All Soundblasters are not equal

Recent readers will know that I bought a new Creative Labs Soundblaster Live soundcard as they seem to be very well supported under Linux, in a bid to finish this goddam Ubuntu jingle for LUG Radio. Well it arrived today and guess what? It doesn’t work properly under Linux at the moment.

It seems that there are two Soundblaster Lives and they use different chipsets. The older 5.1 is known to work perfectly under Linux using the emu10k1 kernel module and the newer 24 bit 7.1 card doesn’t (the numbers refer only to the number of surround sound speakers, not a versioning process like software release numbers).

Before I bought the card I checked the ALSA website which says here that the Soundblaster Live is supported by the emu10k1 module. I also searched Google for Linux support and read this. Sounds fine I thought at the time.

Until it didn’t work. After searching the Ubuntu forums for the SB Live, I read this thread which points out that the new 24 bit SB Live 7.1 uses a different chipset to the SB Live 5.1 and in fact uses the audigyls module which isn’t entirely working and also only available in v1.06 or above of ALSA, which isn’t available in Ubuntu yet. Why is it you only find this stuff after you buy it?

It also seems that the 24 bit 7.1 card is a piece of shit anyway. Rather than do onboard hardware mixing, it palms it off to the system CPU do do all the work and it is this that has made the driver slower to develop as they had to work out how to do this. Now I know that modern computers like mine are powerful enough to handle this, but would you be happy with a software modem if you were expecting a hardware one? Nowhere in the product spec does it say this.

So I had 3 choices:

  • Upgrade to Ubuntu Hoary
  • Compile the latest version of ALSA myself
  • Or forget it and buy a SB Live 5.1

I don’t fancy upgrading to Hoary as I have yet to hear if it works with the version of ALSA in Hoary. I prefer to stick with a stable version of Ubuntu now I’ve moved over full-time.

I don’t fancy moving to a compiled version ALSA as this means I will have to work out how to put the packaged versions of ALSA on hold in apt and risk making a mess of the sound system by compiling it myself.

So I wimped out and found a 5.1 from Scan for £10 or so. Thats something I could really do without to be honest. It cost me £26 or so for the first card at a time when I’ve just found out I am £3 overdrawn and have no money coming in until early April. I had to transfer money off my credit card to cover my bills for the next 6 weeks.

Well, I’ve made a big noise about this jingle now, I seem to be getting some decent traffic because of it, especially when I was linked by Jeff Waugh on Planet Gnome, Planet Debian and Planet Ubuntu. Also I told the LUG Radio guys about it nearly 6 weeks ago and they having been waiting for it ever since. I’ve had quite a few people post comments about it too so I now feel some kind of responsibility to produce something. God help me if it’s shit…

Don’t know what I’m going to do with the SB Live 7.1 just yet. I might try to sell it on ebay or something to see if I can make some money back, or I might keep it and see if a) it works under Hoary and b) if it is actually a better quality card than the 5.1 despite the hardware mixing cop-out.

One day I will learn that knowledge of Linux hardware support is not innate, nor is it as simple as it looks from a kernel perspective. The ALSA people are doing their job (although it would be nice of them to state that the 7.1 is actually a variant of the Audigy LS and not a variant of the SB Live as the name suggests, by listing the 5.1 and 7.1 separately), but it seems Creative have named the 7.1 based on where it fits into their range and not on what chipset it uses.



After reading a lot of threads about this problem I filed a bug against the ALSA website to get them to point out that the 24 bit SB Live 7.1 uses the audigyls driver and to ask them to specify that the 5.1 and 24 bit 7.1 are different as it just said that the SB Live uses the emu10k1 driver, so as to prevent other drowning souls in the various support forums around the world from buying the wrong card. They have since updated the site to reflect this. Good of them to research this and actually do it.

Of course Hoary is now out and the 7.1 should be supported, but I have yet to open my box and swap the 7.1 in to check…

3 thoughts on “All Soundblasters are not equal

  1. If you decide to sell that card, let us know and I might have it off you..

    Chris (Ball from the LUG)

  2. I’m in the exact same boat, same card, same problems with linux. What a pain.

  3. Don’t bother with the 7.1 in hoary. If you do manage to get it to work, it works like total bovine excrement.

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