Latency and Delay Compensation overview

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

What is Latency?

Audio Latency refers to a short period of delay (usually measured in milliseconds) between when an audio signal enters and when it emerges from a system. In computer based audio systems a certain amount of latency, known as audio buffering, is necessary to ensure that playback, recording and processing results in an error-free audio stream without dropouts or glitches.

Certain devices, plug-ins and processes may also introduce latency. Live has a built in option called Delay Compensation which compensates for this by offsetting all other other tracks in a set until everything is in sync.

Tips for reducing latency during playback:

  1. Reduce the audio buffer size
  2. Raise the sample rate
  3. Audio Input Device should be disabled if not needed
  4. Use ASIO audio drivers on Windows and Core Audio on Mac
  5. Use a dedicated audio interface running native drivers
  6. Reduce the CPU load
  7. Freeze and flatten plug-ins and devices which introduce latency
  8. Remove any plug-ins that may be inaccurately reporting their latency

Live's Delay Compensation:

  1. How Delay Compensation works
  2. Which elements are not compensated?

Tips for reducing latency when monitoring through Live:

  1. Use Reduced Latency When Monitoring
  2. Use direct monitoring (if your interface supports it)
  3. Monitor through an external mixing desk

How the audio interface, driver and preferences affect latency

Audio buffering ensures audio can be played back while minimising glitches or dropouts. With an audio buffer of 256 samples, a chunk of audio 256 samples long is processed. The interface then fetches the next batch of 256 samples, and so on. 

In Live's Preferences → Audio, the overall latency is calculated according to the driver type, audio interface, sample rate and buffer size in use.

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Here's how to reduce latency:

  1. Reduce the audio buffer size
    Very small buffer sizes may cause dropouts or glitches due to the increased CPU load. Find the sweet spot where the buffer is as small as possible without impairing the audio quality
  2. Raise the sample rate
    Sample rate refers to the amount of samples which are carried per second. The higher the sample rate, the lower the latency. Higher samples rates will also put additional stress on the CPU
  3. Audio Input Device should be disabled if not in use 
    If you are not recording from an external source, then set the Audio Input Device to "No device" in order to reduce the overall latency
  4. Use ASIO audio drivers on Windows and Core Audio on Mac
    It's usually not possible to achieve low buffer sizes when using MME/Direct X in Windows. If no native ASIO driver is available for your device use ASIO4ALL instead. Core Audio is the default driver type on Mac
  5. Use a dedicated audio interface running native drivers
    Dedicated audio interfaces will usually have native ASIO or Core Audio drivers which should allow lower latencies overall. Use a quality audio interface rather than your computer's soundcard
  6. Reduce the CPU load
    Lower CPU loads should allow lower audio buffer sizes. See our dedicated article on reducing the CPU load in Live

Important: Adjusting the Driver Error Compensation amount does not reduce overall latency in Live for playback (only for recording). See below for information on when to use this.

How Delay Compensation works

Certain devices, plug-ins, and track delays may introduce latency. These latencies or delays arise from the time taken by devices to process an input signal and output a result. Live's Delay Compensation automatically compensates audio, automation, and modulation by offsetting all tracks by the required amount to keep them in sync with each-other. Delay compensation is on by default and doesn't need to be adjusted in any way, however it can be disabled in the Options menu if required.

Sources of latency in Live:

  1. Negative Track Delays: Using a negative track delay on one track causes all other tracks to be delayed accordingly. The amount of negative track delay is added to the Overall Latency amount in Live's preferences
  2. External Instrument and External Audio Effect: As these devices send and/or receive audio from outside Live, they will delay the audio by the Overall Latency amount in preferences. In addition, when setting the 'Hardware Latency' slider to any amount other than zero, this will add extra latency.
  3. Ableton Devices, third-party plug-ins or Max for Live Devices: Any of these devices which use oversampling or convolution algorithms can add latency. Max for Live devices will also introduce additional latency when their editor window is open.
  4. 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.

Display the latency by hovering your cursor over a device title bar in Device View. The latency in shown in the status bar. Find out which Ableton devices introduce latency.

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Freeze and flatten a track containing a device which introduces latency to permanently remove the latency. Delay compensation must be active before you freeze and flatten the track.

Some plug-ins may incorrectly report their latency. If you're experiencing unusual latency delete each plug-in one by one in order to find which one is causing the issue. Update the plug-in and if the issue persists, you should notify the plug-in developer directly.

Which elements are not compensated?

  1. Graphics Elements are not compensated
    Level meters, video playback and other graphic elements might be displayed slightly ahead of time with respect to the audio.
  2. Built-in device modulation 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. This only happens with devices which sync to a specific song position. Devices such as Ping Pong Delay, Filter Delay, and Simple Delay are always correctly compensated.
  3. 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.
    Screen_Shot_2017-10-20_at_14.09.20.png

Reducing latency when monitoring

When large negative delays are in use, or if a number of latency-inducing plug-ins cause the overall latency to become quite large, it might become impossible to record audio or MIDI in real time. This is especially problematic if you're monitoring through Live. There are a number of ways of dealing with this.

  1. Use the "Reduced Latency When Monitoring" option
    Activate "Reduced Latency When Monitoring" in the Options menu. This bypasses the additional latency in tracks which are either record-enabled or whose Monitoring is set to "In".
    Screen_Shot_2017-06-02_at_15.40.37.png
  2. Use direct monitoring (if your audio interface supports it)
    Some audio interfaces have a function called direct monitoring. The signal enters the interface and is routed back out through the headphone monitor mix, instead of passing through Live first. You can send a copy of the signal into Live in order to record it at the same time.
  3. Monitor through an external mixing desk
    Instead of monitoring through your interface or Live, monitor through an external mixing desk. At the same time, send a copy of the signal into Live in order to record it.

When to use "Driver Error Compensation"

Some audio interfaces (for instance built in soundcards and class-compliant devices) don't report an accurate device latency to Live, resulting in recorded audio which may be slightly mis-aligned. Driver Error Compensation allows you to compensate for this mis-alignment.

Important: 

  • Although the "Overall Latency" amount is recalculated when Driver Error Compensation is adjusted, it does not reduce overall latency in Live for playback (only for recording)
  • It's only needed if you have an interface which is not reporting its correct latency to Live
  • It's only relevant in situations where you are recording audio from an external source
  • It's only applied if the monitor is set to "off"

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See our dedicated article: When to use Driver Error Compensation.

Further Reading