The Miserable State of Audio in Linux

  2006-03-12


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.