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Some questions about db and audio quality in ALSA

post #1 of 12
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So I'm just wondering if this is totally placebo or something but when I have ALSA settings higher than 0 dB I often get extremely distorted sound or bad audio quality when above -3dB. Is there something to it? I've never thought to ask but it's just kind of hit me that I didn't know why things sounded better when at lower settings. I mean I actually have to set three things in ALSAmixer to get good sound 1) Front Master to -6 dB 2) PCM to -9 dB 3 ) Front to -9 dB and then my music sounds almost as good as from the line out of my ancient Panasonic CD player. I read the man page but it didn't explain the whole dB to distortion thing and my Googlefu brought up nothing that made sense or related to this. Thanks in advance.

PS: I've noticed these dB levels correlate pretty much regardless of distro and on both my desktop and netbook (though the netbook only needs master and PCM changed).
     
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post #2 of 12
I've noticed that ALSA mixer distorts above a threshold too. IIRC 0dB was fine. anything above that and I guess the chip is trying to digitally amplify - which will clip normalised audio (as pretty much all audio would be these days)
post #3 of 12
I'd guess that if it works, go with it! Kinda crappy you have to attenuate it just to avoid distortion though, 0dB should be unity gain regardless of the input. Might be worth raising it with the ALSA crew, it could be a bug....

In terms of Windows, I'm not sure how the drivers for the sound card make a difference. For example, a studio-level card will have it's own drivers that provide the high quality audio. I'm guessing sound isn't handled via a common "sound server", otherwise it could provide a limiting factor? Basically, I'm saying that issue might not be ALSA, but could be the kernel module. I'm not sure how audio works under Linux given the kernel drivers AND a sound server redface.gif
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post #4 of 12
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Plan9 View Post

I've noticed that ALSA mixer distorts above a threshold too. IIRC 0dB was fine. anything above that and I guess the chip is trying to digitally amplify - which will clip normalised audio (as pretty much all audio would be these days)

Alright. I just wanted to make sure it wasn't just me. I mean it's nothing people would notice normally but I have one song that actually makes that distortion problem quite clear. I've looked at the colors within the ncurses alsamixer and noticed that the closer to just green levels the better things sounded and when it started distorting sound. So I basically wanted to know if that was an actual intentional correlation the makers of alsamixer had put in there or whether it was purely chance.
Quote:
Originally Posted by chemicalfan View Post

I'd guess that if it works, go with it! Kinda crappy you have to attenuate it just to avoid distortion though, 0dB should be unity gain regardless of the input. Might be worth raising it with the ALSA crew, it could be a bug....
In terms of Windows, I'm not sure how the drivers for the sound card make a difference. For example, a studio-level card will have it's own drivers that provide the high quality audio. I'm guessing sound isn't handled via a common "sound server", otherwise it could provide a limiting factor? Basically, I'm saying that issue might not be ALSA, but could be the kernel module. I'm not sure how audio works under Linux given the kernel drivers AND a sound server redface.gif

I have no idea how sound works under both windows and Linux which is why I asked what I assumed was a pretty basic question because it was bothering me that I couldn't explain it. What still baffles me is why the driver by VIA for this onboard chip in windows just doesn't sound that great. I mean it takes me raising the bit depth through the driver in windows to 24 to get something that sounds decent. In Kubuntu I'm assuming that I'm running ALSA with Pulseaudio but I've never bothered looking into how/whether it's on here.

As for reporting the dB levels as a bug I feel like I can't report it until I get a better understanding and or someone else can explain to me whether there's a connection to dB levels and distortion. Audio/sound is really confusing for me. redface.gif For instance lowering the volume in windows also makes it sound better...am I messed up or is there something to lower "preamp/pre-speaker volume control" producing better sound quality? Maybe someone else could try it out?
     
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post #5 of 12
Ok, in non-computing terms (as audio existed long before computers!), 0dB is the loudest you can get digitally. 0dB should represent the maximum volume - anything higher is digitally clipped. Clipping is distortion. In theory, sound should be distortion-free below 0dB, but become rapidly more distorted as you cross this threshold.

