I want to build my first project on audio. I want to create a visualizer with OpenGL. Believe me, I have made many unique designs that will look great as visualizer.

I want to grab the output from pulseaudio, then do a FFT on that, later draw patterns based on that. But I don't understand the first point, how to grab the pulseaudio output?

Programs like the simplescreenrecorder and the cli-visualizer programmer are two of the instances that works flawlessly.

Can anyone suggest how do I grab the raw output from the pulseaudio to do FFT on that?

2 Answers 2


Building on top of dirkt's answer I wrote a small program that grabs PulseAudio's default sink and writes raw PCM data to a file. Assuming you have a PulseAudio client up and running you need to request PA server info first:

pa_context_get_server_info(ctx, &pa_server_info_cb, nullptr /*userdata*/);

The server info struct holds the default sink name. That is "where the audio goes" on its way to the sound card. As dirkt stated, we can connect to sink_name.monitor to listen to said sink.

To do that, first create a new stream, then set up callbacks and finally connect it for recording.

void pa_server_info_cb(pa_context *ctx, const pa_server_info *info, void* /*userdata*/)
    pa_sample_spec spec;
    spec.format = PA_SAMPLE_S16LE;
    spec.rate = 44100;
    spec.channels = 1;
    pa_stream *stream = pa_stream_new(ctx, "output monitor", &spec, nullptr);

    pa_stream_set_state_callback(stream, &pa_stream_notify_cb, nullptr /*userdata*/);
    pa_stream_set_read_callback(stream, &pa_stream_read_cb, nullptr /*userdata*/);

    std::string monitor_name(info->default_sink_name);
    monitor_name += ".monitor";
    if (pa_stream_connect_record(stream, monitor_name.c_str(), nullptr, PA_STREAM_NOFLAGS) != 0) {
        std::cerr << "Failed to connect for recording\n";

In the read callback the data is available via pa_stream_peek(). Make sure to refer to the pa_stream_peek() docs for when to pa_stream_drop() after peeking!

While programming this, I found the PulseAudio API docs very useful and well written.


You don't "grab" Pulseaudio output.

Do the same thing that pavucontrol does for the output tab power level meters: Connect to the .monitor input of a sink, read sound data from it, visualize in any way you please. Do for as many sinks as necessary.

The source code of pavucontrol should be enough to get you started.

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