Getting back a “Stereo Mix”-like option, and record what you hear

Imagine you are listening to internet radio, seeing a show on youtube, or watching a blu-ray movie, and you want to record that particularly sound/music/voice, in a fast way. Maybe something for a school project, or you simply want to make a podcast. But sadly, no “Stereo mix” or “What you hear” can be found on the list of recording devices. You could right-click and then left-click to show every disabled devices, but that won’t work on every systems with a built-in soundcard, especially on laptops.

First a little background, then possible solutions:

For many years now, there have been fewer and fewer models with this recording feature disabled or removed completely, either by design or lack of drivers. Since Microsoft intentionally removed the Stereo Mix / Waveout Mix option from its drivers, you could try to download the latest version of the sound card driver and install it, but, there are no guarantees. Some have even tried to install older drivers in XP compatibility modes with variable results. Manufacturers are also rumored to have signed contracts with certain music and movie copyrights-organizations in order to prevent users from recording copyrighted material. Either way, our world spins on and we need to find a new option.

In Windows we have 3 drivers that are most used; DirectSound, WASAPI and ASIO.

DirectSound acts as a program-friendly middle layer between the program and the audio driver, which in turn speaks to the audio hardware. With DS, Windows controls the sample rate, channel layout and other details of the audio stream. Every program using sound passes it’s data to DS, which then resamples as required so it can mix audio streams from any program together with system sounds. The disadvantages are that the program cannot control the sampling rate, channel count, format, etc. Even more importantly is that you cannot pass through encoded formats, as DS will not decode them and it would otherwise bit-mangle them, and there is a loss of sonic quality involved in the mixing and resampling.

Partly to allow for cleaner, uncompromised or encoded audio, and for low-latency requirements like mixing and recording, MS updated their Kernel Streaming mode from XP and came up with WASAPI. Unlike DirectSound (which is an emulated layer and prone to interference), WASAPI is entirely digital and talks directly to the soundcard. WASAPI (depending of mode), bypasses the mixing/resampling layers of DS, and allows the application to negotiate directly with the audio driver what format it wishes to present the data in. This often involves some back-and-forth depending on the format specified and the device’s capabilities. Once a format is agreed upon, the application decides how it will present the data stream.

ASIO (Audio Stream Input/Output) is said to be the best alternative with the lowest latency and are used in many pro-paid applications. Like WASAPI it too bypasses the mixer and talks directly to the soundcard. However, this one is proprietary software by Steinberg.

To record what you hear:

  • Try to unhide hidden devices first. Or Upgrade or downgrade your soundcard drivers.
  • The easiest way is to download Audacity and direct it to record with WASAPI.¬† (02)
  • A popular alternative to ASIO is the ASIO4All driver by German programmer Michael Tippach, which can often deliver low latency on soundcards that have not been designed with music production in mind. (03)
  • Virtual Audio Cable software allows you to transfer audio (wave) streams between applications and/or devices. NB: Not free (04)

I myself fell upon Audacity with WASAPI to record what I hear, because “Stereo Mix” isn’t available on my Lenovo laptop with a Conexant soundcard.