Direct Hardware Monitoring / DAW latency

All computer recording setups have latency, that is the time it takes for the audio signal to enter the soundcard, move thru the system and software, and arrive at the outputs of the soundcard. This process on any modern computer / decent soundcard is usually mere milliseconds, but even such a small delay is a real dealbreaker in terms of the way you play and is simply not acceptable!!! All modern recording software that I know of will compensate for this delay by shifting the recorded audio ahead in time by the amount of delay in the system, keeping eveything in sync in a multitrack recording. But in only does this AFTER you hit stop, so it isnt helping us to hear what we are playing / singing at the time we are recording.... there is this annoying goddamn delay that makes it hard to play anything right.

If your computer is fast and set up well for audio performance, this may not be a problem until you start building up a large amount of tracks in your recording session and or using some plugins. In my experience it is ALWAYS a problem, and the way we get around this is by employing "Direct Hardware Monitoring"

 

The idea behind DIRECT MONITORING is this, since the delay is introduced by passing the sound thru the soundcard / software / cpu and back out again, for the tracks that we are recording we are going to cut the computer out of the equasion entirely. We are going to listen to the sound we are recording at the source, right on the hardware that the microphone / guitar / keyboard is plugged into.

Im going to discuss two scenarios,recording with a sound card with direct hardware monitoring built in, and one that does not.

 

Scenario 1, your sound card has direct hardware monitoring.

This usually means that there is a little slider or knob that acts as a balance control between two extremes:

1. Only hearing the sound of the mics and guitars currently plugged into the sound card.
2. Only hearing the sound of tracks that are playing back in the software.

Lets take the much loved but latency introducing computer out of the equasion and listen to what we are playing AS WE ARE PLAYING IT!!!

picture this:

You have your multitrack audio recording software fired up and on...

Track 1 is a stereo drum track or loop

Track 2 is the track that you are going to record some rocking bass line.

1. TURN DOWN the output of your soundcard / monitors

2. You DO NOT want to hear the bass as is passes through all of this stuff, so you TURN OFF "input monitoring" for Track 2 (what you play will still be recorded!)

3. Plug in the bass and get a decent recording level set

4. Find the knob or slider described above and set it for 100% AWAY from the side that says "playback" and 100% TOWARD the side that says "input".

5. Slowly turn up the headphones / speakers as you play the bass until its at a good listening level for you.

6. playback the drum track and hit an open string on the bass with one hand, while slowly turning the knob / slider toward "playback" until they have a good balance.

7. Now you can record the bass along with the drums and have no delay at all in what you are recording.

When you play your recorded track back, it will be perfectly in time, and play back along with the drums through the "playback" on the soundcard.

Now you can plug in a guitar, turn off record monitoring, and overdub that on top of the bass and drums with the same results.

 

The catch with this method is that you cannot hear any plugin effects on the track that you are recording while "Input Monitoring" is turned off in the software... No reverb, guitar amp simulators, etc.... Its totally dry. This is no problem when using real guitar amps, or if you dont mind singing without reverb.

 

Scenario 2 Is when you dont have an Direct Hardware Monitoring soundcard...

This is no problem, but we will need a small mixing board!!!

This is the same idea basically as before.

Plug the monitors / headphones into the mixer outputs

Plug the main stereo output from your soundcard into the mixer (usually channels 1+2)

Plug your microphone / guitar / bass / whatever into channel 3, and plug the output (direct output is best) of this channel on the mixer into one channel of the soundcard.

This way... Channel 3 on the mixer goes into the soundcard on the computer, you create your bass track in the software, tell it to take its input from the channel on the sound card, and again turn off direct monitoring on the track in the software so that its not playing back...

Again, you are hearing the sound of what you are recording DIRECTly from the hardware (mixer) and therefore no delay!!!