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Skype sound configuration in Linux


As my readers know, recently I have been looking at Skype configuration for recording interviews here. [Ed-- What readers?] Skype on Linux has the great advantage of a high-quality, free call recorder, Skype Call Recorder, of uncertain provenance. (Read, install at your own risk. Their website doesn’t list much about the authors, and it’s not based in the US.) Once installed, this package provides crisp, stereo recordings of your Skype calls in both MP3 and WAV formats.

For some reason Ubuntu Linux ALSA did a relatively poor job of automating the sound configuration with my headset. If you’re using Skype on Linux and experiencing some of the following errors, read on for solutions.

Symptoms

  1. Skype test calls are terminated due to “Problem with Audio Capture.”
  2. Skype test calls fail to pick up your microphone’s audio.
  3. Skype test calls work fine for the laptop’s integrated mic, but won’t pick up the headset/mic you plugged in.

A couple of things that could be going wrong.

  1. Skype sound device needs to be set to ALSA, frequently HDA in Ubuntu 8 and later.
  2. ALSA recording device needs to be switched to Mic (not Front Mic).
  3. Mic volume gain needs to be raised/lowered.

Settings: Skype Options

Right-click on the Skype green checkmark in the corner of your screen. Select >Options, and then >Audio settings. You’ll see default settings for each of these. Change them to either Alsa or HDA, depending on what’s available. Experiment with these settings as necessary.

If you’re going to record your Skype calls later, you might also want to un-check the box that allows Skype to automatically set the levels for speakers and microhpone. You’ll need to do a more careful job tuning these settings to the needs of your recording software.

Settings: ALSA

ALSA is the sound mixer for Linux, by which I mean, one of a dizzying array of alternatives that happens to be installed by default in Ubuntu.

You can find the ALSA device GUI by right-clicking the volume button in the corner of the screen, and choosing Preferences from the drop-down list. The recording panel (when enabled) appears as a tab in the main GUI screen.

The settings in this panel permit you to decide important things such as, “Which microphone is the sound input right now?” and “Should I send the input from the microphone out to the speakers along with sounds created by software like Songbird?” By default, all channels here are locked so that the L/R mix is equal on both sides, but you can feed the mic exclusively into either the left or the right.

[Aside about Mic Boost: if your mic has a gain (volume) control on it, you'll probably want to disable the Mic Boost setting in ALSA for optimal sound quality.]

Recording in Audacity:

I found that I was not able to resolve conflicts over the audio devices between Skype and Audacity. While it is possible in principle to record Skype calls with Audacity, I could not figure out the configuration of Mic and Skype into separate left and right channels for Audacity to record.

Perhaps an expert with Jack or Alsa could enlighten me? Comments welcome.

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About Ben Mazzotta

Ben Mazzotta is a postdoc at the Center for Emerging Market Enterprises (CEME). His study of the Cost of Cash is part of CEME's research into inclusive growth.

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