How to Remove PulseAudio & use ALSA in Ubuntu Linux?

PulseAudio is a powerful cross-platform (meaning that it can be used on different operating system environments) sound server. You can use it to directly access your audio hardware and carry the audio signals to output devices. Or because of the way it’s designed, you can use it as an a front-end for the existing, much older and mature sound servers, such as ALSA (it’s primarily an API for accessing audio drivers), OSS etc as well.

The thing about PulseAudio is that (at least in my experience) it gives you all these awesome features, but for some reason it has never worked that well for me. But ALSA on the other hand has always been an extremely stable one and has worked on all of my audio hardware devices.

Now in Ubuntu Linux, few years ago they decided to use PulseAudio as the default sound server. But since PulseAudio cannot directly communicate with the audio hardware, it still needs tools like ALSA to function. So what happens is that, after mixing the audio (on software level), PulseAudio simply ‘hands it over’ to ALSA, and ALSA takes in from there.

pulse-audio-logo-300x60
Well, it’s certainly powerful, but I’ve had my fair share of issues with it :/ …

Anyhow, in my case, I suspect that it’s this, the bad communication between ALSA -> PulseAudio, is the reason for most of these issues, because every time I enable “audio amplification” in PulseAudio, my audio output mutes (update: This is no longer true. PulseAudio works really well under my new Dell notebook) .

Now in the past I used to use the PulseAudio Configuration window to disable this audio amplification but in Ubuntu 11.10 Pulse just enables this audio amplification automatically. So most of the time I end up no sound outputs at all.

However, out of these frustrations I just thought , “to hell with it!” (a lot of bad words were filtered :D). “I’m gonna remove PulseAudio and just use ALSA”. I just did it and now all my audio outputs works perfectly fine!.

So if you’re also having the same issue or any other similar issues with PulseAudio in Ubuntu, then perhaps you can do the same and who knows it might save your day ;-). But remember, if you remove PulseAudio, you no longer will get that pretty looking “Volume Indicator applet” anymore. And if PulseAudio is working just fine for you, then I highly recommend that you stick with it.

pulse-audio-indicator-ubuntu
No more of these pretty audio indicators …

If you’re ready, let’s do it.

1. First let’s remove PulseAudio from your Ubuntu OS. I don’t remember since when Ubuntu used to come installed it by default, but for the recent versions such as: 12.04 Precise Pangolin, 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot, 11.04 Natty Narwhal, 10.10 and 10.04 the below command should remove it.

sudo apt-get autoremove pulseaudio

2. Now do a reboot since PulseAudio daemon (system service) is also running from the background. So it’s better to let the OS update everything.

3. Now the next time you login to your Desktop you won’t see the Volume Icon around the system tray area.

Now ALSA is installed by default in Ubuntu but since we have to have a GUI for configuring audio mixing, let’s install the default tool that used to come in Gnome desktop called: “Gnome-ALSA-Mixer” (a GTK+ front-end).

For that please use the below command.

sudo apt-get install gnome-alsamixer

4.I’m not sure whether this is really necessary but just to make sure, again reboot your PC so the configuration is updated.

5. As said before, for various reasons I have to disable the audio amplification otherwise the audio is muted. So if you too not getting any audio outputs after say running Totem for instance, then simply open your Terminal window and enter the below command.

gnome-alsamixer

Now this should open a new window, similar to the below one. From its window simply remove the “check” mark that says “External Amplifier”, that should solve most of your issues.

Update: If you have an amplifier, then try leaving the “External Amplifier” enabled first. If you don’t get any sounds with it enabled, then you can try disabling it (thanks ‘Chris’ for pointing it out).

Gnome-ALSA-Mixer-in-Ubuntu-300x201
Make sure your main output channels are also not muted …

Oh and make sure Master output, PCM etc aren’t muted.

Update: If you’re having issues while using ‘Gnome ALSA Mixer’, then try ‘QasMixer’, which is a new ALSA mixer GUI. It’s also known to fix some of the run-time errors of ‘Gnome ALSA …’ as well.

Well, that’s pretty much it. Now if everything goes according to plan you should hear your speakers screaming!. That’s it and good luck.

