Audio latency is one of the most frustrating issues to deal with when tracking digital audio. Head a delay in monitoring is incredibly distracting for the performer and can be terribly annoying for the audio engineer to fix. Let’s talk about the methods of fixing microphone audio latency.
How to fix microphone latency:
- Decrease buffer size in Digital Audio Workstation.
- Engage Low Latency Monitoring in Digital Audio Workstation.
- Close all other programs using audio.
- Disable all audio plugins in Digital Audio Workstation.
- Reduce the number of digital audio hardware devices.
- Monitor the microphone directly from the audio interface.
- Use analog equipment to record.
In this article, we’ll dive deeper into each of the aforementioned methods of reducing digital audio latency in microphones.
What Is Digital Audio Latency?
Before we dive into how to solve the latency between a microphone and a computer (and the playback system), we should define what audio latency is.
What is digital audio latency? Digital audio latency is the short period of time it takes for digital audio to enter and then leave a system (measured in milliseconds). Digital audio latency is caused by analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog conversion as well as buffering and digital signal processing.
Audio latency, more generally speaking, refers to any amount of delay between the moment an audio signal enters a system and when it leaves that system. In addition to the digital audio latency factors mentioned above, audio latency is also affected by transmission time, which includes:
- Analog signals transmitted through cabling.
- Wireless audio signal transmission.
On top of that, sound only travels so fast within a medium, which also causes a delay (though sound is not technically audio).
Why Is Low Audio Latency Important?
Low audio latency is critical when monitoring any kind of recording.
In order to perform, many musicians, actors, and other talents need to hear themselves (especially when overdubbing). Any amount of latency in the audio recording system causes a delay between what the talent is performing and when they hear back what they’re performing.
When connecting a microphone to a computer, we typically have negligible amount of analog audio latency. Digital audio latency, however, can be a huge issue when trying to record digital audio into your computer.
For more information on connecting microphones and computers, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
• How To Connect A Microphone To A Computer (A Detailed Guide)
• Do Microphones Need Drivers To Work Properly With Computers?
• How To Connect A Wireless Microphone To A Computer (+ Bluetooth Mics)
• How To Stop A Microphone Feedback Loop In A Computer
With all that being said, let’s get into the 7 methods to fix microphone latency in a computer!
1. Decrease Buffer Size In Digital Audio Workstation
What is buffer size? Buffer size is the amount of time it takes for your computer to process any incoming audio signal, measured in samples. Decreasing the buffer size decreases the amount of latency in a digital audio system at the expense of processing power, which may introduce error messages and pops and clicks.
There is a balance to strike when setting the buffer size in a digital audio workstation.
Decreasing the buffer size means less audio latency within the digital audio workstation. In effect, this means more accurate monitoring.
However, lower buffer sizes require more processing power. If the computer cannot handle the processing requirements, the DAW may stop recording and give errors or continue recording but introduce artifacts, pops, and clicks to the audio signal.
A higher buffer size may be required in order for your computer to keep up with the processing demands of the DAW. Of course, the cost of increasing the buffer size is increasing the audio latency.
To safely bring down the buffer size in a digital audio workstations, we must ease up on the processing requirements of the computer. This brings us to methods 2, 3, 4, and 6. Let’s continue to method 2 now.
2. Engage Low Latency Monitoring In Digital Audio Workstation
All digital audio workstations have some sort of “low latency” setting that will help to reduce latency when recording digital audio.
To provide examples, let’s take a look at Pro Tools’ “Low Latency Monitoring” and Logic Pro’s “Low Latency Mode:”
What is low latency monitoring? Low Latency Monitoring is a setting in Pro Tools, a popular DAW. This setting mutes the output of any record-enabled tracks so that you only hear the direct sound from the audio interface without a duplicated latent sound from the DAW.
With low latency monitoring, we rid of all latency in the computer itself and are left only with the inherent latency of the audio interface being used.
What is low latency mode? “Low Latency Mode” is a setting in Logic Pro, a popular DAW. Low Latency Mode essentially disables digital audio plugins as needed in order to free up extra processing power and reduce digital audio latency in your DAW.
With low latency mode engaged, we remove the latency that would be caused by processing power hungry plugins. Logic Pro disables plugins automatically in order to reduce latency to a set amount (which is set in the General Audio preferences menu).
It’s important to note here that some plugins are essential to getting the best performance out of a talent.
For example, a bit of reverb on a vocal can help the singer express his or herself more effectively since they can hear themselves in a closer approximation to the final mix. Another example could be running a guitar through a digital processor that gives it the sound it needs. Recording with the plugin is essential in this case because without it, the talent or engineer wouldn’t hear what is actually trying to be accomplished.
3. Close All Other Programs Using Audio
By closing all other programs that process audio, we may free up more processing power in our digital audio workstations.
It is arguable that closing any running computer programs that are not being used in a recording session may reduce latency. This is because closing programs will free up some processing power.
4. Disable All Audio Plugins In Digital Audio Workstation
Much like the aforementioned “Low Latency Mode” in Logic Pro, we can manually disable audio plugins to help free up audio processing power and reduce latency.
Digital audio workstations offer disable buttons for channel strip plugins. Therefore, we can disable the plugin during recording and enable them during playback or mixing without losing any of our settings.
Some audio interface, like the UAD Apollo line (link to check the price of the Twin MKII Duo on Amazon), run their proprietary plugin within the interface. This latency free internal processing frees up computer resources to improve latency, which is why I’ve recommended the Apollo 8 Quad in my Best Microphone Audio Interfaces.
5. Reduce The Number Of Digital Audio Hardware Devices
Any piece of digital audio equipment will introduce some latency in the digital audio signal.
This is often referred to as “round-trip latency,” which effectively measures the time it takes for the analog audio to be converted into digital audio; be sent though the interface and computer; and come back out to be converted back into analog audio.
Removing or upgrading a piece of digital audio hardware from your recording setup could shave a few milliseconds off your latency time.
6. Monitor The Microphone Directly From The Audio Interface
Let’s reminisce about the previously mentioned “Low Latency Monitoring” setting in Pro Tools. Low Latency Monitoring essentially muted the outputs of record enable tracks in Pro Tools so that the monitoring would have to come directly from the audio interface.
Well, we can do this manually in order to improve latency in our digital audio setup.
Sure, we won’t get to monitor the audio through any plugins within the digital audio workstation, but the reduction of latency is, most often, well worth the sacrifice. This is particularly true when recording voiceover, which typically doesn’t require any immediate plugin attention.
7. Use Analog Equipment To Record
Finally, the somewhat facetious tip for reducing latency in your audio (this tips will actually rid of digital latency entirely) is the record using analog equipment.
Though this doesn’t really answer the question of reducing latency between a microphone and computer, it’s worth mentioning.
How do I stop microphone feedback from my computer? Microphone feedback is caused when a positive feedback loops happens between a microphone (which sends its signal to a speaker) and the speaker (which project the mic signal as sound back into the microphone). To stop computer feedback, we must reduce the amount of mics signal sound that reenters the mic.
For detailed reads on stopping microphone feedback in computers and otherwise, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
• How To Stop A Microphone Feedback Loop In A Computer
• What Is Microphone Feedback And How To Eliminate It For Good
• 12 Methods To Prevent & Eliminate Microphone/Audio Feedback
How do I enable microphone monitoring on my computer? In order to enable microphone monitoring in your computer, ensure your mic is set as the computer’s audio input device and the monitors (loudspeaker, headphones, etc.) are set as the audio output device. When running software, ensure the same settings. Once set, adjust mic gain and monitor volume.