I'm using the (I know, very sad) setup of Audacity on Windows 7 with an onboard sound card, and using the mic on a Microsoft LifeCam.

I'm dragging an MP3 into audacity, and then attempting to record a vocal track to it.

At first I thought I was horribly off beat, but then someone mentioned that this was most likely a latency problem.

I honestly think the mic on the USB webcam is fine, sound-quality-wise for my experiments, but the latency is a dealbreaker.

Do I need to purchase a decent soundcard? Will a PCI soundcard work or do I need something external? Do I need to get a real vocal mic with line out?

I did try installing ASIO4ALL, but it doesn't look like there's an easy way to make it work with audacity OR my onboard sound card driver, and I'm not even sure that would solve the problem.

I am an absolute newb, so knowing what questions I need to answer or just a general direction to look for hardware or software would be a great help. I'm eventually willing to invest in equipment but I REALLY want to be able to make some proof-of-concept recordings before I invest more than the absolute bare minimum.

  • What's really your problem is, in the first place, that you're not using the sound card for recording, but the seperate camera. There is no way for Audacious to properly synchronize this to the sound card, regardless of what drivers you use for each. Professional recording is always done with one single interface and one single driver.
    – leftaroundabout
    Dec 15, 2011 at 15:02
  • I don't see why this is a problem. It's fundamentally just a USB mic when I only record audio from it. I'm not trying to make a 'professional recording'... just a low-latency one.
    – danieltalsky
    Dec 15, 2011 at 15:38
  • It is a problem because the camera is not synchronized to your sound card. In a proper setup (at least with e.g. ASIO drivers), latency doesn't actually matter at all for recording, because the DAW can "ask" the sound card how much delay was introduced between output of the playback signal and input of the microphone signal, and then compensate this delay by shifting the recorded signal by exactly the correct amount of time. However, that only works if both signals pass through the same device.
    – leftaroundabout
    Dec 15, 2011 at 16:06
  • (It's not in principle impossible to do delay compensation even with different devices, but it's at least not easy to do; even if you get it to work it will be hackish and unreliable).
    – leftaroundabout
    Dec 15, 2011 at 16:07
  • I see... so regardless of if I got a new soundcard: I'd have to be able to plug the mic into it?
    – danieltalsky
    Dec 15, 2011 at 20:15

1 Answer 1


There is a solution to your problem that doesn't involve buying anything. You simply make a multitrack recording, and compensate for latency after the fact by moving your beat forward in time.

Here is an outline of the procedure:

  1. Open up your beat file.
  2. press record, this should record your new material to a new mono track below your beat Press play, note that your beat and vocals don't match up.
  3. Switch to the Time Shift Tool - it looks like a horizontal double-ended arrow, like this: <->.
  4. Grab your beat and slide it to the right very slightly. You may need to zoom in.
  5. Press play, listen to your track.
  6. Repeat steps 5 and 6 until the beat lines up with your vocals.
  7. You may need to do some sliding to the left and right to get it perfect. Also, zooming can help.
  8. If the latency is inconsistent between your vocals and your beat, you may need to slice your vocals into sections and adjust them individually. How many sections depends on your music and vocals.

No matter how awesome your gear is, there is always latency in digital audio systems. Sometimes you notice it, sometimes you don't. This is a great opportunity to lean how to clean things up. If this is too much work, you may want to look into getting a lower-latency sound card and mic. But beware that there aren't any magic bullets. Things get better but they will never be perfect.

Audacity alone is a more powerful tool than the best stuff that pros had access to in the mid-'90s, and that didn't stop them from making amazing music.

Update: here is a discussion on the Audacity Forum about latency compensation in Audacity 1.3.x.

  • Thank you, this is an awesome answer. In the short term I will definitely try this.
    – danieltalsky
    Dec 16, 2011 at 1:17
  • 1
    I guess it doesn't really answer my question but it's the best there is so...
    – danieltalsky
    Dec 16, 2011 at 1:17
  • 1
    As I said in the comments, this is just the manual version of what any DAW in a proper recording setup does anyway to make sure the latency does not show up on the recorded tracks. — What's quite helpful when doing such manual alignment is to start every take with a well-localizable audio cue (like the classic clapperboard used in film), e.g. clap on a precise musical time before starting to sing. Also, it would be a good idea to copy the beat track and only align that copy, then you can always record on the original version and just have to swap mutes to get the correct result.
    – leftaroundabout
    Dec 16, 2011 at 2:04

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