Tech

Linux: Configure complex audio setups with PulseAudio

The PulseAudio sound server is one of the components of a Linux desktop that you hardly ever see in everyday life: in the background, it ensures that the sound is automatically redirected to the headphones that have just been plugged in or the microphone of a headset instead of the built-in notebook microphone is used. Even if you switch to another audio source manually, most users only use the rudimentary configuration options integrated in the Gnome settings. You only get to know the diverse functions of PulseAudio if, for example, the microphone should only be heard in one ear or if you want to output the sound via several loudspeakers or headphones and loudspeakers at the same time.

The Advanced Linux Sound Architecture, or Alsa for short, is the basis for PulseAudio. Alsa is responsible for the hardware support, but also has a rudimentary sound server itself, with which you can switch the output from the headphones to the speakers on the screen, among other things. PulseAudio is far more powerful and therefore replaces the Alsa sound server in most Linux distributions.

A sound server can be thought of as a virtual mixer: it ensures that the signals from the various inputs are routed to the desired outputs. PulseAudio also has various expansion modules with which you can, for example, duplicate the sound, for example to operate headphones and loudspeakers in parallel, or create virtual input devices that only contain one microphone channel of a stereo microphone or USB mixer. On the other hand, other modules ensure that the sound, for example, automatically lands on the headphones that you have just plugged in.

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