What is latency? | A CONCISE ANSWER!

Hi friend and Welcome!

What is Latency? It’s such a loaded question, but I will try and outline some of the basic characteristics in this article!

What is latency?

What is latency?

Before we get started, grab a snack, sit back and relax because..

You’ve come to the right place!!

What I will bring you today

  1. What is Latency?
  2. What causes it?
  3. Why does it present problems?
  4. How can you fix it?
  5. Final Word

Let’s get started!

What is Latency?

To start off, Latency is defined as the time delay between the input of a sound vs. actually hearing it live from your sound-card.

Also, let’s say you’re using a synthesizer and press a key. If there’s a delay in the time it takes for you to hear it, that’s latency as well.

It also effects the playback of existing tracks and the general responsiveness of the application. As far as the actual signal (the sound), it can get delayed because of the distance required to reach it’s destination. This is known as digital to analog conversion (DAC) and it’s how your computer makes sense out of the information it’s receiving – from your audio interface, microphone, studio monitors, headphones, etc. Your computer actually takes the sound from these various sources, and organizes it in the form of 1’s and 0’s!

Check out my article on bit depth vs. sample rate for a more detailed explanation!

So the simplified process is as follows:

  1. The sound gets converted from analog to digital (in about a millisecond).
  2. It then passes internally along a digital bus inside the sound-card, and ends up on the PCI bus.
  3. It proceeds to make it’s way over the motherboard to the rest of the CPU, and comes face to face with your operating system. An intimidating thought indeed! Like Link vs. Ganondorf 😛
  4. The computer then takes this information, and processes it in the forms of 1’s and 0’s (mentioned above).
  5. Once everything is processed, the info is sent back via an output buffer. The data is passed once again to a D/A converter (which converts the data back to audio), and then you hear it through your speakers or headphones!

An even more simplified version:

Analog to digital:

  1. Your computer receives sound from an input source.
  2. It processes this sound by crunching it in the form of 1’s and 0’s.

Digital back to analog

  1. It sends it back to you in a way that enables you to hear it.

What causes it?

So the process described above takes only mere milliseconds, but they add up which results in a delay. The typical built in sound-card on your PC can cause latency if it’s of a sub-par quality. Most macs have pretty good ones, and a lot of PC’s do as well. It all depends on the quality of your CPU.

Why does it present problems?

In short, if you’re tracking guitar with your headphones on, you need to be able to hear exactly what you’re playing in real time. Latency makes this impossible.

How can you fix it?

A few things can help here:

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

  1. Have a decent CPU, with a big hard drive, lots of disk space and as much RAM as possible (I have 8 GB and it really makes a difference).
  2. A more common solution is to invest in a good quality audio interface, meant for studio and recording applications. I have the Scarlett 2i2, and it’s been quite a workhorse for me. I don’t really have much experience outside of this unit, but it works extremely well in powering my studio monitors and most condenser microphones!

The audio interface in general is capable of processing data at a much faster rate. It goes back to my article on bit depth and sample rate (above). The 2i2 can reduce the lag time to a few milliseconds, which is unnoticeable to the average person.


Final Word

So, what is latency? Think of it as simply a delay. A delay in the process of sound travel. That’s it! I hope you’ve come away with some valuable information today.

IF you have any other questions, or feel I’ve left out something important, let me know by leaving a comment below! You can always Contact me as well if you need any recommendations..

I very much look forward to speaking with you..

All the best and God bless,

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