Does Ubuntu (really) support emu10k sound cards?

Asked by Eddward on 2009-11-02


Does Ubuntu support the EMU10K sound cards. Note, this is a loaded question. If I were to ask "Does Ubuntu support my 3D accelerator video card?" and the answer were "Yes, it just won't let you use any of the hardware acceleration and will force all rendering to be done in software." then honestly, the answer should be "No."

The emu10k is capable of mixing of sound streams in hardware and ALSA allows it to. At one time these were among the best sounds cards that worked under Linux. They are even recommended at I have an emu10k running under Jaunty with pulse audio disabled so ALSA can be used directly. Ubuntu being a pulse audio only distribution, this is of course unsupported.

My understanding is that pulse audio hobbles the system's ability to utilize sound cards by forcing all sound mixing and processing to occur in software, preventing the user from being allowed to take advantage of hardware features like the hardware sound mixing in emu10k regardless of what the card is actually capable of.

So, back to my question(s).

    * Does Ubuntu support my (or any) hardware accelerated sound card?
    * Does Ubuntu Studio?
    * Do I at least have a choice with Ubuntu to enable hardware mixing support at the expense of losing features I might decide I do not need or would never use?
    * Is there perhaps a place I can send these question to get a decisive answer?


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English Edit question
Ubuntu pulseaudio Edit question
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Solved by:
Daniel T Chen
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Launchpad Janitor (janitor) said : #1

This question was expired because it remained in the 'Open' state without activity for the last 15 days.

Eddward (eddward) said : #2

This expired once. Is the only answer to using hardware mixing to not using Ubuntu? I'm assuming the silence here and my questions being ignored or locked in the forums mean yes. I won't ping this question again should it expire again.

If anyone else finds this page looking for the same answer, I know Gentoo didn't force pulse audio on you but it's not as easy to run and requires a lot of care and feeding. I hear Debian (probably my next install) doesn't. It would be nice if Ubuntu would at least acknowledge the problem.


marker (mark-aktivix) said : #3

I agree - support for emu10k1 cards should be better. I'm using an SBLive! and I can tell you that the wavetable synthesis is working, the trouble is that I haven't (yet) figured out how/if I can control the mixer with the pulseaudio interface tools.

My current set up is as follows:
 - swami (not in ubuntu repo's as of 9.10) for soundfont editing;
 - asfxload to load soundfonts into memory;
 - jack to route note data to the wavetable synthesiser
 - alsamixer to set the volume of the 'synth' channel how I want it


Eddward (eddward) said : #4

Thanks for the response. It would be nice to get wave table synth working since I'd like to get a system I could do recording and sequencing on. But I'm not just talking about wave tables Pulse audio, as I understand (and would like to confirm), mixes sound in software using the CPU.

If I play a game and rhythm box at the same time, the CPU would be wasting time blending the sound into a single channel to be sent to my multi-channel sound card. My sound card would be under utilized. Using just ALSA, my sound card can blender up to 32 channel in hardware and my weak little CPU is free to give me a better gaming experience.

The same thing carries over to recording and playback. With ALSA, my sound card can take load off the CPU. As I understand, Pulse is designed to not allow that to happen. This is the parallel with a 3D video card example in my original question. It's like Gnome saying all 3D video has to be rendered in software. It's a step backwards.

It's like Windows de-functioning all the high end sound cards in Vista to implement DRM. Ubuntu (or Gnome or who ever will take responsibility for the decision) has decided to de-function cards like my own so everyone can use bluetooth and network sound. Even if the user's has neither a machine with bluetooth nor multiple machines to play sound across. And there certainly isn't concern for the desire of the user to use such features or incur the penalties they come with.

So, lack of wavetable midi is an unpleasant surprise, but I'm just wonder about support for hardware mixing. (1) Am I wrong? Is hardware mixing supported on Ubuntu?

And on a side note, specific to the emu10k, I've seen the Pulse audio developers complain that the driver does not provide some sort of information that Pulse audio requires to be able to produce sound that does not crackle and studder. Some sort of timing information that, in my long experience with my SB Live cards, was not needed to get great sound without Pulse audio. (2) Will Ubuntu support this card even though Pulse audio apparently cannot?

(3) And lastly, is this the place to get these answers? I've established that the forums was not the place. I just read in a flame war on a blog by tycheent that the MOTUs are not the ones to handle it. (And I discovered what MOTU stand for.) The documentation I've read on Ubuntu web pages directs to the ALSA docs on what is supported, but with Pulse audio in the picture, that is either no longer correct or sufficient any more. What does Ubuntu support? Who decides/declares? Or is it all blind, unguided luck?

