Humming noise

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Re: Humming noise

Postby wasi » Wed Mar 07, 2012 12:53 am

Using the physically grounded USB hub on my monitor together with the audio interface on the same hub fixed it for me, as long as I touch the guitar strings. As mentioned above by mrgorilla, it appears that the softstep illumination induces a field on your body and your guitar picks up the potential difference as buzz (not an engineer, sorry). If you can close the gap between the SS and your guitar, it goes away, as long as you are electricylly linked to the guitar (which is linked to the SS and ground).

I did some experimenting and I can alternatively solve the problem by running a wire from the ground of the expression pedal (the sleeve) to the audio interface (or my body, which is on the same plane when I touch the strings). Based on this result, running a wire from EXP to rack ground should solve the buzz too. It's a somewhat prettier 'cable in your sock' solution, basically.

You need to get the SS on the same electromagnetic plane as your guitar/interface. Wrapping a thin wire around the expression pedal plug right where it's plugged in should get the wire in contact with the sleeve (there's a little ledge there). Then you could wrap the wire up along the midi or USB cable to wherever the nearest grounded piece of guitar gear is. Or if you have more of a pedalboard nearby, run the wire over to the nearest guitar jack sleeve. I don't have this setup though so I can't test it.

You'll still get a lot of noise when you're not touching the strings, but hey, it's a guitar. :D

More testing would appear to show I was overly optimistic. The buzz wasn't entirely eliminated, however, it was reduced significantly. Controlling a wah into a high gain amp model with the softstep does bring it back audibly though, because I am pressing on the footswitch pretty hard to control the wah and filtering the signal at the same time. This is in my socks. If I had thick soled shoes on it might actually be almost inadible.

After all this I am reasonably sure that the (relatively low) level of buzz I reached by grounding everything is as low as you can get it, because short of dressing myself or the softstep up in tinfoil and grounding that, I don't think it can be eliminated, because it's radio interference from the LEDs. I'm giving up on eliminating it entirely and turning the illumination off. It's not like I wouldn't have bought it without the backlights.
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Re: Humming noise

Postby jayendra » Tue Mar 27, 2012 12:32 am

I'm a newbie but I'm getting a hum coming from the actual unit very loud near the usb port with my ear to the backing, and a lower octave near the end of the unit under the 1 and 2 buttons.
Otis Scarecroe
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Re: Humming noise

Postby Otis Scarecroe » Tue Mar 27, 2012 12:48 pm

If you read this entire topic ( lot of reading!), you'll gleen all kinds of info on the various issues(some cures ) that are caused by the EL (not LED ) backlighting.
Keith McMillen made a clear assessment of the fixability on page 7.

As to your last post:

by Otis Scarecroe » Wed Sep 21, 2011 1:53 pm

It's a good thing we don't have ears in our toes,eh?
I listened for the hum and with my old ears, I couldn't hear it once the SS was a couple feet(as in twelve inches x 2)away.
So, I suggest, you ain't had enuf rock&roll, or maybe some of us have had too much!

BTW,If you listen at the left end and then move yer ear to the port end it jumps an octave. (wow a built in octaver!)

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Re: Humming noise

Postby chumbo » Tue Jun 26, 2012 12:40 pm

I'm a new user and I think I can bring some interesting info about this problem. I can't believe this will be a solution to all of you but I suggest anybody reading this give it a try.
I'm a guitarist as well BTW.

When I first plugged in my SS in my Vaio Laptop, no hum/buzz problems. I hadn't even read about it so wasn't aware of it at all.
After a few days of messing around, it appeared!? Then later disappeared again. When it reappeared again, I understood there must be a variable causing it, something I'm doing sometimes and not other times.

It turns out that by using a different USB port on my laptop which has 4, it completely disappeared!? I have a USB M-Audio FastTrack Ultra soundcard as well plugged in so I just messed around switching them both around until...ta-dah! It was gone :-)

So simple it's hard to believe I'm the only one that's stumbled by chance on that fix? Hard to believe as well I'm the only for who it will work.
Anyway, give it a shot and post back if it works or not for you.
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Re: Humming noise

Postby mrgorilla » Tue Jun 26, 2012 12:59 pm

wow. well what is interesting for me is that my macbook only has two usb ports and both don't render the same noise when I used them.

I even tried purchasing a USB extension (with four additional components) and I still got the same noise. You are lucky son of a gone.

what kind of computer do you have?
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Joined: Sun Jun 24, 2012 4:25 am

Re: Humming noise

Postby PinkLine » Thu Jun 28, 2012 6:44 am

Keith wrote:Hi,

The blue backlighting is a form of cool Neon called electroluminescent and is the only method possible for illuminating these large flat areas in a low profile. Neon is driven by an AC frequency around 100 Hz.

