If you have an audio interface of your own, or you’ve taken a look through our hefty selection of external audio interfaces, you’ve probably come across the term, ‘direct monitoring’. This mysterious function is actually pretty useful and can be enabled while you’re making recordings using DAW software. While recording, you can use direct monitoring to hear yourself using a connected set of headphones without being bothered by latency (so a delay between what you play or sing, and what you hear back as it’s being recorded). In this blog, I’ll explain how this works and what kind of direct monitoring is possible.

What is Direct Monitoring?

Normal Input Monitoring

When you use normal ‘input monitoring’, the sound is transferred from the input of your audio interface to your DAW software. Then, the sound is sent back to the audio interface, where it’s then sent through the output socket where your headphones are plugged in. This costs any software processing time, so when using normal input monitoring, you’re almost always going to experience at least a little latency. When you’re trying to record a complex guitar riff over the beat and bassline, or in fact, when you’re trying to record anything, hearing yourself back even a fraction of a second later makes its very difficult to play or sing in time to anything.

Direct Monitoring

To enable direct monitoring, the input sound is first split as it enters your audio interface. A button or rotary knob that controls this function can be found on almost any sound interface, from a Focusrite Scarlett and Steinberg UR, to a Behringer U-Phoria or Komplete Audio. How does it work? While the signal is sent to your DAW as normal so that it can be recorded, an exact copy of the signal is sent directly to the headphone output of your audio interface, without taking it on that long journey thorugh your DAW and back. If you’re using direct monitoring, then it’s also important to set the channel that you’re recording to in your DAW to ‘Mute’. Otherwise, you’ll hear your voice or instrument directly from your interface followed by the slightly delayed signal from your DAW – this sounds like a kind of echo. After finishing the recording, simply un-mute the channel. This works pretty much the same way in any recording software, whether it’s Cubase, Pro Tools, Ableton, Audacity, or Logic.

Simple Direct Monitoring

The most simple form that Direct Monitoring can take is an on/off button. In this case, always make sure that the signal from your instrument or microphone is being sent clearly to your DAW and at the right level. You can adjust this using the ‘Gain’ control knob of your audio interface. Then, set the volume of the headphone output on your audio interface so you can actually hear your instrument or microphone clearly. By adjusting the master fader in your DAW, you can then determine the how loudly you hear back any previous recordings, and/or click track etc. More extensive audio interfaces will also have (or have instead) an on/off switch and control knob for setting the balance between the input of the audio interface (so, your vocals or instrument) and your DAW. This way, you can leave the master fader of your DAW alone.

Direct Monitoring with Effects

Most singers find that it’s not only nicer to have a little reverb and maybe a little delay on their vocals as they record, but that it also helps them to give a better performance. But if you’re using direct monitoring, you’re forced to mute the channel you’re recording to in your DAW – meaning that you can’t use any of the effects you might have enabled on that channel. However, by cleverly using a ‘pre fader send’ to put a DAW channel through a special reverb or delay channel, you can still hear the effect even though the channel has been muted. You will hear that the effect does have a little added latency, but since it’s reverb or delay, this shouldn’t cause any problems.

Monitoring on Audio Interfaces with Multiple Inputs & Outputs

Audio interfaces with masses of inputs and outputs usually come with an app included that can be used to set up direct monitoring with software instead. If you’re recording many instruments at the same time, after all, it’s pretty useful to be able to set the volume level of each instrument without effecting the final recording. In many cases, these apps also allow you to set the balance of each output independently. If you’re recording many musicians at once, then you can give each musician their own monitor mix. Higher-end audio interfaces like those made by Antelope Audio, MOTU, and RME actually comes with built-in effects.

What monitoring challenges have you come up against while recording? Let us know in the comments!

See Also…

» External Audio Interfaces
» DAW Software
» Studio Headphones
» All Studio & Recording Gear

» Audio Interface Buyer’s Guide
» DAW Software Buyer’s Guide
» How to Record a Great Sounding Demo
» Recording & Amplifying Vocals for Beginners

2 responses
  1. per merakerli says:

    How to be able, in an easy way, to set up, and listen to my guitar input recording, in BOTH sides of headset, simultaeously as the layback from DAW. This is not an intuitive and good software at all. Its crucial to be able to listen to my guitar, with a good blend with the signal from the DAW. Can someone tell me how ?

    • The way you set up your monitoring completely depends on the audio interface and software that your are using. Could you please tell me what audio interface and software you are using?

      Simple audio interfaces often have a dial that let you make a balance between the incoming signal from your microphone or guitar and the output of your software. Some interfaces which have two or more inputs allow users to route audio to the monitor path in stereo pairs. For instance: input 1 is routed to your left ear and input 2 is routed to you right. Since most guitars are mono instruments you don’t want to use this stereo function.

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