Is it possible to improve your Linux PC’s audio without having to buy an expensive dedicated sound card? Say hello to PulseEffects.
With PulseEffects, you can make the sound louder or apply auto-gain that “normalizes” frequencies automatically so that you can hear whispers in movies and explosions that don’t destroy your speakers. You can enhance your music’s bass levels or apply the equivalent of Creative’s “Crystalizer” effects, which can make your MP3s sound like a live concert.
To install PulseEffects on Debian, Ubuntu, and compatible distributions, use:
On Arch and derivatives, try:
Fedora lovers can find PulseEffects in the official repositories and bring it on board with:
Afterward, find it in your Applications menu and run it.
Limiter does what its name states: it sets limits to the maximum allowed audio levels. Every audio equipment has limits, and if you exceed them, it under-performs. When the sound is louder than our equipment can output, it gets clipped off and becomes annoying noise.
By enabling the Limiter, you’re setting a ceiling to how loud your sound can go. Although the sound levels will initially be lower, they’ll soon catch up and normalize to what you’d expect. After that, the Limiter will catch any sudden loud noises and lower their volume so that it doesn’t exceed the limits you’ve set.
In other words, no more heart attacks from the blast of noise when the killer appears on-screen.
The Limiter works great with the default values. For movies, you may want to decrease the lookahead time to reduce any induced delay to the audio. For music, where delays aren’t annoying, you can increase it. This will allow the Limiter to look further ahead in the audio stream and have more time for smoother reactions to upcoming volume changes.
With Auto Gain, you can turn up the volume on whispers without having to make everything louder. It works thusly:
- By continuously monitoring your audio levels, it can detect loud noises and bring them down to your desired level (set in the “Target” field).
- Everything at lower levels is boosted to be brought closer to your desired loudness level.
- This happens dynamically. There’s constant re-adjustment as the audio plays so that loud noises remain loud but whispers still play at a lower volume than other sounds.
Let your audio play in the background and play with the Target level while monitoring the output levels on the right and the values at the bottom of the panel (Integrated, Relative, Range, etc.)
Increase the Target level so that the values are as loud as possible until you notice clipping. You’ll also see it visually with the displayed bars nearly always staying instead of being momentarily closer to their max value. At that point, slowly reduce the value so that your bars rarely reach 100.
Does your audio sound hollow? Maybe enhancing its bass can help.
Bass Enhancer doesn’t only improve low frequencies, nor does it try to make the drums in music sound like explosions. Instead, it enriches the existing frequencies with new, artificially created frequencies.
The harmonics added to the original signal make our ears perceive the final result as richer and can be a significant upgrade to the usually thin sound of laptop speakers.
‘ To use the Bass Enhancer, leave your audio playing and enable the filter. You can:
- Increase the “Amount” value to add more harmonics to the original signal.
- Increase the “Harmonics” value to ask for more frequencies to be created apart from the original ones.
- The frequency harmonics created are over the “Scope” value. By decreasing that, you increase the amount of the frequencies create and also the possible distortion range for your sound.
- Decrease the “Floor” value. Bass Enhancer doesn’t create frequencies under this value. Lower “floor,” more space for more automatically generated harmonics – but as with the other values, increased possibility of distortion.
Note that the final result also depends on the sound material. Your settings may sound fine for some pop music but heavily distorted with metal or drum ‘n’ bass. You should try a range of audio and try to find the optimal values for what you usually listen to and your particular sound system.
Popularized by Creative’s X-Fi series of audio cards, the Crystalizer can reduce the effects of compression for audio sources like MP3s.
The Crystalizer achieves 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 an expanded dynamic range and sounds much more vibrant than the original. Those who like Crystalizer believe it can make a highly compressed MP3 sound as if you were at a live concert. Audio purists, though, don’t like the artificiality of the enhanced sound, similar to the difference between a live recording and one produced in a studio.
Crystalizer’s default values are a nice middle-ground for most types of audio. Its impact is immediately felt after enabling it. You can play with the individual values afterward to increase or decrease its effect on your audio.
Improve Your Audio
We saw only a subset of the filters provided by PulseEffects. It’s worth looking into the rest of the available functionality to further customize your audio.
If you like the results, you can create and save different presets to instantly switch from a setup optimal for your favorite type of music to one that boosts and normalizes the sound in movies.
If you prefer to manage your Linux audio from the terminal, try ALSA.