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Home Recording Computers: Clicks, Pops, and Latency

By  Brandon Drury | Published  12/3/2006 | Recording Computers / DAW

Latency Can Cause Clicks and Pops

Home Recording Computers: Clicks, Pops, and Latency

Without a doubt, the biggest reason for clicks, pops, or just overall lack of performance in your home recording computer is often how you set your latency. This article will explain the easiest way to solve digital recording computer problems.

Latency Can Cause Clicks and Pops
It's not uncommon for home recording guys to ask me about problems with clicks, pops, and other random glitches in their recordings. There is nothing more distracting than hearing clicks in a track. It's tough to get clicks out in many cases and there is something about the clicks that just sort of kills the mood.

In 99% of all cases, your latency settings are causing the problems with your home recording. I guess before we get too deep into this, I should explain what latency is. For a clue, look at the first 4 letters. L A T E ! Basically, latency refers to the amount of time it takes for an audio signal to flow into your computer and then back out for you to hear it.

Computers Weren't Exactly Purpose Built For Recordings

A while back, someone woke up and said “I'm going to use a computer for recording”. This is probably back in the day when running Solitaire wasn't exactly easy. After probably a zillion challenges and hurdles, the pulled it off. However, the problem still remains in that Windows is the main operating system for recording computers and soundcard designers are at the mercy of what Microsoft decides to do with their software.

Latency Doesn't Have To Be An Enormous Problem

Latency is a pain sometimes, but it doesn't have to be that big of deal. It must be said that any system that relies on software monitoring on a computer will have latency. It's a miracle that the technology has evolved to the point where a computer can process audio faster than sound travels. Here are a few tips to help your get your system's latency running low enough that you don't hear a delay, yet still don't have to deal with clicks and pops.

How To Deal With Clicks, Pops, and Latency

#1 Make sure that latency is causing the clicks and pops. Crank up your latency to the point where it is impossible to play. Somewhere around 1,000 samples should take care of this. Now play a little bit. Do you hear clicks and pops. If the clicks and pops go away, it's a good chance that latency is the problem and the tips below can help.

#2 If you have determined that latency is indeed the problem, or at least that increasing your latency time removes the clicks and pops, we can help.

There are several possibilities here:

  1. Your recording computer is too slow. Maybe you should build a new recording computer?

  2. You are asking too much from your recording computer

    1. This could be because you have too many effects, tracks, VSTi, and Samplers going on the song you are recording.

    2. It could be that you have junk running in the background like spy bots, viruses, anti-virus software, etc. Note: As far as I'm concerned, anti-virus software is a virus when it comes to recording computer performance. Of course, I never connect my recording computers to the internet...EVER.

  3. You have your latency set too low. I can set my system to 64 samples, but sometimes I've gotten away with setting it to 128 samples. From your computers perspective, doubling the latency is a tremendous burden lifted from the CPU's shoulders.

DSP Latency Checker
A new free tool is available that can analyze your system to see if your current setup of software, drivers, and hardware is capable of streaming audio.  While the DSP Latency Checker doesn't appear to be test more than a stereo stream, this is a good place to start.  If you can't pass this test, you have some major issues that need to be worked out before recording.

Why Does Latency Effect Performance?

It goes like this. Let's say your boss says “Junior! I need that report on my desk in 2 weeks!”. You say, “Yes Sir!”. Of course, you relax because you've got all the time in the world to get the report done. No big deal, right.

Well, what do you do when the boss says, “Junior! I need that report on my desk in 10 minutes!”. You panic and start typing like crazy to get this report finished in a stupid amount of time.

Well, this is kind of how latency works. When you tell your computer that it can take it's time to process, it relaxes. When you say that you need your audio NOW and you don't want the singer to notice even a hint of delay, you are telling your recording computer to work its ass off.

You Don't Have To Monitor With Software

Just remember that if you've tried everything and still have clicks and pops, you can always monitor with hardware. Many soundcards come with this feature built in. Basically, the audio is directly routed to the headphones or audio outputs before the signal is converted to digital. So the computer does it's own thing and the headphone mix is totally independent. This is a great way of dealing with the problem of latency and monitoring. The only downside is that you can't use the computer for effects in the singer's headphones.

Still Having Problems?

If you've tried all of this, but nothing seams to work, we'd love to help. Just post on the home recording forum.

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