One of the problems people have with Rocksmith is the audio delay, but it hadn’t been too bad for me in the past: I’m not sure if I’m less sensitive to audio delay than other people, or if my receiver has a little less audio latency than some people’s AV setup? When I switched over to the Xbox One version of the game, though, the delay did start to bother me: I’m not sure if that console has higher latency than the 360 or if I was getting more sensitive, but at any rate: time to do something about that.

Which I was a little reluctant to do: the game recommends using an optical audio cable to plug into your receiver, but I wasn’t convinced that that wouldn’t worsen the experience for other games on the system. (My understanding is that HDMI supports higher quality audio than optical audio, and lowering the audio latency without lowering the video latency could make other games fall out of sync.) But then I noticed that the game’s Xbox One FAQ links to an affordable Toslink converter from Monoprice, which nicely sidesteps that issue.

So I got that converter, along with appropriate cables to let me plug in some earphones, and wow: it really was time for me to improve my Rocksmith audio setup. The latency has either completely or almost completely disappeared, which significantly reduces my annoyance: but what turns out to make as much of a difference is the position of the audio. Before, the audio was coming out of speakers on the wall, which meant that the closest sound to me was my guitar acting as an acoustic instrument. Whereas once I started listening through earphones, the closest sound to me became my guitar acting as an electronic guitar, with the unprocessed sound fading into the background, frequently inaudible.

And that gave me a more realistic idea of how I sound as an electric guitar player in ways that directly affect how I play. Most concretely, I’d been using too much force when plucking strings: now that I’m no longer listening to the sound coming directly from the string, I realize that I can get better results by barely touching the string. (I knew that intellectually before, but I feel it a lot more viscerally now.)

Having said that, there have been problems with the new setup. For one thing, the Toslink converter I’m using doesn’t have a volume control, so I have zero control as to whether I like how loud the music is. When I originally tried it, I used some iPhone earbuds I had lying around, and actually the volume level was pretty much just right for me (maybe a touch loud, but only a touch). Once I’d decided this was the way I wanted to go, I upgraded to better headphones (Sennheiser HD 558’s, for you headphone buffs), and while the sound quality and comfort are much better than with the earbuds, the sound is a tiny bit quieter than I would like, so I might end up getting a separate amp.

And the other is the cables I’m using to string all of this together. When I was experimenting to make sure I liked using the optical audio at all, sometimes the audio cut out; I’m not sure if it was the coax cable or the coax to 3.5mm cable or the female/female 3.5mm converter, but at any rate, when I upgraded the headphones, I replaced those parts with a single cable that could do all three roles. Which seemed fine, but a week later, something started going wrong again; I don’t know if it’s the new cable or if it’s in the cable for the new headphones (which is replaceable, fortunately) or in the 1/4 inch to 3.5mm converter (and there’s even one audio artifact that makes me worried that it’s the headphones themselves), but whatever it is, I’m not impressed, and I’m not looking forward to the tedium of troubleshooting to figure out what I need to replace.

But I’ll get past both of those issues; and it’s already making a real difference in the quality of my learning.

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