Windows Audio System – Why is this so complicated?

The Windows Audio system gives us quite a lot of options to mix different source sources, but at the same time it also restricts and limits us. But as with the matrix, there are rules that can be broken and rules that can be bend. In the end you can nearly do anything you want, except for one thing:
Software that offers us no option to change its sound input or output will always go through your default playback device and use your default recording device.
This is the only restriction which we always have to keep back in our head. But this of course does not mean we always have to stream or record this default sound output. Lets take a look at the graphic below:

I will go from left to the right and then through the different rows. Our stream output normally consists of 2 sources, (a few streaming/recording tools of course allow you to record more but in most cases you have to do the mixing yourself, outside of these tools) the Microphone Input and your Desktop Output which is actually your Windows default playbacks device output.
Next we have a Virtual Audio Cable device, this is a Software device which I often use in my Audio Guides as it allows us to mix practically anything on our PC. Any sound you send to either its input or output can be “grabbed” and used by your streaming/recording software. It also offers us Audio Repeaters which allow us to mix several different audio inputs with varying delays or qualities or even different sound channels. For example mix 5.1 and Stereo sound. Used as your default playback device you can also just route sound to more than one device, for example if you want music on your speakers and in your headset. Check out my Guides for more ideas and possibilities.
Most onboard soundcards as well as some dedicated ones offer us a Stereomix or “AllYouCanHear” device which works together with the main soundcards sound output. In most cases this is your green audio jack on the back of your PC. The stereomix is a recording device and thus can be used to mix sound into a Virtual Audio Cable for example to exclude sound of your stream or recording. With front audio jacks and split outputs you can also exclude sounds without even using any Virtual Audio cable. Alternatively you can use the Line-In port to for example mix in your MP3-Player or sound of a different PC. Or you mix the microphone and line-in on a Virtual Audio Cable to use both at the same time.
The front audio jacks will in most cases offer you a headset and a microphone jack for input. As mentioned these can be used to exclude sound or to connect more than one microphone to your computer (one on the back, one on the front port).

In the last section you can see the mentioned restriction again. Windows offers you a default playback and a default recording device. Playback means output of your speakers while recording is the input side. The microphone, Line-In or stereomix for example. Software like your favorite browser always uses the default playback device as it offers us no option to select a different one. Thank god many other programs offer us this option. This allows us to easily exclude them of our stream or recording.
In my next guide I will give you some example setups which you should be able to easily reproduce with the now learned knowledge. So stay tuned and as always, comment if you have an idea or found a mistake.

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