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    Ah, yes, the SUDDEN AUDIO BLAST that won’t be tamed by these wimpy software mute buttons we have.

    These days I use an external audio DAC (through USB) with a big built-in volume dial, that mutes the sound instantly when pressed. No opportunity for the OS or applications deciding that my command to kill the sound output can wait until they feel like it.

    I now set the volume to 100% in all applications and the master volume control in the OS, then limit it at the DAC. I learned not to trust my OS years ago: https://lobste.rs/s/kst05r/disable_flat_volume_for_pulseaudio#c_rndzqh

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      Potentiometers (variable resistors) are my preferred way to address this problem. They:

      • allow to lower the volume instantly
      • are passive and do not require power supply
      • allow to set the volume exactly where you want on a continuous scale (so you don’t have the issue where volume level 2 is too low but 3 is too loud)
      • can be robust and long-lasting

      However they have some drawbacks:

      • they can’t be controlled by software (unless motorized but… it’s complicated)
      • big metal ones are too bulky to fit in a modern phone or laptop, small plastic ones can fit on a side but feel really cheap
      • make crackling noises when oxidized (but it’s easy to fix)
      • good ones can cost as much as a few dollars (which is a whole lot more that two buttons on a keyboard)
      • as analog devices, you usually have to put them near your speakers. They must obviously be plugged after a DAC, so basically they are not a convenient solution for controlling Bluetooth earbuds. IMO this is the main reason why modern laptops don’t have built-in potentiometers.

      Another solution is to use an external limiter to make sudden blasts less harmful. This is actually used in practice by some audio professionals.

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        potentiometers

        Rotary encoders, the somewhat-digital equivalent where there’s no need to touch the actual signal directly.

        I use one of these which I’m really happy with (sounds good + look at that dim-able amber dB display!), but can’t recommend, as the version on sale these days is bad. They had to redesign it because of high return rate due to failures on the first weeks of use.

        The higher end model, DX7 Pro, is great, but a little expensive.

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        The experience from years ago seems painful indeed.

        I’m also on an external dac/amp (in turn attached to sennheiser hd600), and really appreciate the physical knob (a rotary encoder) which lets me throw the volume down instantly if I need to. I seldom ever needed to, but definitely needed to more than once.

        Fortunately, with pipewire getting there, pulseaudio is on its way out. I have never run it for more than a few hours, but it is still the default in too many distributions.

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        I really like analog devices and hardware switches. The current state of play of digital technology is total garbage.

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          I feel like there has been a general UX regression in the rush to make a 100% transition from analog to digital across the entirety of our living experience. I especially note the friction with simple devices such as kitchen and laundry appliances. Typically a simple 3-4-position selection dial and a start button are sufficient, but now people are expected to go through a laggy touchscreen UI and five button presses just to start a pot of coffee.

          And of course it has to have super-bright blue LEDs somewhere on it.

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            super-bright blue LEDs

            You know what gets me? I can never read blue LED displays. Like a clock on a stove or something. I find I can read red ones at a distance reasonably well (with my eyeglasses on, of course). But blue ones with he same size at the same distance are so blurry to me I have to get right up next to them, glasses or no.

            And we know in physics that blue light scatters more, and in physiology there’s known sensitivity differences between the colors in the human eye, so I doubt it is just me; this seems like it should be predictable. Could be the fault of my glasses scattering the light but I’m hardly the only person in the world with glasses so even if they didn’t predict it from principles it ought to have come up at some point in testing or buyer feedback.

            Yet all the new models replace the readable red with blurry blue. Blue is a beautiful color but displays are meant to be read, not admired!

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              Auuuuuuuuugggghhhhh … do people not do any serious usability testing of these devices? I have an otherwise lovely Bluetooth speaker in my bedroom that sports duct tape over the high intensity blue LED. Otherwise it lights up the entire room as soon as the main lights are out.

              And while we’re on the topic of usability - thank for the almost entirely invisible TV controls with no tactile cues, Samsung.

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                I have found that consumer electronics aren’t safe to buy anymore. Even ignoring the ever-decreasing quality, there’s been an invasion of “smart” devices, of dubious intelligence. I have e.g. had the pleasure of trying to accomplish a simple task (switching inputs) using the remote control of someone’s smart tv recently, and it left me with nightmares of “dumb” options vanishing from the market.

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              Too many negotiations, too much fucking flakey copy protection crap taking up wall time, cpu time, and implementation dollars.