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What is a simple, foolproof configuration for sound playing on speakers, a simple jukebox or playlist-player, a volume control onscreen, and input through the microphone jack?

I currently have sound but no onscreen control. I did get YouTube to record sound; not sure how it is working now though. Re-configuring sound has become a second life.

Do I want to use Jack? Pulse? ALSA? Something else?

I am running 12.04, with Gnome menu instead of Unity, on a Dell Optiplex GX-280, using the built-in sound.

Update June 2013: after recent Update Manager updates, the sound control applet re-appeared in the top menu line. The "PulseAudio Volume Control" is in the menus, I can turn up and down all apps separately there. I also can kill my sound by testing out different settings - turns out a wrong move also zeroes out the level on an app. I haven't installed, built, or edited a .conf lately, and it works! ALSA, and Pulse, are running, and not Jack .

Later in June (this probably s/b a blog by now ... ) : Music player Rhythmbox is 100% ok. Sound from most websites is spot-on, but not when playing on chess.com. It is supposed to be silent except for making sound effects for each move. The page is a large amount of javascript. In the Volume Control app, I can see that Chrome appears on the Playback tab, then disappears a few seconds later. When the next move comes soon enough, the sound plays, but once it disappears from the Playback tab, the next sound is lost.

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Alsa can be named as most trustworthy but it lacks its DE support. install Alsa-utils and use it from terminal if what you are asking is great stability. –  user170534 Jun 28 '13 at 3:08
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