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almost no audio in buster/sid

I run regular updates of my testing/unstable Debian instance, on my Dell Precision M4500 notebook.

A few days ago most applications stopped playing sounds, but not all of them. For example Chrome doesn't play sounds, Firefox doesn't, vlc doesn't, xine doesn't, while xboard does, audacity does and hydrogen does.

pavucontrol lists no hardware output devices, only a "dummy" software output device, but I don't know if this is normal. In the Playback tab of pavucontrol I can see the applications names while they're supposed to play sounds and I can see digital vu-meters going back and forth. They aren't muted, yet the application does not produce any sound.

What should I check?