It seems to be a fashionable to blog about experiences with PulseAudio, I thought I’d join in.
I’ve actually had some good experiences with PulseAudio, seeing some tangible benefits over the ALSA setup I was using before. I’ve got a cheapish surround sound speaker set connected to my desktop. While it gives pretty good sound when all the speakers are used together, it sounds like crap if only the front left/right speakers are used.
ALSA supports multi-channel audio with the motherboard’s sound card alright, but apps producing stereo sound would only play out of the front two speakers. There are some howtos on the internet for setting up a separate ALSA device that routes stereo audio to all the speakers in the right way, but that requires that I know in advance what sort of audio an application is going to generate: something like Totem could produce mono, stereo or surround output depending on the file I want to play. This is more effort than I was usually willing to do, so I ended up flicking a switch on the amplifier to duplicate the front left/right channels to the rear.
With PulseAudio, I just had to edit the /etc/pulse/daemon.conf file and set default-sample-channels to 6, and it took care of converting mono and stereo output from apps to play on all the speakers while still letting apps producing surround output play as expected. This means I automatically get the best result without any special effort on my part.
I’m not too worried that I had to tell PulseAudio how many speakers I had, since it is possible to plug in a number of speaker configurations and I don’t think the card is capable of sensing what has been attached (the manual documents manually selecting the speaker configuration in the Windows driver). It might be nice if there was a way to configure this through the GUI though.
I’m looking forward to trying the “flat volume” feature in future versions of PulseAudio, as it should get the best quality out of the sound hardware (if I understand things right, 50% volume with current PulseAudio releases means you only get 15 bits of quantisation on a 16-bit sound card). I just hope that it manages to cope with the mixers my sound card exports: one two-channel mixer for the front speakers, one two-channel mixer for the rear two speakers and two single channel mixers for the center and LFE channels.