An RHCE, 'Linux' user with 14+ years of experience. Extreme lover of Linux and FOSS. He is passionate to test every Linux distribution & compare with the previous release to write in-depth articles to help the FOSS community.

174 thoughts on “How to Remove PulseAudio & use ALSA in Ubuntu Linux?”

  1. Thanks! Was pulling my hair over why my audio stopped working and

    sudo apt-get autoremove pulseaudio
    sudo apt-get install gnome-alsamixer

    enabled me to find setting in gnome-alsamixer that got me sound…

    Reply
  2. Gayan,
    Thanks so much for the post. There is a saying “less is more” and you have proved it.
    My 12.04 system works great now after deleting Pulse and adding ALSA. Now I can input Amatuer Radio signals into my sound card and process them with no problem, and Audacity never worked better!

    Thanks again,

    John

    Reply
  3. pulseaudio just screwed me out of 2 days in gentoo. i didn’t know what it was until now. kernel compiles recompiling for hours on end, and no sound. removing pulseaudio and compiling alsa without it fixed me right up.

    Reply
  4. I cannot thank you enough. I am a newcomer to Linux, since I have a old netbook and it came with Windows XP. Once Microsoft discontinued XP support, I really didn’t want to use a vulnerable OS. So I’ve been trying variants of Linux for the past few months, with mixed results. I liked Lubuntu, but was having a big problem with the sound skipping. So I switched to Linux Mint, and liked it a lot, but it had the same problem!

    I was searching through Google and various Linux forums for help, to no avail. I was going to either buy a Chromebook, or just have to make do with no sound (on top of choppy video; I do want to use the netbook for productivity purposes, but want a little frills). But I didn’t give up, found your page, and finally found a solution that actually worked. I can’t thank you enough, this is awesome.

    Reply
  5. Another thank you for this article. Using Linux Mint LMDE2 I was frustrated with pulseaudio’s inability to save and restore my sound settings across a reboot, not to mention my inability to understand it. I removed it and life is much better now.

    Reply
  6. April 2016 and another satisfied customer.

    Kodi on xUbuntu connected to a Yamaha RX-773 receiver. This was a new build and for the life of me I couldn’t get DTS and DTS-HD to show up on my receiver.

    Worked flawlessly. Thanks again

    Reply
  7. Thanks a ton Gayan.
    I was stuck with the issue for a couple of days trying multiple things,
    before I tried your solution. It works fine.

    Reply
  8. Hi Gayan,

    I have been having a problem with the sound in many different flavors of Linux on my system. The issue is that the system plays audio from Youtube videos perfectly but when I play any video / audio on my system it sounds like my bass is broken. High beats and bass get so distorted its’ like I am listening from a blown out speaker. DO you have any idea how to rectify the problem.

    This will make working and be developing a hell lot easier too. 😀

    Thanks,
    Ishan

    Reply
      • Hi Gayan,

        I first tried RhythmBox and even VLC. This problem persists cross operating systems for me. Can you provide me an insight whether it is a hardware or a software issue?

        Thanks,
        Ishan

        Reply
        • That’s difficult to say Gupta. Have you made sure that the volume gain in media players such as in VLC, isn’t set too high? For instance, if I set the volume gain about 113%, then I too get a somewhat distorted sound output.

          Reply
  9. Still relevant in 2017. I’ve had this issue for as long as I can remember, on many different versions of Ubuntu. Finally found this page and removed pulseaudio and use just also. This on Ubuntu 17.10(!) Not a single skip since the change.

    Reply
  10. Gayan, I have some audio issues that are very mind-boggling. Here is what I am experiencing:
    I’m currently using Xubuntu 16.04 LTS on an old Lenovo IdeaCenter K410 tower. So far, it has worked flawlessly for the past 2 years (migrated from Win7). Recently, I wanted to use a USB audio interface (Behringer UMC22), but the audio part wouldn’t even detect it. So I tried uninstalling Pulseaudio & ALSA, and then re-installing both and now it won’t even detect my audio hardware. Here’s what I did up to this point:

    sudo apt-get remove alsa-base pulseaudio
    sudo apt-get purge alsa-base pulseaudio
    sudo apt-get install alsa-base pulseaudio

    Upon checking some things, here is what I am NOW finding:
    $ sudo aplay -l
    **** List of PLAYBACK Hardware Devices ****

    shows NO audio devices detected.

