PulseAudio is a powerful cross-platform (meaning that it can be used in 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 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, a 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 the software level), PulseAudio simply ‘hands it over to ALSA, and ALSA takes it from there.
Anyhow, in my case, I suspect that it’s this, the poor 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 with no sound outputs.
However, out of these frustrations, I thought, “to hell with it!” (many bad words were filtered :D). “I’m gonna remove PulseAudio and just use ALSA”. I just did it, and now all my audio outputs work perfectly fine!
So if you’re also having the same 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.
Remove PulseAudio in Ubuntu
1. First, let’s remove PulseAudio from your Ubuntu OS. I don’t remember when Ubuntu used to come installed by default, but in most versions like 18, 20, and 22, the below command should remove it.
sudo apt-get autoremove pulseaudio
3. Now the next time you log in 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 came 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 necessary, but just to make sure, reboot your PC again 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 running Totem, for instance, then simply open your Terminal window and enter the below command.
This should open a new window, similar to the one below. Simply remove the “check” mark from its window that says “External Amplifier”, which should solve most of your issues.
Update: If you have an amplifier, 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).
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’, a new ALSA mixer GUI. It’s also known to fix some of the run-time errors of ‘Gnome ALSA …’.
Well, that’s pretty much it. If everything goes according to plan, you should hear your speakers screaming! That’s it, and good luck.