One of the common questions we get here at MIDIDrumFiles.com is regarding MIDI latency and how to correct it. This article explores what MIDI latency is, and what you can do about reducing its effects in your musical productions.
But before going into the remedies of the latency problem, let’s talk about what it is. Latency is the lag time between when any MIDI note is initially triggered to the time the sound actually exits the speakers. Latency is caused by the electronic processing needed to construct and send out each sound. There are many factors that contribute to the latency time in any given musical system.
Some of the devices that can affect latency time are: processor speed, RAM, sound cards, MIDI interfaces, USB interfaces, serial port interfaces, software program overhead drain, MIDI effects software, or MIDI player program. Essentially, any processing that needs to be done to the MIDI information before it sends out to the speaker will contribute to latency.
So then, what can you do about it? If you are experiencing MIDI latency problems, there are several steps you can take to combat the problem. The first and cheapest option to try is to examine the software you are using. Many software synths and MIDI sequencers actually have latency setting built into the program. This feature will allow you to set the latency time as low as you can. Setting the latency time too high will cause an annoying delay in the sound output. But too low of a setting and your computer will clip and stutter as the processor and software tries to keep up with the high demand. It’s your job to find that perfect balance for your particular setup.
If latency settings are not available to you however, start looking into upgrading your equipment. Or at least identifying the hardware you have that could be causing the problems. A better MIDI interface and sound card could do wonders. I’ve also read that USB interfaces are far less reliable than some other types of interfaces when it comes to latency. If you would like some more in-depth information on the specs of various equipment, take a look at these two articles by Martin Walker….. “The Truth About Latency”. I found them to be very helpful and informative.
As these articles point out, most of the time the latency delay time is not nearly as big of a factor in producing MIDI music as is the consistency of that delay. Some hardware and MIDI interfaces perform more consistently than others. And according to experts, this is the bigger issue.
Anytime you are dealing with computer or software generated music you will have to deal with latency. There’s no way to get around that. It is possible however, to bring that latency time down to where you cannot detect it with the human ear. A little investigation work into your individual system’s components will go a long way towards giving you the results you desire.