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02 Sep 13

Ubuntu Sound Not Working Troubleshooting Tips

Today Cuan writes:

I’ve got an old compaq nx7300 laptop running Linux misq (more on that in a bit) that’s not switching the main speakers of when I plug headphones in. it used to work - I’ve had Ubuntu 10.04 / 11.10, Mint 11 (iI think), Peppermint (no idea which version) and others. now after I tried Pinguyos it’s not. I’ve also had Ubuntu 12.04 / Bodhi 1.3 installed and booted to a few others with no joy.

At one point I added lines to the alsa-base.conf (as per and it worked for a while then stopped (I’m not sure when it was a few days before I needed headphones again). Something else that worked for a bit was installing synaptic and removing and re-installing the sound components.

Any ideas of what’s going on or where I should look? I’m not a complete noob but not very well versed on Linux.

Hoping you can help

Well Cuan, I did a bit of digging on that particular notebook. As with any made for Windows notebook (see the sticker on there), Linux can sometimes be a dice roll as to whether or not some odd-ball compatibility issue might crop up. Thankfully however, your issue today is audio related and there are two different approaches to deal with this. First off, your notebook tested fairly well with Ubuntu it seems.

Right off the top of my head, this sounds like something that is best served with alsamixer via the terminal. Regardless of whether or not PulseAudio is in use, I am willing to bet you that something is toggled behind the scenes where we can’t see it. So let’s have a look, shall we?

ALSA (no PulseAudio)

From a terminal, type the following:


Next, let’s make sure we’ve selected the correct sound card — press F6 to display the following.


In my case, I need to arrow down to select HDA Intel. I then hit the Enter key.

This brings me to the correct sound card interface. Because this is a Playback issue, I then hit F3 to bring up only these options.


You may need to arrow key to the far left or right to find the headphone option. Remember, even if the headphone option isn’t visible….keep hitting arrow keys all the way until it appears. It may just be out of view.

Immediately, you can see that the headphone option is marked with MM. In my above example, so is the Master setting. And that is okay, because we’re going to find this issue. Arrow key select the Headphone option, click the M key. Now do the same thing with Master — so that your setup looks like this below.


Notice how instead of MM, these channels are now showing up as OO? This indicates that your headphones should now be working. Now in theory, unplugging your headphones should not mute this again. However if it does, you have some choices to make.  The first one is to work with some hack-a-day alsa script that likely will only make new problems for you. The second option is to simply do this anytime you want to use your headphones — that sucks, I know. The option I would take if this problem persists is to follow the advice in my PulseAudio/Ubuntu specific video below — buy a cheap USB soundcard. They are tiny, laptop friendly and best of all, you KNOW, it’s going to work distro after distro, release after release. For my money, it’s a no-brainer…but that’s just me.


On the Ubuntu/PulseAudio side of things, it’s even simpler. Simply install pavucontrol to duplicate what I was doing in the video below.

sudo apt-get install pavucontrol

Now run this with the following keys — Alt and F2. Type pavucontrol. As one might suspect, one can also auto-start this program as well. Just open up the Dash and type in startup. Open Startup Application Preferences, add pavucontrol. With this new volume manager running, go ahead and click over to the Output Devices tab as seen below.


Note that more than likely that under headphones, it’s muted. Unmute this and see if that helps. Chances are, the headphone detection does indeed work just fine. Also note that there is a pull-down menu that the headphones and speakers share here. It’s all for the same soundcard, but you want to make sure the check mark next to the mute option seen above, is toggled. This way, you are using this as your default soundcard.

If however, you have some odd-ball Compaq setup that isn’t working despite triple checking these settings….then once again, a cheap USB soundcard is a simple, working out of the box alternative.

Want to see the PulseAudio sound card checklist in action? Then check out my video below to see this in action!

Do you have questions about PC repair, Linux on the desktop, software or other tech related subjects? Don’t get frustrated, Just Ask Matt! Email me directly for help and perhaps I will be able to answer your questions right here at Matt Hartley Dot Com!

Reader's Comments


    I am having a simular issue that i am unable to figure out. I have a HP DV8 notebook. When I plug in my headphones they work, but my built in speakers will not mute. When I try to mute the speakers it mutes my headphones as well.


      Carefully follow the PulseAudio steps above. More often than not, the answer is in pavucontrol (not the Sound Manager built into Ubuntu).

      99% of the time, the error is because folks are using the default sound manager and not realizing that they need something that digs deeper. Good luck!


        I was finally able to manually turn down the internal speakers with alsamixer, but still not able to do it with built in sound menu, or with pavucontrol.

        Just rather annoying to have to use alsamixer to turn the volume down to my internal speakers :)


          Agreed. Any made for Windows notebook that makes you do this for mere audio is ridiculous.

          I have an old notebook that has the same issue — I saved it with the USB solution above. One $5 USB sound card and I never had an issue ever again. Easy-peasy.

          Best of all, I take it with me and I know that all sound always works regardless of the PC in use. It’s full of win. :)

          Otherwise, be it a major pain…you got the work-a-round working okay. ;)


    Many people forget to right-click the little speaker icon at the top left of their Ubuntu desktop and then click – Sound Settings

    Then you need to verify which INPUT and which OUTPUTs are selected.

    All too often one of those may be set wrong because of multiple choices. Make sure your’s are set correctly before jumping through a lot of hoops.’


      You are mistaken. This same advice reflects the mistake most people are being told elsewhere — this doesn’t work consistently and works 1/4 the time at best.

      Have Skype setup to work with a normal sound card, then try adding a USB headset…you will find out fast how useless the input/output tabs are.

      I’ve studied the issue since Pulse was first released — this article addresses the definitive fix. Input/Output is for fallback only — it does not provide application specific settings. Sorry. :)