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I currently have a Vostro 200 running Ubuntu that allows me to output to 7.1 audio using a bunch of 1/8 stereo to rca cables. This works perfectly, all I had to do was adjust some pulse audio setting for the number of channels, but it is kind of a mess cable wise.

I would rather just have a sound card that supports optical and/or coxial digital out (Is one better than the other?). Is there a sound card that will do this that works well with recent ubuntu installations? Would rather not have to worry about adding any drivers, modifying a lot of alsa configs, etc... I would like something supported by the stock kernel. Also, don't think this should matter, but I want it to play nice with xbmc for Linux.

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This isn't an answer, but some helpful links. I don't have any experience with recent soundcards so I can't offer any recommendations.

Be sure to check this before purchasing: ALSA Supported Device Matrix

Once you install it, if things don't automagically work, here's how to configure both optical & coax digital outputs.

And check the Ubuntu forums to see what other users might say about a card you're considering.

As to whether optical is better than coaxial, frankly, I'd prefer a soundcard that includes both, for the flexibility of supporting whatever receiver I decide to buy. They both send the same digital signal, so there's no quality difference. Optical connections are considered better for long cable runs because there's less signal degradation and they're immune to RF interference, but for short runs they're essentially the same.

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Thanks, those links might come in handy, posted the same question in the Ubuntu forums when I posted this one ;-) –  Kyle Brandt Oct 7 '09 at 15:31
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