Sorry to sound harsh, but I've had no luck and great frustration trying to get these answers. The current sound situation on Ubuntu is intolerable for me which is a terrible shame because that are so many other nice things about Ubuntu. I just want to know if there is any hope or intent to fix things. Nothing I've seen so far suggests there is any honest hope that Pulse audio will ever support emu10k & hardware mixing or that Ubuntu will allow one to easily run without Pulse But nobody will be so kind as to give a direct answer.


Simon Déziel (sdeziel) said : #5

To answer your first question, pulseaudio does not support hardware mixing and will probably never do according to this

Eddward (eddward) said : #6

That does answer question 1. Clear Pulse audio and any system that intends to mandate it's use will not allow a user to utilize a sound card capable of hardware mixing. The sound card will go under utilized at the expense of the overall system's performance and sound performance will become more greatly impacted by system performance.

Using SSE and MMX is a poor excuse to obsolete sound hardware. SSE and MMX were also supposed to help with Video. Will we be seeing providers of video on Linux declare 3D video cards obsolete as well? Bad deal. Thanks for the response though.

Now for question 2. The emu10k cards specifically. There's of course Lennart now saying "Don't Buy Creative". ( On the other hand, I bought Creative before there was a pulse audio and had it work great. I'd hate to think my card won't be allowed to continue to work great in Linux just because of some feature I don't want or because someone has an axe to grind with the vendor. There's also a fedora bug that's been open for a long time that does not seem to have a resolution in sight except to replace Creative cards. ( I personally hate doing that when the card has a long history of working fine.

I'm not going to replace my card unless I get a decisive answer that Pulse Audio/ALSA/Linux or what ever piece of infrastructure is required for sound on Linux won't support it. I will also publicise that piece on information to the best of my ability so others will have an easier time getting this information than I am.

That also leads back to question 3. It is excruciatingly difficult to get a clear answer about whether my sound card is still supported. At this point I think it is obvious that Ubuntu cannot rely on ALSA's documentation of what is supported. I really wish I had know all of this before I decided to install Ubuntu. It obvious that there is very little I or anyone else can do to help the users that Pulse Audio has broken. Ubuntu does not intend to address the problem and nothing is can happen upstream as a result of Ubuntu. I could have at least saved myself some trouble.

It seems my effort at this point might be better spent looking into other options such as Debian (http://<email address hidden>/msg01925.html) who does not seem hell-bent on require all users to run Pulse Audio regardless of how it works or Mandriva ( who actually has a simple checkbox to disable Pulse Audio. Ubuntu won't even act on the problem. This is terrible.

So (1) Pulse Audio will not support hardware mixed sound. Bad, but closed. (2) I still don't have any official statement on SB Live cards being declared unsupported by Ubuntu or it's dependencies. (3) I still don't know if there is some place else I should have gone to get these answers.

Best Daniel T Chen (crimsun) said : #7

To answer (2), let's just clarify that "SB Live cards" is really pretty vague, because Creative has done some nasty (guerrilla?) marketing with that moniker. To illustrate, consider that there are "SB Live cards" and "SB Audigy cards" that are driven by the ca0106 controller that are incapable of hardware multiopen, so alsa-lib's dmix and dsnoop (or PulseAudio) are pretty necessary. There are also "SB Live cards" and "SB Audigy cards" that are driven by the emu10k1 controller that *are* capable of hardware multiopen, which is of course the thrust of the question here. That said, if you have a true multiopen controller, then you really don't need to worry if PA is running at all. You can kill it using the guidelines that I outlined in many avenues on the 'net (IRC, blogs, forums, mailing lists), or you can let it run in the background and simply configure everything to use ALSA instead -- in which case native ALSA apps simply use plughw:Live (or plughw:Audigy or plughw:Audigy2 or whatever) as expected.

Seriously, put down the FUD torch. The Ubuntu distribution and its derivatives/editions have absolutely no plan to stop supporting true hardware multiopen controller-based sound cards. I agree that integration of PA has been a major pain point and that 10.04 needs a good way to disable PA if desired. And, as I've explained earlier, because there are a grand total of *two part-time people* (one of whom, me, isn't a Canonical employee) working on this, your *constructive criticism* is useful. Source code contributions are welcome, of course.

Now for (3), answers is an acceptable place for this question, but an even better place would be the ubuntu-devel-discuss mailing list.

Eddward (eddward) said : #8

I did not know about that vagueness behind the name SB Live. Sorry. I have the SB Live that uses the emu10k1 driver and was capable of playing sound from many applications at once without pulse audio, esd, arts or dmix. As far as I know it was doing it in hardware. I experience far less CPU load with it than with ESD or Pulse Audio.

