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Open source identity: PulseAudio creator Lennart Poettering

Lennart Poettering checks in from this year's Linux Plumbers Conference to detail the latest PulseAudio developments.
PulseAudio creator Lennart Poettering

PulseAudio creator Lennart Poettering

He likes photography and skiing, but the primary concern of Lennart Poettering is advancing the Linux audio experience with PulseAudio, an open source sound server.

PulseAudio’s impressive set of features include per-application volume controls, a modular architecture, support for multiple audio sources and sinks, the ability to discover other computers using PulseAudio on the local network and play sound, as well as change which output device an application plays sound through -- while the application is playing sound.

It's pretty obvious that the complaints and criticisms about PulseAudio you can hear in some forums are not really shared by the vast majority of technical people
Lennart Poettering, creator of PulseAudio
Thanks to PulseAudio, the Linux audio experience will become more context-aware. For example, if a video is running in one application the system should automatically reduce the volume of everything else and increase it when the video is finished.

Previously, the Open Source Identity series has featured interviews with Ruby on Rails creator David Heinemeier Hansson, Linux’s Linus Torvalds, Jan Schneider of Horde, Mark Spencer of Asterisk fame, Spine CMS creator Hendrick van Belleghem, and Free Telephony Project founder David Rowe. This time we catch up with Lennart immediately after this year’s Linux Plumber’s Conference to find out the latest PulseAudio (PA) developments.

What are some of recent developments with PulseAudio? How are you responding to criticism over the role of PulseAudio?

I am not too concerned about most of the criticism and flames that erupt from time to time on various channels. All the big Linux distributions have adopted PulseAudio and it is an integral part of both the Palm Pre and the Nokia N900 devices, as well as Intel's Moblin.

That basically means that PulseAudio has been adopted by about everyone who could adopt it. There is not really anyone who doesn't do PulseAudio anymore.

Acknowledging that simple fact makes it pretty obvious that the complaints and criticisms about PulseAudio you can hear in some forums are not really shared by the vast majority of the technical people -- quite the contrary.

So, where do they come from? Usually from users who are encountering problems when running PA in conjunction with particular hardware drivers, or higher-level software.

While PA itself is certainly not bug-free (no software is) the majority of issues were triggered by misbehaving drivers or by misbehaving applications.

More specifically some applications were still using audio APIs [OSS] that are almost impossible to virtualize. And also PulseAudio makes use of a lot of driver functionality that was previously unused and hence little tested.

In fact, for quite a few parts of the lower level ALSA APIs PulseAudio is the first user of all. And of course, it cannot be a surprise that we expose bugs that were previously unknown in the drivers this way.

It's not my intention to shift the blame around though. PA and the other layers of our stack should not be viewed as independent parts. If PA uses a new or previously unused feature of the drivers then we need to fix the drivers at the same time.

If we make PA expect more correct behaviour from the apps, or that applications stop making particular assumptions about the audio stack, we need to fix the applications at the same time.

And thanks to the fact that this is all free software doing that is actually possible. And we tried to do that in the past and are getting better at it.

One should never forget what we are doing here. We took an audio system that followed the low-level design that was current in the early '90s and brought it in one big step to what is current today.

We inserted an entire new layer into our stack right in the middle, so that we can catch up with the more advanced audio stack that Mac OS X or Windows provide right now. Doing something like this, of course, will trigger problems at many places. Criticism hence must be expected.

Also, I get a lot of personal e-mails with feedback on PulseAudio and, despite what some people might think, the positive comments actually outnumber the negative comments by far.

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Pusle audio is an example of what is wrong with linux today

It is a product nobody wanted but was forced on users by developers. And developers only chose it because nobody else wanted to work on audio.

I think pulse-audio has caused more grey hairs than any other single piece of software released in the last 5 years. PackageKit comes a close second.

Both worthless rubbish, the first two things I uninstall when I setup a new machine.



True, when my distro switched to polyaudio, my formerly functional setup was suddenly broken with stuttering and noisy sound.
I also dont want to shift around blame, but the interview sounds like polyaudio is just fine and well. It is not! It breaks working audio and adds nothing of which is needed (easier configuration etc.).
Useless piece of art.



Please stop with PulseAudio now

Since fedora uses pulseaudio, my setup has a (almost) 1 second sound lag and my movie sound is out of sync. Also pulseaudio eats a lot of CPU. Can we stop the pulseaudio joke already? Please?