    Doing the following shows I have some missing things from a previous check:
    $ pactl list short sources
    0 alsa_input.usb-046d_09a4_1D90F520-02.analog-mono module-alsa-card.c s16le 1ch 16000Hz SUSPENDED
    1 auto_null.monitor module-null-sink.c s16le 2ch 44100Hz SUSPENDED

    It shows I’m missing the following:
    1 alsa_output.pci-0000_00_1b.0.analog-stereo.monitor module-alsa-card.c s16le 2ch 44100Hz IDLE
    2 alsa_input.pci-0000_00_1b.0.analog-stereo module-alsa-card.c s16le 2ch 44100Hz SUSPENDED
    3 alsa_output.usb-Burr-Brown_from_TI_USB_Audio_CODEC-00.analog-stereo.monitor module-alsa-card.c s16le 2ch 44100Hz SUSPENDED
    4 alsa_input.usb-Burr-Brown_from_TI_USB_Audio_CODEC-00.analog-stereo module-alsa-card.c s16le 2ch 44100Hz SUSPENDED

    Doing this:
    $ lsusb
    shows the following is missing from a previous check:
    Bus 002 Device 006: ID 08bb:2902 Texas Instruments PCM2902 Audio Codec

    Upon doing the following, it also shows some missing things:
    $ cat /proc/asound/cards
    1 [U0x46d0x9a4 ]: USB-Audio – USB Device 0x46d:0x9a4
    USB Device 0x46d:0x9a4 at usb-0000:00:1a.0-1.4, high speed

    What’s missing, compared to the previous state, is:
    0 [PCH ]: HDA-Intel – HDA Intel PCH
    HDA Intel PCH at 0xf7d00000 irq 31

    2 [CODEC ]: USB-Audio – USB Audio CODEC
    Burr-Brown from TI USB Audio CODEC at usb-0000:00:1d.0-1.3.2, full speed

    Where did it all go? I’m still searching for a solution to having no audio. Where did I go wrong, how do I fix this, what’s my next step? (I’m seriously considering upgrading to 17.10.1, thinking that will correct all of this.)

    I also have cross-posted all my steps and developments to this issue on another website:
    https://askubuntu.com/questions/1005422/audio-reverb-always-on

    Could you please help me find a solution to this problem? If it works, I’ll post it on that other website. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Hi David,

      First of all forgive me for answering this late. I’ve had some major issues with the website and it was fixed yesterday. So anyway, I can’t give you a definitive answer but have you tried ‘JACK’? I don’t have a lot of experience with this software implementation because it exceeds my requirements as an end-user. Anyway, since JACK is specifically designed with individuals like professional musicians and such likes in mind thus it’s known for its low latency & its ability to identify audio hardware devices where other implementations such as ALSA fails (you can use JACK with applications that’re designed to run with ALSA so you don’t necessarily have to get rid of ALSA to have JACK installed). Setting it up on Ubuntu shouldn’t be that difficult. Below links should give you a nice introduction & tips for setting it up (or to see if it’ll help you with your device, why not try KXStudio distribution that includes software with JACK being the default ‘handler’ with audio I/O — this distro is specifically designed for professional music creation purposes. Here’s it’s link http://kxstudio.linuxaudio.org/Downloads). Hope this helps.

      http://www.jackaudio.org/faq/

      http://libremusicproduction.com/articles/demystifying-jack-%E2%80%93-beginners-guide-getting-started-jack

      Reply
  11. Don’t do this in Linux Mint or your system will get hosed. Removing pulse in this way removes Cinnamon which is the Mint desktop!

    Reply
  12. Thank you very much! I got help from dynobot computer audio on installing mpd but the piano music with sonata client was distorted. So annoying because I know what a piano is supposed to sound like. Then I followed your instructions: and wow! distortion gone and just beautiful music. Thank you again.
    I so love linux.
    kenneth

    Reply

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