Is it possible to improve the audio on your Linux PC without buying an expensive dedicated sound card? Say hello to PulseEffects.
With PulseEffects, you can make the sound louder or apply an automatic gain that automatically “normalizes” the frequencies so you can hear whispers in movies and explosions that don’t destroy your speakers. You can improve the bass levels of your music or apply the equivalent of Creative’s “Crystalizer” effects, which can make your MP3 sound like a live concert.
To install PulseEffects on Debian, Ubuntu, and compatible distributions, use:
On Arch and derivatives, try:
Fedora enthusiasts can find PulseEffects in official repositories and integrate it with:
Then find it in your Applications menu and run it.
Limiter does what the name suggests: it sets limits to the maximum audio levels allowed. Each audio device has limits, and if you exceed them, it underperforms. When the sound is louder than what our equipment can produce, it cuts off and becomes an annoying noise.
By activating the limiter, you set a ceiling for the intensity of your sound. Although the sound levels are initially lower, they will soon catch up and normalize to what you expect. After that, the limiter will pick up sudden loud noises and reduce their volume so that it does not exceed the limits you have set.
In other words, no more heart attack due to the explosion of noise when the killer appears on the screen.
The limiter works very well with the default values. For movies, you may want to reduce the lead time to reduce any delay in the audio. For music, where the delays are not bothersome, you can increase it. This will allow the limiter to look further into the audio stream and will have more time for smoother reactions to future volume changes.
With automatic gain, you can increase the volume of whispers without having to increase the volume. It works like this:
- By continuously monitoring your audio levels, it can detect loud noises and reduce them to the desired level (defined in the “Target” field).
- Everything at lower levels is amplified to get closer to your desired volume level.
- This is happening dynamically. There is a constant readjustment as the audio plays so that loud noises remain loud but the whispers are always emitted at a lower volume than other sounds.
Let your audio play in the background and play with the target level while monitoring the right output levels and values at the bottom of the panel (integrated, relative, range, etc.)
Increase the target level so that the values are as high as possible until you notice clipping. You will also see it visually, the bars displayed remain almost always instead of being momentarily closer to their maximum value. At this point, slowly lower the value so that your bars rarely reach 100.
Is your sound hollow? Maybe improving his bass can help.
Bass Enhancer does not only improve low frequencies, nor does it try to make music drums sound like explosions. Instead, it enriches existing frequencies with new artificially created frequencies.
The harmonics added to the original signal cause our ears to perceive the end result as richer and can be a significant improvement in the generally thin sound of laptop speakers.
“To use the Bass Enhancer, leave your audio playing and activate the filter. You can:
- Increase the “Amount” value to add more harmonics to the original signal.
- Increase the “Harmonics” value to request the creation of more frequencies outside of the original ones.
- The frequency harmonics created are greater than the “Scope” value. By decreasing this, you increase the amount of frequencies created as well as the possible distortion range for your sound.
- Decrease the “Floor” value. Bass Enhancer does not create frequencies below this value. Lower floor, more space for more automatically generated harmonics – but as with other values, increased possibility of distortion.
Note that the final result also depends on the sound material. Your settings may sound correct for certain pop music but strongly distorted by metal or bass drum. You should try a range of audio and try to find the optimal values for what you usually listen to and your particular audio system.
Popularized by Creative’s X-Fi audio card series, the Crystalizer can reduce the effects of compression for audio sources such as MP3.
The Crystalizer performs its magic in a similar way to Bass Enhancer: by analyzing the available frequencies and creating new ones that complement the existing audio. The resulting audio has a wider dynamic range and much more vibrant sounds than the original. Those who love Crystalizer believe that it can produce highly compressed MP3 sound as if you were at a live concert. Audio purists, however, dislike the artificiality of the enhanced sound, similar to the difference between a live recording and a studio product.
Crystalizer defaults are a good compromise between most types of audio. Its impact is immediately felt after activating it. You can then play with the individual values to increase or decrease its effect on your audio.
Improve your audio
We only saw a subset of the filters provided by PulseEffects. It’s worth studying the rest of the features available to further customize your audio.
If you like the results, you can create and save different presets to instantly go from an optimal setup for your favorite type of music to one that amplifies and normalizes sound in movies.
If you prefer to manage your Linux audio from the terminal, try ALSA.