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Why, in 2016, is latency still an issue in recording applications?

Once you are finished recording, why can't the software simply calculate the latency and then shift the whole recording automatically a few milliseconds earlier so that the latency in playback no longer exists? Would this solution not work in practice?

I don't know much about audio software, so I am likely missing something here.

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    Am I reading this correctly; that you have an issue with a recorded track still being out of sync, rather than struggling with throughput latency at the actual recording stage? – Tetsujin Mar 11 '16 at 8:24
  • That's a good question. After reading your question, I am now actually interested in the throughput latency. – Kyle Mar 11 '16 at 8:30
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    The throughput latency is 'how late it sounds whilst you're playing'. That's likely to be an issue if you're using a virtual synth etc, but not if you're playing guitar or singing - as Simon says in his answer, that should be dealt with by your input device being able to feed your monitor mix with a direct sound rather than have to wait for the computer to get it back to you. In both cases, at playback, the computer should be able to compensate for any latency & play everything back at exactly the timing it was played. – Tetsujin Mar 11 '16 at 8:34
  • Kyle, you might want to edit your question to make it clear it's about throughput latency. – Todd Wilcox Mar 14 '16 at 16:15
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If you are talking about recording audio, latency is not an issue in 2016. Today, audio interfaces that are designed for multitracking have zero-latency monitoring. The audio input is split and you monitor an analog loop back, while the other side of the split goes into the recorder. You don’t monitor what is coming out of the recorder.

Latency is not computer-specific. If you monitor through a tape recorder you also get latency. You have to monitor the input signal itself. It will always take too long to go through the recorder because anything other than instant is too long. So we have always had to monitor the input signal in a music context, where timing is critical.

Early audio interfaces omitted the zero-latency monitoring to save money. That is why latency used to be an issue. Today, if an audio interface lacks zero-latency monitoring, it was simply not designed for multitrack recording. It is designed for speech, or recording a stereo music signal with no multitracking.

In short, a multitrack recorder will always have latency, and it has always been solved (even in 1975) by monitoring the audio input.

So if you are having trouble with latency, maybe you are not using your audio interface’s zero-latency monitoring? Or maybe your audio interface is not designed for multitracking.

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