Tech Tip:Digital Dilemmas: Sound Card Latency

By Dennis Kambury

While today's digital recording tools offer amazing power and quality, they also add complexities that can leave you scratching your head and wondering what to do next. This week we'll look at latency problems, how to spot them, and how to correct them.

The first thing we are going to do is start from an initialized program, which is a program that will play a sawtooth wave sound, has no parameters adjusted. This makes it easy to create a sound from scratch without having to edit one of the factory sounds:

Out Of Time
A customer wrote to us recently with the following problem: he was mixing tracks from
Cakewalk, routing everything but his lead vocal track through an Aardvark Q10 into his Mackie 1402-VLZ Pro. His vocal track, on the other hand, was routed through his PC's consumer-grade sound card and sounded delayed with respect to the backing tracks. This seemed counterintuitive, as all the tracks began playback at exactly the same time.

Pro And Con
What our customer didn't realize is that pro gear like the
Aardvark Q10 has drivers and D/A converters that are much more efficient than the less-capable consumer card. As a result, the vocal track took significantly longer to process, adding a noticeable delay at the output. In addition to the delay factor, the quality of the audio was nowhere near as good as the Q10's output. In his case, the solution was straightforward - instead of routing the lead vocal through the sound card, I had him route it through the Q10. The problem was solved, with all tracks in sync and sounding great!