What Buffer Size Should I Use? – Does Buffer Size Affect Sound Quality?

What Buffer Size Should I Use? - Does Buffer Size Affect Sound Quality?

In this post, we will be discussing what buffer size to use for each situation, what buffer is in audio, and if it affects the sound quality. Plus, we’ll give you a few helpful tips to avoid latency.

So, what buffer size should you use?

To eliminate latency, lower your buffer size to 64 or 128. This will give your CPU little time to process the input and output signals, giving you no delay. Likewise, when it’s time for mixing, nothing’s better than a larger buffer, such as 1024, which will give your CPU the time it needs to process.

A few tips to avoid latency

If even after lowering your buffer you can still notice latency, here are some troubleshooting techniques:

  • Bypass heavy plugins: this is standard procedure whenever you need to re-record something, like a guide vocal or guitar part, after most of the mix has already been sculpted.
  • Freeze unused tracks: most DAWs allow the user the ability to freeze tracks, which provides some more room for your CPU to do its job.
  • If possible, use direct monitoring: a few interfaces give the user the option of listening to the interface’s input signal with virtually no latency straight through the interface’s headphone jack or line output. Please switch it on in your interface and mute the tracks you’re recording in your DAW.
  • Update the drivers for your hardware: sometimes, all it takes is looking up the most recent drivers for your interface or any hardware you’re using to convert analog into digital audio.
  • If possible, change the cable from your interface: sometimes, your interface comes out of the factory with a standard printer USB cable. Generally, exchanging the cable doesn’t make much difference, but if the cable you got for the job isn’t the original, try replacing it with the one that came with your interface…
  • Ensure you’re not using Bluetooth headphones: this is actually pretty common, especially when the world moves towards wireless technology. The problem with Bluetooth audio devices is that they have a latency of their own, so you can try everything else on this list and still have the same problem if you’re using Bluetooth headphones or speakers. Try connecting your device to your computer or interface via an audio cable, as that will eliminate the latency between devices…
  • Try turning off your Wi-Fi: yes, it seems silly, but it really works when dealing with a heavy project. Turning off your wifi will help your computer focus on the bigger tasks you’re giving it.
Does Size Matter? | I/O Buffer Size Explained

What does buffer mean in audio?

Buffer in audio is the rate of speed at which the CPU manages the input information coming in as an analog sound, being processed into digital information by your interface, running through your computer, being converted back into analog, and coming out on the selected output.

The bigger the amount of information coming into your DAW, the harder your CPU has to work to process it and put it out in real-time so you can hear it without delays. If there’s no information coming in from the interface, there’s no need for the computer to work as fast since it’s not as straining on the CPU to playback what’s already been recorded.

Does increasing buffer size help?

Increasing your buffer volume helps because it ensures data is accessible for processing when the CPU needs it. However, using a low buffer volume or not increasing it will mean information will not be accessible to the CPU when it calls for it, distorting the data stream. 

Distortions in the data stream would start giving off undesirable pop-ups and clicking noises due to too much workload on the system. You can try applying a low buffer volume while playing a track on your DAW to verify this. You should be able to hear the audio obstruction induced by the immense workload on the CPU. 

The best way to prevent your CPU from being overwhelmed by too much workload is to increase the buffer value. Increase it little by little until you can hear all the unpleasant sounds fade away. Doing this should give you a more balanced recording setting with decreased system latency and zero audio obstructions.

Related Readings:

What Is Audio Dithering? Why Do I Need That?

What Are The Best Audio Format File Types? WAV vs MP3 vs AAC vs AIFF

What PC, RAM & CPU Do I Need For Music Production In 2021?

What Is a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)? How Does It Work?

What Are The Best Tools To Develop VST Plugins & How Are They Made?

What should I set my buffer size to?

When mixing, your focus must be on running the audio plugins that you want in your mix. So, adjust the buffer size to 512 or 1024. Similarly, when recording, the central processor should run data faster. So, when you start noticing latency: lower your buffer size.

Most DAWs offer six buffer size options: 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, and 1024. Some DAWs, like Pro Tools, tie their buffer size options to the session’s sample rate. At 96 kHz, Pro Tools supports 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, and 2048, while at 44.1 or 48 kHz, it goes back to the standard 32 through 1024 volumes.

Buffer size options in Logic Pro X

Buffer size options in Logic Pro X.

When organizing and mixing pre-recorded songs, you need to utilize the processing capacity of your computer fully. Since mixing tracks requires the use of various types of plugins, which take an extra toll on your computer, you need to regulate your buffer volume to a higher one.

There is no such thing as a right or wrong way to adjust your buffer volume, especially since it really depends on your computer’s specs and what works for you.

Does buffer size affect sound quality?

Buffer volume does not harm the sound quality and is only known to affect the CPU speed and cause latency. As previously stated, reducing your buffer volume could put a lot of pressure on the computer processor. Due to this pressure, there will be clicks and pops coming out of your speakers.

If you’re worried about quality, sample rate, and bit depth, those should be your primary concerns since they are responsible for translating the mechanical, organic sounds you can capture with your microphones into digital information. This is where the quality loss happens.

bit-depth vs sample rate

A quick representation of the same waveform being sampled at different settings. A bigger sample rate and bit-depth mean more quality. Source

Remember that even if your computer and DAW support a 192kHz sample rate and 32-bit float bit-depth, which is currently the highest quality you can get from most DAWs, you should ensure that your interface can record up to those settings.

Some websites agree that an increased buffer quantity may be necessary to record an audio signal precisely without distortions and restricted latency. At this point, the balance between dormancy and the workload placed on the CPU is essential. You might have to prepare for another recording whenever there is distortion in a recording, as it will be difficult to remove it.

But this line of thinking opens up another discussion: do computers behave as magnetic tapes, in which there was a difference in sound quality among different brands? In this case, do more powerful computers with larger RAMs, and faster CPUs make for higher quality recordings? It’s impossible to say for sure.

Nevertheless, while a few notable websites support the notion that a reduced buffer size harms the sound quality, most people think the opposite in an increased buffer volume. They believe that it will not harm the sound quality so long as it is large enough to avoid pop-ups and uncomfortable noises.

What really happens, and it’s actually pretty easy to notice, is that not allowing the computer enough processing speed during recording can cause clicks and pops during real-time playback that sometimes translate to the recording itself.

So, trying to record sixteen simultaneous drum tracks, all with compression, EQ, reverb, and auxiliary sends at a buffer size of 32 and expect your computer to fly easily through the task, is a good recipe for a recording full of clicks and distortion.

However, it won’t really affect what is described as quality in audio, which is clearly defined by the bit depth, which controls dynamic range, and the sample rate, which controls how detailed an analog sound is converted into digital.

Conclusion

Recording music is a lot of work, but what shouldn’t be is what buffer size to use. Using a decreased buffer volume is ideal for recording and monitoring, while using an increased buffer volume is suitable for editing, mixing, and mastering.

Furthermore, check your interface and DAW’s sample rate and bit depth if you are worried about the quality. 

Sometimes even at the highest buffer value, there’s not much you can do to help. If your session has over a hundred tracks, you should expect some straining from your CPU anyway. But with all of this in mind, you can’t go wrong. 

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