I'm trying to understand something that happened today.

A friend called me to help him capture his band's rehearsal.

He had an analog Yamaha MG166 Cx, so no USB. And a Laptop with Windows 10. So, since I couldn't use an interface or ASIO driver, I downloaded Audacity.

Bare in mind, I'm still learning things. So I tried, three days ago, at home, with a simple analog mixer, to record some tracks in my living room. I plugged in the mics, used a double RCA to single 1/8" coming out from the mixer's Main Outs to the Line input of my Laptop, selected Stereo Mix as "Recording Device" in Audacity, it all worked all perfectly. And my laptop, like my friends, also only had one jack input.

Now, today:

I did everything exactly like I had done before. The mics were capturing the sound, sending it to the mixer, perfectly. But no sound at all going into the laptop, to Audacity. With the same type of cable (RCA to single 1/8"), and appropriate adapters when necessary accordingly to the input jack, I must have tried EVERY combination possible from that mixer to the laptop: Stereo Out, Monitor Out, Rec Out, 2 track in, left/right from channel 13/14, from channel 15/16; tried plugged only one RCA to the phone jack, to AUX1, to AUX2, I even tried foot switch!

Please, help me put my mind at ease: what, besides not sucking at this and using an interface, could I have done to make this work in this particular situation? What did I do wrong?

Here are some pics to clarify:

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  • you 100% sure you had it plugged into the LINE input and not the speaker port? – Mark Dec 1 '16 at 9:11
  • First thing I thought too. Sounds like you plugged in to the laptop output instead of mic input. Usually located next to each other. – Melloj Dec 1 '16 at 9:49
  • You mention your laptop has a single jack in "like your friend's" - can I clarify whether the live attempt was with your friend's laptop or your own? I ask because it sounds like you did your trial on yours, but the actual event was on your friend's. There's a possibilty that your friend's laptop simply didn't have the right drivers installed or the right capabilities for the task in hand. But regardless of the actual explanation, don't stress about it too much - these things happen to us all sometimes. It's not you ;-) – Paul Dec 1 '16 at 9:57
  • Did you troubleshoot with a simple mic for laptops? – frcake Dec 1 '16 at 12:08
  • You did not identify the computer (laptop?) used for the actual recording. I have NEVER seen a laptop with a LINE INPUT (lime green color connector). There is nothing wrong with WIn10 or Audacity. But laptop computers are NOT designed with stereo line inputs that I have ever seen. – Richard Crowley Dec 1 '16 at 16:21

The youth center that I volunteer at has the USB version of that board, which I opened up and modified to put the USB input on a channel strip instead of the tape input. Makes the laptop much more useful that way. Also ended up with a USB isolator to kill a ground loop.

Anyway, you have a different problem. You know how it's supposed to work, based on the question, and there's probably one thing in that entire chain that doesn't. So here are some possibilities:

Laptop input

Two things to consider here:

  1. You said it worked in practice, so it might still be okay. But I can't rule out the possibility of it getting killed somehow in the meantime. I did sound for a wedding once where they handed me a laptop at the last minute to play dance music from...and it turned out to have a bad headphone jack. It never fed the mixer, it didn't appear in Windows' device list like you described, and it didn't even disable the internal speakers. I assume that it worked from the factory, so at some point it must have gotten killed. So that's one possible point of failure.
  2. The picture of the laptop actually shows a headset jack, not a headphone or mic jack. This is actually a combined connection for stereo headphones using the standard pinout, plus a mono phantom-powered mic by splitting what would normally be the ground connection. (5V through a resistor powers the mic, which returns a signal on the same power line) If that's really what you have and you put a 3-pin plug in it, then you've grounded (muted) the mic input and connected the RCA's to the headphone outputs, hence the YouTube video being heard through a channel strip. I don't know how that worked in practice unless you had a different laptop.
    Also, a dedicated mic input might only have two pins like a mono plug. Same phantom-power scheme there. Or it might have three pins like a stereo plug, but still a mono signal with the remaining pin being used exclusively for power. Either way, you might get one channel, but the other gets thrown away. That's not guaranteed though; you might just happen to find a for-real stereo line-input. Consumer and some pro-sumer electronics are just ambiguous that way, and not all manufacturers follow the standard color code either, preferring all black instead, just to add to the confusion.

