Because it contains the necessary preamp and analog-to-digital converter in the microphone housing, many businesses and consumers use a USB microphone to transmit audio. While USB mics can be a convenient alternative to built-in mics, the analog-to-digital conversion process can also introduce a delay, or latency, in the transmission of sound, which can be a nuisance if you're recording music or using the microphone to talk to somebody. With a few changes to your computer's settings, however, you can significantly reduce -- if not completely eliminate -- the delay.
Drivers, Buffering, and Latency
While many USB microphones do not require the installation of a separate driver, some come with audio drivers that have important configuration options. For example, buffering allocates a certain amount of computer memory for the processing of incoming or outgoing sounds. If buffers are large, the audio quality will improve but so will latency. If delay is a problem, try reducing the buffer. If your USB mic doesn't have a driver that allows you to fine tune these settings, you can use the ASIO4ALL utility to manage all of your audio connections, including buffer size.
If you are listening to your computer's audio output while talking or singing into your USB microphone, the apparent delay might be alarming and distracting. Even with an optimal buffer size, there will likely still be a bit of delay. In order to hear the sound of your microphone in real time, you need direct monitoring. Direct monitoring lets you hear the analog audio signal before it is converted and sent to the computer. Some USB microphones have a headphone jack on the microphone for just this purpose.
Shifting Time in a Digital Audio Workstation
If you need to record in sync with other sounds, such as a prerecorded musical track, latency may create a really annoying problem. In this case, try recording while listening only the playback of the other recorded sounds. Your USB microphone track will be off by some number of milliseconds, but this is correctable in Digital Audio Workstation, where you can drag the recording so that it lines up better with the other recorded tracks. To increase the precision, you can record yourself with a metronome click track and measure the latency by milliseconds. Then, you can drag your recorded vocals that number of milliseconds backwards. After this, the recorded tracks and your vocals should be lined up precisely.
Other Applications and Processes
As with any resource-intensive computer task, it is helpful to close any other processes running in the background of your computer, which reduces the possibility of glitches in the sound recording process. If you are using your USB microphone to speak to others over the Internet, you can increase your router's upstream bandwidth. This will allow your Internet connection to send more data from your computer, and in turn help maximize the quality of the audio transmission.
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