I just bought new medium-grade Sennheiser 4.50 headphones, but I'm hearing some distortion in the bass through my computer. My BF connected it to his tape player and there was no distortion. He then tried his headphones on both, and there was no distortion from his tape player, but there was from my computer.

So I'm concluding the problem is not in my new headphones, but in my sound card. (My BF noted that my headphones had an impedance of "only" 18 ohms, and he said that was significant.)

Actually, dialog from Netflix sounds okay, but my music collection does not. Perhaps by upgrading my headphones I'm hearing artifacts I couldn't hear before.

My question: do I need a new sound card? Do sound cards wear out? My computer (a no-name generic) is at least 5 years old, and when I bought my computer, the sound card came with it.

I don't even know how to determine what make of sound card I have. (Please tell me -- I prefer a command-line method.)

I'd also like recommendations for a new sound card, if that's what I need. And of course, it has to be compatible with Linux (that's why I'm posting this here).

EDIT: Elsewhere I posted that I accidentally turned the sound up too high and probably damaged my headphones. (That was before I bought the Sennheisers.) Could the high volume have blown out my sound card instead? I mean, I'm getting sound, just not good sound.

  • if you like good sound you may prefer buy an usb dac (cheap ones are around 70$ with sabre chip and tcxo feature) – cmak.fr Jun 9 '18 at 16:24

Determining what your audio device is can be accomplished with the command:

sudo lshw -C multimedia

which will provide results similar to this:

   description: Audio device
   product: 200 Series PCH HD Audio
   vendor: Intel Corporation
   physical id: 1f.3
   bus info: pci@0000:00:1f.3
   version: 00
   width: 64 bits
   clock: 33MHz
   capabilities: pm msi bus_master cap_list
   configuration: driver=snd_hda_intel latency=32
   resources: irq:148 memory:f7340000-f7343fff memory:f7320000-f732ffff

As xiota indicates it's unlikely that you need a new sound card. You might just need to open Settings > Sound and turn off over-amplification as shown below:


Or System Settings > Sound and uncheck the box to allow volume above 100% as seen here:


We don't do hardware recommendations here, but you might find out sister site Hardware Recommendations useful if you do conclude that you need a new sound card.


Since you mention having previously turned up the volume too high. You might have changed a volume setting other than the master. There are several places where sound can be turned up over 100% to cause distortion even when the master volume is not set very high.

  1. Inside any particular application, if it supports doing so.
  2. Per application volume settings in pulseaudio.
  3. A different sound system.

Since Netflix sounds fine, but your music does not, I suspect one of those possibilities is the case. Try running pavucontrol to check volume levels while running the media players that sound distorted. In particular, check the per application volume levels.

  • 1
    In other words, I think you likely don't need a new sound card. – xiota Jun 9 '18 at 22:19

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