Tutorial - Recording Computer Playback on Windows

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To record computer playback, Audacity relies on your sound device making an input available that can record playback. This is often the case on older Windows machines, so only requires selecting the correct input in Audacity.

Due to copyright concerns, newer computers often lack an input for recording computer playback, or it must be specially enabled outside Audacity.

This Tutorial therefore presents many options for recording computer playback. Please always respect the copyright of others when recording.

Choosing the input in Audacity

  • The required input can go by various names such as "Stereo Mix", "Wave Out", "Sum", "What U Hear" or "Loopback".
  • The exact name and whether such an input is available depends entirely on the drivers of your sound device.
  • Choose the appropriate "Stereo Mix" or similar input in the Input Device box in Device Toolbar:
Selection of Wave Out input in Device Toolbar
You must play the audio you want to record using the same sound card that has the stereo mix or similar input. You cannot play audio through a USB headset or USB speakers device then record that playback using the stereo mix input of the built-in sound device.
  • Exit Audacity and continue reading below if you do not see an input for recording computer playback.

Windows Control Panel for sounds

Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 computers almost always only have microphone inputs enabled by default. Earlier Windows systems may also need the input for recording computer playback to be made visible before Audacity can use it. To show or enable inputs, launch the sound device control panel from the Windows Control Panel or from the system tray (by the clock).

  • Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8
  1. Right-click over the Speaker icon by the system clock then choose Recording Devices to open the Recording tab of "Sound".
  2. Right-click anywhere inside the Recording tab and choose "Show disabled devices" then right-click again and choose "Show Disconnected Devices".
  3. Right-click specifically over the input device you want to record with (in this case "Stereo Mix" or whatever alternative you have), and if visible, choose "Enable".
  4. Sometimes it helps to right-click over the "stereo mix" or similar device again and choose "Set as Default Device".
  5. If you need more help, see these Wiki instructions for Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8.
  • Windows XP or earlier
  1. Right-click over the Speaker icon by the system clock then choose Adjust Audio Properties.
  2. In "Sounds and Audio Devices Properties" or similar, click on the Audio tab, then in the Sound recording panel, select the "Default device" you are trying to record from (this will probably be the name of your built-in sound device).
  3. Click the Volume button.
  4. If you can see a stereo mix or similar option, try clicking in its box to select it.
  5. Otherwise, choose Options then Properties.
  6. In the window that appears, click the "Recording" radio button, then in "Show the following volume controls", click in the box for stereo mix or similar, then "OK".
  7. If you need more help, see these Wiki instructions for Windows XP.

RealTek and other sound card control panels

If you still have no stereo mix input in Windows, sometimes this input can be enabled in the sound card's own control panel, especially with older RealTek devices. The sound card's own control panel can be found in the Windows Control Panel. Hints for RealTek control panels:

  • Some panels "select" an input by muting all but one, so in this case, mute everything except Stereo Mix
  • If you don't see Stereo Mix, click the wrench or spanner icon and enable Stereo Mix in the dialog that appears
  • In some panels the option to choose is "Enabled recording multi-streaming"
  • You should now see a volume control for Stereo Mix; make sure it is selected or unmuted.

Updating sound device drivers

If there is still no suitable input, try updating the sound device drivers for your sound card. This can sometimes produce an additional input for recording computer playback, and may fix other problems such as poor quality or skipping.

Loopback cable

An alternative method of recording audio playing on the computer is to buy a cable with 1/8 inch (3.5 mm) stereo connectors at each end. Suitable cables are available from almost any audio retailer. Connect one end of the cable to the computer's audio output (green) and the other end to the line-in input (blue). Then choose the line-in as input device in Audacity.

Warning icon Connecting to the microphone input (red) may produce mono sound or poor quality.
To hear what is playing while you record it, buy a single stereo to double stereo adaptor to plug into the audio output. This gives you a spare jack to plug the speakers or headphones into.

Alternative programs for recording computer playback

You can use other programs to record computer playback that do not rely on the computer sound device having this ability. These programs will make an audio file which can then be imported into Audacity for editing.

All the options below grab the audio digitally from the application producing the sound. This has advantages over stereo mix recording. Lossy digital-analog-digital conversions are avoided and also unwanted system beeps and alerts are not captured.

  • Freecorder 3.0 is a free browser plug-in. It records to lossless WAV or lossy MP3 format. Note that with newer web browsers or Windows Vista onwards it may be difficult to prevent Freecorder 3 upgrading to the latest version, which only records as MP3.
  • SoundLeech is a free program running from the system tray. It records to lossless WAV format only.
  • TotalRecorder is a low cost recording package. Internet streams can optionally be captured at faster than real time rates (monitoring is not available in that mode).

External sound cards

A further alternative is an external USB sound card with a "Stereo Mix" type of option. An example known to work on all versions of Windows is "Trust Sound Expert External". Not all USB sound cards offer a Stereo Mix option, so read the specifications carefully before purchasing.


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