What is Direct Monitoring? Essential Things to Know

If you just bought a new audio interface, you might have noticed a button or switch that says something like “Direct Monitor”. This is a handy feature that’s helpful if you’re monitoring your recordings with headphones.

what is direct monitoring

What is Direct Monitoring?

Direct monitoring is when your headphones or speakers receive a direct signal from the microphone or audio interface. It takes the analog audio signal from your audio interface or usb microphone and sends it to your monitors before it converts into a digital signal. This lets you listen to your audio in real-time as it’s being recorded.

Why is Direct Monitoring Useful?

The biggest benefit is that you can listen to the input audio without any delay. 

Typically, there’s a bit of latency between your interface and the computer. This is because data signals have a limit to how fast they travel through USB or Lightning cables. It’s like the speed limit on a highway.

And since audio data is relatively large compared to other types of data, there’s a higher chance of delay between what’s being recorded and what you hear in your DAW session.

When Do I Use Direct Monitoring?

Here are a few situations where direct monitoring can be useful:

  • Live-monitoring your studio session
  • Monitoring the recorded audio live in isolation (without the other tracks)
  • Mixing a live show

Direct Monitoring vs. Input Monitoring

These two terms are sometimes conflated, but there are some notable differences. While direct monitoring lets you hear a signal before it’s processed, input monitoring is when you listen to the signal after it’s been processed through your interface and computer.

Your analog audio enters through the audio interface, gets converted into a digital signal, is processed by your computer, then converts into an analog signal again and comes out your speakers or headphones. This is what you ultimately hear when input monitoring.

When is Input Monitoring Useful?

It’s most helpful when you want to monitor live audio with plugins and effects. Keep in mind that there may be a slight delay between the source audio and your monitors.

Tips to Reduce Latency When Monitoring

Latency issues are something you’ll probably have to face when you’re monitoring live-recorded audio. But there are some ways to deal with latency when monitoring your audio.

Direct Monitoring and Playback Mix

Some (not all) audio interfaces come with a mixer knob that lets you hear a blend of the direct signal and computer playback. It’s often labeled something like “Direct/Mix” or simply “Mix”.

Turn Off Monitoring for Live Tracks

Sometimes, it’s best not to monitor the performer when recording. This will reduce the perceived phasing issues between them and your DAW session. It can also be less distracting for the performer depending on the situation.

Change Buffer Settings on Your DAW

Most major DAWs have some type of low latency mode or way to change the buffer rate. Go into your DAW’s preferences/settings and set the buffer rate to as low as possible. This puts a little more strain on your computer’s RAM, but helps mitigate latency issues.

Make Sure All Drivers Are Up to Date

Your computer and audio interface might not be playing nice with each other. If you’re having issues with the interface, try updating or resetting your system’s drivers.

If you need additional help with this, Sweetwater has some useful guides for resolving audio interface issues on Windows and Mac.

Explore More Music and Audio Production Topics

If you’re new to music and audio production, we’d recommend skimming through our glossary of music production terms. Or you can check out these other articles: