Latency Compensation FAQs

  • Live Versions: Live 9.2 and later
  • Operating System: All

What is latency?

Audio latency is a short delay between the moment an audio signal  is recorded / processed and the moment it is played back. When working with digital audio, a certain amount of latency is always introduced so that playback, recording, and processing results in an error-free audio stream.

How can I reduce latency?

The amount of latency is generally determined by two factors: audio buffer size and sample rate.

  • The smaller the buffer size, the smaller the latency.  Keep in mind that a buffer size too small might also cause excessive CPU load.
  • On the other end, a higher sampling rate also reduces the amount of latency. As an example, imagine using a buffer size of 44 samples: with a sample rate of 44.1Khz (samples per second), the latency would then amount to 1millisecond. If we now double the sample rate, it is clear that 44 samples will now correspond to half a millisecond latency, since we would have twice as many samples per second. Under Preferences → Audio, Live will indicate the overall latency according to the buffer size and sample rate in use.

Why am I experiencing a larger latency than what is stated in the Audio Preferences window?

Besides the two factors described above, there are few more elements which can increase the overall latency in a Live Set.

  • Negative Track Delays: Using a negative track delay on one track causes all other tracks to be delayed accordingly. As a consequence, the amount of negative track delay is added to the latency resulting from the buffer size and sample rate preferences settings.
  • Ableton Devices, third-party plugins or Max for Live Devices which use oversampling or convolution algorithms can also add latency.
  • Devices using "lookahead": Dynamic processors often come with a "lookahead" feature, which introduces a negative delay on the sidechain signal to allow the gain reduction to catch fast transients more effectively.

Is there a quick way to find out if a Device introduces latency, and how much?

As of Live 9.2, the latency introduced by a device is displayed in the Live Status Bar upon hovering with the mouse on a device header in Device View. The device latency is shown both in samples and in milliseconds. Note that nothing will be shown if "Delay Compensation" is not active under the Options menu.

Status Bar Latency

Status Bar Latency

Will tracks containing latency inducing devices offset other tracks?

No, because Live compensates the latency introduced by all Ableton and Max for Live Devices, and by third-party plugins as well, provided "Delay Compensation" is active under the Options menu. This means that the timing will be correct regardless of the different latencies affecting each track.

Are Return tracks not fully compensated if I route them back to Audio tracks?

Indeed, Return tracks are not compensated when routed back to an audio track, if the respective Send on the destination track is active.  To restore the correct delay compensation for Return tracks routed to Audio tracks, disable the respective sends. You can disable a send by right clicking on the Send knob and choosing "Disable Send".

For example, if you route Return Track A to Audio Track 1, right click on Send A on Track 1 and choose "Disable Send" to restore the correct latency compensation.

Disable Send

Disable Send

Does Live compensate everything?

As of Live 9.2, audio, automation, and modulation are fully compensated. Graphics Elements are not compensated, thus the level meters and other graphic elements might be displayed slightly ahead of time with respect to the audio.

In addition to this, built-in device modulation which is synced to the Live transport (i.e., synced to a specific beat-time position) is not compensated. One example would be the Auto Filter LFO (in Sync mode), which might be slightly off depending on the position the device has in the effect chain. Specifically, if the Auto Filter is located after a number of devices introducing a large latency, the modulation might be offset to an earlier position with respect to the grid.

Note that this does not happen to all Ableton Devices relying on Live's tempo information, but rather only to those which sync to a specific song position. For example, Ping Pong Delay, Filter Delay, and Simple Delay do not present the problem and are always correctly compansated.

How can I play or record audio/MIDI if the system latency has increased?

When large negative delays are in use, or if a number of latency-inducing plugins cause the overall latency to become quite large, it might become impossible to record audio or MIDI in real time. In this case, you can activate the option "Reduced Latency when Monitoring". This bypasses the additional latency in tracks which are either record-enabled or whose Monitoring is set to "In".

When playing back my audio recording, the timing is suddenly off.

If you record audio in a track whose Monitoring is set to "Off", Live will move back the recorded audio a value of time corresponding to the overall latency. This setting makes sense if you are monitoring the signals via an audio mixer or via your audio interface's direct out.  However, when recording while monitoring the signals via Live itself, you should make sure that monitoring is set to either "In" or "Auto".

Automation sounds different after playing back the recording.

If "Reduced Latency when Monitoring" is active, recording automation in tracks which are record-enabled or have their Monitoring set to "In" will cause the automation to be over-compensated. Playing back this recording will result in a different timing of the automation with respect to what was actually recorded. This problem can be avoided by either disabling "Reduced Latency When Monitoring", or by making sure that the automation is recorded in tracks which are not record-enabled. Under Preferences → Record/Warp/Launch, you can choose if automation should be recorded only in record-enabled tracks or in all tracks.