For years I was stuck using mediocre headphones when tracking. I’m such a fan of the Audio Technica ATH-M50 studio monitor headphones that I decided to order 4 more pair so I could let clients use them. I’ve had singers complain that they can’t hear themselves for a while now. I just figured the old Behringer headphones I was making them use was the culprit. (Singers, as a rule, are crazy! Don’t forget that one.) It often required me bumping their vocal a good 5-6dB higher than I thought it should be (I’m wearing the same model headphones with the same mix) and half the time I’m only 4 feet from the singer.
I’ve noticed quite a few singers lately have needed to resort to the one-ear headphone trick. (The one-ear button on my trusty, crusty ol’ Behringer headphone amp certainly comes in handy.)
Then yesterday I was working on a new propaganda video for Killer Home Recording. It required my EXTREME voiceover talents. (Caps indicate sarcasm). Anyhow, at 192 samples, I couldn’t tell what the hell I was saying. Okay, that may be a stretch, but the latency induced delay made it an AWFUL experience. In time, I gradually decided to ignore it. I can’t say I ever got used to it. Switching down to 128 samples was noticeably better, but still “weird”. At times it seemed like I was hearing distortion. …the kind of thing my Distressor does in “British mode”. However, on playback, there was none. It was clear that this is FAR from an ideal vocal monitoring situation!
Conclusion: Singers aren’t bitching entirely because they are crazy. They hate the latency when it mixes with the sound of their real voice. They can’t hear what they are doing! With the voiceover work I was doing, I really didn’t NEED to hear myself. I didn’t care about my pitch or anything like that. In a real deal singing situation, this sound is entirely unacceptable.
Latency Causing Plugins
Another thing that shocked me was how random plugins added dramatically to the latency issue. For example, the stock channel EQ in Cubase 5 added significant latency. This got me wondering if using a brickwall limiter on the 2bus (which I use to save time as a way to keep song to song levels consistent in the headphones) is such a good idea. In fact, I wonder how many plugins I’ve stacked on vocal channels over the years. It’s amazing that any singer managed to come even close to a performance. I worry that I’ve made a lot of really good singers sound bad.
Quick Points Of This Blog
1) Basically, when I used the same latency settings I’ve been given my clients for longer than I care to admit, I HATED it!
2) I wonder if I can improve things with a zero latency mix. Presently, I’m only aware of two interfaces in home recording land that can do a zero latency headphone mix with compression and reverb. One is the Steinberg MR816csx. The other is the MOTU 828mk3. I’m fairly confident I can scrape up a method with the DSP routing matrix in my Presonus Firestudio.
3) You MUST put yourself in the position of the people you are recording on a regular basis, particularly if they are complaining. There may be a problem and it may be your fault!
So that’s all I got for this blog. The plan is to do a few A/B tests and report back to you guys. I’ve got a chick singer coming in who is notoriously crazy about here headphone mix. Maybe going with zero latency will do the trick.