I don't think it is a FUD torch. I'm trying to ask hard questions in what ever way with get an answer. That has not been easy. I'm sorry if I upset you, but I'm glad I'm at least getting answers. I also get there are resource issues. I'm actually ok with that. I have that were I work. I'm just tired of doing searches and seeing posts saying "everything works, yeah us!" and a bunch of problem reports that get ignored, redirected or rejected in spite of an obviously real problem. That's not FUD. It's just frustration.

My three questions are just a tool to force an unpleasant but honest answer. No amount of constructive criticism will help when the problem is being ignored. I hope to get to the point that I can put a big target on the wall for something that everyone (has to) agree is achievable (the Pulse Audio developer have no interest in supporting hardware mixing), reasonable (working sound and utilizing good hardware seems reasonable) and necessary (maintaining existing support for previously working hardware seem necessary to me though others may disagree). Once folks can agree on that much, then it's just a matter of time and effort. There is at least a path and hope.

Getting back to the three questions:

1) Is hardware mixing supported in Ubuntu?

First off, it has already been show that hardware mixing and Pulse Audio are not compatible and not likely to happen soon if ever. It should not be counted on.

I've got Jaunty working fine with out it though from what I've seen Pulse has gotten harder to disable with every release. Everything I've read about removing Pulse Audio from Karmic so far includes other breakages. It appears, again based on what I've seen searching the net and following the RSS feeds I've found for Ubuntu, that there has not been a clean set of instructions for removing Pulse Audio that does not either lead to other breakage of sound or the upgrade/updates. I guess I consider that kind of breakage unacceptable. I've seen a hack suggested to work around the update breakage, but frankly I stopped using Slackware in the mid 90s because I wanted a real upgrade route. I'm not giving that up now. (Just like I'm not giving up decent sound.)

I will go looking for the directions you've posted. If they are not like what I've already found then maybe there is something workable. So far the only things I've seen involved removing the top level meta-package required for smooth updates or they just left things otherwise broken based on how packages got built.

So ultimately, I don't believe it is supported in it's current form. Maybe that will change after I track down the directions you've posted else where.

2) Will Ubuntu support this card even though Pulse audio apparently cannot? This was a really loaded question. I'm been trying to find a post from one of the Pulse Audio mailing list (or it may have been redhat, I don't know really) where it sounded like Pulse required timing information of some sort from either the SB Live or emu10k driver that could not be provide correctly. Because of this sound would crackle and studder in ways that I guess have been fixed for other cards in the 'glitch free' release of Pulse Audio. Given that, I believe that Pulse Audio cannot support my hardware. If I wanted to use the nicer Bluetooth features or the networked audio features, this would be a fair criticism to make of the card or it's driver.

I do wish I could find that post again. I hate working from hear-say. I found it before I decided to try to make something happen and started saving links. I was hoping someone would find it the way Simon found the link about Pulse Audio's stand on hardware mixing. I'd seen it before but didn't save the link at the time. I've been searching furiously for that last week.

I understand that Pulse Audio's hands may be tied due to the lack timing info and as a result I cannot expect to use the new features that require that info. But I am OK with that and I don't want to use those new features on this system. My sound work fine before without it. I understand the need to develop the new features and the value they provide. I just don't believe I should be penalised with non-working sound for features I'm not using.

Your answer is the first time I've seen someone even say they'd like to fix it instead of just saying that Pulse Audio is the inevitable future and I have no choice. For that alone I'm glad I posted this, "FUD Torch" or not. Usually the answer is "Gnome decided to use Pulse Audio. There's nothing we (Ubuntu) can do about it. Pulse Audio's inevitable. If you have problems go talk to the Pulse Audio developers." and the Pulse audio developers would tell people with problems like mine "If you don't like it, don't use Pulse Audio. No one is forcing you." That dead lock is where all the justified anger from users is coming from. Just looking at this, it looks like the right place to go next might be Gnome. But having seen how much luck Linus has had with them, I'm not sure I want to press my luck that far so soon. I think I've already disturbed enough people in the Ubuntu community which has a much better reputation for handling its users.

Ultimately coming back to the answer, as you've said Ubuntu "needs a good way to disable PA". That is the sparking glimmer of hope I did not actually expect to see. I am truly sorry if I've pushed too hard or hit buttons that were inappropriate. I am very glad to see that. Up until know it always seemed as though a disable mechanism was just out of the question. The best instructions I've seen for disabling Pulse Audio in the pre-Karmic release were even hosted and maintained on non-Ubuntu servers by someone using the handle 'idyllictux'.

3) Is this the place to get these answers? This was because I was tired of dead ends and redirection. Also the Ubuntu world is kind of big compared to the distros I've used in the past. I haven't found the map and travel dictionary yet. Thanks.

