ALSA vs. OSS

February 19, 2010 at 11:23 pm (alsa, arch, oss)

I’m not going to go into full detail for this post about the differences between the two. I will however, go into my reason for switching from OSS to ALSA and my experiences for both.

After installing my base Arch system, I was left with the choice between ALSA and OSS for my sound system. So, which did I choose and why? I ended up going with OSS originally, but switched to ALSA and here’s why:

My computer has a built-in sound card on the motherboard, as well as a M-Audio Revolution 5.1 sound card in a PCI slot. I tend to only use the M-Audio card so I wanted a sound driver that worked with that one. I read several years ago, that ALSA supported the M-Audio hardware and should run it flawlessly. …but in the past, I’ve had some bad experiences with ALSA.

In past attempts using various *nixs (namely Ubuntu), I was often left with a half working, or, in most cases, no sound at all using ALSA. ALSA would recognize my M-Audio card, but would NEVER produce sound for me. My on-board sound had always worked, but switching between the two, or just simply using my M-Audio produced a massive headache trying to get it to work. I literally spent an entire week without sound trying to figure out a solution for getting sound to work with that card.

I stumbled upon OSS.

Installing it went _somewhat_ problematic, but after I got it installed, Ubuntu finally recognized my sound card and was able to play music from it. So I’ve always been leaning towards OSS.

So back to my console based Arch install. I ended up installing and using OSS initially. Everything went smooth, my sound worked and everything was looking good. I only had a few issuses. These were the problems I ran into: not having adjustable volume in Kmix, my keyboard wouldn’t adjust the volume using the volume slider and Goggles Music Manager would not adjust the volume using the volume slider. Kmix apparently does not support OSS yet which I believe is the source of these problems.

I missed having the ability to control volume from my keyboard, and having a GUI for adjusting volume so I decided to try out ALSA again. Followed the beginners guide (as well as the more in depth ALSA article) and had only minor problems switching over. Here is what I ran into, and hopefully these may help you:

1. I didn’t specify my sound cards in the /etc/modprobe.d/modprobe.conf file and only added options snd-pcsp index=2. My god did this cause problems. I couldn’t get alsamixer to work, nothing was coming up, all sorts of problems. I would suggest to skip that step, and just blacklist it. Add !snd_pcsp to your modules in the /etc/rc.conf file.

2. I kept running into problems of my sound cards switching every time I booted. So I would have to dig around the back of my computer and plug in my speakers in the opposite sound card. Read the more in depth ALSA article and add your sound card(s) to the /etc/modprobe.d/modprobe.conf. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Other than that, ALSA has treated me nicely and has worked out significantly better than the one originally installed in Ubuntu. OSS was nice, but those minor issues were just not worth it to keep OSS installed.

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