Disabling Pulseaudio has been a solution, once again

On my current Ubuntu 10.10 installation, Pulseaudio did a good enough job to not appear on my radar, until today. I reactivated my Skype account after long abstinence. The test sound was distorted, like less than 8 bits with extra crunchy aliasing, perhaps mixed with a bit of clean signal.

Quitting Skype, killing pulseaudio and renaming its binary as the quick way to avoid having it restarted fixed the issue. Clean sound. Luckily I have an old soundcard that does hardware mixing.

I’m not even sure how I would make a useful bug report out of this and lost time fixing the issue instead of getting things done, already. Still, I don’t want to let this pass silently.

Despite having nothing to gain from Pulseaudio, currently, I’m not opposed to it conceptually. But like in the old days, where I even went so far as to rip it out of my system, it was not a solution, but created a problem. A less computer savvy person could have deduced that Skype on Ubuntu is broken.

So now I have an old serial Wacom tablet requiring manually patching and building things to get it to work plus a sound system that I have to disable after each upgrade. Both Unity and Gnome 3 make assumptions that are not compatible with the way I work. Not even the way I want to work. First I lost interest in constantly messing with my system, after I got too much of that with Gentoo. Now I’m losing interest to even upgrade once every 6 months. But maybe that’s just maturity 🙂

About thorwil
I'm a designer from Germany. My main interests are visual and interaction design, free/open-source software and (electronic) music.

19 Responses to Disabling Pulseaudio has been a solution, once again

  1. Ante says:

    …or get latest Skype that has this issue fixed.

    • thorwil says:

      Searching the web, I found posts about sound not working at all, but nothing indicated the availability of a version that would fix this specific issue.

      • d2kx says:

        Your search on the web should begin on skype.com. Download the latest version and your problem should be fixed.

    • albert says:

      I had a problem similar, a little bit more “funny” and concerning all microphone related applications (skype, google voice, gnome-sound-recorder, cheese….).

      I connect the webcam with the microphone, I choose the webcam microphone in the sound panel, I adjust the volume and I can see that the micrphone is working because I can see the levels changing but none of the applications seems to be able to have this microphone link to them.

      The solution? As usual killing pulseaudio and everything start to work.

      PA is useful for me for only one reason: connect to my bluetooth speaker without it I would have use the same solution than the one preconized here!

  2. Matt Mossholder says:

    “A less computer savvy person could have deduced that Skype on Ubuntu is broken.”

    Technically, since Ubuntu uses PA for the sound system, wouldn’t the deduction be correct?

    Maybe the correct approach at this point would be to open bugs whenever an application doesn’t work correctly with PA, so that the application can be corrected. It seems PA is here to stay, on Ubuntu, Fedora, and many other distros… it is probably time to start ensuring the developers know they need to work with it.

  3. Vadim Peretokin says:

    Try setting Skype to use PulseAudio, it supports it natively now.

    • thorwil says:

      Skype was set to PA, allowing no other choice. Only making PA unavailable made it list other options (where “Default Device” works fine).

  4. Tobu says:

    Instead of renaming binaries and potentially breaking other stuff, launch `pasuspender skype`. This runs Skype with PulseAudio disabled, and re-enables it when Skype quits. That or upgrading Skype, since recent versions (since 2.2) should be PulseAudio-compatible.

  5. Moma says:

    @Ante: The bug is still in the latest Skype.
    I downloaded the latest Skype from skype.com, and the start-sound (and maybe even the test call) is really distorted. Bad sound. I have Skype beta on Ubuntu 11.04 beta (64bit).

    We had a similar bug in (64bits) Adobes Flash-player for couple of weeks ago. Some flash-content got really bad sound. It’s been fixed now.

    BTW: This can record your Skype calls automatically.

  6. AutoStatic says:

    ~/.pulse/client.conf file with the line autospawn=0 and then pulseaudio -k does the trick too. A bit of a shame though you blame it all on PulseAudio while it is obviously not at fault.



    • thorwil says:

      I’m well aware that it might be Skype doing something stupid.

      I just stated that I had an issue that disappears if I get rid of PA. While at the same time, I lose nothing without it (well, except a volume slider in the sound menu). I think the shame is that any user would have to care about this at all.

      • Ante says:

        The problem is that skype is stupid (or was stupid). So, it played clever and working around PA to set up mixers. Complaining of PA is just pointless. Get new skype, which isn’t broken.

        • albert says:

          The problem is either that PA is stupid (see my problem above not only related to skype but all sound record application) or either the integration with ubuntu is bad. But even in this case that means that integrating PA is too complex.

  7. Martin Owens says:

    The serial wacom issue is a known problem with the linux kernel. Basically that it sucks at plugging kernel drivers into non-interrupting ports like serial. The only way the serial wacom in screens can be detected is because of a pnp detection string.

    Outside of that, we’d have to build some kind of serial port interrupter that punched the kernel in the face and told it to bind wacom to the correct serial port node. Then we’d probably have to fix the wacom source code since Ping (wacom employee for linux support) has said the support is well and truely dropped. Patches welcome though. Making sure that non-pnp serial wacoms created the correct xinput initialisation event.

    • Red Five says:

      There’s a fairly inexpensive way to convert older serial Wacom tablets to USB using a Teensy USB dev board and WaxBee firmware. It is not a trivial process, but not exceedingly difficult if you know your way around a soldering iron and aren’t afraid of removing a couple of things. The instructions at http://forum.bongofish.co.uk/index.php?topic=1930.0 are specifically for a UD-1212-R, which is what I have, but I think there’s enough info in the thread and included links to convert almost any Wacom to USB. WaxBee essentially makes your old serial tablet look like an Intuos USB device, with varying support for the soft buttons on the top. It’s a work in progress, but the basic functionality looks solid.

  8. shazzner says:

    Pulseaudio caused me nothing by problems when playing some ID software games, it also seems to degrade in quality after playing some Wine games too. It’s gotten better over the years but with all the problems it’s had, it might be time for new solution.

  9. Antonis Kanouras says:

    Skype rocks with Pulseaudio if you’re using a separate headset – Ringtone goes to speakers, voice goes to headset, no configuration needed at all. Not to mention Pulseaudio is practically required if you wish to use a Bluetooth headset (as I’ve been doing for a long while now). (I know you can make ALSA use the headset directly, but why bother when it just works with Pulseaudio?).

    Closing, Skype from Ubuntu’s partner repo works fine here.

  10. David says:

    Haven’t had any problems with Skype and PA in ages. I’m surprised it’s still an issue. The only place where sound doesn’t work quite right for me is with Vista running in VirtualBox. Haven’t tried fiddling with it though.