Laptop purchasing and Audacity loopback?

I am looking for any information or advice on purchasing a new PC laptop to make sure I will be able to easily record with Audacity looped back sound coming out of the computer’s own soundcard.

I do paid freelance work for a community radio station that involves regularly using Audacity to record the sound from webcast public government meetings or from phone interviews done via Google Voice or Skype. I’ve been doing this a few years and have been using primarily a very old workhorse Gateway laptop that is still running Windows XP and an old version of Audacity. With that computer the only way I was ever able to get this to work was to run a 1/8 inch cord with plugs on both ends into and out of the computer’s own 1/8 inch microphone and headphones ports (using a splitter on the output so I could also plug in headphones).

Now that computer is really becoming an issue with serious overheating problems and of course running a no longer supported version of Windows (XP). I am looking to replace it and started with a visit to Best Buy where I found that no laptops they carry have both a 1/8 inch microphone and headphones port. I know from reading the Audacity manual tutorial on this topic http://manual.audacityteam.org/o/man/tutorial_recording_computer_playback_on_windows.html that many computers are able to loop back the sound to record it on Auadacity easily without plugging in cords to do it, but I am wondering how reliable this is and looking for any advice for finding an affordable laptop (preferably $500 or less) that will allow me to use this and will generally be good for sound editing.

One I had some interest in just from a quick perusal of my local Best Buy shelves was this one: http://www.bestbuy.com/site/asus-15-6-laptop-amd-a10-series-8gb-memory-1tb-hard-drive-gray/4882013.p?id=1219644187138&skuId=4882013 But I don’t know how to figure out if this model or any others will work for me in the way I need for my job.

Thanks for any advice or assistance you can offer!

Dan

You generally can’t tell from a computer’s specifications whether it supports stereo mix or not.

If the computer offers Beats Audio, I recommend not buying it unless you are prepared to use an external sound card instead of the motherboard audio. Beats Audio is widely reported to record all sources with added distortions/sound effects that cannot be turned off or eliminated.

Windows WASAPI (loopback) is “generally” reliable if you record audio playing on the motherboard sound device. You may need to restrict yourself to 44100 Hz project rate or to adjust sample rates in Windows.

WASAPI loopback generally works well too if recording audio playing on a USB or wireless headset, which cannot be done using stereo mix. This may be a little less reliable than recording from the motherboard audio device.


Gale

Thanks! Maybe I should modify my request and ask that if people have had good experience doing this kind of recording of looped back sound with a particular laptop model (whether because it has 2 1/8 inch plugs, or you can do it with Stereo Mix or RealTek or WASSAPI reliably) that they send on the details on that machine?

Thanks again,
Dan

This Forum is about Audacity. There are other forums where you can discuss different makes of computer.

If you are buying online, I recommend looking at the customer reviews, and using your favourite search engine to search for “make and model number” and “problems” and “computer playback” or something like that.

Your new computer will either have Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1 (unless you wait for Windows 10). WASAPI loopback should work with almost any computer on those versions of Windows, especially if you play the audio on the motherboard sound device.

You can look at the computer specifications yourself to see if it has more than one audio input. Most laptops do not. You will normally have to buy a mid- or top-range desktop tower to get a line-level input as well as a mic input. You should also know that on many laptops that have one audio output and one audio input, the input actually is “compatible stereo” - it detects a line-level stereo input without producing bad distortion, but usually does not give the stereo quality that a separate line-level input does.

There is no way of knowing from computer specifications whether the mic input is mono mic level only, or “compatible stereo”. Sometimes this can vary within the exact same model number.

Obviously in answering this question we assume you have permission to record from the web site you mentioned.

We also trust you will inform your Skype/Google Voice partners that you are recording them.

Audacity is not the best choice for VoIP recordings in any case. It is often unpredictable to what extent recording Skype with Audacity will have different volume levels for each side of the call, or have dropouts or other unwanted volume changes. There are many applications - even free ones - meant for recording Skype.



Gale

See above: Skype can make computer sound services do unpredictable things.

Do you produce a recording with you on one channel, say left, and the guest on the other? Sometimes knowing that will point to a recording or hardware method. I can understand how your method could record the far side, but how do they hear you? Or better, how do they hear you and put you on the recording, or isn’t that the goal?

You can use Behringer UCA-202 or equivalent to get good quality, high level, stereo signals into and out of your computer.

http://www.kozco.com/tech/audacity/pix/peaveyUCA202Lenovo-650.jpg

So if we stop right there, that should be the rough equivalent of what you had before. You won’t need the Y cable because the Behringer has a headphone connection already.

