switching distribution/alsa problems

Joel Roth joelz at pobox.com
Thu Jul 7 08:47:04 UTC 2016

Kristoffer Gustafsson wrote:
> Hi.
> since I've got so much problems with alsa I'm thinking of switching to
> another distribution than debian.
> do you think this will help?

Hi Kristoffer,

It's going to be similar in any distribution. It's the same
libraries, ALSA, JACK, Pulse Audio, naming the big three.

Many technical details about the soundcards and audio
devices are to be found by browsing the /proc/asound
directory tree.

> I get so much problems all the time.
> suddnely it just stops working. no sound at all. it just says "jack
> server not running and cannot be started"

You need to have JACK properly configured and started.
Diagnosing at the ALSA level comes before that.

The soundcard is a resource, and if it is grabbed by
software at the ALSA, JACK or pulse level, other processes
just don't get it.

When repeatedly trying something that doesn't appear to
work, you might have zombie processes hanging around,
maybe one of them has your soundcard.

In Windows you would classically reboot to resolve such
problems, although it can usually be resolved in the task manager.

In Linux, you don't usually have to reboot.  You do have to
keep an eye which processes are running, e.g. ps ax .

(It also helps to watch the output of top, if you suspect any
processes are excessively consuming CPU.)

> then I'll have to remove very much things, and then reinstall.
> then it works.
> I get so tired of this. is it worth trying another distro?

In addition to the audio layers mentioned above, and all
their complexities, jessie defaults to running systemd
as the top-level process manager.

It is possible to upgrade across to Devuan jessie, debian
jessie without with systemd libraries. You just have to 
paste in some new entries into /etc/apt/sources.list.
But I would delay doing this. 

Solve your audio problems first if possible.
You just have to work on issues, starting at the lowest

Distros shipping with pulse audio make it easy for people
when it works, however, it may be necessary to stop or
remove pulse audio to confirm audio functioning at the ALSA

In my previous mail, I suggested a couple of ALSA-level
tests. There is also several mailing lists devoted to 
Linux, with great help available, but you have to be
willing to try stuff at the terminal.

For unmuting I/O, setting capture and tweaking levels,
alsamixer is useful, but the ncurses interface it uses might
need some detective work to use with a braille reader. That
leaves amixer, which can serve.

(Referencing  your previous mails, there is a problem with
your distribution or installation if you don't have amixer
or alsamixer. )

That ALSA mixer settings can easily block normally expected
functioning of your system.... just like a real mixer... you
have to look for the relevant sliders and mute buttons.

JACK, if the daemon process jackd is started, will try to
grab the appropriate audio device.  If it succeeds,
everything JACK can connect promiscuously. That lets people
involved in audio processing build their workflow by
plugging together various programs and utilities.  To get
the most from JACK, parameters must be set somewhere, 'man
jackd' for the most direct approach. That is the JACK world,
and much of the best of linux audio is JACK aware.

After you get the basic audio working, I can offer 
some suggestions for multitrack recording :-)



> /Kristoffer
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Joel Roth

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