Distortion when attempting to record church service

I’m media specialist at a church. Recording the service, we’ve been running onto a problem where Audacity randomly distorts the recordings. The computer is Windows 7 x64 SP1, running Audacity 2.0.0, and the audio feed is coming through a sound board to the computer. The problem started about a year ago (before I started the job) shortly after the recording computer was upgraded from Windows XP to Windows 7.

What happens is that when audacity is opened and we start recording, the recording ends up sounding like this or this:

Within a given instance of audacity being opened, the distortion is consistent, as in stopping and restarting the recording without closing audacity doesn’t solve the problem, changes to the audio on the soundboard’s side of things doesn’t change it, etc. While recording, the audio sounds normal through the soundboard’s headphones and the computer’s headphones.
If we close and reopen audacity, the problem goes away and remains that way for the rest of the time that instance of audacity is open. Of course, the issue is when we don’t realize it’s doing the distortion until halfway through the church service.

Any thoughts or advice on what could be the problem/solution?

Describe the system more. You have a multi-channel analog sound mixer (choir, sermon, service, etc.) and it connects to the computer how? Don’t leave anything out. You missed one important part. You only get the distortion occasionally when you boot the computer fresh on Sunday morning and nobody catches it until half-way through the service? Why half-way? What happens then?


The sound board sends the audio to the computer via a pair of 1/4" jacks, which then run through an adapter that ends in some sort of 9-pin connector that plugs into the computer. (Looks like a VGA, but I thought those only did video, not audio. I’m not the best at identifying computer connectors, and when I looked at 1/4" adapters online I couldn’t find any that had the same ending.)

When I said “half-way”, I meant that occasionally no one on the media team remembers to check that the recording isn’t distorting before the service and so the audio records the service incorrectly, unless someone happens to glance at Audacity part-way through the service and notice that the waveform looks odd, then stops the recording, restarts Audacity, and correctly records however much of the service is left to record (while still leaving everything prior to restarting the recording unusable); other times, nobody catches it and I come in on Monday to edit the audio and find that the entire service’s audio is distorted and unusable.

Addendum: the audio connects from the mixer to the computer using an E-MU PCIe 0404 Digital Audio System.

That’s a strange problem…

Audacity basically just “captures” the digital audio data it gets from the hardware, Windows, and the drivers. The root problem is somewhere else…

Is there a special configuration application for the E-MU board?

Is the computer used for anything else during the week? Sometimes another application can change the Windows audio settings. I wonder if another application is messing-up the recording settings, and then testing play-back in Audacity (somehow) corrects the settings? (I’ve heard stories of Skype messing-up audio settings.)

IMO - It’s “risky” recording one-time events with a computer. Computers are the least reliable things we own, and with so many options/settings there is lots of potential for human error. You can minimize the risk by using a dedicated computer, but the best solution is to have a back-up system recording in parallel. (The 2nd system can be another comptuter, a digital recorder, a cassette recorder, CD or DVD recorder, or even a VHS recorder recording only audio.)