I've just done a dist upgrade on my Debian SID computer, and the sound disappeared.

I can play an audio file in root, but not as a normal user. I've checked that I'm in the "audio" group. I've checked to see if anything is muted by running alsamixer, but all line is up and running.

Here are the Audio output I have on the computer:

$ lspci  | grep Audio
00:1b.0 Audio device: Intel Corporation 8 Series/C220 Series Chipset High Definition Audio Controller (rev 05)
01:00.1 Audio device: NVIDIA Corporation GK107 HDMI Audio Controller (rev a1)

I have an unplugged HDMI output (the NVIDIA controller). My audio headers are plugged on my Intel controller. I can see this driver when I run alsamixer, but only see the HDMI output from my graphics card in the pavucontrol output devices.

enter image description here

When listing my audio sinks, I only get one null device:

$ pacmd list-sinks
1 sink(s) available.
  * index: 2
    name: <auto_null>
    driver: <module-null-sink.c>
    state: IDLE
    suspend cause: 
    priority: 1000
    volume: front-left: 56362 /  86% / -3,93 dB,   front-right: 55706 /  85% / -4,23 dB
            balance -0,01
    base volume: 65536 / 100% / 0,00 dB
    volume steps: 65537
    muted: no
    current latency: 5,63 ms
    max request: 6 KiB
    max rewind: 6 KiB
    monitor source: 2
    sample spec: s16le 2ch 44100Hz
    channel map: front-left,front-right
    used by: 0
    linked by: 1
    configured latency: 40,00 ms; range is 0,50 .. 2000,00 ms
    module: 20
        device.description = "Sortie factice"
        device.class = "abstract"
        device.icon_name = "audio-card"

I don't really understand deeply how the sound system works in Debian, but I think I understand that my normal user does not have the right to access the Intel chip. From here, I'm stuck and can't really find out what to do...


I managed to get back the sound by disabling auto-mute in alsamixer. This settings has been somehow change during the system update.

But after a reboot, the problem came back, but the auto-mute was still off.

Thanks to dirkt answer, I think I have found the source of this issue: When running aplay -L as normal user and root user, I noticed some differences:

$ aplay -L
    Playback/recording through the PulseAudio sound server
    HDA Intel PCH, ALC887-VD Analog
    Default Audio Device
$ sudo aplay -L 
    HDA Intel PCH, ALC887-VD Analog
    Default Audio Device
    HDA Intel PCH, ALC887-VD Analog
    Default Audio Device

It seems that the default card is not the same when running as simple user. I could have some sound when selecting sysdefault instead of default card as normal user.

$ aplay -D sysdefault sound.wav

But now, I'm a bit stuck. I think I've pinpoint the source of the issue, but cannot find out how to solve it...

  • Restore from backup and file a bug with the distro maintainer. – ajeh Jun 26 '18 at 21:34
  • I had the same symptoms after upgrading to buster and it appeared timidity was holding alsa (that's basically what I understand). Uninstalling timidity restored the sound. – Jérôme May 10 at 15:19

Brief overview of sound: The sound hardware is managed by kernel drivers (formerly a part of ALSA), ALSA provides libraries to access the kernel drivers (this is what you see with alsamixer), and Pulseaudio runs on top of ALSA. One reason for that is that without extra effort, ALSA devices can only be used by a single program, while Pulseaudio allows multiple programs to use the hardware by providing a transport layer.

No sink with Pulseaudio means Pulseaudio failed to grab the ALSA device(s), possibly because (1) permissions are wrong, (2) something else is already using them, (3) something totally different went wrong.

So the first step is to stop Pulseaudio, then use aplay -L to see your ALSA devices, and try aplay -D ... audio_file.wav to see if you can access the device directly. Depending on the result of that the next step is either to look what is blocking the device (something else has started earlier and is using it), or to find out why Pulseaudio isn't using the ALSA devices (e.g. load module-alsa-card directly with pacmd, look at the error message/log entries). How to stop Pulseaudio depends on how you started it, possibly with systemd, possibly via your Desktop system login.

Inspecting the command line of running processes with ps axu etc. may give hints about the points mentioned above, and will also make sure Pulseaudio has been stopped properly, and is not restarting itself.


Problem solved: after the upgrade, I don't know why, the output was in automute. I just had to change it in alsamixer.

Sometimes, digging deep is not needed.

  • Since you said you checked if anything was muted, this was hard to guess from your question... – dirkt Jul 2 '18 at 9:55
  • I understand. But while checking this I missed the auto-mute option that I did not know about. – Nicolas Appriou Jul 2 '18 at 11:14

Actually the problem comes from the fact you've got PulseAudio AND a NVidia GPU w/ the blob.

The solution consists in preventing PulseAudio from starting by inserting garbage in /etc/pulse/daemon.conf (just a single letter at the end of the file). Then you will only be able to set the volue through AlsaMixer but at least sound will be back.

I've raised ticket #918522 about this issue. Feel free to contribute.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.