Chris Lees


Pulseaudio is fantastic

Pulseaudio is a great piece of software in the Linux audio stack. It allows me to recieve any sounds that my server is playing (my server is in a different building). I can turn down the volume of my instant messenger while I'm playing a DVD or BD. I can switch my sound input between a webcam's microphone and my headset while using Skype.

The price to pay for this? It now takes VLC a couple of seconds to pause playback. That's the entire downside of Pulseaudio.

I've deployed 6 Ubuntu machines with Pulseaudio with no problems apart from the VLC pausing effect (which varies from computer to computer). Pulseaudio adds so much value, and it has stopped all the previous problems that I'm sure we all experienced with ALSA and OSS programs before Pulse came along.

Thanks for running this interview. I'm a Pulseaudio fan and I can't explain why so many people seem to hate it - is it maybe because Ubuntu doesn't ship a tool to configure it?



I wanted pulse audio!

Actually I wanted more people to use ESD, though I got the impression a lot of developers didn't like it. I also wanted an easy fix for all those apps that didn't have an option to select which sound card to use, as they got it wrong 9 times out of 10.

Pulse effectively gave me both those things, so I love it, bugs notwithstanding!

William Chambers


Love the flame commentary

So you guys feel it's fine to flame and complain and don't have the guts to use a real name? Pathetic.

Oh and whatever you do, don't spell pulseaudio currently. ;)



Everybody seems to be forgetting jackd.



"nobody wanted it"? Speak for yourself: I've been waiting for it for a long time, and I'm very happy with it.

I suppose it's good that people like you have the choice to uninstall it if they dislike it. However, don't pretend or imagine you speak for everybody just because you have issues with it.



Stop the naggers

*Geez* a lot of people complaining. Your drinking to much vinegar? Pulseaudio is really oke most of the times especially in multi-user pc's. But there are some problems sometimes with PA but at least report them and I bet the biggest naggers here don't ever do that...just bitching. I thin PA needs some maturing for now and with 1 year it will be rock solid...

Cheers from Holland



Pulseaudio is poop

MythTV worked fine until Pulseaudio came along. As a matter of fact, most audio worked fine before somebody got a bug up there but and decided to create a new sound server. Then somebody else said "NO YOU DIDN'T!" and created another new one...and on and on.

It'd be nice if the ESD/Jack/Pulseaudio guys would get together and maybe, I don't know, BUILD ONE FREAKING STANDARD AUDIO SERVER WITH ONE FREAKING STANDARD API!!!!!!

It'll never happen though.

I know its an older picture but its still true:



Ditto here

I use Fedora and, sadly, as of F11 they are starting to make the audio applications (totem, etc.) only work with pulseaudio and not with ALSA. You actually have to recompile the audio apps if you want reliable sound. Off to find another distro, I guess.



the first thing I do after installing Ubuntu is...

apt-get purge pulseaudio

PA simply DOES NOT work. After that magical fix above all applications start working as advertised, so why bother with Pulseaudio?

Marcel de Jong


sound in pidgin

I know this is not the place to ask questions, but ever since ubuntu started using Pulseaudio, the sounds in Pidgin started having weird clicks and noises. It's very disturbing to have a loud clicking noise following the softer default sounds. I'm not sure if that's pulseaudio or pidgin, and quite frankly I don't care where the blame should be.
It's annoying, and it should be fixed.

And no, I'm not a developer so the who "why don't you do it yourself" approach doesn't work in my case.



PulseAudio is terrible.

PulseAudio cost me a week of effort on my media pc build. A WEEK. I gave up and put Windows 7 on there because it just worked.

Eventually I came across the idea of actually removing the steaming pile of alpha grade software that is PulseAudio. Lo and Behold, audio started working in Linux too.

Pulse is a poor implementation, definitely not ready for anything other than a fully controlled, fully tested environment. In other words, NOT a desktop.

Tony Howat


Another negative

I'm afraid it's another negative here. FC11/mpd setup - I spent a lot of time trying to convince it to work (I control audio remotely and won't necessarily have an X session up). No dice. yum remove pulseaudio got me back to alsa and everything became straightforward again.

