Audio Interface Latency Will Get You Into Trouble – Or Why Immediate Monitor Feedback Matters.
Today we’re looking at how the quality of your monitoring while you are recording can have a profound impact on the sound of your recording. Specifically, let’s talk about audio interface latency
I’ll be using the example of vocals to explain why, but rest assured the concepts can be applied to anything you record.
The problem with audio interface latency
Now, at first glance, you might not think too much about this. Just being able to hear the backing music while you record your vocals through headphones would be considered enough to get a quality recording.
The problem is that many home studio folks are using audio interfaces that unfortunately have at least a couple of miliseconds of delay or latency. If you have a very low latency interface, this is of no big consequence. However, problems start to arise as the amount of delay increases.
I know this probably sounds pretty obvious: if you’ve got latency in your signal flow, you’re going to have issues with recording everything in time. It’s clear that what you’re playing will be recorded back into your DAW with a slight delay relative to the backing tracks.
One solution you might consider is not to give a damn about the delay you are experiencing and just record it and go: “hey, whatever, I’ll just move the vocals back in time the same amount of ms of latency my audio interface has”.
Only… that’s not going to work.
You see, just having the recorded vocals appear a couple of ms late in your DAW is not the only problem you’ll encounter. In fact, that’s going to be the least of your worries.
The worse issue here is that the delayed monitoring you’ll have when you’re singing is going to seriously affect your abilities to sing in time AND on pitch.
This is due to the delayed auditory feedback effect (DAF)
It boils down to this: when you sing, the sounds will be picked up by your microphone. That signal is going to run through your DAW and be played back to you through your headphones. If there’s a slight delay in that signal chain and thus in real-time playback, you’ll hear your own voice with a slight delay.
What will happen is that your brain will try to compensate for this delay. See, we’re used to hearing our own voice with immediate feedback. And if that immediate feedback is delayed, then that’s something our brain is not equipped to deal with. It’ll short out. We’ll automatically try to re-sync ourselves with the delayed feedback we’re hearing. And that, my friends, results in some very – VERY weird stuff.
Now, I can talk all I want about this but the only way you’ll believe me is if you experience this for yourself. There are nifty little applications (android – ios) called speech jammers, that simulate the effects monitoring through a high latency audio interface. The apps simply record whatever you say and plays it back to you with a delay setting of your choosing.
I encourage you to try one of those apps out. Just try to talk or sing something wile using it. You’ll soon find that it is entirely impossible to do it right. You’ll mumble, stumble and mess it up. I sure did when I did the speech jammer challenge.
So go ahead, try it out now before continuing reading. I’ve got a couple minutes.
See? Yeah, I know… Shameful defeat. It’s impossible to even talk correctly when your monitoring is not immediate. Now of course, with an app like that the effects are exacerbated. You (hopefully) won’t encounter a 100ms delay in your monitoring, even with the most low-end interfaces out there. But the premise remains valid: the more delay you have in your monitor, the more problems you’re going to have to sing in time and on pitch.
What’s the solution?
Well, first of all you should always be aiming for a round-trip delay that’s as low as you can possibly get. You can do this by lowering the sample rate (but that’ll also affect the quality), or by simply getting a better interface.
In fact, if you ask me… I’d argue that next to your monitors themselves, a quality interface is one of the most important things to get in a home recording studio. So, folks, if you need to spend money, spend your money on a quality low latency audio interface that will give you a good bitrate.
If you can’t spend the cash right now for a good quality audio interface, then there’s one more thing you can try: turn off your direct monitoring. Seriously. It’s better to have no monitoring at all and just hearing your vocals directly through your own mouth than having to deal with a delayed signal. If you tried the speechjammer app, you’ll understand what I’m talking about.
To conclude, I’d like to hear about your monitoring solutions. Did you experience any of the above issues before? How did you solve them? Let me know in the comments.
Thanks again for letting me teach you how to improve your sound!
Kevin – The Soundcoach