Does Alsa Really Suck This Much?

After a frustrating period trying to get reasonable sound output with SDL and alsa (for reference, I have an nforce4 sound chip – it uses snd_intel8x0), I decided I’d check out the nforce binary audio drivers. These are OSS and still don’t support hardware mixing, but I just want to be able to play Quake and zsnes with decent sound output… Is that really so much to ask?

Anyway, after a surprisingly pleasant installer, a lot of messing about in aptitude and a bit of configuration in /etc/modprobe.d, I was ready to go with OSS sound. First thing I notice? Sound quality is HUGELY improved. This isn’t just a slight improvement, this is like I’m playing it on my dedicated mp3 player instead of my crappy on-board sound chip. Another thing I notice, I can turn the volume to 100% and it still sounds great (and loud). If anything it sounds louder than the alsa driver went, and it *doesn’t clip the sound* – If I turn the volume above 64% on the alsa driver, it sounds terrible…

Unfortunately, it would appear that since dmix came along and made alsa vaguely usable, everyone seems to have abandoned OSS/esd support… gstreamer 0.10 seems to have problems after playing a single stream with OSS and esd using OSS (I quite enjoy listening to more than one song when I open Rhythmbox…) and totem-gstreamer video playback is incredibly choppy using the esdsink (but fine with osssink). This didn’t use to work that badly not so long ago, what happened?

Maybe I’m not blaming the right components (is it the kernel’s fault? Ubuntu’s fault? Gstreamer’s fault? ESD’s fault? All of the above?), but this really isn’t good… Both OSS and Alsa used to work a year or two ago, perfectly (or as perfectly as either could manage) – why isn’t this the case anymore? I urged a friend to test this (he has an nforce2 sound chip) and he confirmed the superior sound quality but incredibly buggy nature of applications too (he runs KDE also, perhaps this says something?)

Can anyone help me out with this? Now I’ve heard how much better the sound is using OSS, there’s no way I can turn back – but my sound system is completely crippled. I’d like to know either A- How to get things to play nicely with OSS and ESD, or B- How to make Alsa not sound crap. This is almost enough for me to consider buying a new sound-card, so can anyone recommend a sound-card that has hardware-mixing support and equivalent-to-OSS sound quality under Alsa?

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