It's not a bad idea but it's poorly integrated in many distros. I can't comment on the quality of the implementation but it certainly isn't making things easier yet.



init 3

Well, my experience with pulse audio has been that it takes so much cpu, that the sound stutters or drops. And every so often you hear clicks. I upgraded my cpu(8 core i7 overclocked) and the stuttering went away.

But has anyone gotten pulse audio to work without a GUI? init 3 anyone? I appreciate the work the guys doing, but I usually don't plop down alpha software into production unless I want a swift kick to the balls.

So I guess it's good that he ignores the critics. Because stable Linux distro's and "low" end hardware can't run it yet.



Will be great when it is finished

I just installed PulseAudio this weekend on my Gentoo system to see what it was all about.

The ability to dynamically switch sounds between my main speakers and USB headset is great. So is the per-application volume control. I don't see a latency problem on my system.

The only downsides that I have found is that KDE integration isn't really working yet and that the Wine project will not add a native PulseAudio driver.



"Developers! Developers! Developers!"
(--Steve Ballmer)

John R. Tricky


"end user experience"

I think it's very telling that Lennart does not give any feedback on the interviewer's question / comment "In addition to drivers, there is the end user experience of sound and video".



It works quite well

I switched to PulseAudio when upgrading to Jaunty several months ago, starting with Alpha5.
And yes, it gave me some problems with totem and VLC, but soon after before Jaunty RC they were solved.
Ocassionaly it have gave me some problems with Skype, but after switching Karmic Koala (alpha4 and now beta) everything is working like a charm.
No problems with VLC/Totem and Skype (2beta) is working perfectly.



Be Reasonable

I think the most surprising thing with a lot of the comments here is the thread of "I installed alpha software on my machine and it didn't work with my random combination of software and hardware" - proceed to flame!!

No one is claiming that pulse audio is a completed system yet. It's work in progress and complicated work at that. If you think you can speed up this development by all means speak up as that's what open source is all about.

If not, perhaps showing a bit of support to people making a concerted effort to drag an important aspect of linux into the 21st century would be in order.



Fedora on low end hardware

If you have been running Fedora from day one (and even a bit before) on a lowly 1 Ghz 9 year old computer then sound went from working to broken.

Developers: for end users going from working to broken is not progress.

OK so Fedora is supposed to be for advanced users - that is what I am an advanced end user.

Pulse broke audio for watching DVB-S with VDR and vdr-xine. I have a Bluetooth keyboard and can't yum remove pulseaudio because Bluetooth is a dependency of pulseaudio. That must be one of the bugs that my dear friend LP is talking about...



Also, I get a lot of personal

<cite>Also, I get a lot of personal e-mails with feedback on PulseAudio and, despite what some people might think, the positive comments actually outnumber the negative comments by far.</cite>

It's hard for me to believe this, simply because most people just don't manifest when stuff works as they should. Or maybe he counts emails which go like "Pulseaudio is great, but..." as positive. :)



we already have jack

Why another sound server? The Linux audio 'experts' all are focused around jack- as are all of the expert Linux audio apps. Now there is jack, pulseaudio, alsa, oss, too confusing for most users.



pulseaudio needs defibrilated...

Fortunately my desktop still runs Slackware & sound just works.

My laptop OTH runs ubuntu [for now] & PA has been a nightmare of googling thru masses of solutions that did not work [thanks to lusers who didn't bother to post the hardware they were addressing] & trial & error thanks to little useful layman documentation.

Then there are the "sinks" - hey, I wash my hands & dishes in a sink. Yet I s'pose it would be way too unerudite to chose a more common term like "speakers" - sinks are speakers, aren't they?

Yes, PA may end up being the next great idea. But "end up" is the key phrase - my frustration meter has been pegged to the point of [ugh!] using Winblows skype [/ugh!].



Thank you Lennart Poettering for making audio work on linux.

pankaj pandey


thank you Lennart Poettering for making audio work on linux

Alex Lukin


thank you Lennart Poettering for making audio total mess!

thank you Lennart Poettering for making audio total mess on Linux!

Why'd you just listen to people telling you that best practice with PA is just not use it?

Read last /. discussion. There are only few positive posts.

When you say that Ubuntu people can not configure PA right way it means only that your PA is so ugly that even Linux professionals can not get it right. So who's to blame?

I work with Linux sound 10 years and I think that PA is worst mess ever. By idea, by design and by implementation.

