A Flawless Linux Audio Experience…

I’m not just an emissary for Linux Audio, like everyone else who relies on it and extols its (few) virtues, I’m also its biggest detractor. So when you read “a flawless linux audio experience” you might think I’m trolling you, and in the distant past (say several months ago) you would definitely be correct. But not today.

I’ll paint the picture for you. A professor walks into a classroom. He plugs in his laptop at the Crestron-controlled podium via HDMI cable. He changes one audio setting using a convenient GUI. Audio works from his presentation, from a browser, from SuperCollider, and in Zoom which he’s using for his hybrid session. Sound amazing? Well it should. The number of moving parts here is pretty large considering that SuperCollider needs JACK, the browser doesn’t (and can’t), and Zoom usually breaks everything no matter what.

I have an updated KDE Neon system (5.26) for teaching that uses the 5.15.0-53-lowlatency kernel and PipeWire 0.3.48 as its default audio mixer. PipeWire interfaces with the system audio in a sane, but transparent way. The settings I do have to change are in the Audio Settings panel where I have to choose the hardware I want to use (as HDMI is not *always* present, but the built-in audio is.) which makes sense to me. Choosing HDMI with Analog in duplex is the way to go here because I want the built-in mic for Zoom, but I want to use the room speakers so everyone can hear people chime in. Sometimes I use a Logitech webcam which I haven’t tested yet, but let’s just feel good about this — progress is slow, but it is happening and PW is a huge step forward for Linux Audio.

If you haven’t, you can duckduckgo search for “pipewire on YOURLINUXDISTRO” and find a plethora of walk-throughs to make PipeWire your default audio server. There are some reports of extra steps being required based on different system configurations, which makes sense. For me, however, it was essentially a few CLI commands and I was good. I also have PW working well on two Arch systems I have, but the setup there is a little more involved and the results slightly more nuanced.

At this point, I’m seriously thinking of making the switch on my lab machines for the Spring semester. We will see how courageous I’m feeling in a couple of weeks. Could pipewire give you a flawless Linux audio experience? You won’t know until you try it!