How Do I Record System Audio (the sound that comes out of my speakers)?

For most screencasts, recording voice narration is most important. But what about cases when you want to record system audio? It can sometimes get a little tricky so this tutorial offers some troubleshooting tips and alternative work-arounds.

Camtasia Studio may be able to detect and record your system audio (the sound that comes out of your speakers), and selecting this option in the Camtasia Recorder is the first thing to try. What if it doesn’t work? Well, there is still hope. Before we venture into troubleshooting, let us first consider the following challenges we’ll try to overcome.

  • By default, Windows is set to record your internal microphone, or a microphone attached to your sound card. If you want to record from something other than your internal microphone, you need to configure Camtasia Studio, and may need to try additional changes in your Windows Control Panel to record from alternative audio sources or devices.
  • Not all computers record system audio in the same manner. There are numerous sound cards with a range of capabilities and limitations as well as a large difference between the way Windows XP and Windows Vista handles system sound. (Vista users typically have more struggles.)
  • It’s possible your computer (sound card, specifically) is simply not capable of recording system audio, in which case we offer some less-than-ideal workarounds, or you may wish to purchase a new sound card or buy a USB audio mixer.

Select System Audio in Camtasia Recorder

In Camtasia Recorder, select Tools > Options > Audio (tab).

One of two things will happen. If you are fortunate, you may have an option to select alternative to the microphone audio input. Select an alternative and make a practice recording. The second possibility is that your screen will look something like this:

Audio options in Camtasia Recorder

Camtasia Studio is asking your computer for an alternative audio source but getting no response from the sound card. Be sure to see if there are other audio devices to choose from as some recording source options are not applicable to certain devices. For example, Speaker audio is not a valid option when a USB microphone is selected as the Audio device.

If you were not able to record system audio using the options in Camtasia Recorder, please refer to the following troubleshooting strategies:

That didn’t work, now what?

If you are using Vista:

If you are using XP:

Still no luck, now what?

Try to Update Sound Card Drivers

The first thing you will want to do in this case is check for updated sound card drivers. Close Camtasia Studio. The easiest place to start is http://update.microsoft.com. (You need to visit this site using Internet Explorer.) Be sure to check the optional updates too. Install updates related to your sound card.

If Windows Update does not recommend updates to your sound card, the next step is to visit your computer manufacturer’s website, determine your model and check to see if there are updates available.

Restart Camtasia Studio and see if system sound options are available.

Check Disabled Devices (Vista)

Windows Vista handles audio differently than Windows XP. Vista does not allow applications to access the audio devices directly, which limits how applications such as Camtasia Studio can record audio.

One thing to try is to enable audio devices that may be disabled. This may allow Camtasia Studio to record system audio or at least present an opportunity for another workaround. Most sound cards can only record from one source at a time. It’s usually not possible to record both your microphone and system audio.

To enable an audio device:

  1. Close Camtasia Studio if it’s running. Click Start > Control Panel > Hardware and Sound (or just Sound in Classic View) > Sound > Recording (tab).
  2. Right-click an audio device.
  3. Check Show Disabled Devices and Show Disconnected Devices. Your menu should look similar to the image below.

    Show disabled devices

  4. Next, right-click a device and select Enable. Click OK to close the dialogue box.
  5. Launch Camtasia Studio and attempt to select an alternative audio input. If unsuccessful, you can revisit these steps and try right clicking the audio device and select Set as Default Device.

Verify Audio Settings in Control Panel (Windows XP)

Open the Control Panel and verify audio device settings. There’s a chance the correct device is not selected or the device is muted.

  1. In the Control Panel, select Sounds, Speech, and Audio Devices. (Sounds and Audio Devices in Classic View.)
  2. Click Audio (tab).

    Control panel audio settings

  3. System Audio can only be captured from your internal sound card (if the option is available), so it is important to make sure this is selected as the Default device. The option, Use only default devices should be unchecked.
  4. Check your Sound playback and Sound recording devices. Verify the devices are not muted, and volume level is around mid-range.
  5. Next, ensure you see no errors such as, “This device cannot start. (Code 10)” or driver-related problems. If you run into a problem here, please contact your sound card manufacturer or computer vendor.

Try "Looping" a Patch Cable

More a work-around than a true solution, this method might work well enough to suit your needs. One good thing about this work-around is that it’s somewhat less technical than trying to install a new sound card or going through a mixer. The basic idea is to “trick” your computer by running a cable from your headphone/speaker (audio out) port directly into the Line in (audio in) port.

Note: Vista users, make sure your cable is plugged in so it can be detected and you still have to make sure your line in port is enabled.

What is this mysterious cable and where can you get one? Many electronic component stores will have them for around $5. You can also enter, “3.5mm stereo cable” into your favorite online shopping site. Be sure to get a “male to male” cable.

3.5 millimeter cable

There are a couple downsides to this workaround. The first downside is that since the sound is going directly from your headphone/speaker, you can’t hear it! This is very frustrating if you’re trying to achieve any sort of audio-video synchronization in your screencast.

The second downside is the audio quality may not be as good as if you could record it directly from your sound card. However, depending on your needs, you may not even notice or care.

Here’s what it the cable looks like with the computer:

Audio cable loop in computer ports

You can add one more level of workaround trickery by adding a 3.5mm splitter (one 3.5mm male, two 3.5mm female). These are also very inexpensive and allow you to split the headphone/speaker port into two outputs. You can sometime find these splitters in the MP3 player/iPod section of your electronics store as they allow two people to listen to the same device.

Audio splitter

Using this method put the splitter into the headphones/speaker port. Then plug your headphones into one of the female ports. Take your patch cable and connect the other female end to the Line in port on your computer.

Audio splitter with headphones and line in

Now the good news is that you can hear the system audio so you can achieve precision and synchronization with your screen recording. The bad news is that audio quality will probably degrade.

Record System Sound Using Microphone and Ambient Volume

By far the simplest, least technical (and likely lowest quality) solution is to attempt to position a microphone in such a way to capture your system audio as it comes out of your speakers. Needless to say, quality will never be great, and will vary drastically by the type of speakers and recording environment. Here are some tips:

  • Position your microphone about 12 inches away at the midway point between your computer's stereo speakers.
  • Test the recording level, and then adjust the speaker volume as necessary.
  • It is important to note, with this option any noise present in the room will also be recorded.

Buy a New Sound Card or Purchase an Audio Mixer

TechSmith cannot possibly know of, or test all the various models. Be aware that prices and functionality vary dramatically. The main purpose of this section is to raise awareness that A.) Your computer (sound card specifically) may not be able to record system audio. This is especially common with Windows Vista. B.) If you are unable to record system audio and want high-quality recordings, you may want to make the investment in one of the following solutions—a new sound card, or audio mixer.

An audio mixer may sound expensive and intimidating, and like many things, prices vary dramatically ($50 – hundreds of dollars). Advantages include the ability to use the mixer with any number of computers, getting a high level of control, great audio quality, and peace of mind that you won’t have to struggle with a multitude of sound card settings, drivers etc.

USB mixers are generally preferred, but analog is fine too. Here’s a picture of a cable that might be used with an analogue mixer. The 3.5mm male end of the cable is plugged into the sound card’s audio out (headphone/speaker) port. The other ends are left and right speaker audio that go into the mixer. You'll need another cable to go from the mixer back into your computer’s Line in port.

3.5 millimeter Y cable

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000 - Customize the About Box Produce I Written
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002 - Project Settings And Presets Edit I Written
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004 - Record Voice Narration Edit I Written
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