I had been avoiding the developer mailing lists for to reasons. First, I was trying to come in as a user exercising a user-only view point. There are some technical details I don't know yet and a lot that I do know that a user should not need to know. Second, I work for one of those companies with a "We own everything you do." policy. I'm kind of afraid to poison any project, not just Ubuntu. (Also why I avoid code contributions.) My employer is actually very pro-Open Source and I have even seen in the press that they've had friendly relations with Canonical and Ubuntu. We have guidelines for working with on Open Source and are even encouraged to do so. There are just a number of hoops to jump through to make the Lawyers happy. I could try working through the channels to get cleared to work on this in my spare time. I'd consider it as long as I know I'm actually working with Ubuntu and not swimming against the stream.

Thanks again,

Eddward (eddward) said : #9

Thanks Daniel T Chen, that solved my question.

Eddward (eddward) said : #10

Just to fill in the record, the missing link I was remembering is http://<email address hidden>/msg01869.html.

"Sorry, but Creative sund cards are unfortunately not well supported on Linux. Creative is very uncooperative and doesn't supply Free Software developers with documentation. ... It is well known that PA doesn't work that well on Creative cards. Please blame Creative for that and don't make the mistake to buy Creative again."

I understand that Pulse Audio is stuck and has to make that statement, but Creative was anything but a mistake long before Pulse Audio came into the picture. I can't imagine a mainstream Linux Distribution could afford to blackball Creative cards entirely.

Anyhow. This is still closed as far as I'm concerned. I just didn't want to leave an unsupported statement that my assumed answer for question 2 hinged upon.


Greg Tippitt (gtippitt) said : #11

Eddward , Thank you for speaking up about the poor support for hardware in PulseAudio . What you were saying is straight truth not FUD.

To say that PulseAudio is FUD, would be close to correct.
(with a few edits :s/cke//g :s/e//g :s/ul/is/g )

I have been using Ubuntu since its first release, Debian for more than a dozen years, and other Unix varieties and derivatives for more than 25 years. Ubuntu is the best Linux distribution I have ever used, but Ubuntu's implementation of PulseAudio is the second worst software foul-up I have ever seen in my 33 of programming. Microsoft's Vista still takes the top spot for software foul-ups.

Creative Labs is one of the oldest and most successful makers of sound hardware for the PC. Some of their low-cost products were bad, but no worse than similarly priced products from others. To whine that “Creative is very uncooperative and doesn't supply Free Software developers with documentation.” is a cop-out. Their products worked great with ALSA and OSS. Why didn't the PulseAudio developers look at the old code and implement the same features? If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem, and I can't see that PulseAudio solved any problems that it didn't create.

The organizational skills and money that Canonical has provided have been a great help to Debian, but these arbitrary and half-cocked decisions like PulseAudio have made me begin to look for an alternative to the Ubuntu distro. It is sad that Canonical seems to think the way to make Linux an alternative to Microsoft is to make Ubuntu as painful to use as Windows. Upgrades should fix bugs and make software easier to use, not break things and make it harder to use. The lastest versions of Ubuntu seem to have broken at least two things for each thing they fixed.

The decision to force the Unity desktop on users that upgraded to 11.04 is as arbitrary and mis-guided as the decision to force PulseAudio onto users. These types of changes should be optional until more bugs are worked out. Programmers I supervised would have been fired from a job, if they had put new software into production usage, without first fixing the bugs they were creating.

Because I wanted to install the latest version of MythTV on a HTPC, I upgraded the system from 10.04 to 11.04. I had to search online to find how to get rid of Unity. I didn't even know what to call it and had to search for "fix Ubuntu 11.04 desktop" It would have been really nice to have put a question during the upgrade that asked if I wanted the new Unity desktop or to keep the classic Gnome desktop without visual effects that I was already running.

At least since it is still open software, if I'm willing to put in the time needed, I can take it all apart and fix it the way I want. Microsoft must be cheering as Canonical works to make Windows look better with every new release of Ubuntu. As others work to make Linux easier to install and use, Canonical seems to want to insure that Ubuntu will only be used by hard-core geeks willing to tolerate the pain.

The Sound Blaster Extigy is an amazing piece of sound hardware. Without being connected to a PC, it will decode digital coax or TOSlink input. I can have multiple digital inputs or analog inputs. These can be output in stereo or surround. It can upmix from stereo to surround by itself. It does this all with incredible clarity and extremely low noise. When I connect a PC running Ubuntu to this same Extigy device, I have a choice of stereo noise or surround noise.


moonman (moonman-ca) said : #12

And this is exactly why I switched to ArchLinux. Ubuntu has been going downhill since a long time ago. Every release upgrade breaks something so you have to reinstall everything from scratch anyway.