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When you record audio into Pro Tools, the time it takes your computer to receive the input signal, record it, process it, and send it back out to an output is called latency. Latency values can be as low as zero or higher than 50 milliseconds or more, which is quite noticeable and will likely negatively affect your performance while you are recording. I'll show you why. If we go to Setup > Playback Engine, and we set the H/W Buffer Size for the smallest amount which is 32 Samples with our 003 setup here, click OK, you notice that this bass track is record enabled.
Now I'm going to play a few notes and you will not be able to hear the latency between when I play the note and when it comes back to me. (Music playing.) However, if I change to 1024 Samples and I do the same exercise, you are going to hear the difference between when I play the note and when it comes back to us through the headphones. (Music playing.) There is latency for you. Those of you recording into a USB-powered interface, like an Mbox 2, can achieve zero latency monitoring by turning the Mix knob all the way to the left to the input side. This routes the input signal right back to the interface before it's even converted from analog to digital. Thus, there is no latency.
To hear your input track along with other tracks that have already been recorded into Pro Tools, you need to put the Mix knob in the middle. In this case, you will hear the input signal with zero latency and the playback from Pro Tools, which will have latency, unfortunately. But if you change to a small H/W Buffer Size, this is certainly manageable. With a large buffer size, the latency causes too much delay between the prerecorded tracks in Pro Tools and the track that you are trying to currently record. On some M-Audio USB devices, like the MobilePre, this Mix control is software driven. In this case, go to Setup > Hardware and click the Launch Setup App button to find the controls to adjust the Mix level.
FireWire interfaces like the 003 and Mbox 2 Pro handle digital audio and latency in a slightly different way. For these devices, the minimum latency is not 0. It's 3 milliseconds, because it takes 1.5 milliseconds to convert the analog signal to digital and then another 1.5 milliseconds to convert that signal back into analog. This A-to-D-to-A conversion takes a total of 3 milliseconds. These same FireWire interfaces can utilize what's called Low Latency Monitoring, and you turn that on here in the Options menu. When it's on, that means that there is only 3 milliseconds of latency. However, there are some accompanying limitations. All plug-ins and sends on record-enabled tracks are automatically bypassed. And when I activate this, you will see that my Phaser plug-in on my bass track will be made inactive right there.
So when you are using Low Latency Monitoring, you can't record with any real time effects on the record enabled tracks. While this is a bummer, it certainly isn't the end of the world. In practice, I found that working with low buffer sizes is totally fine for recording, even with the most time sensitive material, and so I don't really use Low Latency Monitoring very often. Once you're done recording, you can go back up to the Playback Engine and change it to a higher buffer size, but when you are recording, I recommend knocking it down to the smallest H/W Buffer Size.
So latency is unfortunately an issue that we have to deal with when recording digitally. However, using the right techniques to manage it, latency shouldn't get in the way of recording great tracks.
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