Every so often, you may need to record multiple things simultaneously for your audio projects. Without the right equipment, this can be a daunting task, but with the right software tricks, you can get back on track quickly.
Single-track vs. Multitrack
Single-track recording is essentially recording all of your inputs into a one mixed track. This can be really handy in a pinch, and works fine for most home projects. The important thing to note is that you have to adjust your levels and everything before you record, otherwise you may be sacrificing some quality.
Multitrack recording takes each input device and records it to a separate track. This is more of a pro-level method and is really useful because you can add effects and Unless you have a nice sound chipset (most likely a dedicated sound card) or an external audio mixer/preamp, this isn’t going to be possible. This is usually because of shoddy or feature-incomplete drivers on lower-end and integrated sound chipsets. Dedicated sound cards usually have an excellent set of drivers, so if you have something like a Sound Blaster X-Fi, you’re covered. External mixers are something else entirely, and most decent audio programs will interface with these properly on their own. However, if you don’t have something that supports multitrack recording, single-track is still possible and you can make it work.
Ultimately how well you can do this depends on a few things. First, you need to have a sound card that’s capable of having multiple inputs simultaneously available for input. You should also have access to stereo mix in your recording properties. If you don’t, check out How To Enable Stereo Mix in Windows 7 (to Record Audio). Of course, you’ll need multiple audio devices to record from. This can be something you’re playing back on your computer (which will be played by your stereo mix), an external mic, or something else you’ve got. If you’re trying to use two microphones, this works best if you have one that works via USB as well as a standard mic. As stated above, the better your soundcard, the better your drivers, and both of these will help things work along. And finally, have a set of headphones handy, so you can listen to the whole process and not worry about any feedback.
Before we fire up Audacity, we have some quick prep work to take care of. Go down to your system tray and right-click your sound icon.
Go to “Recording devices” to see what’s plugged in and available.
Select one of your inputs and click on the Properties button, then choose the Listen tab.
Be sure your headphones are plugged in, and then click the checkbox next to “Listen to this device.” The headphones will prevent any feedback you’d get from the speakers and mic together. Next, go to the Levels tab.
Here’s where you’ll need to adjust the volume on your input device, as Audacity won’t be able to change them for individual devices. Next, go to the Advanced tab.
Adjust your default format. For most things, 16 bit 44.1 kHz should be fine, and if you want to drop down to mono, here’s where you need to do it. These settings will have to match Audacity’s defaults later on.
Once you’re set, hit OK and then do the same for your other audio input. At the end, if Stereo Mix is unavailable, all you have to do is set it as your default device and you should be okay to go!
Now, fire up Audacity and go to Edit > Preferences > Devices.
Under Recoding, choose Stereo Mix as the device. If you decided to go Mono, you can adjust the Channels down to 1 here, too. Lastly, click on Quality in the left pane.
The Default Sample Rate must match or exceed your settings from Windows sound properties.
Click OK and then record away!
This process essentially lets all of the devices you want to record play through your Stereo Mix channel, which then gets recorded into a single track. If you get an error about making sure your recoding device is properly configured, make sure Stereo Mix isn’t listed as “unavailable” under your Windows’ Recording Devices above and your sample rates match.
Using Multitrack Studio
If you don’t have stereo mix available, but you do have your OS recognizing multiple inputs, you may want to give Multitrack Studio a try. There’s a free demo available which limits you to three simultaneous tracks, but it works really well. If you’re on Linux, Audacity should work better natively with multiple inputs, so long as you’re using ALSA. You can also give Jokosher a try, as well as Muse. If Audacity isn’t cutting it on your OS X rig, your best bet is probably GarageBand.
Download the Multitrack Studio demo, install it, and start it up. Click the Add Track button and select Audio Track…
You’ll see a properties pane pop up.
Give the track a name and switch the settings to Stereo and MP3 if necessary. Repeat the process, so that you have two tracks in the main window. Then, click on Studio > Devices…
Here, you need to choose a proper driver set.
Stick with the default VistaSound and click Properties.
Here, you should be able to choose the proper Audio In devices. On my particular setup, it would only allow me to choose one at a time, but if you’re using a USB device as well, you should be able to choose two.
When you’re done, click OK twice to get back to the main screen. In order to record, you’ll have to flip each track’s record button on.
When they’re both red, you’re good to go. You’ll now be able to see the levels for each track move in response to the audio. In the upper-right corner, click the red Play button to record.
You can click the EDIT button on the right side of each track panel to bring down the waveform and make edits if you need after you’re done. You can also just export the audio files to Audacity and edit them there.
Everybody doesn’t have fancy audio equipment, but with some luck and tweaking your configurations a bit, you’ll be able to record better from your existing rig. This is also a great way to record cheaply if you run your own podcast, without having to spend a lot of money on a separate mixer/preamp.
Know a better way to record from multiple sources? Used nicer multitrack recording software? Share your know-how in the comments!