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Native Audio

Lower audio latency via OS's native audio library.
For iOS and Android only. Supported versions : 2017.1.5f1, 2017.4.23f1, 2018.3.8f1, 2019.1.0b7 (Oldest in Unity Hub + latest LTS/TECH/beta at the time of publishing.)

Latest : v4.3.0 (03/30/2019)
Demo : APK | Changelog : Click here

So your Unity game outputs WAY slower audio than other apps even on the same device? Turns out, Unity adds as much as 79% of the total latency you hear. But not to worry because Native Audio will take care all of it. I have researched into the cause for so long and the solution is right here.

Unity adds audio latency

This plugin was developed when I noticed that both my Android AND iOS game has a considerably worse audio latency than other music apps such as Garage Band installed on the same device. I have confirmed by creating a basic Unity app which just play an audio on touch down vs. a basic Xcode iOS app/Android Studio app which also plays an audio on touch down. You can clone the project on GitHub to confirm this by yourself.

If you can't feel the difference, I encourage you to do a simple sound wave recording test. Keep your phone at the same distance from your computer's mic and tap the screen nail-down. The sound wave interval between the peak of nail's sound and the peak of response sound should immediately reveals the difference visually. Newer device might have a better latency, but the difference between Unity and native app should be relative for every devices.

This perceived result is because of 2 things : touch input latency AND audio latency. Native Audio's job is to greatly reduce the audio latency.

What can we skip by going directly to the native API?

Unity has an internal mixing system, backed by FMOD. You can go crazy with a method like AudioSource.PlayOneShot and the sound magically overlaps over itself,even though at native side Unity only asked Android for only 1 "Audio Track". How can that be? Because Unity spend time mixing them together to 1 bus. Plus you have all the wonders of Unity 5.0.0 introduced audio mixer system. Effects, sends, mixers, etc. all stacked onto that.

A great design for a game engine. But we certain subset of game developers absolutely do not want any of the "spend time" if possible. Unfortunately Unity does not give us a choice to bypass and just go native.

For some genre of apps and games that needs critical timing for audio (basically any response sound from input, rhythm game, etc.) this is not good. The idea to fix this is to directly call into the native methods and have it read the raw audio file we prepared without Unity's importer. Bypassing Unity's audio path entirely.

Also I suspected Unity have to collect all audio commands to summarize them together at the end of each frame. Selecting a number of loudest AudioSource to mix according to audio settings, mix with the mixer system introduced in Unity 5.0 which supports various effects and many channel/buses/sidechain, then send the mixed 1 audio stream to native.

While with Native Audio, after native calling there is no concept of "frame" anymore. It will just play audio right there in the middle of the frame! (The hardware might wait for something, but that is already outside of Unity's domain)

I have researched for long time into the fastest native way of each respective platform. For iOS it is to use OpenAL (Objective-C/Swift) and for Android it is to use OpenSL ES (NDK/C). For more information about other alternatives why they are not good enough, please go to implementation page.

But having to interface with multiple different set of libraries separately from Unity is a pain, so Native Audio is here to help...

Native Audio is a plugin that helps you easily loads and plays an audio using each platform's fastest native method, from the same common interface in Unity.

Android High-Performance Audio Ready

It improves latency for iOS greatly, but I guess many came here to fix the already-horrible-without-Unity Android latency.

I am proud to present that Native Audio is following all of Google's official best practices required to achieve High-Performance Audio in Android. Because Native Audio is not as versatile, I can additionally fix all the latency-related tradeoffs that Unity have to pay for their more versatile audio engine.

Of course, with publicly available thorough research and confirmations. This means it can perform even better than native Android app that was coded naively/lazily in regarding to audio. Even pure Android developers might not want to go out of Java to C/NDK.

How faster?

We will do a measurement by placing the device in fixed position, recording the peak of nail sound touching the screen to the response sound produced by the app. While this is not a standard latency measurement approach like loopback cable method and the number alone is not comparable between devices, but time difference of the same device truly show how much the latency decreased without doubt.

The pure Unity's audio was measured with "Best Latency" settings on Audio Settings, the fastest playing (smallest buffer) Unity can achieve without any plugins. At first I wasn't annoyed by Unity's latency that much, but after a clear contrasting with Native Audio (especially on Android) the latency reduction is insane. It is surprising how I was able to live with that bad latency when there's nothing to compare with.