Koz

Also, as above, newer Windows machines try to “help you” by adding sometimes unwanted sound processing and it can be very entertaining making sure you’re dealing with a flat, ordinary computer when you make recordings.

http://manual.audacityteam.org/o/man/faq_recording_troubleshooting.html#enhancements

Koz

Trying to record both sides of Skype on one computer is best done with Pamela or other specialized program.

http://www.pamela.biz/en/products/

Regular Audacity will not be reliable no matter whose loopback program you use. Skype is vicious about resetting the computer’s sound system to suit itself.

“I can’t record Skype any more. It worked last week.”

Yes, that’s correct.

You can also record Skype with two computers or one Skype computer and an external recorder.

That’s how I did my Skype tests.

That’s how these people are doing it, too.

Koz

I use Google Voice and need sometimes to record interviews and conference calls. I’m looking for an application for recording Google Voice calls that will run on a Windows machine. This person:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01t_dyk053o

…managed to do this by launching two separate instances of Audacity using one to record microphone input and the other to record what’s coming out of the speaker. He/she then synched up the two audio files and combined them into one file. Ingenious, but waaaay more complicated than this should be.

Ingenious, but waaaay more complicated than this should be.

And unstable. Running two Audacity instances at once is not supported. There is one podcast no longer being produced who managed to regularly record both sides of a Skype call and couldn’t understand what the fuss was about. He was a celebrity. Most people have extraordinary difficulty doing that.

Singling out one person on a YouTube training video is dangerous. There are people who manage to create perfect karaoke versions of a song. People regularly show up on the forum wondering why theirs didn’t work. Because the YouTube demo only worked with one song.

And etc. I can tell you think this cross-recording and production is normal. It’s not. Computer makers would just as soon you play music, talk into Skype and go home. No recording. The only people recording on-line content are stealing it, and so recording is not a supported or advertised activity.

That’s what you’re up against and that’s why people who get beyond a certain point use two computers and a mixer. It doesn’t take very many crashes during a paid gig (it worked last week…) to investigate something like that. The hardware technique is perfectly reliable. As I think we posted up the thread, the Behringer UCA-202 will provide a good quality Stereo Line-In and Stereo Line-Out and separate headphone connection. That will provide the physical loop-back and monitoring you used to have—without the “Y” cable.

There is no stone that says it has to be two computers, either. I’ve seen this done with a computer and stand-alone recorder. That has the advantage of hand-holding a recorder for a live interview.

Koz

Audacity is not a good choice. As long as the person calls you to start a call, doesn’t Google Voice record for you: http://www.wikihow.com/Record-a-Call-on-Google-Voice?

Or try VoiceMeeter.


Gale

Yes, and it usually works great, but you have to get the other party to call you, which isn’t always practical.

Thanks for the recommendation; I’ll check it out.

It would appear that VoiceMeeter allows users to redirect various inputs, but I would have to use it in conjunction with a separate recording app, like Audacity. I was hoping for a simple single-app solution that would allow me to record both sides of a VoIP call (such as Google Voice).

I do (or did) think that making recordings from various inputs was a normal thing for recording software. Audacity is the first recording software I’ve ever used, but I went in assuming that it would allow me to record from several different inputs simultaneously. If someone were recording a string quartet/orchestra/band/etc… wouldn’t they conceivably want to have one input for each instrument so they could balance the levels later?

Audacity’s online manual:

http://manual.audacityteam.org/

…divides up the Audacity interface into 15 sections, of which # 9 is the “Device Toolbar” where the input device is selected. Why is it not possible for Audacity to allow the user to open multiple device toolbars so that more than one input device can be selected? It seems to me that this is essentially what the aforementioned YouTube poster accomplished by launching two simultaneous instances of Audacity.

I’m sure you know what you’re talking about, but why would PC & software makers care if people want to use their computers to record things?

That’s correct.

Have you tried using your favourite search engine? How about Total Recorder? It’s free to try.

Yes that can be done with a single multi-input device.

And you can do what you want, technically, with Audacity by playing the input through the output and recording the output (stereo mix or whatever). But it will give you a poor result with no way to separate the two sides of the call.

It’s a feature request the developers have never wanted to implement, essentially because Audacity was designed from the outset to only record from one input at a time. Changing that could be a lot of work and could potentially destabilise standard recording from one device.

So the advice is for example to buy a mixer that gives you one device.

So you can do that too if you must and you think your computer is fast and stable enough.


Gale