Linux Mint – Pinpointing audio issues

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With most computers, audio generally works without any configuration at all. Sometimes, you may run into a computer with a problematic sound card. When faced with sound issues, and you’ve already tried the obvious (turning up the volume), you should first check to see if your sound card has any compatibility issues. The following website lists audio hardware and whether or not they are compatible with Linux:

http://www.alsa-project.org/main/index.php/Matrix:Main

Keep note that the list in the preceding website is incomplete and may or may not include information regarding your sound card. If you aren’t sure of the make and model of your sound card, the following command should point it out for you:


aplay -l

For the most part, integrated sound cards seem to work the best in Linux, and your author rarely ever experiences a problem with onboard sound. Third-party sound cards, which you can purchase in computer stores, may or may not support Linux, and it’s important to check before you purchase one. Also, most sound cards that are compatible with Linux will not advertise, for example, on the back of the tutorials, so it would be best if you look for reviews online. In the case of newegg.com, reviews for hardware products will often include a review or two from individuals using a device with Linux, and you’ll get to read about their accounts. Some cards are supported well in Linux, others not so much, and some not at all.

There are two useful utilities for troubleshooting sound in Mint. The first is found by opening System Settings, then searching for Audio where you’ll find Cinnamon’s audio configuration utility. There, you can do some basic triage, such as making sure that the correct sound card is selected for use, just in case your system detects more than one. In addition, you can click on the Test Sound button to diagnose if your sound is not working at all or if the application itself is having issues.

The following screenshot shows Mint’s sound settings utility:

Although useful, your options in Cinnamon’s sound settings utility may be limited. Another useful utility that you may wish to install is called PulseAudio Volume Control
and is installable via the following command:


sudo apt-get install pavucontrol

After installing the pavucontrol package, you’ll find the PulseAudio Volume Control in your Applications menu if you search for it. With this utility, you’ll have many features that are the same as Cinnamon’s Sound utility but also a few more. For example, on the Configuration tab, you can set your profile to Analog Stereo Output instead of the default. This sometimes solves audio playback issues. The following screenshot shows the PulseAudio Volume Control utility:

In addition to helping you configure your audio output, you can also use the PulseAudio utility to configure input such as microphones. Many Linux recording applications will simply accept input from your default mic, which is almost always set to that of your integrated microphone, if you have one. The integrated mic in typical computers is usually of very low quality, so if recording audio is important to you, you can opt for a dedicated third-party microphone. If you do so, you can select the microphone to use in the PulseAudio utility.

In the case that you are still unable to get the audio working, or if the aplay -l command shows no output as if it thinks you have no sound card, the best that you can do is to search the Web for clues for your specific machine. In some rare cases, not being able to play audio may be due to a bug in the kernel itself, so consider choosing a different kernel to boot from by holding Shift right after your BIOS screen appears, during the boot process. Since Mint doesn’t remove outdated kernels as it updates them, you can try your luck with an earlier version.

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