . There are many software loopers (click here for a list). LoopToGo is one of the most powerful and easy to use and yet, the most affordable. It comes in two versions: LoopToGo Free or LoopToGo Pro.
The USB Audio interface is mandatory to achieve near zero latency audio throughput. Indeed, on-board audio card do not generally provide enough capability resulting in an unbearable audio latency. With the computer, it is the most important expense you will have if you want to do software looping.
The connection between the software and the Audio interface is made through an ASIO Driver. ASIO stands for Audio Stream Input/Output (ASIO) and is a trademark of Steinberg. An ASIO driver will manage numerical audio data by exchanging fixed length buffers between the Audio interface and the application. While the Interface is digitizing new data into a buffer, the application process the previous buffer. The buffer length has to be short as possible to ensure a low latency but long enough so the application can process the audio data before a new buffer exchange. Basically, it is recommended to have a buffer length equal or shorter than 512 data but 256 or less is preferable when the sampling rate is 44 100 Hz. For example, a buffer length of 256 samples will introduce a latency of 5.8 ms. This is the equivalent of having a speaker 1,9 m away from your instruments. Most people won’t perceive the delay.
Straight to the point…
To make a long story short, make sure you have an audio interface, download (click here) LoopToGo Free and browse through the video tutorial and help page and have fun. If you like the Free version and need more than 6 tracks, buy the Pro version (it is very cheap!). Also make sure you check from time to time for a new release, we are adding new features on a regular basis. Even better, if you would like to see a new feature or a new shortcut, just contact us. We really like to hear from LoopToGo users.