Device (introduction year)Event System -> AudioSource Best LatencyEvent System -> Native Audio (Efficiency)Native Touch -> Native Audio (Efficiency of Native Touch)
Xiaomi Mi A2 (2018 / 8.1.0 Oreo)321.2 ms78.2 ms (-75.65%)74.2 ms (-5.12%)
Xperia Z5 (2015 / 7.1.1 Nougat)120.6 ms69 ms (-42.79%)57.8 ms (-16.23%)
Lenovo A1000 (2015 / 5.1 Lollipop)366.2 ms217.4 ms (-40.63%)209.2 ms (-3.77%)
OnePlus One (2014 / 9.0 Pie POSP ROM)102.6 ms59.4 ms (-42.11%)53.8 ms (-9.43%)
Samsung Galaxy Note 5 (2015 / 7.0 Nougat)260.4 ms85.8 ms (-67.05%)54.2 ms (-17.38%)
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 (2017 / 8.0.0 Oreo)263.6 ms65.6 ms (-75.11%)71.2 ms (-17.02%)
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (2016 / 8.0.0 Oreo)243.4 ms67.4 ms (-72.31%)60.4 ms (-10.39%)
Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus (2018 / 8.0.0 Oreo)98 ms56.6 ms (-42.24%)40.2 ms (-28.98%)
iPod Touch Gen 5 (2012 / 9.3.5)94.6 ms58.8 ms (-37.84%)48 ms (-18.37%)
iPad 3 (2012 / 9.3.5)115.6 ms67.4 ms (-41.7%)52.8 ms (-21.66%)

View benchmark details and analysis.

For perspective, 23ms is approximately an acceptable latency for a pianist (the time from your finger hitting the key to hammer hitting the strings inside and finally travels to your ear). Native Audio could potentially make multiple times of this difference.

The last column improves perceived latency further by an indirect mean : speeding up the touch input that produces the response sound. It has a very pronounced effect on iOS and quite random but possible to be better effect on Android, because of how touch event works on each platform.

Unity time in this table is pre-2019.1. If you build the game with Unity 2019.1 onwards, there is an upgrade in Unity audio latency. Please check this article for details!

Why do you need... ?

Certain kind of games or apps relies heavily on feedback sound. The keyword is not an "audio application" but "feedback sound". For example if you are making a music player, that is clearly an audio app but audio latency won't affect the experience at all because all the interaction you do is press play and listen. It's not like if the song starts a bit late then an entire song is ruined. The core experience is on the song itself not a timing.

But if a feedback sound lags? It is not concerning for non-gameplay elements like a UI button that sounds when you press it, but imagine a drumming game that you have to hit at the correct moment. If you hit perfectly and the game says so, the sound will come later. If you hit early the game punishes you, but the sound will be exact. It's this kind of problem.

Click to learn more about 4 classes of musical apps.

4 Classes Of Audio Applications

Music player

iTunes is a musical app. But do it need low latency play? No! No one cares if the song starts immediately on pressing play or not. The goodness is in the song and you are listening to it! In this case audio fidelity is the most important, and audio latency is not that of the concern. It is not an **interactive** audio application.

Also to prevent audio cracking because of buffer underrun they usually do so by increasing buffer size, which in turn increase latency. But music player do not care about latency, so that is generally a free quality.

Sequencer

Application like digital audio workstation (DAW) on mobile phone or live performing musical apps like Looper, Launchpad falls into this category. The app **is interactive**, but the reference of what is the "correct" timing are all controllable. Imagine you start a drum loop. Each sound might have delay based on device, but all delays are equal, results in a perfect sequence albeit variable start time. When starting another loops, it is 100% possible for the software to compensate and match the beat that is currently playing. This class of application is immune to mobile audio latency.

Instrument

Apps like GarageBand (in live playing mode) is in this category. The sound have to respond when you touch the screen. A latency can impact experience, but if you are rehearsing by yourself you might be able to ignore the latency since if you play perfectly, the output sound will all have equal latency and will be perfect with a bit of delay.

Also remember that **all** instruments in the world do have their own latency. Imagine a piano which the sound must travel through its chamber, or an effected guitar with rather long chain, or a vocalist which heard their own voice immediately "in the head". How could all of them managed to play together in sync at the concert? With practice you will get used to the latency naturally! So this class is not as bad as it sounds with a bit of latency.