And YES, PA has one very positive impact. It shows evidently to all how terrible is Linux sound subsystem. PA made Linux sound system totally unusable and final mess.

And thank you, distro guys, that it is still easy to remove PA in most cases.



The idea behind PulseAudio is great. The main problem is how it was deployed, that is, by using us (end users) as beta testers while the major apps/drivers weren't ready for it.

But Pulse fixed from the get-go the mixing problem that I had had with *all of my previous Linux installations*, on different hardware combinations, since 2000: I couldn't play audio in more than one program at a time. Very 1990, I know. But this was finally solved when Pulse arrived, which to boot also added per-app volume, easy streaming from my home server, and so on.

After a few months of software updates, the only problems the remained with PulseAudio in my system were actually problems with Skype and Jackd. But the new Skype beta is now fixed, and Jackd works perfectly if you upgrade Pulse to the latest version. Good times!

The main comment I have for Lennart right now is that Pulse lacks an *intuitive* and *usable* GUI. Per-app volume should be available from the pop-up in the panel applet (or even on the right-click menu on the app's task bar button and window title). There should be an easy graphical interface for reconnecting streams, maybe using graphs. Sure, these are not problems with the Pulse server, but with Gnome and KDE. Yet, without them people will continue to complain about technical issues which mainly arise from having a hard-to-configure system (with messy GUIs and cryptic text files).

All in all, congrats for the good work, Lennart. Keep it up!



Fedora on low end hardware

<em>If you have been running Fedora from day one (and even a bit before) on a lowly 1 Ghz 9 year old computer then sound went from working to broken.</em>

Same here. I upgrade Fedora regularly on the 6 months schedule, and since Fedora 8 one of the first thing I do is "yum remove pulseaudio" (libs have to stay these days, it seems, too much depends on them). I use an old computer, and for the last four releases it's always been terrible sound, cracks, noise -> remove pulseadio, leave just alsa -> sounds works again. Once or twice I tried to google for tweaks and optimizations, but that didn't help much. And all the time the pulseaudio server ate c. 5% of my CPU.

I'll try it again when I buy a new computer. At the moment, for me it just plain doesn't work.



Hey dummy... manually install the bluetooth packages and then yum won't try to clean them up :-P



Lol, pulseaudio sucks, the guy on the photy looks like pussy.

Lol, man (girl? LOL). You are loser, PA sucks, It's very funny to have sound glitches on Core 2 Quad q6600. Fuck you!




Thanks Lennart!



Thanks for what?

For the fact he's shown how ugly is the linux sound subsystem is?



Had problem with pulse on Ubuntu 9.04 - any videoplayer (vlc, mplayer) start playing movie, then after some time the movie start stammering by loop - sound died. Could not fix that problem (used for experiments a very different movies). Audio - ati.

Have such problem on Fedora 11 (nvidia ck804) but recept could help (not it's not worked on first machine).

Alsa works fine on both machines.

PA is very useful for desktop but it's realization has bad quality yet.



the vast majority of technical people ?

The vast majority of technical people want something that crashes when you just play a Four In A Row game with sound enabled or when you just watch Flash Audio/Video content ?

Then, most "normal" people just disable PulseAudio because it is garbage.

On a computer from 2002 with Windows XP I can listen to web radios day and night without cracks and pops.

I have two sound cards on that machine and I can mix live with 3 stereo outputs, using an external sound mixer and then redirect the output of the mixer into the main soundcard and record the result into an mp3 file.

I recorded hours of live mixing like this on a Pentium IV 1.6 GHz computer running XP, without any pops and cracks like if I was playing old vinyl records. And without any crash of course.

PulseAudio is crap as the all Linux stuff anyway.



"All the big Linux distributions have adopted PulseAudio"

This is not true. Debian does not install PulseAudio by default.

"While PA itself is certainly not bug-free (no software is) the majority of issues were triggered by misbehaving drivers or by misbehaving applications."

This is nonsense. The drivers worked, and the applications worked, until PulseAudio came along. PulseAudio triggered the issues.

"More specifically some applications were still using audio APIs [OSS] that are almost impossible to virtualize."

Yet PulseAudio promised to do just that, but failed.

