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What You Aren’t Hearing: The Industry’s Backward Step



Keisha Barwise, also known as DrTigerLilly in our GBM forums, recently brought an issue to our attention regarding Stereo Mix being disabled by several OEMs. She has authored the following guest article for us on the issue.

Keisha Barwise

If you just purchased a new laptop or desktop and you’re used to being able to do things on your pc like record internet audio streams or broadcast audio over the internet, you might be discovering that this is no longer natively supported. As some users have discovered, the feature referred to as Stereo Mix (also known as Wave out or What you Hear across various sound card codecs), and the ability to record from it, has been silently disabled by several OEM’s.  Stereo Mix also enables users to listen to audio over a USB tuner, recording audio from dvr software, online karaoke and do sound and music production.

There is speculation as to whether this is a response to pressure from the RIAA, in an effort to restrict piracy efforts. To date there has been no official word from any of the involved OEM’s as to why the feature has been removed. Notebook & Desktop users alike, who find themselves with crippled machines, are being forced to use secondary sound cards or software fixes, such as programs like Virtual Audio Cable or Total Recorder. Some users have resorted to trying to hack drivers, often unsuccessfully; as well as resorting to low tech fixes such as looping a cable between the microphone and speaker ports, which only provides a mono recording.

These fixes don’t always provide satisfactory solutions. Notebook users on the Thinkpad forums have discovered that the PCMCIA controller in the x6x/t6x notebooks is incompatible with popular PCMCIA sound cards, such as Creative’s SoundBlaster Audigy 2zs. Other users have reported that available USB solutions don’t appear to work either. Fortunately, many users have found Express Card solutions, but many laptops and Tablet PCs are not equipped with Express Card slots, thus being left out in the cold.

Two of the sound cards involved include the Sigmatel 92xx series and SoundMax Integrated Digital HD Audio. Unfortunately, most users aren’t aware their machines have been crippled, until they have need for the feature. In addition, most OEMs don’t list this feature in their product specifications.

Currently, OEMs offering drivers that re-enable the feature include Dell (who released new drivers in response to user outcry on their forums), Asus (desktop machines), Toshiba and HP. Lenovo has recently committed to investigating the matter in regards to their notebooks. Take a look over at Lenovo forums and let your voice be heard.

The questions we need to be asking OEMs are: Why was the feature removed? Why weren’t consumers informed? Will the feature be re-enabled?  If it’s important to you, don’t hesitate to let your OEM know.

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