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. Another good alternative is volti.

    First remove pulseaudio as in this post (thanks for that by the way!)
    Then install volti in Synaptic, Ubuntu Software Center or the command line – sudo apt-get install volti.

    I found the direct alsa controls given in this post (volbar & alsavol) worked sporadically, and sometimes the keyboard shortcuts stopped working randomly. I could always start them up again (a BIG plus over pulseaudio), but volti works flawlessly so far without stopping, and it has a nicer icon-tray and notification.

    Reply
  2. Great Advice… Really worked well.. Thanks a lot.. I’ve trying to do this since 1 week.. Now skype finally working without annoying pulseaudio.. (y).. 🙂

    Reply
  3. Great it simply works, before I got a problem with Voice recorder as well 🙂 now it’s fixed, but probably because I’ve reconfigured all sound devices becasu after uninstall sound dissappeard fully, and I went into KDE Setting -> System Settings -> Multimedia There are a lot of differenciations and on first place was USB .. something which prevent all sound to work, I’ve moved it down and test that nest is working, all is fine now!
    I got Toshiba Tecra R850, and my microphone problem is now fixed too !!

    Reply
  4. Thank you very much!! Who could think that PulseAudio was the real problem? I uninstalled and now everything’s alright.

    Reply
  5. Thank you so much! Have been working for days to try and figure this out. You are the only person that even suggested issues with pulse audio. Worked GREAT! Thanks again

    Reply
  6. Hi,

    So I had this issue first with my laptop working on 13.04 in which I’d plug my headphones, but the sound would play from both the headphones and the laptop’s speakers. So, I tried this fix but in the end, Alsa won’t open. I tried installing qasmixer as suggested but now, all my audio is muted and the actual hardware doesn’t appear in the sound options anymore.. What did I miss?

    Reply
  7. had a problem with flash video playing way too fast. removing pulseaudio fixed it. in vlc i got no audio at all. it was somehow configured for using hdmi device. changing that to internal audio fixed the sound in vlc.

    Reply
  8. hi there i followed your instructions one by one but now i have anoher problem nd i dont seem to know why please help.

    i hav a meenee mnw737 and i recently upgraded the system to ubuntu 12.04.
    ok to the problem:
    for soem odd reason my laptop doesnt recognize that my headphones are plugged in and not the sound only comes from the laptop speakers. furthermore there is no headphone option on the alsamixer either.

    would really appreaciate any advice guys thanks

    Reply
  9. When I was using PulseAudio on my Toshiba L655D laptop, I’d press FN+3 or 4 to control the volume. However after updating the OS, my audio stopped working. I thought it was VLC at first but soon found out it was PulseAudio. Thank you for this alternative solution. Now my volume control works perfectly! Again I thank you. I honestly dought there paying you enough for doing this. 😛

    Reply
  10. I remove pulseaudio in Ubuntu 14.04, but, by doing this, it remove more packets than the ones of pulseaudio, as ubuntu-desktop. I can’t remove pulseaudio without ubuntu-desktop and, without ubuntu-desktop, there’re a lot of things that the system needs to work properly…

    Any suggestion?

    Reply
  11. Thank you so much for this article. I was trying to set up PulseAudio and it caused me nothing but headache. So glad to have ALSA back and now with the GUI front-end especially.

    Reply
  12. Hey guys thanks for this guide. I haven’t yet tried it because I thought my external Schiit magni&modi were working but I was wrong. When I play flac files 92 Khz the sound feels kinda digital. Now I only play music through vlc but I’m gonna try this and hope it works. One question please.using gnome alas mixer the audio doesn’t get resampled like in pulseaudio is that correct? As soon as my new headphones arrive I’m going to try and If I have problems I’m gonna ask for help. Cheers

    Reply
  13. I followed your instructions. Works fine. I installed xfce4-mixer and it shows up on my panel. When I right click on it and select run audio mixer, I get this:

    GStreamer was unable to detect any sound devices. Some sound system specific GStreamer packages may be missing. It may also be a permissions problem.

    What should I do?

    Thanks!!

    Reply
    • Hi Randy,

      Assuming that you’re using the Unity desktop, get rid of ‘xfce4-mixer’ and use the one suggested at the end of the article (‘QasMixer‘) and then try playing something.

      Reply

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