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PulseAudio is a popular sound server for Linux. It is now required by a number of applications, and should be enabled if audio support is desired on NixOS. Enabling PulseAudio is sufficient to enable audio support on NixOS in most cases.

Enabling PulseAudio

Add to your configuration:

hardware.pulseaudio.enable = true;
hardware.pulseaudio.support32Bit = true;    ## If compatibility with 32-bit applications is desired.

You may need to add users to the audio group for them to be able to use audio devices:

users.extraUsers.alice.extraGroups = [ "audio" ... ];

Explicit PulseAudio support in applications

Normally, the system-wide ALSA configuration (/etc/asound.conf) redirects the audio of applications which use the ALSA API through PulseAudio. For this reason, most applications do not need to be PulseAudio-aware. Some NixOS packages can be built with explicit PulseAudio support which is disabled by default. This support can be enabled in all applicable packages by setting:

nixpkgs.config.pulseaudio = true;

Disabling unwanted modules

hardware.pulseaudio.extraConfig = "unload-module module-suspend-on-idle";

Using Pulseaudio Equalizer

Currently (2017-11-29 Issue.png#8384) the qpaeq command does not work out of the box, use the following commands to get it running:

$ pactl load-module module-equalizer-sink
$ pactl load-module module-dbus-protocol
$ nix-shell -p python27Full python27Packages.pyqt4 python27Packages.dbus-python --command qpaeq


General troubleshooting

Before troubleshooting PulseAudio, determine that the kernel-level sound APIs (ALSA) are functional; see ALSA.

If ALSA-level audio is working, determine whether audio is being routed via PulseAudio.

To determine what processes are using the sound devices:

$ sudo lsof /dev/snd/*
pulseaudi 14080 goibhniu   30u   CHR  116,7      0t0 5169 /dev/snd/controlC0
pulseaudi 14080 goibhniu   37u   CHR  116,7      0t0 5169 /dev/snd/controlC0

In this example, only pulseaudio processes are using sound devices.

If other processes (such as plugin-container) are using sound devices, this indicates they are bypassing PulseAudio; check that you don't have a local ~/.asoundrc file directing audio to somewhere else.

Note that you may need to enable the full pulseaudio package using:

hardware.pulseaudio.package = pkgs.pulseaudioFull;
For example I had to enable this package in order to solve an error:
snd_pcm_open failed: Device or resource busy

(The problem is that also also tries to connect to the card that is already used by pulseaudio, so we need a module pulseaudio-alsa on pulseaudio to redirect also calls to pulseaudio)

Clicking and Garbled Audio

The newer implementation of the PulseAudio sound server uses timer-based audio scheduling instead of the traditional, interrupt-driven approach.

Timer-based scheduling may expose issues in some ALSA drivers. On the other hand, other drivers might be glitchy without it on, so check to see what works on your system.

To turn timer-based scheduling off add this to your configuration:

hardware.pulseaudio.configFile = pkgs.runCommand "default.pa" {} ''
  sed 's/module-udev-detect$/module-udev-detect tsched=0/' \
    ${pkgs.pulseaudio}/etc/pulse/default.pa > $out

Then perform # nixos-rebuild switch, followed by $ pulseaudio -k.

The difference should be directly noticeable. This is a known issue related to quality of Creative driver [1], but it can also happen with other sound cards.

Paprefs doesn't work on KDE

If you run KDE (Plasma) and paprefs util doesn't work complaining about dconf, make sure you have programs.dconf.enable = true; in your NixOS configuration. Source.

See also