Music games

There are many music games on mobile phone made by Unity like Cytus, Deemo, Dynamix, VOEZ, Lanota, Arcaea, etc. If there is a sound feedback on hitting the note, this is the hardest class of the latency problem. Unlike Sequencer class, even though the song is predictable and the game know all the notes at all points in the song you cannot predict if the sound will play or not since it depends on player's performance. (Unless the sound is played regardless of hit or miss or bad judgement, then this class can be reduced to Sequencer class.)

It is harder than Instrument class, since now we have backing track playing as a reference and also a visual indicator. If you hit on time according to the visuals or music, you will get "Perfect" judgement but the sound will be off the backing track. When this happen, even though you get Perfect already you will automatically adapt to hit earlier to make that respond sound match with the song, in which case you will not get the Perfect judgement anymore. In the Instrument class, if you are live jamming with others this might happen too but if you adapt to hit early you can get accurate sound and not be punished by the judgement like in games.

Even a little bit of latency will be very obvious in a music game. Since there is a beat in the song for reference, players will be able to tell right away that he/she is hearing 2 separate sound (the beat in the song and the response sound) even if the player scores a perfect.

Also you can think music games works like instrument. Game with respond sound like Beatmania IIDX, Groove Coaster, or DJMAX Respect for example if you listen to the "button sound" of good players that tapped to the music, the tap sound is obviously **before** the audio, but they could consistently do that throughout the song that the response sound comes out perfectly in sync and get perfect scores. These games in a way, works like a real instrument. **You live with the latency** and get good.

On the contrary a game like Dance Dance Revolution has no response sound, and is properly calibrated so that you can step **exactly** to the music and get Marvelous judgement. If you go listen to footstep of good players, you can hear that it matches perfectly with the audio. In effect that means a game like this had already accounted for the time audio traveled from loudspeaker to your ear in the judgement calibration!

No magic

Native Audio aims to abstract the difference between native audio libraries only programmatically. I believe you as a programmer needs full understanding of exactly what is happening on each platform after calling those abstraction. This is why I put in explanations in the code explaining things in a non-abstract way for every platform supported. It will also shows up in your Intellisense. You will proceed with confidence and feel just like you are making games with Android Studio/Xcode with this knowledge!

A purchase also gives you all the source code. That is : Unity's managed C# side, iOS's .mm and .h files, and since .aar android plugin file is not readable I have also bundled Android Studio project that produces .aar file used by Native Audio in a zip file.

Feature list, what doesn't work?

You are not wrong to think that this has to be less flexible than audio function in Unity. I have received many e-mails for some use case that Native Audio sadly does not support so this section is to stop you from buying the plugin if it does not fit your case...

