Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
Directly from a Sound Card
by Alan German
ago, I described a method for copying tracks from vinyl
records (remember those?) to a CD (remember those too?)
using a cable to connect a stereo system to a
computers sound card. Well, time and technology
have marched along and now music is readily available
through the Internet and we can save individual tracks to
audio files. At least, we can if we can access the input
from our computers sound card, and we have some
One would think that having paid good money for a sound
card, either as a plug-in device or as a module built
into the computer motherboard, we would readily be able
to use the device to its full potential. However, it
turns out that Microsoft, in some versions of Windows
(notably my version of Vista!), has disabled access to
the sound cards line-in through the use of a
restrictive driver. Nor, in my case, is it obvious how to
switch the driver for a more permissive version.
It appears, from various postings on the web, that this
issue results from concerns over potential copyright
infringements should certain music be downloaded and
stored. But what about individuals who wish to record
non-copyrighted material (some of which is available on
the web), or Skype sessions with their grandchildren in
Australia? Clearly, restricting access to certain
features of the sound card was a poorly thought-out
However, the good news is that, as with all technological
problems, there are workarounds. One solution is to
dual-boot Linux since, as you might imagine, this free
(as in free-speech) operating system has no qualms about
allowing full use of the capabilities of the sound card.
An alternative approach, which I was also able to adopt,
is to use a newer computer, running Windows 7, with a
Realtek sound card, and a driver that allowed setting the
Stereo Mix feature on the sound card as the
default recording device.
The second piece in the sound recording puzzle is the
recording software. Audacity is an open-source software
package that is available in versions for both Windows
and Linux. The program is very powerful, both as a
recorder and as a sound file editor, but can be quite
simple to use.
But, first, we need to check that we can use the
computers sound card. Navigate to Control Panel
Hardware & Sound Sound Manage
audio devices Recording. If the sound gods are
smiling on you, something like Stereo Mix (or
Line In) will be displayed with a green check
mark designating this as the Default Device.
If you dont see a suitable input, try
right-clicking in the window and check Show
Disabled Devices and Show Disconnected
Devices. If your sound input is either disabled or
disconnected you should enable/connect it. If there is no
sound card input shown, then you may be subject to the
dubious whims of the Evil Empire as noted above
but, Linux awaits!
Lets assume that your computers operating
system is working as it should and you have the sound
card configured as a default recording device. Now,
its just a matter of running Audacity and setting
up the sound card as the softwares recording device
From the programs menu, navigate to Edit
Preferences Devices. Use the drop-down menu for
the Recording Device field and select your sound
cards input. In my case this was listed as
Stereo Mix (Realtek High Definit. Finally, in
the Channels field, select 2 (Stereo). There
are lots of other settings in the various tabs of the
Preferences menu; however, it is quite likely that the
default values will be appropriate. So we can hit the
OK button and move on to make an actual
need some music to record and, as indicated above, we can
find material that is free of copyright on the Internet.
For example, how about a flugelhorn rendition of I
dreamed a dream from Les Miserables? Were in
luck. TheLellefix has voluntarily posted such
a rendition on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDUW07nHpVY). The guy is actually playing the
flugelhorn and, since on other tracks he is also seen
playing the piano, it seems likely that he is playing the
accompaniment here too. Thus, this truly is a web-based
recording that is free of any copyright (take that
Finding the material was the tough part. Making the
recording is pretty simple. In Audacity, press the large
round button with the red circle (Record). In the
browser, click on YouTubes play icon.
The red level indicators at the top of Audacitys
window should be moving left and right in accordance with
the sound intensity, and the blue stereo traces at the
bottom of the window should be scrolling to the right as
the track continues. If the sound levels arent high
enough, move the slider with the microphone icon to the
right. If you need an even higher level, turn up the
volume on the YouTube playback as the recording level is
dependent on the level of the output from the source.
When the track has finished playing, press the third
button from the left, the one with a brown square (Stop).
The traces will stop scrolling and Audacity has recorded
your chosen track.
To save the recording to disk, you could choose File
Save Project. This saves the recording in a series
of files that can be subsequently opened in Audacity in
order to edit the track. However, if you wish to simply
have a version that you can play, select File
Export. Browse to a folder on your hard drive, give your
audio file a name, and select a file format (such as MP3,
Ogg or WAV). The next window allows you to enter metadata
for the file including such items as artists name,
track and album titles. The simplest thing is to leave
all the data elements blank and press OK to
store the recording as an audio file (e.g.
Audacity has way more features than can be described in
detail here. Suffice it to say that a recording can be
made with multiple components, e.g. a symphony with four
movements. The start of each track can be marked,
labeled, and individual tracks can then be stored. Simply
click on the trace to add a marked location. Then, select
Tracks Add Label at Selection. Finally, choose
File Export Multiple. Another handy feature is the
ability to delete long spaces between tracks. Left click
at the start of the region of silence, drag the mouse to
the right, and release the mouse button. The selected
region is now highlighted. Deleting this selection is
simply a matter of clicking on the scissors icon (Cut).
A very detailed manual is available on line and can be
readily accessed through the Help Manual menu
item. There is quick help for those just getting started,
details (Foundations/Editing) of how to use the program's
many features, a number of tutorials, and information on
Audacity has a multitude of features and options, and has
a fairly steep learning curve. But, there is a tremendous
amount of detailed information available on using the
program and, because it's free as in open-source
it won't cost you a cent to give it a try!
Dominic Mazzoni and Roger Dannenberg
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Copyright and Usage
Ottawa Personal Computer Users' Group (OPCUG), Inc.
3 Thatcher Street, Ottawa, ON K2G 1S6
opinions expressed in these reviews do not necessarily
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