Updating Sound Device Drivers

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Especially on Windows machines, the sound device drivers as shipped may not allow proper recording. Follow these tips to update the drivers and obtain correct recording.
 
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Identifying current drivers and obtaining updates

Problems such as recordings freezing up, difficulty in selecting the correct, working input source or having the full range of input sources available, usually mean your sound device has faulty, outdated or inappropriate drivers. If this occurs it is important that the drivers are updated. Drivers are the piece of software that tells your computer how to talk to the specific hardware you have installed or connected to your computer. The drivers must be specific to the particular model of your computer or sound device, and are usually produced by the sound device or motherboard manufacturer. On a 64-bit operating system, the drivers of the sound device must be 64-bit.

You may need to find out the name, specifications and current driver details for your sound device, so you can update it correctly. To do this, you can use Device Manager on Windows, System Profiler on a Mac or the /lspci or /lsusb commands on Linux. Device Manager can also try and update the drivers for you itself, and Windows users are strongly recommended to try this update facility as a first step - see Extra help for Windows users below.

Once you have the necessary information about your sound device, you can normally obtain appropriate updated drivers specific to your hardware from the internet.

  • If you have a computer with a common brand name like Dell or HP, go to the computer manufacturer's website. Many manufacturers will have an online tool you can use to verify your drivers.
  • If you installed a PCI or USB soundcard with choice of inputs, or a USB or Firewire external interface, go to the website of the sound device manufacturer.
  • For all other cases where you are using the sound device built into the computer motherboard, go to the website of the motherboard manufacturer (you can find the web address by searching Google).
Warning icon Manufacturers of motherboard sound devices such as Realtek, Sigmatel and Soundmax do not usually provide any driver support to end users. Any drivers they offer will usually be generic drivers not matched to your particular motherboard. Avoid using such drivers except as a last resort.

Note that basic plug 'n' play USB sound devices without a choice of inputs (like a USB microphone or a USB turntable or cassette deck) generally use the operating system's USB Audio Class drivers. If such a device is malfunctioning and the manufacturer does not offer special drivers, examine the USB cable and connections, or look in the device's or the operating system's control panels for issues with the device or with the Universal Serial Bus controllers. See USB troubleshooting.

Extra help for Windows users

Using Device Manager

Windows users can try updating their drivers via Device Manager in the first instance, before looking for drivers on the internet. This is easiest, but may not necessarily find the latest or most appropriate drivers.

Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/Vista: Click Start > Control Panel then using the "Category" view, click "Hardware and Sound", find "Devices and Printers" near the top of the screen then click on "Device Manager" (the last item in the list underneath). "Icons" views have a direct link to Device Manager, as does "Classic View" on Windows Vista only.

Then expand "Sound, Video and Game Controllers" by clicking on the + sign, right-click over the sound device and click "update driver".

After the update (even if more recent drivers were not found), you should right-click over the device again, click Properties and then on the Driver tab to check the "Driver Provider". You don't want drivers from Microsoft - in most cases these are only generic drivers, not specifically matched to your hardware. This often leads to problems such as not being able to select the correct input, or recordings not being made correctly. These must be replaced with drivers made by the manufacturer of your hardware, so they are correctly matched to that hardware.

If you have now got updated non-Microsoft drivers, try them and see if your recording problem is cured.

Visiting manufacturers' websites

If the recording problem persists, note the name of the Driver Provider in Device Manager. If the driver provider is Microsoft, note the name of the sound device you right-clicked over. Then visit the website of the computer manufacturer or motherboard manufacturer. You can search Google or Yahoo to find the correct internet address of the manufacturer.

If you have a branded computer, go to the computer manufacturer's website. If you have a PCI or external soundcard or interface, go to the website of the soundcard manufacturer. In all other cases where you use the motherboard's integrated sound device, it's almost always best to visit the website of the motherboard manufacturer for assistance. You will need to know details of your motherboard. If you don't have details to hand, try the following free utilities to gather relevant information:

  • CPU-Z - no installation required, just unzip
  • Belarc Advisor - browser based, requires installation

Always look for a driver update which is specific to your computer model and version of Windows (for example, Windows 10). This is especially critical if you are on Windows 10 , Windows 8, Windows 7 or Windows Vista, as the way the drivers communicate with the hardware and the operating system is quite different than with earlier versions of Windows. Be sure to uninstall the old drivers of the device (right-click over the device in Device Manager > Uninstall) before installing the new ones.

