The Miserable State of Audio in Linux


So I’ve been trying to transfer some interviews my Dad did back in the late 1970s with coal miners to my Debian Linux desktop computer for archiving. I have an ancient Sony tape deck hooked into my Line In jack, and once I unmuted Line In in the mixer I could hear the tape playing through my computer’s speakers.

However, I was completely unable to capture the audio on my computer despite hearing it through my computers speakers and being able to adjust the volume through my mixer.

I went through the 2 million normal steps you have to go through to get audio to work in Linux: run alsaconf, unmute channels, raise volume levels, set capture channel, etc.

Nothing. I tried it with Gnome’s Sound Recorder utility as well as the command line recorder that comes with ALSA. Gnome’s Sound Recorder wouldn’t do a thing. ALSA’s sound recorder at least captured static.

So then I thought perhaps I’ll try one of the millions of more powerful audio utilities for Linux. I began to venture into the world of JACK, Audacity, and other applications with horrible UIs and cryptic options. The various JACK tools I played with gave me a dazzling array of channels that I think I could hook up to one another and monitor and adjust and record and … nothing ever happened.

So as far as I can tell audio in Linux is the most confusing jumble of technologies and acronyms and is a pretty good example of what happens when open source hackers refuse to standardize.

Just for kicks here are the various audio technologies/tools I played with: OSS Compatibiltiy in ALSA, ALSA, JACK, JACKEQ, LADSPA, ESD (likes to crash), GStreamer, Gnome Sound Recorder, Audacity, and a couple other utilities.