Configuring Linux to support sound involves the following steps:
If you are running Red Hat Linux there is a utility called
sndconfig that in most cases will detect your sound card and
set up all of the necessary configuration files to load the
appropriate sound drivers for your card. If you are running Red Hat I
suggest you try using it. If it works for you then you can skip the
rest of the instructions in this section.
sndconfig fails, you are using another Linux distribution,
or you want to follow the manual method in order to better understand
what you are doing, then the next sections will cover each of these
steps in detail.
Follow the manufacturer's instructions for installing the hardware or have your dealer perform the installation.
Older sound cards usually have switch or jumper settings for IRQ, DMA channel, etc; note down the values used. If you are unsure, use the factory defaults. Try to avoid conflicts with other devices (e.g. ethernet cards, SCSI host adaptors, serial and parallel ports) if possible.
Usually you should use the same I/O port, IRQ, and DMA settings that work under DOS. In some cases though (particularly with PnP cards) you may need to use different settings to get things to work under Linux. Some experimentation may be needed.
Most sound cards now use the Plug and Play protocol to configure settings for i/o addresses, interrupts, and DMA channels. If you have one of the older sound cards that uses fixed settings or jumpers, then you can skip this section.
As of version 2.2 Linux does not yet have full Plug and Play support in the kernel. The preferred solution is to use the isapnp tools which ship with most Linux distributions (or you can download them from Red Hat's web site http://www.redhat.com/).
First check the documentation for your Linux distribution. It may already have Plug and Play support set up for you or it may work slightly differently than described here. If you need to configure it yourself,the details can be found in the man pages for the isapnp tools. Briefly the process you would normally follow is:
pnpdumpto capture the possible settings for all your Plug and Play devices, saving the result to the file /etc/isapnp.conf.
(ACT Y)command near the end.
isapnpis run when your system boots up, normally done by one of the startup scripts. Reboot your system or run
If for some reason you cannot or do not wish to use the isapnp tools, there are a couple of other options. If you use the card under Microsoft Windows 95 or 98, you can use the device manager to set up the card, then soft boot into Linux using the LOADLIN program. Make sure Windows and Linux use the same card setup parameters.
If you use the card under DOS, you can use the
that comes with SoundBlaster16 PnP cards to configure it under DOS,
then soft boot into Linux using the LOADLIN program. Again, make sure
DOS and Linux use the same card setup parameters.
A few of the sound card drivers include the necessary software to initialize Plug and Play for the card. Check the documentation for that card's driver for details.
When initially installing Linux you likely used a precompiled kernel. These kernels often do not provide sound support. It is best to recompile the kernel yourself with the drivers you need. You may also want to recompile the kernel in order to upgrade to a newer version or to free up memory resources by minimizing the size of the kernel. Later, when your sound card is working, you may wish to rebuild the kernel sound drivers as modules.
The Linux Kernel HOWTO should be consulted for the details of building a kernel. I will just mention here some issues that are specific to sound cards.
If you have never configured the kernel for sound support before it is a good idea to read the relevant documentation included with the kernel sound drivers, particularly information specific to your card type. The files can be found in the kernel documentation directory, usually installed in /usr/src/linux/Documentation/sound. If this directory is missing you likely either have a very old kernel version or you have not installed the kernel source code.
Follow the usual procedure for building the kernel. There are
currently three interfaces to the configuration process. A graphical
user interface that runs under X11 can be invoked using
xconfig. A menu-based system that only requires text displays is
make menuconfig. The original method, using
make config, offers a simple text-based interface.
When configuring the kernel there will be many choices for selecting the type of sound card you have and the driver options to use. The on-line help within the configuration tool should provide an explanation of what each option is for. Select the appropriate options to the best of your knowledge.
After configuring the options you should compile and install the new kernel as per the Kernel HOWTO.
