My Journey to Ubuntu Part I: Setting Up Audio Effects

A few years back I started considering switching my daily tasks to Ubuntu, mostly after finding out how beautiful and usable is the Linux desktop when using Compiz (and configuring it properly). Personally, I like the minimalism of Gnome, so I just like vanilla Ubuntu.

But! as I started checking every aspect of the desktop experience to see if it matched my preferences, I found out that there were some issues that I would need to solve before being really able to switch and enjoy the experience. From the basic checks that I could do my daily chores to the adjustment of some details, I found a few things to work on. Today I'll share the way I found to get the sound effects I'm used to in the Windows desktop.

Let me start with a simple summary of my issue with sound: compressed music feels quite flat to my ears; I guess it's because the compression uses techniques that reduce the amount of details of sound.

On Windows, I've been using sound effects to solve the issue; usually I just enable the powerful sound effect on the audio driver configuration and it gets the sound right to my ears; then I can add a soft equalization on Winamp and it sounds very nice. Add to that the Global Hotkeys I set up and my desktop simply becomes a very nice audio station for me to enjoy my preferred music all day long.

When I started listening my music on Ubuntu, I noticed immediately the sound was that flat, tasteless sound typical of compressed audio. It was clear I could not live with such a poor sound. Notice I'm not saying the audio has errors (driver glitches, etc) but that it just sounds too simple for my taste. At that point, I knew I had to do some research to find a good solution. Since the manufacturer of my sound card (built-in, not external) does not provide an effects box for Linux (as they do for Windows), I just had to see if there was some kind of library available for Linux that I could use to get my ears satisfied.

For the sake of brevity I will not enumerate every single attempt I made at solving the issue. The one that worked in the end was a combination of LADSPA plugins and the Audacious audio player. The solution is as follows:

  1. Install Audacious.
  2. Install LADSPA and caps LADSPA Plugins1; in the Synaptic package manager you can find lots of plugins if you search for "ladspa".
  3. On Audacious, enable the LADSPA Host effect (Output -> Effects); then go into the corresponding settings for it (Output -> Effects -> Settings...) and set it as shown in the following picture:
    LADSPA Host effect set up with a C Eq - 10-band Equalizer and a C Compress - Mono Compressor

In the upper part of the image you can see I loaded the LADSPA plugins by setting Module paths to /usr/lib/ladspa and then I just enabled two plugins: C* Eq - 10-band equalizer and C* Compress - Mono Compressor. The two settings windows are shown in the bottom part of the screenshot. If you hear sound clipping, try dividing by two the values for the equalizer and/or reducing the gain on the compressor.

As a final note, let me explain where did I get the equalizer settings: I could not get actual values for the powerful effect on my effects box on Windows (no curves and no values at all), but I just happened to try the same on a newer computer, which had the same type of effects box... and there it was! a nice equalizer showing the equalization curve that corresponded to that sound effect. Even though the equalizer did not show Y-scale values I just took a screenshot with me and did some trial and error to get the final values I showed up before.

  1. Installation should be as simple as searching for ladspa in Synaptic, choosing the caps package and accepting the required dependencies.