iOSAndroid
Volume/GainYou can use gain between 0.0f to 1.0f on every play or even while playing. On iOS it is possible to go over 1.0 for louder volume, but will clip if over 0dB.OKOK
2D panning (balance)Fully hearing both channels on center, and completely silence one channel on full left or right. OKOK
ConcurrencyHow many audio you can play over each other "mixerless" at once? On Android if you decided to go over the default 3 that's possible with some risks (usually possible up to around 14~16, on some phone even up to 31), read the "implementation" page.163+
Get/set playback timeGet the audio time similar to AudioSettings.dspTime or audioSource.time but ask from native side. (iOS, the same lock step as Unity's dspTime. Android, different lock step as Unity's dspTime) Setting a playback time is possible even while playing.OKOK
Playing compressed, Unity-imported audio/music/BGMBecause it loads data from AudioClip which Unity encoded for us we can freely use Vorbis (OGG) instead of PCM to save space, plus any quality, sampling rate, force mono import optimization that you wish.OKOK
Any sample rateOn iOS it can play the audio at file's sampling rate. On Android it is resampled to match the phone's native sampling rate.OKOK
Game loop independentNative Audio uses no-mixer paradigm. Unlike Unity which collects all audio command to mix and play once all logic in the frame has been executed, Native Audio plays an audio right at that line of code. Which code runs earlier in a frame can potentially achieve more latency reduction than Unity's internal audio! OKOK
Off-main thread compatibilityMost Unity API including audio API could not be used from other than main thread, but Native Audio does not care about Unity so it works. Goes nicely with Native Touch's Android since the touch returned not on the main thread and you can play audio right away if you want. Note that this does not mean Native Audio is thread safe.OKOK
Playing an audio downloaded dynamicallyIf you can get a hold of AudioClip variable, you can play it. For example you can easily use the new Addressables Asset System together to play audio downloaded from a remote site.OKOK
Playing an audio file by path relative to StreamingAssets folderIn the case of audio file instead of imported AudioClip, .wav 16-bit PCM file of any sampling rate, stereo/mono is supported.OKOK
UnloadUnload to save space because PCM data in memory can get big.OKOK
StopYou can prematurely stop all audio.OKOK
Keep audio playing when minimizedSince it skips Unity and Unity cannot cut off the sound any more, it is the default behavior of both Android and iOS. On iOS you will need to add some settings to your game to enable this, please see the How To Use section.OKOK
Pause/resumePause/resume is track-based. Additionally you can ask the current playback time and store it to use later with play with start offset.OKOK
Play from an arbitrary pointYou can use start offset in seconds.OKOK
LoopingLooping is track-based and loops from finish back to start.OKOK
Pitch shifting/set rateOn Android to add this feature it will disqualify us from using fast audio track so I won't add it. On iOS I have not yet investigate this.XX
3D positional soundOn Android OpenSL ES can just do gain and 2D balance of each channels, so you have to emulate position sound with just this 2 settings. On iOS, actually OpenAL is a full-blown 3D positional sound engine but emulated to be able to do 2D panning for Native Audio. To make everything accessible like what AudioSource & AudioListener's interaction of position, distance, facing, falloff curves, doppler, etc. it would greatly go out of scope what Native Audio is supposed to do. Native Audio uses OpenAL just because it is the fastest and not that it is 3D. (You would require something like "Unity OpenAL" kind of plugin...) XX
Audio effectsHaving any effects (even Android's native effect) will disqualify us from using fast audio track so I won't add it. On iOS I haven't investigate.XX
Low latency wireless/bluetooth headphonesFast audio track does not work with wireless headset and you will get a slower play. On iOS I haven't investigate.XX
Playing .wav with custom header dataLike predetermine loop point embeded in the wav file. Unfortunately the wav reader I wrote is really dumb. (actually just a file header remover)XX
Low latency input/microponeNo, Native Audio handles only output.XX

Evidence backed by an extensive personal research

(06/04/2017) "Unity's Mobile Audio Latency Problem And Solutions"

While containing many false assumptions I have get my feet (fingers) wet with many native solutions and arrives that AudioTrack (Android) and AVAudioPlayer (iOS) are better than the rest. Watch the research video or read the first experiment's note here. The plugin is still in development at this point.

(31/10/2017) "Unity iOS/Android Native Audio, Native Touch, and latency"

This time the detailed write-up was hosted on GitHub with repro project, I have found that touch/input latency also plays a role in the perceived audio latency. By going native not just audio but also on touch, we can get up to 1 frame earlier (can be 2 on Android) of touch response and that translate to FREE -16ms audio latency as long as that audio plays on touch response. (That's a lot when you "feel" it as a part of interaction)

A 1-take video which is my final proof that the plugin will have any benefit. At this point the first version of Native Audio is out along with "iOS Native Touch" to solve the aforementioned input latency.

Though, in that video I still insisted that AVAudioPlayer is the best for iOS. That is wrong.

(12/04/2018) "Unity's Mobile Audio Latency Problem And Solutions - iOS Build & OpenAL"

On iOS OpenAL does not introduce frame rate drop when playing plus we get an even better latency. The plugin was updated to use OpenAL on iOS.

(28/06/2018) "The Android OpenSL ES migration"

The research took place entirely in a Discord channel I have recently started. A user searching for audio solution is not satisfied with other solution but at the same time using Native Audio introduce a strange frame skip on Android. I have no choice but to abandon AudioTrack and blindly go for even more native OpenSL ES and luckily it solves the problem, also luckily for me I found many more faster path than the old Java way. It leads to the entire Android article located in the implementation page. You can read the epic discovery I and that user made together there.

(17/08/2018) "Faster input is possible on Android"

I have discovered a way to get faster touch on Android and indirectly related when used with Native Audio you will get up to 10-33ms free "perceived" lantency reduction. Previously named "iOS Native Touch" it will be renamed to just "Native Touch" with Android support. You are free to use Native Audio in combination with that one if you want even more.

(02/11/2018) "Unity’s Android audio latency improvement in 2019.1.0"

Unity had just opened the door to alpha build. In this article, I talk about a recent exciting news in 2019.1 alpha about audio latency improvement. You will learn about a portion of problem that Native Audio solves pre-2019 which Unity 2019 now solves as well, along with reasons to still use Native Audio to sqeeze more latency reduction.

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