Warning icon If you have a 64-bit version of Windows, you must obtain the 64-bit drivers.

If you cannot locate suitable drivers at the computer or motherboard manufacturer's site you could also try the website of the stated "Driver Provider" or "Manufacturer" of the sound device, but any drivers you find may only be generic drivers not properly matched to your motherboard.

Windows Update

If you are reading this because recordings have always worked fine in the past but are now recording incorrectly, or because an input is missing or Audacity is no longer launching properly, an automatic update via Windows Update may just possibly have caused the problem. Windows Update is potentially less reliable about obtaining appropriate hardware updates than Windows Device Manager.

If you suspect a driver update problem, launch Device Manager from the Windows Control Panel. Expand "Sound, video and game controllers" by clicking on the arrow, then right-click over your sound device and choose Properties. Click on the "Driver" tab to check the driver provider, date and version. If an update has occurred at any time, the Roll Back Driver button will be active. You can click this button to revert the driver to its previous installation. You can also view a video of the rollback process on Windows Vista later.

If rolling back does not help or makes matters worse, go back to the "Driver" tab and click "Update Driver". After the update, check the Driver Provider again. If the driver provider is now Microsoft you could see if your problem is resolved, but the general recommendation would be to visit the website of the computer or motherboard manufacturer and look for appropriate drivers specific to your computer model and version of Windows.

For future, consider verifying updates via Windows Update manually instead of allowing updates to proceed automatically.

Sound devices and drivers

A limited number of high-end professional PCI sound devicess are reported to be incompatible with Audacity. As a result, Audacity will crash on launch if its Devices Preferences are set to use the device. This can occur not only when the device is explicitly selected in Preferences, but also if "Microsoft Sound Mapper" (Audacity's default option as shipped) is selected when the sound device is the current default Windows device. As a workaround, explicitly select a different device in Preferences.

If you've already set Audacity explicitly to use your sound device and it now won't launch, you must clear the Audacity preference settings for PlaybackDevice and RecordingDevice before you can use Audacity again. To do this, reset your Windows default sound device to your inbuilt sound device, then install or reinstall the latest version of Audacity and enable the checkbox "Reset Preferences" half way through the installer.

Note that certain other custom devices or applications may similarly be incompatible with Audacity. A known example that has been reported in the past is the Total Recorder application which uses "virtual drivers" to capture sound directly before it reaches the inputs of any other installed sound devices. If you want to use Total Recorder as the default Windows device you may need to set Audacity explicitly to use your inbuilt sound device. Alternatively you can leave Audacity set to "Microsoft Sound Mapper" but set the Total Recorder preferences so that the Total Recorder drivers load only when Total Recorder is in use. If you've already explicitly set Audacity to use the Total Recorder drivers and it won't launch, reset the Windows sound device then Audacity's preference settings as per the above paragraph. As a possible alternative to Total Recorder, you can try SoundLeech which is a free application running from the system tray. It records to lossless WAV format only.

If your high-end sound device consistently crashes Audacity, make sure you are using the latest drivers supplied by the manufacturer (but note Audacity will not work with any kind of ASIO driver). Also please try the latest version of Audacity. This will always incorporate the latest available version of PortAudio, which might solve the problem. If that doesn't help, please report the sound device to us by writing to our feedback address.

Some high-end sound devices will work with Audacity but don't use the Windows standard mixer interface. As a result, you won't be able to select your input sources such as microphone or adjust their recording levels in Audacity. You can do so in the custom mixer application shipped with the device.

Audio devices built into the computer motherboard almost always are compatible with Audacity, but may exhibit crashing behavior due to being supplied with outdated or generic sound drivers. This is a common problem on Windows systems. For the same reason, built-in audio devices may fail to record properly or not allow you to select input sources or recording levels in Audacity. To solve these problems, you can try selecting your sources and levels in the Windows Control Panel. If problems persist, we strongly recommend you update your sound device drivers so that you have the latest drivers for your computer model made by the manufacturer of the device or motherboard.