Its 2017 and we still have USB conflicts in music technology!

Bloody soundcards what are they like? Or rather USB conflicts…

I’m setting up my rig for upcoming performance with a borrowed soundcard, a MOTU ultralite MK3 hybrid. I’ve used this device before and it has worked well with my synths, and been stable- even functioning on a USB3 hub!

However this time I connected my synths that I’m using live via USB for MIDI and clock syncing purposes – this were Novation Ultranova,  Roland System 1, Roland TB3, Roland Boutique JX-03. (also a Volca Beats but that not on USB so wasn’t a problem) and a firmware-updated Arturia Beatstep pro.

I’ve had all these items a while, but at home I’ve been running them on 5-pin din MIDI with no problems.


However when I connected this lot up by USB it spectacularly crashed both Ableton and the MOTU driver – meaning even force-quitting ableton was a problem as it kept trying to reload the MOTU driver.

The problem

After many restarts and complete reboots involving taking out the laptop battery and going though each unit one by one I diagnosed the problem: Each of these units has its own soundcard which can be used to stream audio as well as MIDI over USB. Ableton can only handle one soundcard being connected, and what appears to happen is a conflict arises when all these devices are turned on and presented at once to the PC and even though Ableton has a convenient pull down menu that allows one to select the appropriate soundcard, obviously under the hood there’s is some scanning and recognition going on. Ableton recognises all the devices as soundcards but then won’t load the MOTU one correctly!

The solution

After an afternoon trying different things I found the workround:

  1. Load Ableton
  2. Turn on MOTU soundcard first
  3. turn all the other devices on after

After much testing this seems to work time after time.

Where’s the fault?

I’ve had some of these units in my studio at home on USB without conflict with an M-audio soundcard – the MOTU drivers are the latest and both Ableton and Windows are up to date.

The obvious thing to say that this lies somewhere between Ableton and MOTU but a major issue must be manufacturers not making class compliant devices can’t be helping – 17 years ago this was a common problem, but 17 years later should we still having these issues?


About stuartrussellcomposer

Composer/ sound artist. Electronic musician. Modern classical composer
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