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I was listening to a music track at a moderate volume through HDMI out and I guess I had turned the volume in the application down quite a bit and had the receiver turned up. An ad movie in my browser randomly started playing at a super ultra high volume and blew out a tweeter in my $1000 speakers.

Is there any kind of software protection for this kind of thing in the future? I'm using all stock drivers in 12.04.1 with the recommended NVIDIA proprietary drivers, although it doesn't seem like the NVIDIA driver is controlling the sound through the HDMI out.

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In this case the best solution seems a hardware solution to me: a proper amplifier should prevent this from occurring. –  Silex Oct 20 '12 at 23:26
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2 Answers 2

Hmm, I don't know at the moment if there's any software that will help with this, but since you said that an advertisement started blaring at full volume and blew out your speakers, I'd recommend using an adblocker for the sites that have ads with sound. (One of my favorites for Firefox is Adblock Plus.)

This will also indirectly punish sites that have loud ads, as they will lose the revenue from the blocked ads. This is an unintended but nice consequence. ;)

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The short answer is perhaps: yes, but not one you'd want. IMO there are two ways around this problem:

1. Apply dynamic range control

Probably what you were thinking of here. This would apply dynamic range control (e.g. a limiter) across your (entire) pulse output. I've not tried this (for reasons see below) but I'd venture your best route would be a LADSPA plugin, as per this answer. Once configured, any transient bursts in volume (over the threshold level) should cause a reduction in volume (by a ratio) on the output meaning your tweeters should get saved. Note that this almost certainly won't apply to Dolby or DTS audio e.g. from a DVD / BluRay on the PC.

Of course, the problem is when it kicks in during that sudden bit in the film, or a big crescendo in a symphony. Essentially all (aggressive) dynamic range control is horrible for music (with certain notable exceptions), so I'd highly recommend against it here especially as you have (had?!) decent speakers. So the other option...

or: 2. Make sure the spikes don't happen

This may sound naïve but there is some mileage in this route. Whilst traditionally engineers often recommend the (power) amp stages be left on maximum, leaving volume control nearer the source, in a digital setup there is often greater variance in input volume.

Personally, I'd recommend leaving all but your final master volume control on or near maximum, especially any application ones (e.g. movie players, music programs). Final volume control can be with the master control, or perhaps better still using your amp's control.

Additionally, as you may already know, using pavucontrol (available in Ubuntu repositories). You can tell Pulse to have the system sounds much quieter, and as shown you can also configure the volume for your browser plugins to be lower than your music players', which is generally a good idea, especially if you use ReplayGain (also a good idea...). These really does limit the "surprise" element of those types of web ads (typically delivered by flash, which comes under plugin-container), and also events out the blarey youtube effect. pavucontrol

With careful tweaking you should be able to set your system up in a way that will minimise the risk of this ever happening again. Good luck!

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