Recording level volume control does not work on one of two Dell laptops

In the past I’ve had success digitizing LPs using Audacity with an A/D converter connected to the USB input of an older Dell Inspiron 15R laptop. The line input of the laptop also worked although controlling the recording level was very awkward.

But now I’m trying to digitize some new records using Audacity and a newer Dell XPS 17-9700 laptop but the Audacity input volume controls do not work. I can see a waveform but the level is entirely dependent on the level set by the external pre-amp which has no volume control.

I would appreciate hearing any suggestions or insights that might result in working volume controls on the XPS laptop. Alternately, if anyone has a recommendation for a different laptop manufacturer and model that DOES utilize Audacity’s recording volume controls, I love to hear it!

Thanks to all!

Below is a detailed comparison of the situation on both laptops:

Dell XPS 17-9700

Software used: Audacity 3.4.2

Onboard sound card: Realtek/MaxxAudioPro

Using USB input – software volume control does NOT work and recording is mono, i.e., left audio signal is recorded on both channels but at a very low level.

Using Line input – software volume control does NOT work and recording is stereo but at a very low level

Dell Inspiron 15R (5520)

Software used: Audacity 3.4.2

Onboard Sound card: Conexant SmartAudio HD

USB input – software volume control works. Recording is in stereo.

Line input – software volume control does NOT work but Windows 10 Start>Settings>System>Sound>Input>Line In>Device Properties>Volume setting does work, although it’s awkward. Records in stereo

It’s unusual to be able to control USB recording volume from the computer. Maybe it was a feature of the older driver.

Normally you have to adjust the analog level before it’s digitized. And, it’s the analog-to-digital converter that clips and lowering the digital level after it’s clipped doesn’t fix the distortion.

…Better USB audio interfaces have a recording level knob.

If the recording volume is low you can use the Amplify effect after recording. Digital levels are not at all critical as long as you avoid clipping.

Line-in is usually fine if you have a line-level signal (i.e. phono preamp). A headphone output also works into line-in and it always has a volume control.

Normally you CAN adjust the line-in recording level.

Are you sure you have line-in? Most laptops only have mic-in and headphone-out.

The microphone input is usually mono and line-level is about 100 times stronger than line mic level so you usually get low quality. Newer laptops with a mic/headphone combo jack require a special 4-contact TRSS plug to make the mono mic connection. A regular TRS headphone plug works with headphones.

For stereo, both Windows and Audacity have to be set to stereo.

How Can I Record In Stereo?

Hi DVDdoug,

Thanks a lot for your reply. I do own a separate phono preamp with a USB output that has a volume control but I would prefer not to use it if possible as it just introduces another layer of electronics that I would like to avoid. Besides, the phono section of my Carver C-1 preamp is excellent so I’m trying to stick with recording the C-1’s line level output. Unfortunately, that output is pre-EQ and master gain so it has no separate level control.

I have since come to understand that more recent laptops automatically convert the left channel of an USB audio input into a dual mono signal and record it on both the left and right channels of the soundcard. Evidently this is because the prevalent use of an USB input is to record from a mono microphone (that usually has its own volume control), not a stereo line level input. My older Dell Inspiron does not assume the input is from a mono mic and will therefore record in stereo. So much for progress! :frowning:

The newer XPS has an 1/8" input jack and always asks whether I have just plugged in a line level input or a mic or a speaker, so that hasn’t been a problem — until recently! In an attempt to resolve this issue, I upgraded or reinstalled all my drivers and now the laptop thinks I have NO inputs of any kind! Neither the built-in microphones nor the internal speakers work now. The only thing it now recognizes is the Realtek USB output. Grrrrr… I ran a complete hardware diagnostic several times and it always says the sound card is fine and it says my drivers are all up to date. So I’m still scratching my head.

In any event, unless I get a new laptop from some company other than Dell, it looks like I’ll just dedicate my old Inspiron to do LP digitizing from now on.

Thanks again for contributing your time and information to help me with this.


Could you clarify this quote, @DVDdoug?
I’m curious about this topic, too, as I am recording from LP to Audacity via the phono pre-amp and then by RCA cables into a Roxio A/D converter and into the USB on my laptop. I keep getting clipping, no matter what recording levels I set in Audacity. Maybe the problem is that the Roxio device is designed for VHS to DVD conversions, and I’m not using it with its native app?

Oops! Line level is about 100 times stronger than mic level.

(corrected above)

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