How to Minimize Latency When Recording Music on Your iPad or iPhone

By Ryan C. Williams, Mike Levine

Whether you’re using your iOS device’s touchscreen or a MIDI controller of any kind to record music on your iPad or iPhone, one issue you often have to deal with is called latency. Latency is the split-second delay between when you touch the screen to play a note (or press a key or any other note trigger on an external MIDI controller), and when the note actually sounds.

Although measured in milliseconds, latency delays can be enough to throw off the rhythm of your playing. Latency is also an issue when recording audio into your device.

So what causes latency? The delay occurs between the time it takes the app to recognize the note you’ve triggered from the touchscreen or a controller and when the note is heard on the speaker or headphone output of your device. Many instrument apps, especially the more consumer-oriented ones, have a distracting amount of latency when you’re playing. For apps aimed at professional and semi-pro musicians, more time and effort is spent in the design stage to minimize latency, but even so, it can still sometimes be an issue.

Many music apps have a low-latency setting that you can turn on in your iOS device’s Settings app. Open Settings and look for the name of the app in the main app list on the left, and when you select it, see if you are given a low-latency option. The reason this isn’t switched on by default is that it takes more processor power to minimize latency, so in order to keep performance as high as possible, the low-latency feature is an option.

Turning low-latency on for the music apps doesn’t seem to cause any discernable processor issues, but theoretically it could. Also remember that any audio interfaces you connect to your iOS device can affect latency as well.