A friendly fellow sent in a wonderful pre-purchase question about direct monitoring that I'm sure many other newcomers to the audio interface world are curious about too. It's a fun ride, so please read along as we learn about...
Before you even read this, you can rest easy knowing it had a happy ending: "I purchased the unit. Aside from an issue where I had some latency in recording (had to change the driver from Windows type to ASIO), it works very well and the sound is great!"
Direct Monitoring Inputs & Click Track on Audio Interface
Hello. I have been reading your reviews and articles for a while now. Thank you; they are very helpful. I have been recording at home for about four years and have learned much through trial and error, though mostly through error. I have hit some walls, but being self-taught, that is certainly to be expected.
I use my computer and a software program from a small company in Germany called Multitrack Studio. I am very happy with it, and customer support is within hours. I have been recording using a Peavey USB 8 mixer as my audio interface: I hope I use that term correctly. I run my microphones to this and it connects with the computer via USB.
In reading some of your articles, I am thinking of buying the Focusrite Scarlett and not using the mixer. At most, I am only doing guitar and vocals at the same time.
My concern is when I am doing dubbing or adding a lead part or harmony. I need to listen to the tracks already recorded - or maybe, simply the click track. This device has a direct monitor button, which I understand will give me my input with zero latency, but would I be able to hear my click tracks or other tracks I am adding to with this Focusrite interface or any other?
What is Direct Monitoring?
As a quick aside, let me answer this question for those that don't know: direct monitoring is a capability of either your audio interface, mixing console, or digital audio workstation software that lets you hear the input signal live with almost zero latency.
The idea is that not only can you hear the backing tracks, click from the metronome, or anything else coming out of your computer, but you can also hear your current live performance being pumped back out of your headphones as it's happening.
This kind of feedback is needed by most musicians and vocalists so they can hear how their performance is going in real time, without having to wear just half of a set of headphones, which can lead to bleed into the microphone. You can even add reverb to the signal, etc.
Fred, I started with a mixer too, though it wasn't USB or Firewire, I just outputted the audio to my sound card! It was pretty bad. You're in much better shape since your mixer is acting more like an audio interface already due to the digital USB connection directly to the computer.
In regards to you buying an interface (readers will enjoy our top audio interface reviews at every budget range), it may be duplicating some of the functionality you've already achieved, however you'll end up with better preamps and converters, I believe, especially if you go with the Focusrite.
You'll lose the physical equalization on each channel but that can be better performed in your DAW software anyways. I've not heard of your Multitrack Studio before now. If you want to jump to a more popular one you can check out our list for the best DAW for your needs (it just helps to be on the same software as other pro's when passing around projects and collaborating).
But yes, you should be able to hear your own audio in two different ways. One is the zero-latency monitoring directly from the interface as you've described. That covers your current live performance, pumping it right back out into your headphones.
The other method, to be able to hear the tracks you've already recorded, is to use the interface in the 'normal mode' where it outputs what is being played from the computer, and then enabling the 'input monitoring' on your recording software. I'm not familiar with Multitrack Studio, but it appears they're calling this "Soft Monitoring." Check it out at that link on their website. It directs you to find the "Mon button" at the top of the software to enable this.
What it does is route the incoming audio right back out of the headphones or speakers. If you're using a ton of plugins on the the track that's being recorded you might deal with some latency since it will be routed through those reverbs first, as an example.
I still record this way but I record dry and then add plugins afterwards, and I've never had any noticeable latency on any computer in dozens of years of doing this. If you do have latency, you can quickly determine the number of milliseconds and have your DAW software adjust the starting position of your tracks automatically. I'd suspect Multitrack Studio can do this for you.
So yes, in this way you can hear every previous track as well as the one you're actively recording through direct monitoring, or you can mute certain ones, or any mix of them as you see fit. I hope this helps!
Let me know if you have any more questions,