Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Resetting Speaker Volume in Mint/Ubuntu

Okay, you have to promise not to laugh or make "old guy" cracks here. I keep the master volume on my Linux Mint PC cranked fairly low (between 40% and 45% of maximum) because I have powered speakers (and reasonably acute hearing). When I watch YouTube videos, I usually have to crank the volume up a bit. When the video is on the long side (think slide show or lecture rather than cats mugging for the camera), I often (usually?) forget to crank the volume back down again. Mint remembers the volume, so the next time I log in I get blasted by the log-in chime. If I'm not sitting at the PC when the desktop comes up -- and frequently I'm off getting a cup of coffee or doing some chore while it boots -- I'll forget to reset the volume, and eventually get blasted by some other sound.

So here's a partial fix, a script that resets the volume on log-in.
  1. In a terminal, run pactl list sinks to get a list of output devices controlled by the PulseAudio driver. Note the device number for the device that handles your speakers. (In my case, the only entry is device #1.)
  2. Using your favorite text editor, create a script file (mine is named resetVolume.sh) in a directory of your choice (~/Scripts for me). Putting the script somewhere in your home directory should keep it safe from being lost during system upgrades. Put the following two lines of code in the script file:
    pactl set-sink-volume 1 45%
    Change 1 to whatever device number you obtained in the first step and 45% to whatever volume setting you want. Note that the pactl command seems to suffer some rounding errors when it does volume changes; this script actually sets my volume to 44%, according to the panel audio control applet.
  3. In a terminal, run chmod +x ~/Scripts/resetVolume.sh (changing the path and file name as appropriate) to make the script executable.
  4. Test the script: use the panel audio applet (or whatever mechanism you normally use to control volume) to crank the master volume up or down, then run the script in a terminal and verify the volume resets correctly.
  5. Find Startup Applications in the system menu (the easiest way is to search for it by name) and run it. Click the Add button and create an entry for the script.
  6. Test once more by screwing with the volume setting and then logging out and back in.
The one drawback I've found to this is that the volume reset takes place after the startup chime sound has begun playing. So the initial auditory assault is not entirely avoided, but at least I've averted any future ones for that session.

UPDATE: I apparently declared victory prematurely. The script seems to run fairly reliably when I log out and log back in, but if I shutdown and restart, or reboot, it does not work. I switched from the pactl command to the pacmd command, but that did not help. I added a line 'sudo alsactl store' to reset the stored volume (and added the script to the sudoers file), but that did not help. I linked the script from /etc/rc0.d and from /etc/rc6.d, so that it would run when shutting down or rebooting, and confirmed that the script did indeed run; it just did not reset the stored volume. (I named it both K99resetVolume, so that it would run late in the shutdown sequence, and K00resetVolume, so that it would run early, but no joy either way.) My suspicion (and it's just a suspicion) is that there's a timing issue, with the script perhaps failing because alsa and/or pulse-audio is not running at the time the script executes. In any event, I'm at a loss how to get it to run properly.

UPDATE #2: Another day, another failure.  This time I symlinked the script in /etc/X11/Xsession.d, so that the script would run when the X system started after login. I gave it a name starting with "99z", which I think would make it the last script to run during the X start. Once again, the script ran but failed to affect the audio volume.

[SOLVED] UPDATE #3: I fixed this a while back and apparently forgot to update this post. The script that works for me is as follows:

# There seems to be some inconsistency about whether the sound card
# is sink 0 or sink 1, so hit them both just to be safe.
pacmd set-sink-volume 0 27500
pacmd set-sink-volume 1 27500
sudo alsactl store

It will generate a harmless warning message because one of the two sinks (0, 1) will not exist when the script runs.


  1. Thanks for this, I will give it a try.
    However, I still have a question though: To what volume do the values (27500) in your last script correspondent? Since you wrote that your preferred volume ist 45% and I want to set mine to 20%.
    Thank you.

    1. As best I can tell, the pacmd command does not accept percentages for the volume value, and instead expects a positive 16 bit integer value (0 to 65535). The 27500 I use sets the volume to either 41% or 42%, depending on the alignment of the moon and the stars. (27500/65535 = 0.4196..., which the volume applet usually rounds to 42% but today is rounding to 41%.) Try 13108 +/- 1 to get 20%.


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