Buffer Size For Recording Vocals

(Last Updated On: February 27, 2021)
A female singer is recording vocal tracks in the studio.

While buffer size is not the rocket science of audio recording, it can be a technical concept to understand. Most people say that it’s because it is mostly abstract. But, not to worry, with proper insight, you’ll see the applications of buffer size when recording sounds. More importantly, you’d know the right buffer size to use for recording vocals in a production.

There is no doubt that buffer size plays a critical role in audio recording, especially in the post-recording stage. Therefore, understanding the effect of various sizes on your audio production is an essential skill you must have. 

Understandably, you’re probably already turning several questions in your mind. What exactly is buffer size, and what does it do? Which buffer size should you use for live recording? Does your choice of buffer size impact the quality of your sound production?

All these are vital questions that any sound professional should have answers to. If you don’t, don’t panic. You’re in the right place. In the next few paragraphs, we’ll share insight into what buffer size is and its impact on audio processing. More importantly, you’ll discover vital tips on the appropriate buffer size for recording vocals.

But first, let’s start with the basics.

What is Buffer Size?

In the simplest possible terms, buffer size is the variable that determines the speed at which a computer can process input and output data. You see, a buffer is a temporary storage space where a computer keeps data ready for its processing unit to use. Of course, this means that buffer size can influence latency when you’re recording and how well your computer keeps up with the input.

Generally, your computer’s CPU will handle information faster at a smaller buffer size. But, it will require more significant system resources, which means your computer processor will do more work. On the other hand, larger buffer sizes will slow down the rate at which your computer processes information. The perk here is that the process is less resource-intensive, which means less strain on your computer.

Depending on the project you’re working on, you’ll have to set your buffer size to appropriate levels. In other words, your buffer size setting is not a one-size-fits-all.

If you’re into live recording as a professional, at this point, you’ll undoubtedly be wondering what buffer size to use for your projects. We’ll get there shortly. But first, let us explore the measurements for the various buffer size settings. 

Measurements For Buffer Sizes: What To Look For

If you have never interacted with the buffer size setting on your computer, it’s safe to save you’ll be wondering about the various sizes by now. This raises the question of the units for buffer size measurements. The answer may surprise you if this is your first introduction.

The unit of measurement for buffer size on any digital audio workstation, DAW is ‘Samples.’ You can explore this by heading to preferences on your DAW’s menu bar. Understandably, it can be slightly to hear samples without a reference to drum beats and other diverse sounds. This is especially true if you’ve been previously into recording percussion and related music.

Well, let’s quickly clear that up. For buffer sounds, sample is a term that describes one small unit of the information that results from the conversion of audio to digital signals. For instance, the typical sample rate for CDs is 44.1KHz. This translates to 44100 digital information samples in every audio second.

That said, there are three typical ranges of buffer size on different DAWs:

  • 32 – 1024 on Logic Pro X.
  • Then, 32 – 2048 on Cubase as well as Ableton Live.
  • Finally, 16 – 4096 on Studio One.

The implication of this is that you have the freedom to choose any value from 16 to 4096 samples (or slices) of audio signals that will wait for your CPU’s processor in the buffer. A lower buffer size implies that your computer can fill up buffers way faster. On the flip side, a higher buffer size indicates that your CPU has to wait for longer durations for the buffer to become full.

Now that we know all these, what then is the best buffer size for recording vocals.

Recording Vocals: The Buffer Size You should Use

When recording vocals, the general rule of thumb is to set the buffer size to a value at which you have as little latency as possible. In other words, your latency levels certainly matter when recording with your DAW.

Are you wondering what latency is? Latency is the delay or lag between the time of data input and when the computer processes and outputs information.

While latency may not be relevant when recording some sounds, they decidedly matter when recording vocals or instruments like the guitar.

You see, the vocalists listen to their performances in real-time as the recording progresses. So, any lag between the time they sing and when the sounds come out in the speaker may complicate things for them. In other words, you do indeed know the best buffer size for recording vocals.

Sadly, unfortunately, no number is the perfect buffer size for recording all vocals. This because of the varying factors that depend on the specifics of your project. There is a surefire way to determine the best buffer size for your vocal recordings. The trick is to choose the buffer size that causes the least latency.

All you have to do is navigate your DAW’s preferences section and click on buffer size. Then, you should see the recommended buffer size that results in the smallest latency value. We find that picking this buffer size usually works best for vocal recording.

Does Buffer Size Influence Sound Quality?

Understandably, you’re probably wondering if your recording buffer size has an impact on your sound quality. Right off the bat, the answer is ‘no’! The only variables that buffer size affects your CPU’s processing rate, and of course, delay due to latency. 

However, the buffer size that’s too low can increase the strain on the CPU. This, in turn, may cause distortions of audio signals, which can result in annoying pops and clicks in your speaker output. But, does the buffer size and potential signal disruption also impact the quality of sound?

Well, the general concession is that buffer size does not influence sound quality. Instead, that is subject to the values of your bit depth alongside your sample rate. However, sound quality is a subject term.

So, there is another school of thought on the matter, and here is the argument. Since a buffer size that’s too low can cause audio disruptions during playback, it should surely also affect the recording’s sound. If this holds, then an extremely low buffer size may indeed affect the quality of your recorded sound.

Notwithstanding, we have good news for you. As long as you follow our tips on choosing the optimum buffer size for recording vocals, you should be fine. This way, you strike a balance between your computer’s processing capacity and the latency the buffer size causes.

Now that you know all these, let us consider some instances where you may need to change your recording buffer size.

When You Should Change Your Buffer Size

Although the goal, when recording vocals, is to experience the lowest possible latency, many factors determine this. The chief of all is arguably the buffer size, but there are other determining variables. Some of them are the number of plugins you’re using, and of course, your computer’s processor capabilities. 

Remember, too small a buffer size, and you may cause noisy disruptions in your recording. Indeed, errors may even occur during playback. In the same vein, an extremely large buffer size will cause latency. We all know how annoying those can be. How then can you keep the quality of your vocal recording high throughout the entire process?

Here are some guidelines to help you work with your chosen buffer size:

  • To increase the accuracy of your direct monitoring, set a lower buffer size for your vocal recording.
  • It is usually best to use the least possible number of plugins as this frees up your CPU’s bandwidth. 
  • If you’re going to use plugins at a lower buffer-size, make sure that it is a light effect. In other words, stay away from plugins that are processor intensive.
  • If you need to use a larger buffer size, most high-end computers can operate at 256 samples without encountering significant latency. 
  • After recording, you can set your buffer size to a larger sample. This is because you will no longer be dealing with a live signal, so noises and errors are a less significant problem. 
  • If you increase your buffer size and you notice your DAW slows down, do not panic. It is merely a normal reaction and does not mean your software is choking.

Conclusion

Buffer size is a critical factor you must take into account when recording live audio. It not only determines how well your vocalist or instrument enjoys their performance but may also impact sound quality. Hopefully, you know how to choose the best buffer size for vocal recording. Our tips on working with buffer size should also help you along the way to perfect audio recording sessions. 

Do you have further questions about buffer size and vocal recording? Please reach out to us. We’d love to help you find answers.

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