Can Audacity Record Streaming Audio?

By Scott Knickelbine

Audacity, a free, open-source audio editing application, has the ability to capture nearly any sound that is playing on a computer's sound card. As a result, Audacity can record streaming audio, including the soundtracks of streaming video files. The procedure is not without its problems, but in general Audacity does a good job of letting you save streaming audio as MP3s or other sound files.

How it Works

When you play a streaming media file, you computer downloads a digital signal and sends it to your sound card, where it is converted to an analog signal and sent to your speakers or headphones. Audacity is able to capture that analog signal and convert it back into a digital signal (specifically, a WAV file) that can be edited and saved as a digital file.


When set to record from the sound card, Audacity can record any Internet audio source that does not give you direct access to a sound file. This includes output from Internet radio stations, RealPlayer and other streaming feeds, television and movie soundtracks from Hulu or Netflix, and YouTube video soundtracks.


To record from the sound card, set the recording source in the center drop-down menu in Audacity to "Mono Mix" or "Stereo Mix." In Windows Vista or Windows 7, the setting must be selected under "Preferences: Audio I/0" in Audacity's "Edit" menu. Sound-card sources sometimes have other names, such as "Wave Out" or "Loopback." Then click Audacity's "Record" button and start the playback of the streaming media file.


This procedure for capturing digital sound isn't perfect. In the first place, there will be sound quality loss as the original digital signal is converted to analog and then back into digital again. Also, Audacity will record every sound playing on your sound card -- including any e-mail or error alert tones your computer plays. A few sound cards on the market don't work well with Audacity, and the program has a difficult time recording sound off Mac cards.