Monday, November 26, 2007

Linux Sound Card Woes (Buy Turtle Beach and not Creative!)

Creative sound card boxes are just about the worst advertising ever and have the least useful information on them possible.

Being a loyal Creative customer, I needed a sound card and was browsing through all their sound cards. However all of the boxes did not mention Linux support at all. Not uncommon, yet still incredibly annoying because some cards are known to work very well in Linux, and some, like the X-FI are known not to (at least Creative *should* know this and therefore should put it on the box). Luckily I did my own research, and it took quite a bit, to realize that I would not be taking home an X-FI card because of non-existant support for my sole operating system, Linux.

So I realize now I cannot get an X-FI card. This limited my options quite a bit. So now I start browsing around the Creative cards for things non-X-FI. The only real alternative that I found was the Audigy SE for about 30 bucks. After reading the box though, the only information you can ever really glean from it is that it is 24-bit this and 96kHz that, but these modes are only in certain circumstances, etc. It NEVER mentions what makes it a SE compared to a non-SE version of the Audigy. Sometimes, the only way to see what is *missing* from a card, is to look at another more expensive card and see what it *has* and check to see if that feature is also listed on the SE version. Their psuedo-informative graphs are totally annoying as well, as they convey absolutely nothing scientific or of real-world value.

So basically, it is very difficult to even compare cards from the same manufacturer, let alone with other manufacturers.

So I finally go with an Audigy SE as it is relatively inexpensive and it says wonderful things with big numbers and all in bright, happy colors.

Much to my dismay, this card works in Linux, but the critical fact that it does NOT have a hardware mixer means that one, and only one, program may use the sound card at a time. This means that if I am listening to music, and *any* other program needs to make a sound, for instance an chat messenger or an online video, cannot. You must stop the music from playing, and sometimes even close the program, before you can use the other program. Obviously this is totally useless for things like alert sounds.

I would have been alright with having this hardware-limited card at a cheap price if I somehow could have known *in advance of my purchase* what I was getting myself into. So again, NO WHERE is it mentioned this fairly critical fact that SE means "cheap version" which means no hardware mixer and no multiple-program sound, at least under Linux.

This makes me pretty angry. Creative, and other card manufacturers need to step away from all the marketing hype and put *informative* and *easily comparable* data on their boxes so the consumer can make educated choices and not be forced to return products that don't suit their needs.

So I just bought a Turtle Beach Montego DDL and am enjoying it immensly! I particularly liked the fact that they explicitly mention Linux support on their website, and even specifically Ubuntu, my Linux distribution of choice.

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