Want to capture a song from an Internet radio station, grab a line from the latest viral YouTube clip, or make a mashup of Windows system sounds? We're not here to judge--we're here to show you how. Follow these easy steps to record any audio that plays through your PC.
1. Find a Male-to-Male Audio Cable
Before you start recording anything, you need to find a male-to-male 1/8-inch audio cable. If you don't have one, you can buy one for less than a buck from MonoPrice.com. If you have external speakers for your PC, the cable that connects the speakers to your system's headphone jack may work.
2. Download Audacity and LAME
Next, download and install Audacity, a free open-source audio editor. While you're waiting for that to download, grab LAME for Audacity if you don't have it already; you'll need it if you want to save your files as MP3s. (Having problems installing LAME? Read the installation instructions.)
3. Set Your Input and Output Devices in Audacity
Open Audacity, select the Edit menu, and choose Preferences. Under the Devices tab, choose your microphone jack (it's called 'Microsoft Sound Mapper - Input' on my PC) for the recording device, as well as whichever audio source you want to record from as the playback device. If you're on a PC with a built-in Webcam (usually an all-in-one computer or a laptop), make sure not to select your Webcam's mic as the recording device, because it won't sound very good.
Plug one end of the male-to-male 1/8-inch audio cable into the microphone jack, and the other end into the headphone jack. This way, your PC can record directly from the audio-out source without as much background noise or distortion. You can do without the cable, but the results won't turn out as well.
Click the Record button in Audacity and start playing the source. If the reading in Audacity looks like a full solid bar, the volume levels are too high, and the recording will sound heavily distorted. While recording audio from YouTube videos, I found that I got the best results when I set the system volume, the YouTube volume, and the Audacity levels all to about 25 percent or so. Experiment with the volume settings before recording the version you want to keep.
Once you've finished recording, go to the File menu, choose Export, and select MP3 from the 'Save as type' drop-down menu. If Audacity asks you to locate lame_enc.dll, it should be in the LAME for Audacity package you downloaded and unzipped.
That's all! Feel free to share your audio-recording tips in the comments.