For proper operation, device file entries must be created for the sound devices. These are normally created for you during installation of your Linux system. A quick check can be made using the command listed below. If the output is as shown (the date stamp will vary) then the device files are almost certainly okay.
% ls -l /dev/sndstat crw-rw-rw- 1 root root 14, 6 Apr 25 1995 /dev/sndstat
Note that having the right device files there doesn't guarantee anything on its own. The kernel driver must also be loaded or compiled in before the devices will work (more on that later).
In rare cases, if you believe the device files are wrong, you can
recreate them. Most Linux distributions have a
script which can be used for this purpose.
You should now be ready to boot the new kernel and test the sound drivers. Follow your usual procedure for installing and rebooting the new kernel (keep the old kernel around in case of problems, of course).
During booting, check for a message such as the following on powerup
(if they scroll by too quickly to read, you may be able to retrieve
them with the
Sound initialization started <Sound Blaster 16 (4.13)> at 0x220 irq 5 dma 1,5 <Sound Blaster 16> at 0x330 irq 5 dma 0 <Yamaha OPL3 FM> at 0x388 Sound initialization complete
This should match your sound card type and jumper settings (if any).
Note that the above messages are not displayed when using loadable
sound driver module (unless you enable it, e.g. using
When the sound driver is linked into the kernel, the
initialization started and
Sound initialization complete
messages should be displayed. If they are not printed, it means that
there is no sound driver present in the kernel. In this case you
should check that you actually installed the kernel you compiled when
enabling the sound driver.
If nothing is printed between the
started and the
Sound initialization complete lines, it
means that no sound devices were detected. Most probably it means that
you don't have the correct driver enabled, the card is not supported,
the I/O port is bad or that you have a PnP card that has not been
The driver may also display some error messages and warnings during boot. Watch for these when booting the first time after configuring the sound driver.
Next you should check the device file /dev/sndstat. Reading the sound driver status device file should provide additional information on whether the sound card driver initialized properly. Sample output should look something like this:
% cat /dev/sndstat Sound Driver:3.5.4-960630 (Sat Jan 4 23:56:57 EST 1997 root, Linux fizzbin 2.0.27 #48 Thu Dec 5 18:24:45 EST 1996 i586) Kernel: Linux fizzbin 2.0.27 #48 Thu Dec 5 18:24:45 EST 1996 i586 Config options: 0 Installed drivers: Type 1: OPL-2/OPL-3 FM Type 2: Sound Blaster Type 7: SB MPU-401 Card config: Sound Blaster at 0x220 irq 5 drq 1,5 SB MPU-401 at 0x330 irq 5 drq 0 OPL-2/OPL-3 FM at 0x388 drq 0 Audio devices: 0: Sound Blaster 16 (4.13) Synth devices: 0: Yamaha OPL-3 Midi devices: 0: Sound Blaster 16 Timers: 0: System clock Mixers: 0: Sound Blaster
The command above can report some error messages. "No such file or directory" indicates that you need to create the device files (see section 4.3). "No such device" means that sound driver is not loaded or linked into kernel. Go back to section 4.2 to correct this.
If lines in the "Card config:" section of
listed inside parentheses (such as "(SoundBlaster at 0x220 irq 5 drq
1,5)"), it means that this device was configured but not detected.
Now you should be ready to play a simple sound file. Get hold of a sound sample file, and send it to the sound device as a basic check of sound output, e.g.
% cat endoftheworld >/dev/dsp % cat crash.au >/dev/audio
(Make sure you don't omit the ">" in the commands above).
Note that, in general, using
cat is not the proper way to
play audio files, it's just a quick check. You'll want to get a proper
sound player program (described later) that will do a better job.
This command will work only if there is at least one device listed in
the audio devices section of
/dev/sndstat. If the audio
devices section is empty you should check why the device was not
If the above commands return "I/O error", you should look at the end of the kernel messages listed using the "dmesg" command. It's likely that an error message is printed there. Very often the message is "Sound: DMA (output) timed out - IRQ/DRQ config error?". The above message means that the driver didn't get the expected interrupt from the sound card. In most cases it means that the IRQ or the DMA channel configured to the driver doesn't work. The best way to get it working is to try with all possible DMAs and IRQs supported by the device.
