linux sound

In my previous post I mentioned that I’d had some issues with sound in Debian Lenny. The problem was intermittent, but had something to do with the order of sound devices being recognised at boot (remember the PC speaker is a seperate sound device). For what it’s worth, I found a post somewhere that suggested having this in /etc/modprobe.d/sound (I had to actually create that file):

alias snd-card-0 snd-hda-intel
options snd-hda-intel index=0
alias snd-card-1 snd_pcsp
options snd_pcsp index=1

It seemed to fix it.  Then earlier today I was trying to play a youtube video and could barely hear it. I’d been playing a video in mplayer earlier and the volume level seemed to be fine. So I checked the Gnome Volume control in the top right corner and it was at 100%, then I ran alsamixer and the main volume and the PCM one were almost at 100 as well. Then I checked the volume control in the flash window for the youtube video. It was full. Then I double checked the actual volume of the speakers on my monitor. They were pretty high too.

This got me thinking about linux sound in general; Sound on linux has been a pain in the ass for quite a while now. I know it works ‘most of the time’ … but it’s one of those things that you’d kind of like to work ‘all the time’. Why on earth should anyone even have to consider about 4 volume controls? That is obviously silly.

So per usual I started doing some research, and came across ‘The Sorry State of Sound in Linux’ . It’s over a year old, but I think it’s probably still quite relevant. It is sort of a mini history of how linux sound ended up in the mess that it has. An interesting read. I must admit I have never really played with aRts and ESD or pulseaudio or any of those software mixing things as I generally run things using ALSA directly.

There is a subtle hint in that blog post to try out what was the closed source OSS (by 4Front technologies). Its now open source as far as I can tell … and you can just download it and install it for free. So I did. I just grabbed the linux 2.6 x86 deb and installed it (which was very very easy). Rebooted. It detected my Intel HDA onboard sound and then I ran osstest (which makes nice-ish test noises rather than highly annoying ones). In Gnome, the volume control applet in the top right corner no longer works (not entirely sure why), but I just run ossxmix to change the volume. It seems to work fine. And like a few of people noted on that blog post … the sound output seems to sound better than anything ALSA produced.

So, so far so good. I can even play that youtube video now and hear it.

There’s some interesting comments in that blogpost. This one sounds a chord with me;

“This type of BS is exactly why many of us long time linux users have given up and bought macs, or … windows.”

I’m not suggesting you buy a Mac or Windows PC. However, if like me you’ve used Linux since the 90’s you may be starting to tire of some of these issues that seem to sound more like politics rather than real technical issues.