However, PulseAudio's virtualization of ALSA does not work either. Skype works fine with ALSA but breaks with PulseAudio. Adobe's Flash plugin works fine with ALSA but breaks with PulseAudio. The Vivox VoIP SDK works fine with ALSA but breaks with PulseAudio. The list doesn't end here.

For now, the easiest way to make sound work on Linux is to remove PulseAudio. Fortunately the modern package managers make this a matter of a few clicks.

Geert Schuring


Amen to that. Finally a sane reply...



From a comment below:

From a comment below:

"But Pulse fixed from the get-go the mixing problem that I had had with *all of my previous Linux installations*, on different hardware combinations, since 2000: I couldn't play audio in more than one program at a time."

It's a common myth that PulseAudio enabled soundcard sharing in Linux for the first time. The truth is that ALSA provided this feature by default since at least 2003. And it is much more stable than PulseAudio's approach. CPU load and latency are lower as well.

Timothy Cahill


init 3

"But has anyone gotten pulse audio to work without a GUI? init 3 anyone?"

Actually, does yast from the command line count? On Opensuse 11.x, I've configured and tested my audio using Yast --> Hardware --> Sound. From here pulse audio can be toggled. I will sometimes use this in conjunction with alsaconf (when it seems that alsa and pulse audio are having problems playing nice. Afterward, I run speaker-test to verify basic audio output.

Tommy He


Good work, keep it on

Since Fedora 8 introduced PulseAudio, I hardly had issues with PulseAudio.

It helps the messy Linux audio organized. No need to bother dozens of sound API like esound, arts, jack, oss et cl any more.



Be reasonable?!

I think the most surprising thing with a lot of the comments here is the thread of "I installed alpha software on my machine and it didn't work with my random combination of software and hardware" - proceed to flame!!

I think the most surprising thing with your comment here is the supposition that a package installed by default by major distributions should be considered alpha grade software, and users should be held responsible for choosing to use it. Wake up, Neo. I have to make a positive effort to get rid of pulseaudio these days on Fedora, I have to leave the libs in place because other packages depend on it, and I lose the volume panel applet in the process because it depends on pulseaudio. Should I start to look at Fedora as a bag of buggy alpha-grade software? I can put up with using a lot of bleeding-edge packages, test them, report bugs -- I chose Fedora for a reason. But there are things that I expect to JUST WORK, like sound. I want my Ella Fitzgerald streamed smoothly from as I start to file a bug report for Scribus or NetworkManager, and in my case the way I get it is to remove PA and rely on alsa -- has worked for me for a decade and still JUST WORKS, even with all its limitations.

Something's Fishy Here


and I don't like it.

This Pulse thing is starting to sound like an obstacle intended to impede the progress of "higher-level software"

Of course Youtubers and Myspacers are just pleased-as-punch with these nifty little features they don't even need to pay for, because they don't understand the price.

The very idea that all software shall embrace this standard or be considered "buggy" is what's for sale, here. Pulse is just a means to an end.

As FOSS gains mindshare I guess we're going to see more of this kind of industry manipulation.

Maybe this is the first in a series of litmus tests to see which distros intend to live up their ideals.



in your dreams, Lennart

Isn't Pulse really just an uninspired imitation of JACK? If I wanted one sound server to take over my whole system, at least JACK could do it at zero added latency. Pulse IS latency!

Maybe the goal here is to push up hardware requirements, in which case I guess it "just works!"



It just does not work

Ever since Pulse has been included in a distro, I have not been able to have reliable sound. It is the single biggest hassle with the desktop.

Today I wanted to listen to a flash video, and my sound is broken again. Worked a couple of days ago - don't work now.

I have just wasted yet another hour going through the half dozen dialogs Pulse comes with and am giving up. I have not used Windows since Win 95, but the sound worked - and I hear Win 7 is okay. Sound worked on RedHat 5 as well.

"It allows me to recieve any sounds that my server is playing (my server is in a different building). " Goody for you. Do I need to have another machine to play music on my desktop?

"I can't explain why so many people seem to hate it" Read my lips - it does not work.

"I suppose it's good that people like you have the choice to uninstall it if they dislike it." Best advice yet.

Russ Bixby


Pulseaudio woes

I use an older notebook - a Compaq EVO N600c. It's a well-built, good looking machine, and I see no reason to replace it.

I also use SuSE. Yes, I know, the Lizard pissed off some of you but those guys CAN write good code.

