Have you ever had to fight against a slight delay while recording, where you hear yourself back a fraction of a second after you’ve played or sung a note – a sort of annoying echo? It’s likely that you’re battling a known phenomenon called ‘latency’. This digital-based gremlin is caused by the long journey that the sound has to complete between your audio interface and DAW software and (usually) back again, along with the thinking power it takes your computer to record and play back at the same time. If you’re also applying some sweet effects to the sound, this can cause some really noticeable latency. In this blog, we explain how you can beat latency once and for all, or even just work around it.

How to Beat Latency When DAW Recording

Adjust the Audio Buffer Setting

In most DAW software packages, you can set how much time you give your computer to process the sound. This is referred as the ‘audio-buffer’ and is indicated in multiples of 32 samples. In this sense, 32 samples is the smallest possible buffer, and 1024 samples is the largest. If you have an insanely fast computer, then you can leave the buffer at 32 samples without any recording problems. If you also have a fast audio interface, you might get a couple of milliseconds of latency – but this is so small, you won’t even notice it. If your computer is not so fast, a lower buffer rate might result in a ‘clicking’, crackling or your computer might even freeze. In this case, there’s no other option than to increase the buffer to give your computer a little more thinking time and limit any latency. But don’t worry – when it comes to mixing and mastering, you can set the buffer to whatever value you want, and at a lower setting, you might experience nothing more than a short response delay when you hit play or stop.

Direct Monitoring & Latency

Many audio interfaces provide a ‘direct monitoring’ function. This makes sure that the sound coming into the interface via the inputs is sent directly to your connected headphones or speakers without first being sent through your computer. This convenient function allows latency-free recording at a lower buffer rate. When using direct monitoring, the track that you’re recording to in your DAW does needed to be muted, otherwise, you will hear a sort of echo since the sound will still be sent back to your audio interface from your DAW – plus that dreaded latency. Something else to pay attention to is that, if you’re singing or playing along to previously recorded tracks and the buffer is set very low, then you’ll hear back these tracks with latency and struggle to play or sing in time. In more advanced DAWs, this is automatically compensated for, but with more simple, sometimes free DAWs, you might need to compensate for this manually. If you want to know more about direct monitoring, then check out our other, aptly named blog, What is Direct Monitoring?

Using Effects While Recording

Many vocalists prefer to record with a little reverb added to the signal. Latency doesn’t necessarily need to cause any problems here, since reverb often already has a ‘pre-delay’. In this way, you only hear the reverb – just with a very slight delay. Using the direct-monitor button or the monitor mixer of your audio interface, you can mix the tracks sent from your DAW and the added reverb with the dry signal of the vocal being sent through your audio interface from the microphone.

Software Instruments & MIDI-Keyboards

If you’re having issues with latency when playing instrument plug-ins with a MIDI-keyboard or MIDI controller, there’s unfortunately no other option than to upgrade your computer to make it faster, or just to fork out for a faster computer. This is also the case if you’re having similar problems when playing your guitar or bass into your DAW using amp simulation plug-ins. In both cases, you’ll need at least 4GB RAM and a quadcore processor. You might find that when using some larger sample packages, this is actually still too slow, especially if you’re using multiple instrument plug-ins at the same time. A little tip: if you regularly use sample libraries, it’s best to store the samples on a super-fast hard drive like an SSD. This can be an internal or external SSD.
Have some more useful latency-tackling tips you want to share? Let us know in the comments!

See Also…

> External Audio Interfaces
> DAW Software
> Effect Plug-Ins
> Instrument Plug-Ins
> Guitar Effect Plug-Ins
> MIDI Keyboards
> External SSD Hard Drives

> What Do You Need to Produce Music?
> Help! My MIDI Keyboard isn’t Making Any Sound!
> What’s the Best DAW Software for Me?

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