Now, what you have described, is that the threshold is lower than 0dB, and this isn't right. WHY this happens is unknown, and somewhat difficult to test unless you have kick-ass speakers/amps, because you need to turn the PC volume down, and the amp up to see if it is still clipping or not. If it is, it's most likely down to crappy quality sound chip or drivers. If not, it's a software issue that is possibly misreporting the actual dB setting (i.e. it says 0dB, but it's actually +6 or something), or maybe some bug in the DA conversion/dithering (a bit technical, but the sound driver/server boys should know it).

As long as it's repeatable, and someone else can second you, it's worth reporting as a bug. They can always close it if they don't agree smile.gif
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post #6 of 12
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by chemicalfan View Post

Ok, in non-computing terms (as audio existed long before computers!), 0dB is the loudest you can get digitally. 0dB should represent the maximum volume - anything higher is digitally clipped. Clipping is distortion. In theory, sound should be distortion-free below 0dB, but become rapidly more distorted as you cross this threshold.
Now, what you have described, is that the threshold is lower than 0dB, and this isn't right. WHY this happens is unknown, and somewhat difficult to test unless you have kick-ass speakers/amps, because you need to turn the PC volume down, and the amp up to see if it is still clipping or not. If it is, it's most likely down to crappy quality sound chip or drivers. If not, it's a software issue that is possibly misreporting the actual dB setting (i.e. it says 0dB, but it's actually +6 or something), or maybe some bug in the DA conversion/dithering (a bit technical, but the sound driver/server boys should know it).
As long as it's repeatable, and someone else can second you, it's worth reporting as a bug. They can always close it if they don't agree smile.gif

Ah...I guess I didn't write the OP clearly...it's hard to explain but yes at 0dB or above things distorted in my music (a few songs it was quite noticeable) and yet at -3dB or above things just sound...crowded or flat like everything was there but all at the same level making things less "lively" compared to lower dBs. I will say that the dB levels in ALSA mixer are at different "volume" levels in the distros I've run so -6dB in one may be 40 and 54 in another. I just thought that was normal and I never really used the "volume" levels anyway.

PS: I don't have a kick-ass setup just the green "speaker" jack from the onboard VIA chip in my desktop to my ancient Altec Lansing ACS340 speakers.
     
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post #7 of 12
Mine doesn't let me go above 0db in anything except Mic ports and Line In (which you can see is set lower, and don't mind the dwm code it has nothing to do with alsa.)
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post #8 of 12
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shrak View Post

Mine doesn't let me go above 0db in anything except Mic ports and Line In (which you can see is set lower, and don't mind the dwm code it has nothing to do with alsa.)

That's interesting. Maybe it's a change that is made in 1.25 as I'm still running 1.24. However my PCM and Front controls max out at 0dB (and become bright red like yours). And now after messing around I raised the PCM and Front to 0dB and haven't noticed distortion but when I raise the Front Master to anything above 0dB it's almost instant on the one song that it's apparent. Strangely, it seems the crowding/flatness problem at 0 to -3dB has gone away or I'm just not able to hear it anymore. Hmm...something fishy with my mind/ears or I missed seeing an audio update get on my desktop. Maybe I don't understand ALSAmixer? Gah...there's always something in Linux/computers/audio that makes me feel stupid.

So running through my music at 0dB for Front Master, PCM, and Front and no distortions now. Hmm....my ears though do hurt now. redface.gif
Was I just crazy thinking that lower dBs sounded better?
     
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post #9 of 12
i had this problem with my old laptop (RIP redface.gif)

If I turned alsa mixer up, the sound would get distored and crack. I had to keep it around 50% ... if i had it plugged into something besides the onboard speakers, i could turn the volume knob over there way up and it would sound fine. As soon as i increased the volume out of alsa mixer, it would distort like that. I did a bunch of research, but was never able to find anything out, and concluded it was faulty hardware / bad speakers. My new laptop which has the same exact install does not have the problem (it was a restore of that backup minus some tweaks to the kernel config). So i don't know - perhaps its certain sound cards are "bad" or there's some magic setting that I couldn't find. My desktop system does not have this problem either... thankfully i never had windows on that machine in the 11 years of it's life to see if it was a linux stack problem or not.
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post #10 of 12
My only guess would be either a faulty sound card or Alsa just didn't like that card, lol. I've never had any of my machines get bad audio from turning the sound up. Except for the Line In, which causes crackles across the board when it's turned up too loud.
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