The SoftStep is completely shielded and exceeds all CE and FCC guidelines for radiated emissions. There isn't anything more I can do to reduce the EMI.

If you have a single coil guitar or some acoustic guitars, and depending on how you are cabled and connected, this tone can be picked up. Strats, Teles, P-Bass, etc are famous for picking up unwanted noises. This is what prompted Les Paul to make the Humbucker pickup.

I see most of the people here are guitar players so this is likely what is happening. Each person's instrument and ground path will be different. We have made suggestions for improving shielding and ground paths. If there was anything at all possible to fix this from our end I would have done it.

This is only affecting a few of you but I totally understand that when you are the one affected it is a pain. We are up against the wall of science on this one.

- Keith

This reply tells me that the company started with a cool technology (the neon backlight) and tried to find an application for it, rather than looking at a problem (a foot controller for musicians) and figuring out the appropriate technology to apply to the problem.

The comment about CE and FCC guidelines is irrelevant: this is a product used by professional musicians, and a product that meets the cited guidelines but fails to meet the requirements of musicians is inadequate. As you well know, these guidelines are a floor, not a ceiling, and, as an embedded systems engineer with 20+ years experience (several in the music industry), I am disappointed to see them used as an excuse.

The comment that this is the only technology that will work in this form factor is also irrelevant (and likely inaccurate). The form factor is secondary to the functionality if the unit fails to perform. Certainly a backlight choice could be made that would avoid the EMI problems within an acceptable form factor, if somewhat larger. The goal is not the thinest unit possible, it is the thinnest useful unit possible.

Keith, you are not up against a wall of science. Your customers are up against your design choices that, for me anyway, make the device unusable. I am returning my unit.
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Re: Humming noise

Postby chumbo » Fri Jun 29, 2012 12:55 am

(first a quick reply to Pinkline, then an update to my initial post...)! Those are strong statements and when said so well, I can only agree but I'm going to hold on to mine a bit longer.
I've become used to resignation when it comes to flaws in products but sometimes the flaws are beyond acceptable and to keep it in the same field of comparison, I bought the Softstep to replace a Roland RC-50 looper which had flaws I just couldn't live with:
- It doesn't keep time when MIDI synced
- the audio stretch feature is a laughable disaster, totally useless.
I use the looping with a band so I need to sync with the drummer and soon with the bass player who just bought a Softstep as well.
So no sync = no RC50. No way around it.

So I decided to try something different, which brought me to the Sofstep. And if the device cannot perform without emitting a loud hum/buzz, that's an even worse flaw than the RC50's!!

I need to correct a few things to my initial post though. What I said about switching around USB ports still stands but I need to complete that info a bit:
I haven't found a permanent USB port connection setup that keeps the buzzing away. When I rebooted my laptop without having changed anything around the horrible loud buzz was back!?
I then switched it around a bit more (and with 4 ports and 2 devices, there are a lot of possible combinations!) and have a setup which seems to be lasting for now.
The other very important thing is that although the buzzing is completely gone when the laptop is idle, as soon as the hard drive becomes active, then I can hear the hard drive through my soundcard! And this only happens when the Softstep is connected!

So it's still far from perfect, but I prefer this annoyance than the loud constant buzz.

I then connected my Softstep to my desktop PC which has an RME soundcard connected via PCI...silent! No buzz, no HD noise, nothing!

So the culprits to this problem are first and foremost the Softstep, then - in my case - an decent quality soundcard (M-Audio FastTrack Ultra) and not an excellent one like the RME, connected via PCI and not USB.

I should point out as well that I did all this testing with no guitars connected to the soundcard. There has been alot of talk about shielding guitar pickups in this thread, I just wonder if that's really the solution. Would be good to hear from other users if humming disappears completely when no guitar is connected.

what kind of computer do you have?

It's a Sony Vaio Laptop VPCEA3S1E. One of the USB ports is a USB/E-SATA combo port and that's where the more permanent solution is working from now (we'll see how long it lasts. If I don't post back on that, it means it's still working). My soundcard is connected to that combo port. It's seems to work best there, to remove the buzzing sound from the Softstep.
Otis Scarecroe
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Re: Humming noise

Postby Otis Scarecroe » Sun Jul 01, 2012 7:16 pm

Okay, no guitars:
Do you still hear the hard drive with the back light turned off?
Last edited by Otis Scarecroe on Mon Jul 02, 2012 9:00 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Humming noise

Postby wasi » Mon Jul 02, 2012 4:35 am

Chumbo, if the buzz is gone with another setup it's not the Softstep. I.e. if the Softstep buzzes on your laptop but not with your desktop, I don't see how you can come to the conclusion that the culprit is in any way the softstep.Your description is a clear indication that the buzz you are hearing is not the Softstep.

