What Is Buffer Size? (A Producer’s Guide With FAQ)

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  • Understand how buffer size affects music production 
  • What buffer size is best for you and your production task? 
  • Learn all you need to know to get the best out of your system 
  • Also, check out our full producer’s guide to Sample Rate and Bit Depth

When working on your music or recording in your DAW, you may have encountered issues such as latency or getting the dreaded “System overload” pop-up.

This can be due to several reasons, one of which may be your buffer size.

You may not know it, but you should be adjusting your buffer size depending on the task you’re completing within your DAW.

You may be asking yourself what buffer size is and what it is used for. Well, don’t fret! We’re here to tell you all you need to know and help you get the best out of your PC.

What Is Buffer Size? 

Buffer size is the time your computer takes to process the audio from your sound card or audio interface.

A lower buffer size means it can handle data quicker, which results in an increased demand for processing power.

This is due to the increased demand for resources and thus is more strenuous on your computer.

A higher buffer size is easier on your computer’s CPU but is where you may experience latency when recording audio in real-time. 

What Buffer Size Should I Use? 

Different tasks within your DAW will require different buffer sizes to get the best performance out of your computer.

If you’re using the wrong buffer size, you will likely experience latency or high demand on your CPU. 

One thing to remember is that buffer size does not affect the audio quality you are recording.

However, if you’re using a low buffer size on a CPU-intensive project, this may cause glitches and audio dropouts.

You want to try and avoid this wherever possible when working on any audio project. 

What Is The Best Buffer Size For Recording?

When recording with microphones, you often want to be able to monitor the input and may be experiencing some latency while you record.

This can be very disorientating, especially with vocals. This is most likely due to your buffer being too high. 

When you’re recording vocals, you don’t want any latency in your headphones, as this may confuse you when recording.

So you should have a low buffer size for tasks like this. Ideally, 128 is a good buffer size, but 256 should be sufficient for tasks like this.

If you can afford a lower buffer size, this is always best. However, this may cause any effects on tracks such as reverb or pitch correction to struggle to run in real-time.

It’s always best to record vocals dry and add the processing later in the mix. 

Best Buffer Size For Recording Specific Instruments

Drums

If you’re recording drums, you don’t need to worry too much about your buffer size, as drummers don’t often have to monitor themselves.

However, you don’t want the buffer size too low to cause any dropouts, and you also don’t want the drummer to experience any playback latency by having a too high buffer size.

Therefore, Somewhere in the realm of 256 is a good balance for recording drums. 

Guitars

When recording with guitars, 256 samples is also a good starting point to work from. However, you can begin to increase this number the further away the guitarist is. 

There is already an input lag when working with MIDI keyboards, so we want to prevent that from increasing.

Therefore, you will want a lower buffer size for recording MIDI and keyboards, as you will want as little delay as possible.

128 should be attainable as it shouldn’t take up much processing power for your CPU.

You may be recording with different microphones on several tracks, for example, when working with several musicians.

If your computer is struggling, this may be when you have to increase the buffer size, but most modern hardware should be more than capable of handling a lower buffer size.

This is why singers often record their vocals once the instrumentation has been recorded on songs, as they require zero latency. 

What Is The Best Buffer Size For Mixing And Mastering?

Mixing and mastering require a different approach to the buffer size.

When mixing and mastering many tracks, you will want to use a lower buffer size so that your computer can handle all of the tracks at one time.

If you have a low buffer size and are working with many tracks simultaneously, this will cause a lot of pressure on your CPU.

This becomes evident if you mix with multiple plugin instances working in real-time, and you will most likely experience audio dropouts.

When mixing, you can use the max buffer size of 1024 without any noticeable difference in terms of latency listening back. 

Does Sample Rate Affect Bit-Depth? 

In short, yes. A higher sample rate will, in turn, reduce the latency within your DAW. The sample rate is the number of times your computer captures audio per second.

Generally, you will only use single-band sample rates of 44.1kHz – 48kHz.

There are also Dual and Quad-Band sample rates, but using these requires a lot more processing power, and it is unlikely you will require to use these in your studio.

When recording using a sample rate of 48kHz and a bit depth of 128-256 would be an ideal starting point. 

How Do I Change My Buffer Size? 

You will most likely need to change your buffer size within your DAW’s preferences. Using Logic X as an example, simply go to Preferences > Audio > I/O Buffer Size.

You will see a drop-down menu with a buffer size ranging from 32-1024 samples. Some DAWs, such as ProTools, also have a 2048 buffer size when you’re using a 96kHz sample rate.

This can be a helpful setup for large music projects or if you’re the dubbing mixer on a large film. However, this will require a powerful system to run effectively. 

FAQs

What Is The Best Buffer Size For Streaming?

Latency is not an issue for streaming outside of your DAW. You can set your buffer size to the maximum if given the option. 

What Does Increasing Buffer Size Do?

The buffer size increases the time your computer can capture and process audio.

How Does Buffer Size Affect CPU Usage?

A lower sample rate causes a higher demand on your CPU. So try and remember opposites, the higher your buffer size, the faster your computer will perform. 

Before you go, check out our post on What Is An Audio Interface Used For?