Another possible reason is that the device is not compatible with the device the driver is configured for. This is almost certainly the case when a supposedly "SoundBlaster (Pro/16) compatible" sound card doesn't work with the SoundBlaster driver. In this case you should try to find out the device your sound card is compatible with (by posting to the comp.os.linux.hardware newsgroup, for example).
Some sample sound files can be obtained from ftp://tsx-11.mit.edu/pub/linux/packages/sound/snd-data-0.1.tar.Z
Now you can verify sound recording. If you have sound input capability, you can do a quick test of this using commands such as the following:
# record 4 seconds of audio from microphone EDT% dd bs=8k count=4 </dev/audio >sample.au 4+0 records in 4+0 records out # play back sound % cat sample.au >/dev/audio
Obviously for this to work you need a microphone connected to the sound card and you should speak into it. You may also need to obtain a mixer program to set the microphone as the input device and adjust the recording gain level.
If these tests pass, you can be reasonably confident that the sound D/A and A/D hardware and software are working. If you experience problems, refer to the next section of this document.
If you still encounter problems after following the instructions in the HOWTO, here are some things to check. The checks are listed in increasing order of complexity. If a check fails, solve the problem before moving to the next stage.
You can check the date stamp on the kernel to see if you are running
the one that you compiled with sound support. You can do this with the
% uname -a Linux fizzbin 2.2.4 #1 Tue Mar 23 11:23:21 EST 1999 i586 unknown
or by displaying the file /proc/version:
% cat /proc/version Linux version 2.2.4 (root@fizzbin) (gcc version 22.214.171.124) #1 Tue Mar 23 11:23:21 EST 1999
If the date stamp doesn't seem to match when you compiled the kernel, then you are running an old kernel. Did you really reboot? If you use LILO, did you re-install it (typically by running lilo)? If booting from floppy, did you create a new boot floppy and use it when booting?
The easiest way to do this is to check the output of
dev/sndstat as described earlier. If the output is not as
expected then something went wrong with the kernel configuration or
build. Start the installation process again, beginning with
configuration and building of the kernel.
Make sure that the sound card was detected when the kernel booted. You
should have seen a message on bootup. If the messages scrolled off the
screen, you can usually recall them using the
% tail /var/log/messages
If your sound card was not found then something is wrong. Make sure it really is installed. If the sound card works under DOS then you can be reasonably confident that the hardware is working, so it is likely a problem with the kernel configuration. Either you configured your sound card as the wrong type or wrong parameters, or your sound card is not compatible with any of the Linux kernel sound card drivers.
One possibility is that your sound card is one of the
compatible type that requires initialization by the DOS
driver. Try booting DOS and loading the vendor supplied sound card
driver. Then soft boot Linux using
sure that card I/O address, DMA, and IRQ settings for Linux are the
same as used under DOS. Read the Readme.cards file from
the sound driver source distribution for hints on configuring your
If your sound card is not listed in this document, it is possible that the Linux drivers do not support it. You can check with some of the references listed at the end of this document for assistance.
Try reading from the /dev/audio device using the
command listed earlier in this document. The command should run
If it doesn't work, then chances are that the problem is an IRQ or DMA conflict or some kind of hardware incompatibility (the device is not supported by Linux or the driver is configured for a wrong device).
A remote possibility is broken hardware. Try testing the sound card under DOS, if possible, to eliminate that as a possibility.
If you still have problems, here are some final suggestions for things to try:
comp.os.linuxor other Usenet newsgroups (comp.os.linux.hardware is a good choice; because of the high level of traffic in these groups it helps to put the string "sound" in the subject header for the article so the right experts will see it)