I'm looking into purchasing some audio interface hardware. Gear that goes via firewire is my primary option, but I have a question about acceptable delay lengths.

What is the acceptable delay in live or studio setups? I know it's always lower = better, but where it gets troublesome? Over 20ms? Over 50ms?

Anyone has anything else to add regarding delays?

  • 1
    Keep in mind that firewire is not necessarily better for latency.
    – Brad
    Dec 10, 2010 at 4:32
  • @Brad: how come? Doesn't Firewire has dedicated bandwidth, as much as it needs? I know that bandwidth and latency are not the same thing, but I would think that having guaranteed bandwidth does guarantee very low latency... no?
    – mr.b
    Dec 10, 2010 at 17:05
  • @mr.b, not quite. In short, most (not all!) firewire interfaces have on-board CPUs for doing some of the work of moving chunks of data around. Most (not all!) USB interfaces do not. The bandwidth available isn't much of an issue here. USB isi plenty fast. It's got a bad rep from the USB 1.1 days, but those are long past. In practice, this all comes down to what is actually going to work. Firewire interfaces rarely follow spec all that well, and the drivers tend to be horrendous. Getting an interface going on firewire is often very diffcult. (more in next comment...)
    – Brad
    Dec 10, 2010 at 17:16
  • 1
    @mr.b, Practically every motherboard manufacturer these days uses the same chipset for USB interfaces, and they all (generally) work well. With computers as fast as they are, IO operations aren't nearly as CPU consuming as they used to be. In short, what used to be the problem is now minimized, and you might as well go for something that will likely work every time, vs. a cheap firewire chipset that will give you problems. Also though, choose an interface for it's quality and features, not by its interface, unless all other things are equal.
    – Brad
    Dec 10, 2010 at 17:33
  • @Brad: Thanks, it's been really helpful. Will research USB interfaces more then. Cheers!
    – mr.b
    Dec 10, 2010 at 22:11

2 Answers 2


As pointed out in another question:

Latency shouldn't be much higher than a handful of milliseconds (12–20, maybe), if possible. The lower the better, of course.


It depends entirely on what you're doing. If you need it to respond very quickly (for example, if you are a musician and you want to monitor what you are playing in realtime!) then low latency is extremely important. I find that my classically-trained pianist friend starts to have a lot of trouble at around 10 to 16 ms, whereas I am more of a beginner on my instruments and generally have no problem below 16 ms.

But if you're just mixing or tweaking effects or something where you can handle a bit of a delay, much higher latencies are sometimes desirable because there's less likelihood that you'll run out of buffer - you can start loading up some more CPU and memory intensive effects without worrying about hearing pops and skips.

From my experience, more than 20 ms is generally not considered acceptable by anybody.


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