Streaming music and "buffering"

I am an idiot, I acknowledge this. But I still haven’t figured out how to play streaming audio on my home computer without having it pause all the time and say “buffering …” Most radio stations (e.g. LastFM and CBC Radio as two examples) are right out; I do better with the “slower speed for low bandwidth users” option when it’s available but it still cuts out regularly to buffer.

Is it just me? It completely ruins the experience. How do other people cope with this?

Do I need to get more RAM or something? (I think there’s just under 1 gig on that computer. But this computer does it too - much less frequently - and I’ve got 2G here.)

Many thanks in advance.

You either need a better net connection or a faster processor. The data stream that gets sent to your computer is sent in little bursts, called “packets”. Your computer reassembles them into a single stream, and the computer program reads that stream and reconstructs the audio signal. The program tries to collect a bunch of data before it starts playing the stream based upon how irregularly the bursts come in. That’s the buffering. So what is happening could be a few different things:

  1. The packets could be coming in so irregularly that even the program can’t compensate for the long gaps between getting in packets.
  2. Some of the packets might have enough trouble getting to your computer that they get dropped on the floor, never getting to your computer.
  3. Related to #2, there could be so much traffic along the lines that you share with other people that there isn’t enough room to transport all the necessary packets to you.
  4. The computer could be so slow that it takes more time to reassemble the packets and then reconstruct the audio signal than the time that the audio signal plays for, so eventually the program gets so far behind that it skips past parts to try to catch up.

Are you on dial-up or cable modem or DSL or what?

I would suggest you either have a slow connection or spyware or a virus running in the background interfering with the connection (sending its own data and so on) or your ISP has issues.

The chances your computer is too slow or you do not have enough RAM are unlikely as your PC would have to be shockingly slow to not manage an audio stream and you’d have to be out of RAM pretty much to not handle the incoming stream (they are not that data intensive).

If you are on a broad band connection of almost any sort you should be fine.

Playing the lower bit-rate stations may help (less data coming in per second).

One thing I would try (aside from being sure your PC is free of viruses and spyware) would be to increase the buffer on the player you use. If you use Windows Media Player you may find it under VIEW>OPTIONS>ADVANCED tab (or TOOLS>OPTIONS>PERFORMANCE tab). Set the buffer to a higher number. This will make it take longer to connect by storing more information before starting to play. If the problem is a dodgy connection that is more intermittent this could work. However, if your connection is just too slow period then this will not help.

You also might consider other media players. I prefer WinAmp but there are plenty out there. Might give one of those a go.

Let us know how it works out!


Is this experience common? I’ve never even heard it mentioned before but I’m sure I’m not the only one who listens to streaming audio.

I use DSL now. What would “a better net connection” entail? It’s a standard big-brand telecom package.

DSL should easily be plenty for streaming audio. DSL speeds can vary widely depending on a number of factors but even at the low end it should be more than sufficient for a 128kb stream.

I forgot to add:

Since you are using DSL be sure you have the filters (should have been given to you when you got your DSL equipment) are plugged in anywhere you have a phone plugged in. The thing looks like a dongle where one end goes to the phone jack and the other accepts the plug from the phone (the one for the DSL itself will have two jacks on one dongle…one specifically for the DSL router and one for a phone then the one plug to the wall).

Sometimes people forget when moving phones or they forget things like their cable box may have a phone connection.

Not using these can dramatically affect the quality of the data connection so worth a quick check.

From the “you didn’t ask but I’ll tell you anyhow department” there are a couple schemes being hatched now for consumer in-home media equipment to avoid stop/go for both audio and video.

“AVB” or “Audio Video Bridging” is part of this. It’s based on reserving bandwidth for audio/video channels, and applying stop/go to other traffic that isn’t time-critical, such as general web browsing.

It only applies to equipment used within your home. Example - a ‘media server’ for delivering movies or MP3’s around the house. These systems are becoming increasingly common.

It does not help what’s coming in from the general internet via DSL or other means.

Some audio streaming is better than others. Go to and let us know what your speed is.

Can you watch YouTube videos? They buffer pretty well.

Buffering and streaming software usually use UDP ports in conjunction with TCP. Check your application setting if they need any ports to be opened; Windows Firewall is the first to check and you may have to manually add in the ports. Likewise, if you are behind a router which doubles as a firewall, you will also need to forward the ports there.

You have DSL.

Do you have a wireless modem, or are you plugged into your DSL modem?

Plugging in should give you more speed than wireless, I THINK.

Thanks everyone! This is so educational.

I am plugged in and I’m pretty sure there’s the thingee attached. Spyware/virus may also be a possibility. I use VLC and I will check for settings as soon as I get home. In general tho I think I will just wait until I get the Macbook I’ve had my eye on …