Lastly, I do circuit design, mechanical engineering, mathematical simulation and music composition.

Did, rather. The first three are still possible, but the last is now impossible since 11.2 and the forced frog-march into PA Land.

While it's in theory a good idea, in practice it's no good for me. The very nature of what it does ensures huge latency issues and for a composer that's no good.

For people who only consume content and choose to buy a new computer every six months, maybe it'll work but for a creator of content it's a big don't.

So, either I can fork the distro and create a whole new, PA-free OS or just leave SuSE behind.

Sorry, babe, but this open mind just split.

Russ Bixby, geek of the plains



openSuSE 11.2

@Russ Bixby: IIRC openSuSE 11.2 disabled PA by default due to users complaints. You probably upgraded from a prior version.



Stability more important than features

It made me switch from Gnome, which relies heavily on pulseaudio, to KDE4, which does not. I just don't understand why so many distribution developers include it as default as long as clearly it isn't suitable for day-to-day use. I expect an OS to be able to play a flash video without crashing, which condition the distros that come by default with pulseaudio clearly don't meet. As I understand it, pulseaudio's goal is to provide a lot of next gen. features, but I ask what good are these features if they make the sound system crash? I prefer plain old alsa, doesn't do fancy stuff, but it works flawlessly.



PulseAudio disaster

Pulseaudio has been a pain in the butt since it first arrived on the Ubuntu scene.
It just doesn't work as advertised, and I'm only talking about proper Ubuntu releases here.
1) It uses a hellufalot of CPU
2) It is totally unusable if you want to do pro-audio stuff, as it won't play nice with jackd.

PA has been around for quite a while now, and it is still a complete and utter mess.

I agree the intentions were/are good, but it's nowhere near release quality. I'd say early beta quality at best.
ALSA + jackd is a VERY GOOD starting point for a user-level sound system. Please build something on top of an existing infrastructure that works for both pro-audio and consumer audio so that we don't need to have 2 soundsystems running in parallell.

Or better yet, spend the effort on improving configuration utilities and desktop integration for jackd instead.

Alfred J. Haines


Ubuntu 10.04 on Intel duo core 2 with a lot of stuff under the hood! LINUX user for over 15 years, since Slaxware1.0

For now we do need to have 2 sound systems running in parallel, PA is woven into the system and works in part for what little it does. If you try to remove it there are more problems then you are trying to get rid of. ALSA & OSS are not perfect either, they ignore my Bluetooth headset completely which PA handles well (at least in Mono)! Sadly, Neither can find the sound on my WinTV 1800 but I have a work-around into aux. I've learned to accept that from a free system.
So its not perfect! Contribute & Improve it or shut up!
Grow-up stop the whinning or buy Windows and leave those of us that can get it to work alone!



Pulse audio in Ubuntu 9.04 is barely, barely pre-beta. Multiple Issues with Skype. Issues with streaming music. Videos. Incompatible with audacious. I do voice overs from home to supplement my income. With Pulse, I can't record anything and it's not compatible with Behringer podcast creating software.
Not to mention the fact that the audio quality/freq response is horrible, and volume? Don't ask me about volume! IT SUCKS!
But hey if Ubuntu wants to get away from the "just works" model and be more like debian "nothing works without lots of tinkering" Then PA is the way! Sound is frickin basic, after video. Shouldn't be this difficult. And please don't suggest I upgrade to Ubuntu 10.04 for a better PA implementation because guess what - no video on three different computers with 10.04! Argh!

John Eadie


Pulseaudio just doesn't work out of the box on Ubuntu linux.

Pulseaudio is damn complicated and I haven't been able to make it work on my desktop (Jaunty) or my brand new Dell laptop (Lucid), so when I want to enjoy music, I boot into Windows.

It is making Linux an undesirable experience. It is NOT advancing Linux, for that reason. Quite the reverse. That's why this guy should be flamed.



i like the idea of pulseaudio, the current instance doesnt meet that, though it is improving, each distro and release i try to live with it, before uninstalling it for pure alsa, in ubuntu 10.04 i nearly let it stay, untill i discovered that if i tried to use mumble and play video at the same time, the video sound would die until a restart of the video app while mumble wasnt running, it might be mumbles fault, but the fact people will note is that the mixing problem isnt there with vanilla ALSA.

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