Enabling/Disabling/Mixing Direct Monitoring on the Focusrite 4i4

7-May-2020 Like this? Dislike this? Let me know

And you thought this would be another MongoDB rant!

Prologue: What is Direct Monitoring?

Many sites can explain this and many have lots of graphics and embedded ads. This is not one of those sites.

Direct Monitoring (DM) is a term for the capability of an audio interface to route an input signal back to the outputs before it is sent out to the digital audio workstation (DAW) and picked up again. Here is an ASCII art depiction of what happens:

                                       To DAW  |      
                    +-Focusrite 4i4-----------USBC----+
                    |                          ||     |
                    | Front Panel        OUT->-||->IN |
                    | Input 1              |       |  |
                    |                      |       |  |
guitar/mic   -------->|X|   ---> A/D ---> DM       |  |
                    |                      |       |  |
                    |                     ???      |  |
                    |                      |       |  |
headphones   <------- |X|  <---- D/A <-----+-------+  |
                    |                                 |
The important part of the routing here is the DM and the amount of signal that may be passed "back" through ??? to go back into the headphones. If the level of ??? is zero, then no dry signal from the input is placed back on the output.

Why Do We Care About Direct Monitoring?

Let's say you are recording guitar on an Audio track. You have an amp simulator as a plugin set to a big Marshall sound. You have your headphones on. You arm record and start playing -- and you hear both the dry guitar and the Marshall in the mix and it throws you off balance. You cannot find a dry/wet slider on the plugin. You have no other sends. You wonder what is going on ... then you disarm the track and realize you still hear the dry signal coming through the headphones. You take off your headphones and as you rack your guitar and bang the strings, you realize that the dry signal is not coming though the monitors hooked up on outputs 1 and 2. That is because of direct monitoring. This feature has advantages for the recordist wearing headphones (mostly very low latency tracking to the rest of returned DAW data) and disadvantages. Especially when you're laying down a track with gain and compression and there's this irritating twangy dry guitar playing along with you.

What Can We Do About Direct Monitoring?

In the old days (2014!) there was a simple physical switch on the interface called "direct monitoring." It basically set ??? to 0% or 100%. But software is cheaper (and to be fair, more programmatic and externally configurable) than switches and knobs, and so the Focusrite 4i4 does not have such a switch. Instead, you must use the Focusrite Control software on your computer. This software is available for download from Focusrite free of charge (because you already bought the physical audio interface!). There is no mystery to the availability of Focusrite Control. Complete instructions for its download are provided in the box with the unit. And you will need it anyway because it is the only way to switch the line 1 and 2 input phono jacks from line to instrument (and set pad).

If you launch Focusrite Control and click to the obvious Output Routing panel selector on the top, you will see this. Out of the box, out 1/2 from your DAW (Software Playback) will be routed to line output 1/2 (to which your powered monitors are attached) of the 4i4:

Nothing to change or do. Software playback into Monitor Outputs, line 1-2 into 1-2. Very straightforward.

Headphones, however, are a little trickier. Notice how Line Outputs 3-4 are associated with the headphones? Let's click on that part of the screen:

Now we have some controls at our disposal! It is not immediately obvious but the two mono faders on the top are associated with HARDWARE INPUTS and the single stereo fader below it (even though it doesn't look like a stereo fader) is associated with SOFTWARE (DAW) PLAYBACK. This is the heart of direct monitoring. What this screen is telling us is that both the dry signal from hardware interface inputs 1 and 2 (front panel XLR/phono) and the signal coming back from the DAW are being mixed into the line outputs 3-4 and the headphone jack. This is why we hear our dry signal mixed in with the roar of the Marshall.

To disable direct monitoring, we simply need to mute the HARDWARE INPUTS. This has no effect on the signal going to or coming back from the DAW; we leave the bottom slider alone:

Remember: You will still be recording dry signal and, in the example above, realtime processing it into the Marshall sound and out into both your studio monitors on line 1-2 and the headphones on line 3-4.

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