It’s a common problem I hear about often. New Ubuntu users get the Linux distro installed just fine, only to suffer problems with video or audio later. The most common is a perceived issue with getting the sound card to be detected. Here’s the rub: the odds are that the sound card is being seen. The real issue is that you may simply not have it selected properly in the audio controls.

Introducing your sound preferences

As you can see in the provided image here, you are presented with five different tabs. Oftentimes with desktop PCs, you find that you have HDMI audio enabled, hence why nothing with the volume control seems to be helping.

Sound Preferences
Photo by Matt Hartley

Here’s what you need to do. With sound preferences open, make sure the “Output” tab is selecting the correct device. Now for the annoying part — you may need to do this again on reboot if your system is detecting multiple sound cards. It’s unlikely, but not impossible.

Sound controls examined

With your Output tab handled, you should hear audio just fine now. No problems. If there is still an issue, say with one application working and other one failing, off to the next tab that handles individual output sources.

Sound Preferences 2
Photo by Matt Hartley

In the image above, you can see two separate sound instances running. If Yammer was alerting me correctly, yet Chrome running Pandora was failing, chances are this is where I’d see the problem. Is something muted or turned down?

It’s still not working

There are some, be it few, sound cards that are simply not compatible. I have been using Linux since 2002 on countless computers ranging in age and have never personally experienced this myself. Others, however, especially with cheesy branded notebooks, have.

Such is life when people bellyache about a computer with a “Made For Windows” sticker applied to it and try to install something else. Remember, Linux on notebooks is always better pre-installed unless you’re already comfortable with Linux.

For those of you that are, you may be able to either find something in the ALSA backports or just doing some Googling around for a solution to your specific sound card. It’s best to find out exactly what the specs are for the problem device.

If you’re like me and would rather just “make it work,” think USB headphones or USB speakers. Either will work great, out of the box, using the sound preferences described above.