Guide: How an Audio Interface Can Help With Latency

Are you tired of dealing with audio latency when you’re playing, recording, or listening to music on your favorite devices? You might’ve heard professionals mention audio interfaces. These audio tools help you reduce latency, white noise, and many other unwanted disturbances on your computer, smartphone, and more.

An audio interface can help with latency because they are more powerful than a computer’s sound system. Your computer has plenty of tasks, so there’s not enough room for a high-end sound driver. An audio interface overrides the built-in driver to provide nearly seamless audio clips.

Throughout this article, we’ll discuss why an audio interface can help remove latency, what can cause audio latency, and how you can deal with common audio interface issues. We’ll also talk about how you can improve your DAW (digital audio workstation) with an audio interface.

Audio interface for low latency

Does An Audio Interface Improve Latency?

Audio interfaces look and sound far too technical for beginners, but they’re actually quite simple. An audio interface reduces latency and organizes your recording equipment for a much more manageable setup.

You don’t have to deal with spaces between clicking record or play hearing the audio play through the speakers anymore.

Here’s a list of reasons audio interfaces reduce latency:

  • Audio interfaces surpass your computer’s sound drivers. The vast majority of computers don’t have high-quality sound drivers compared to audio interfaces. If you want to get the highest quality from your recording equipment or speakers, an audio interface can shave milliseconds off of the latency issues.
  • You can manage latency on an audio interface with several options. Audio interfaces often have plenty of knobs to adjust gain, volume, and many other settings. While they don’t directly change the latency, you can use better cables through an audio interface than you could through a computer setup. This method drastically reduces latency.
  • Audio interfaces reduce the need for latency-causing adapters. Without an audio interface, you have to use USB, XLR, and USB-C adapters for the best results. Even with all of these gadgets, you’ll increase the time it takes for the digital-to-analog conversion, which is a primary cause of latency and lag.
  • An audio interface lets you control the buffer settings to prevent loading latency. Buffering is what loads the conversion process. Without buffering, your system wouldn’t play the audio through the speakers. Using an audio interface lets you set buffering controls to manage when it starts, stops, and how quickly it buffers.

As you can see, audio interfaces are some of the most effective devices when it comes to preventing latency.

The reduction depends on the interface’s quality, so a top-notch audio interface will reduce the latency much more than a low-budget model. However, even a bottom-level interface is better than most computers’ built-in sound drivers.

Also Read: Do Audio Interfaces Affect Sound Quality?

What Causes Audio Latency?

Dealing with endless audio latency can be a drag. Most audio latency issues are caused by the computer, cables, and mismanagement of the DAW.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s highly unlikely that your speakers or headphones are creating buffering or latency problems. These devices are connected after the portion that deals with conversions.

So, what’s behind your audio latency issues?

Digital-to-Analog Conversions Create Latency

The digital-to-analog conversion process is what’s causing your system’s latency. Any time your computer has to change digital sound waves into an audio, analog signal, there’s a small amount of buffering and latency.

Using an audio interface cuts down on the time it takes for the signals to convert and transfer.

Buffering Is a Common Problem for Audio Devices

As we mentioned before, buffering is a result of loading, signal conversion, and more. It differs from latency, but they’re often confused with one another.

Nevertheless, buffering can cause latency because it makes things take longer to convert, thus slowing the conversion rate. Buffering can happen on any device with speakers.

Audio latency is easy to understand but difficult to remove without the proper equipment. The good news is all audio interfaces are capable of taking the task on. If you want to learn how to use your audio interface to reduces latency caused by a digital audio workstation, proceed to the next section.

Can an Audio Interface Help Reduce DAW Latency?

In most cases, adding another component to the conversion can add latency. Thus, digital audio workstations are capable of causing lag and buffering. Thankfully, audio interfaces are equipped with several tools to manage your favorite DAW, regardless of the computer you’re using. Let’s break down why getting an audio interface can improve your DAWs latency below.

  • An audio interface lets you manage buffering and many other DAW settings. It is easy to adjust the buffering range and intensity using an audio interface. Ensure you’re using an audio interface that’s compatible with your computer to get the most out of it. Mac users can enjoy most audio interfaces without updating their drivers.
  • Using an audio interface with a high-end DAC is irreplaceable for a digital audio workstation. A DAC (also known as a digital-to-analog converter) is found in every audio device you can get your hands on. However, most of them are inefficient and don’t prevent latency like an audio interface since they include top-of-the-line external DACs.
  • Many audio interfaces have several inlets and outlets for multiple recording devices and headphones. Rather than using dozens of adapters and adding more stress onto your computer, an audio interface compartmentalizes the devices into one device and one cable to plug into the system. It lowers buffering, thus reducing latency and overheating.

Whether you’re looking for a neater setup or want to reduce your DAW’s latency, an audio interface is a surefire solution for most users. Nothing’s worse than downloading a new DAW to find that it causes more audio issues than you expected. Audio interfaces are useful for people of all experience levels who use digital audio workstations.

How to Fix Audio Interface Latency Issues

Audio interfaces can cure many latency issues, but they’re not without fault. In fact, misuse of an audio interface can lead to more latency than you had before you got it.

Fortunately, we’ve compiled a four-step process to help your interface reduce the latency and perform optimally.

Here’s what you should do:

  1. Make sure you’re using all of the proper cables. Just because a USB cable can fit into some USB 2.0 slots doesn’t mean it’s the best course of action. Using incorrect cables can slow the conversion process and invite latency.
  2. Check your computer’s drivers for updates. Many computers require an update when you’re using new equipment. Check the system for driver upgrades if you’re experiencing compatibility issues. As mentioned above, Macs typically don’t have this problem.
  3. Adjust the buffering in your digital audio workstation. Plugging in your interface can cut latency immediately, but you can make a few DAW adjustments (all of which are mentioned in the previous section) to improve the latency.
  4. Don’t use any adapters to connect the interface to your computer. Adapters slow things down. They’re not worth the convenience they provide, so we recommend investing in the correct cables for all of your audio interface and computer ports.

Conclusion

Now that you know why an audio interface can help with latency, you can choose the best audio interface for your setup.

Remember, even the lowest-quality audio interfaces are almost always better than a computer’s built-in sound driver.

These systems are built for crystal-clear recording, making them irreplaceable for audiophiles, podcasters, musicians, and more.