I was actually thinking the same thing last week during two specific instances:
# I tried to watch some stream through RealPlayer and noticed that the sound was very soft with both RealPlayer’s and my ThinkPad’s volume both turned up to max.
# When I tried to mute the internal microphone on my laptop during a Skype conference call with Anna, Tuomas, and Jakub. (Since Anna and I were in the same room, both wearing headphones, it didn’t make sense to have two microphones on at the same time.)
I solved problem one by fiddling with the master, pcm, and some other random settings. Problem two was seemingly unsolvable — none of the sliders or even mute checkbuttons seemed to do anything. There were literally several dozens of options, yet not a single one muted the microphone. At one point in time, I had every mute checkbox checked (and that was quite a feat).
Frustrated with the software, I went to my trusty backpack o’ wires and stuff and found a Y-adaptor for headphones. A few seconds after plugging it into Anna’s laptop, and our headphones into the Y-splitter, we were Skyping away with Tuomas and Jakub without oddly delayed echoes.
By-the-way, if you thought figure 1 (above) is hideous, you haven’t seen what’s behind the second tab…