Louigi Verona's Workshop


Linux Audio: E-MU 0404 USB

Why it is unlikely this soundcard will ever be supported on Linux

21 July, 02010

Just a month before I decided to switch to a GNU/Linux system, I bought a great soundcard - E-MU 0404 USB. A fine example of professional quality for affordable price. Little did I know that there is quite a problem with soundcard drivers on Linux.

And it indeed turned out that E-MU 0404 USB is not supported. It is said to be "non usb-audio standards compliant", so a new driver has to be written for it.

Searching on the Internet at that time revealed that work is on the way and that some day support would be added. And I waited. However, just recently I got some news on E-MU 0404 USB support and that news is not pleasant.

When I really needed to use E-MU 0404 to record some old tapes into computer, I decided to search the Internet again, a year later after my initial search. The search revealed this page (link, unfortunately, no longer works).

Information was surprising. It turns out that Creative Labs provided data sheets for 0404 USB soundcard as early as... October 2007! However, information that USB soundcards do have basic support at 48000 seemed misleading - on my machine I could not get any meaningful sound at all, only some distortion.

So I decided to contact one of the developers behind the drivers, to ask him about the status of driver development and perhaps offer a donation which he asked for on that page to speed development. The answer was prompt:

You are correct, the driver does not work correctly at any sample rate currently. The best you can do at the moment is play something from the app at 48000 and the sound card plays it slowly for you. I.e. not actually at 48000 but at least not badly distorted.

To implement the basic feature of playback at 48000 Hz sample rate this particular developer said he needs three working days (21 hours) which are to be paid a certain amount of pounds an hour. Of course, at that point I knew that I cannot even closely afford it, as the resulting sum was 10 times the price of the soundcard.

And having pondered the question for a couple of days, I decided that the matter is not worth it. Seriously. I bought the soundcard from an official E-MU distributor. I was asked to pay 10 times the price of a soundcard just to make basic playback working. For that money I can buy 10 soundcards of the same class!

I am not saying that the price asked for is unreasonable. The developer told me that such a sum is fairly normal in the UK for contract work, with companies like Oracle, Cisco and HP. The only problem here is that, of course, I am neither Oracle nor HP. Also, when ALSA website asks for a "donation", it usually means some support, but certainly not a full contract job pay, so the word "donation" is misleading. Their page should instead say "if you want to hire me to work on the driver, mail me". Something along those lines.

Still, the whole thing left me sad and puzzled. If ALSA project devs have datasheets for various soundcards but are not motivated enough to add even basic playback, then I am not sure on what grounds we all stand. I mean, its been three years, with people raising topics all over Internet about E-MU 0404 USB support, but, although it takes just three days to do this and datasheets are there, nobody will do it unless they are paid some serious money. And, once more, I am not targeting ALSA developers, I am just amazed that the vibrant free software community cannot find a way to add support for soundcards, datasheets for which are provided by the company. Really - we are the only ones to blame at this point.

My conclusion is not optimistic. The price for developing the driver is too high relative to the price of the soundcard and I seriously doubt that anyone would want to pay 10 times the price of his E-MU 0404 USB just to get basic playback. And because none of the developers of the ALSA project have been able to find the time to add full support in the past three years, I conclude that the driver will most probably never happen.

Own E-MU 0404 USB? Sell it. Seriously.

p.s.: It has been brought to my attention that basic playback is now supported and if you use Ubuntu 10.04 and above it should be implemented by default. However, I tried it a couple of days ago (November 23, 2011) on my Ubuntu 10.04. I did not spot any changes. The soundcard is not usable, just as it was before: playback is distorted in the same very way I reported and you get random xruns even with higher frames, like 1024. It is either a mistake or else you need some tweaking outside of the standard Ubuntu 10.04 setup.

p.p.s.: Since 2014 the card seems to have basic playback working. So, all it took was to wait 7 years (soundcard was released in 2007, along with driver data sheets provided to the community). Unfortunately, today the soundcard is an artifact of the past, there are much better offers on the market. Some of them, though, will probably be usable on Linux only many, many years from now. By the time E-MU 0404 USB was supported out of the box, my unit had a fried mic input, and I sold it to a guy who wanted to use it for hardware parts. The likelihood that audio hardware survives the long wait for Linux support is definitely not very high.