The buzz I think we are commonly referring to is the EMI from the lighting. That gets stronger when you hold your foot over the SS, disappears almost altogether when you step away from it. That buzz can't be helped, but it can be eliminated completely by shutting the illumination off. Yes, we al love the blue backlight, but it's ultimately not such a big deal.

What you seem to be describing however is interference via the laptop computer. Are you using bus-power for the Fasttrack? I understand from your posting that you are not using a powered USB hub either. Depending on the power specs of your laptop's hub, it may not be offering enough power for all the devices attached. I'm no computer tech but I do know that a lot of USB-ports on laptops are aditionally being used by internal hardware. It may seem like you only have one device connected, but in fact you already have three devices hooked up to it internally (like a disk drive, WLAN-unit, webcam or whatever). That's why the eSATA combo input may work best: It may well be the only dedicated, 'exclusive' USB port you have, if you have any at all.

Also, a lot of laptops still to this day simply by design do not offer enough USB-power to their hubs to support power hungry bus-powered hardware like external audio interfaces and maybe even the SoftStep. A lot of USB ports are made for pen drives and nothing else. When the computer (or any electric system) struggles to provide power to something, that can lead to subtle current fluctuations transferring back through the whole system. When the power draw has a certain frequency, like here from the backlights, that will reverberate through the whole system and again it will seem like it's the SoftStep causing the problems when in fact it's the computer's lack of power to the USB hubs. If the buzz goes away when the harddrive sleeps, maybe the harddrive is drawing on the USB power.

So maybe the harddrive is power sharing something with the USB, leaving USB with just barely enough to power your soundcard, but not your soundcard and the SoftStep. Or it flat out doesn't have enough for the SoftStep regardless. Since the Softstep's additional power requirements tip it over the ledge, it will seem like the SoftStep is causing the buzz, when in fact any other bus-powered device with similar power requirements would. Have you tried using the internal sound card and the Sofstep or a powerd external hub for the SoftStep (off the same wall plug as the laptop and the interface)?

Bottom line, again, is that if the same setup has no hum on your desktop, it can't be the SoftStep that's at fault. Maybe try a powered hub for the SoftStep (and power your interface externally) to take the power load off your laptop.
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Joined: Mon Jun 25, 2012 8:50 am

Re: Humming noise

Postby chumbo » Thu Jul 05, 2012 11:25 am

Sorry for the late reply but for a while my posts weren't getting through for some strange reason??

Otis, I'll get back to you later on your question. My setup is all disconnect right now. As soon as it's up and running again, I'll post back to let you know. However, I'm leaving on holiday 'til June 22 so...when I return, if I remember! :-S

Wasi, I don't agree with the simple logic that if the SS doesn't buzz on my desktop, then the SS is completely out of the picture as a source of the problem. That just means that using different hardware, the SS will behave normally. It should then have had a long list of non-compatible hardware to warn potential buyers.

Look at it this way: what if Keith McMillen (are any developer of another product) tests his product and gets it working flawlessly on his gear and when it gets shipped out to customers, 4 out 5 had problems with it, would you still hold up that logic up as excuse?
And there are just too many users reporting the same problem who all have completely different hardware setups for the problem to be brushed aside as an isolated case. The SS has problems with emitting noise, that's a fact.
And personally, I'm sick of buying products that don't do properly what they claim it should do. I love the blue backlight, I personally think it's much more than just eye candy and find it very useful when performing on dark stages and don't want to settle with not using it. It's one it's selling points, It's supposed to work, so I expect it to work.

I need to clear up a few things as well. I'm using my laptop constantly connected to the power outlet so it's not being drained or strained on power, it has all it needs. So that's not the issue.
So no, I'm not using a powered USB hub as I guess it wouldn't help the problem since the laptop is connected to a power outlet.

What's important to remember is that all the problems mentioned only happen when the SS is connected. Otherwise, the soundcard is dead silent, no hard drive noise, no hum/buzz.
When using my internal soundcard, I have no problems at all. So it really seems to be related to USB since as I mentioned before, the soundcard on my desktop uses PCI.
So all the things you said about sharing USB ports internally might very well be true but the bottom line is, the sharing doesn't disturb any of my other USB peripherals. When I connect any other device via USB, I have no issues at all, neither with the soundcard or any other. They all coexist happily, doing what they are supposed without any issues. I connect the SS, and....hum, buzz, harddrive noise. Sorry, but there definitely is a problem with the SS.

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