USB Microphones and Latency Problems

Thanks to site visitor Andy for submitting the following question:

“Hi. I have been using an XLR mic, a mixer and PC with Audacity to record myself playing sax. I was able to use a backing track, record and monitor myself in the headphones all at the same time.

I have now got a Sampson USB mic which is better quality but now I cannot set it up due to Latency problems. Changing the values in Audacity does not counteract the delay through the MIC. Any thoughts?

Latency Issues

The problem that Andy is experiencing is quite common. The audio playback into the headphones is delayed, as a result of the audio’s journey through the PC, meaning that what you hear in the headphones is slightly behind real-time.

Why does this happen? Essentially, by using a USB microphone as well as the PC’s soundcard, there is quite a lot of processing going on – two different audio processing tasks are going on, and the PC is having to do a lot of processing work to handle the two different types of audio processing.

There are a number of things that you can try to improve the latency:

  • Reduce the amount of programs running on your PC – The less resources that the PC is using, the better
  • Check you are using the latest drivers for your soundcard
  • Check the settings for your soundcard and driver – Ideally look to reduce the audio buffer
  • Note that a high-end PCI soundcard is likely to give a better performance, compared to a cheaper card, or an external USB soundcard. Consider getting a PCI soundcard that has direct monitoring

If you’re still having problems, then it’s worth trying ASIO4All, a free solution that can be very helpful in reducing latency issues with a USB mic.

ASIO 4 All

If you are experiencing latency issues with your PC soundcard and microphone, one solution is to use the ASIO protocol. ASIO stands for Audio Stream Input/Output. This bypasses some of the high-latency processing that’s done by the standard Windows sound drivers.

ASIO4All is a free Windows app that lets you configure your USB mic and soundcard to bypass much of the Windows audio handling. As you’ll see from the following screenshot, there are also controls to let you reduce the audio buffer size, as well as to compensate for the In and Out latency.

Asio4All Screenshot

Asio4All Screenshot

You can download a copy of ASIO4All at www.asio4all.com – Once installed, you may need to play around with the settings to get things to behave as you’d like. If you need some help getting started with ASIO4All, take a look at this Youtube video:

Other options

If you still have problems, then the other option, although not ideal, will get around the problem:

  • Record your backing track as an MP3 file
  • Copy it to your MP3 player / iPod
  • Set Audacity into Record
  • Record your performance whilst listening to your backing track on headphones from your MP3 player
  • Insert your recording into the Audacity multitrack session, and line it up to your backing track

Not ideal, but it will solve the latency problems.

Any other suggestions? Please add them below:

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