There is no doubt that buying a new computer is one of the most stressful technology purchases you can make.  Perhaps with the exception of SCART-lead hell (I have 5 devices chained together, and I really need to re-connect them a better way - so spare a thought).

Recently, after the obligatory 6 months dithering about getting a Mac, I wen’t for a Dell like everyone else.  All is reasonably OK so far.  I had to do a factory restore after day 5 when the keyboard driver went berzerk but so far not bad.   In the build I asked for a sound card.  I have reasonably demanding requirements – I have several music software/synth packages and I thought the soundcard would have to be a better bet than the on-board sound.  On the old XP machine, though,  I had on board sound and everything was always fine. 

On the new Vista Box, I notice that you don’t get any ‘Stereo Mix’ or ‘What u Hear’ recording options. If you don’t have these – or just have them but take it for granted - it gives you the ability to record any sound that happens to be playing on your PC. I have this option on the old machine and I rather naively assumed you always get this with a sound card.  It’s for recording, right?

Well this is where you need to invoke research skills of Poirot, Holmes and perhaps the diplomatic skills of Henry Kissinger.    On Vista, the facilities you used to enjoy, even back in the days of Windows 95, May nor may not, be available.  And this is where your skills come in.

The lack of the facility might be down to any of these:

  • Windows Vista doesn’t support it
  • The OEM build of Windows Vista for Dell computers doesn’t support it (but perhaps the retail version does)
  • The soundcard hardware doesn’t support it
  • The soundcard hardware is actually a slightly different version produced specifically for Dell (i.e. an OEM version) and that doesn’t support it, but the retail version might do
  • The soundcard does support it, but the driver supplied for Dell doesn’t, but there are shady postings on various forums that you might be able to get it working with an alternative driver.
  • There are other soundcards that do support it
  • There are other soundcards that do support it but only with the right driver (perhaps an earlier version), therefore implying it isn’t anything to do with Vista itself.

There are many postings and many opinions around that state that Windows Vista doesn’t allow ‘Stereo Mix’ or ‘What u Hear’ because it has been deliberately removed. Alternatively, Vista is locked down in such a way that you can’t actually write a driver to enable it, and this in turn is because Microsoft have been pressurised by Copyright enforcment agencies around the world to prevent recording technologies being implemented.

I think this might be conspiracy theory, frankly, but i’ll reserve judgement.

I’ve logged a call with Dell who got back to me to say that ‘What u Hear’ or ‘Stereo Mix’ are not supported by this card.  This is contradicted by other articles and posts I have seen, including by an article I saw on the Creative site.   Dell did start their response with ‘Dear Mr Brown..’ though, so I think one has to view their statements with some degree of caution.

So this is the evidence:

Exhibit A) – Creative Knowledge Base Article 1774.  Indicates that the ‘What u Hear’ facility used to be available but was removed in a later version of the drivers.  Note that article relates to AUDIGY card though, not Extreme Music (but they say they just used this card for illustration):

http://support.creative.com/kb/ShowArticle.aspx?url=http://203.211.142.198:80/srvs/cgi-bin/webcgi.exe/,/%3fst=106,e=0000000000200112862,k=9725,sxi=8,case=obj(1774),kb=ww_english_add,varset=ws:http://uk.europe.creative.com

Exhibit B) – Posting on the Direct to Dell Community Blog.  Indicates that it is possible to re-instate it:

http://direct2dell.com/one2one/archive/2008/08/15/stereo-mix-record-functionality-and-dell.aspx#comments

Only applies to laptops unfortunately.  I’ve asked the author of the article to clarify the position with desktops

 Exhibit C) –  Posting on Dell Community forum to say that a user had installed an earlier version of the drivers and managed to re-instate the what u hear functionality

http://www.dellcommunity.com/supportforums/board/message?board.id=dim_audio&thread.id=80101&view=by_date_ascending&page=2 

 Exhibit D) – The reponse I got from Dell Support:

I would like to inform you that these options will not be available as this sound card doesn?t support these options to be available on the system.
This is not an issue with Vista or sound drivers this sound card doesn?t support the same.
Please check the link below where you can find some information on the same:
http://www.singsnap.com/snap/forum/topic/ae1ec69
Also if you wish you can contact Creative Support for the same and confirm with them if there is anything that can be done make these options available.
 The singsnap article is just a repost of Exhibit A). 

 I can’t log a call with Creative because (quite rightly) they say that I bought the card from Dell and they are responsible for the support.

Latest Developments:

  • I’ve actually tried a different sound card:  Creative Audigy SE with the previous version of the drivers, as indicated in Exhibit A).  This works!!!!! Yipeee….  So it isn’t down to Vista after all.  It’s simply down to the drivers by the look of it. 
  • Unfortunately Audigy SE doesn’t support ASIO which I need for my music software.  It’s back to the original sound card….  ASIO is more critical to me.

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