Sound in Linux

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To play sound you need to check:

hardware settings

volume control, switches

software settings

That is, the settings in the volume controller or mixer.
Your desktop will provide them under categories such as
  • Audio
  • Multimedia
  • System settings
Within the mixer or controller, you need to check:
  • the category that you want to control, such as:
    • Playback Devices
    • Playback, Output Devices
  • and within these categories, the settings:
    • volume sliders
    • mute switches

Starting volume controllers and mixers

Starting a volume controller or mixer can be as easy as clicking the speaker in one of the corners of your screen, but that does not always appear by default and then it still may not work or may not help you to find the sound settings that you need.

Choosing another volume controller or mixer

There are several other controllers and mixers available which may better suit your needs. But for most users, the "easiest" way to find them would be to logout and login to another type of desktop.

To avoid switching desktop sessions, use this utility:


from which you can pick and start all available sound controllers and mixers.

Here is a short description for each them:

Volume Control

  • pavucontrol
  • Can start USB headset
  • Provides vu meters so that you can see:
    • that there is a sound signal
    • not obstructed by some hidden mute switch or volume slider
    • going to the output device of your choice

    which is very nice, but, to make that happen:

    Warning: you need to enable the output (internal soundcard or maybe a USB headphone) not only under the Output Device tab but also under the Playback tab:
    • where it does not appear initially
    • even not after the usual trigger, unplug and plug the USB headphone,
    • but where it will appear only after starting an input stream...
    • a button, not as a menu and just presenting the first choice instead of an invitation to Select..., suggesting that there is nothing more than just details for that output, typically the internal sound card. Press that button et voilà, it appears to uncover a menu which also includes the USB headphone.

    Audio Mixer

  • xfce4-mixer
  • Can start USB headset
  • Warning: The Sound card menu covers much more than the name suggests,
    see the separate chapter below. It is also about (un)covering the setting that may be preventing you from hearing sound. If you are desperately hunting for that setting (which is why you are visiting this page, right ?) your are advised to :
    • Just use this Sound card menu to select the desired output hardware and to avoid the pre-selections (for the dialogue) also under this menu
    • Enable all controls under Select Controls


  • gnome-control-center sound
  • Can start USB headset
  • Without the sound argument, it will start System settings from which you can start the sound settings. These Sound settings include a test button.

    KDE Mixer

  • kmix; kmix
  • Cannot enable USB headset but can adjust volume, after starting the USB headset with another sound application
  • Starts in the system tray which may or may not be easily visible in your desktop software (other then KDE where kmix is mostly used with). If nothing appears, start it twice or retry after disabling docking in the system tray which can be done by
    adding an entry to ~/.kde/share/config/kmixrc:
    [Global]king=false(that is, under Global )

    Using Audio Mixer

    The Sound card menu covers much more than the name suggests:

    1. The available "sound cards", hardware such as
      • the internal sound card
      • USB devices: headphone/microphone
    2. Pre-selections : These preselections are just following the hardware options without any separator so that you may not be aware that these are preselections for the behaviour of this dialogue, which can be very confusing.

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