You don’t have to hold up a microphone to your computer’s speakers to record its audio. Even if you don’t have a Stereo Mix option on your PC, you can easily record the sound coming from any Windows PC.
You can record the sound coming from your PC in numerous ways, and we’re going to show you the three best we’ve found. The first two options use only software, and the third relies on an old trick that connects your computer’s audio output to its audio input with an audio cable.
Option 1: Stereo Mix
Stereo Mix is sometimes called “What U Hear.” It’s a special recording option that your sound drivers might provide. If it is included with your drivers, you can select Stereo Mix (instead of a microphone or audio line-in input), and then force any application to record the same sound that your computer is outputting from its speakers or headphones.
On modern versions of Windows, Stereo Mix is generally disabled by default—even if your sound drivers support it. Follow our instructions to enable the Stereo Mix audio source on Windows. After enabling Stereo Mix, you can use any audio-recording program, and just select “Stereo Mix” as the input device instead of the usual “line-in” or “microphone” option.
On some devices, you may not have this option at all. There may be a way to enable it with different audio drivers, but not every piece of sound hardware supports Stereo Mix. It’s unfortunately become less and less common.
Option 2: Audacity’s WASAPI Loopback
Don’t have a Stereo Mix option? No problem. Audacity has a useful feature that can record the audio coming out of your computer—even without Stereo Mix. In fact, Audacity’s feature may be even better than Stereo Mix, assuming you’re willing to use Audacity to record the audio. This method takes advantage of a feature that Microsoft added in Windows Vista named the Windows Audio Session API (WASAPI). The feature also functions in Windows 7, 8, and 10, and helps make up for the lack of a Stereo Mix option on modern Windows PCs.
In Audacity, choose the “Windows WASAPI” audio host, and then choose an appropriate loopback device, such as “Speakers (loopback)” or “Headphones (loopback).”
Click the Record button to start recording the audio in Audacity, and then click Stop when you’re done. Because you’re using Audacity, you can easily trim and edit the sound file when you’re done.
Audacity’s tutorial website explains why this feature is actually better than Stereo Mix:
“WASAPI loopback has an advantage over stereo mix or similar inputs provided by the soundcard that the capture is entirely digital (rather than converting to analog for playback, then back to digital when Audacity receives it). System sounds playing through the device selected for WASAPI loopback are still captured, however.”
In other words, your recorded sound file will be higher-quality when using Audacity’s WASAPI loopback option.
Option 3: An Audio Cable
If neither of the first two options suit your needs, there’s always the low-tech solution—although it’s a bit of a hack. Just get an audio cable with a male 3.5mm connector on both ends. Plug one end into the line-out (or headphone) jack on your PC, and the other end into the line-in (or microphone) jack. You’ll stop hearing the sound your computer produces, but you can use any audio-recording program to record the “line in” or “microphone” input. To actually hear the sound, you could get a splitter, and then output the audio to headphones or speakers at the same time you direct it back into your computer.
Sure, this is inconvenient and silly compared to to the first two software-only options we talked about. But, if you desperately need to capture the audio coming out of your computer in an application that isn’t Audacity and you don’t have Stereo Mix, the cable trick allows you to do this.
Obviously, copyright laws may prevent you from distributing whatever recordings you make in this way, so don’t use these tricks for piracy! After all, even if you were going to pirate some audio, there’d be easier ways to do it than this.
Image Credit: Jason M on Flickr