I have two laptops: Dell xps M1210 and Dell vostro 1400. On MS windows the output volume is so loud that I just need to set volume to around 20% to listen music and watch videos. I use Bose TriPort In-Ear Headphones most of the times. On ubuntu, even if I set 100% volume on the multimedia player, on the desktop volume manager as well, and also on the ncurses GUI of alsa mixer, I get very low volume output. Sometimes while playing some vidoes the volume is so low that I barely hear any words. I have struggled for two years since I started to use ubuntu to solve this mystery. The same sound card which gives excellent sound on MS windows fails miserably on GNU/Linux. Few weeks back I bought an Asus 100PX EEE PC. To my surprise even it also has the same issue. I have tried many versions of ubuntu and also I have done manual compiles of alsa modules without any success. I have asked and read about it in every possible forums and howto's. Nothing has helped me to address the issue.
When your in the NCurses GUI of
alsamixer, have you tried to see if any channels are muted or very low? If any are muted, unmute it using the M key and make sure every channel is around 100%, you can use the arrow keys to adjust them.
There is a headphone and analog jack. You can go to the Sound options panel and adjust these manually with the slider. That way when you reboot, the sound wont be full on.
I had this problem too. What worked for me was installing
pavucontrol. Then open it, then on the first tab (playback), you can move the slider to control
alsamixer over 100%, i. e. over 0 db.