Sound board output

You've tried almost all of them (you missed the group outs), and a few that aren't, so you might be wondering what they're really for anyway:

  1. The 13/14, 15/16, and 2TR_IN (tape input) connectors are inputs of course; they're not going to help you. The USB playback in that version normally connects to 2TR_IN, through an inaccessible mixer with the RCA's that then feeds the volume knob that is the only control between the input and the master fader. (For that reason, I don't like tape inputs or most effects returns. Give me some more channel strips instead, even though they're more expensive.)
  2. REC_OUT (tape out) is apparently meant for recording. It's the main mix, pre-fade. Basically, the only difference between that and the main out is the master fader itself. The USB record in that version normally connects to REC_OUT, just wired straight across. (I don't like this either, at least not for recording a live performance, because the house mix is usually lousy for recording and vice-versa. But if you're just looking to lay down a demo, then it might be good enough.)
  3. AUX sends should be fairly intuitive from looking at the controls. You have a knob at each intersection between channels and AUXes that controls the volume of that channel into that AUX, and you also have a master knob for each AUX. I believe on that board that AUX1 is permanently pre-fade, meaning that the fader at the bottom does not affect it, and AUX2 is switchable between pre-fade and post-fade with a button next to each of its knobs. That's a lot of flexibility for a lot of different uses.
  4. The footswitch is for effects on/off without reaching for the mute button on the board. It's not even audio at all.
  5. The 1/4" main outs beside the XLR main outs are basically that. Just wired straight across.
  6. MONITOR_OUT is meant for a pair of studio monitors instead of headphones. As such, it follows the PHONES signal, but without the internal power amp to actually drive headphones. The LED meter also follows this signal. By default, the main mix goes there, post-fade, but any PFL or AFL button will override it with that signal by itself. Unfortunately that board has no indicators for PFL or AFL, so you have to find and inspect all of those buttons yourself. It technically works to mix a few selected channels that way, but you don't have any control over their relative levels except for the preamp controls at the top of the board that affect everything that that channel goes to.
  7. GROUP_OUT is the post-fade signal from the sub-mix or group faders. Each group appears in stereo on a pair of outputs, so it preserves each channel's pan or balance setting. Groups are handy to make a live mix easier, putting all the vocals in one group and all the instruments in the other, for example. Or you can choose not to send a group to the main mix and use its direct output for something else. That's all done with the assignment buttons below the PFL on each channel, and in the same place next to each group fader to send it to main or not.

Does that help?

  • Thanks for your answer, AaronD. It was very, very informative, and well written. You are right to assume that I wasn't sure about the other connections, so your explanation is very welcomed, thank you. And that is actually a picture of my friend's laptop. That headset jack (as you explained) seems to be the only place I can connect the mixer. There is no other jack in the laptop to connect a sound related plug. And, I'd like to try it once more without a Interface, to see if I can make it work; just to see if I can do it. Cont below, due to lack of space here. – demetrius Dec 2 '16 at 3:20
  • Cont. from above: I'll be updating all drivers, updating Audacity, buying new cables and adapters, to see about your point number 1. Regarding point number 2: there is an onboard mic, that Audacity would recognize and monitor (the software meter would show movement) when windows mic was selected. How do you think I should proceed regarding the lack of a dedicated mic input? And what about regarding connections from Mixer to laptop? Do you think it should go From Stereo Out to that headset jack? Thank you. – demetrius Dec 2 '16 at 3:20
  • You're welcome, @demetrius. Don't forget to upvote if it was helpful (you can do this to multiple answers if someone else chimes in), and to accept the best answer after a few days to let the entire world see it and offer something. – AaronD Dec 2 '16 at 4:38
  • If you have to use the headset jack, you'll need a 4-pin or TRRS plug. (Tip, Ring1, Ring2, Sleeve) Tip is left headphone, Ring1 is right headphone, Ring2 is ground, and Sleeve is mic. Somehow, you need the Sleeve to go to the pin of an RCA or the tip of a 1/4" plug, and Ring2 to go to the ring of an RCA or the sleeve of a 1/4" plug. – AaronD Dec 2 '16 at 4:40
  • And of course, different adapters have different pinouts and color codes! It's that pro-sumer thing again. Some are designed for phones, others for cameras, etc., which of course are all different. Just get one, ignore the colors, and use a continuity checker instead. – AaronD Dec 2 '16 at 4:42

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