Ubuntu's desktop gui is great for changing audio settings (System->Preferences->Sound), like the default input/output device and setting the volume.

However, I would like to be able to do these things from the command-line. What tool is the gui using behind the scenes?

  • $ apt install fzf; pacmd set-default-sink $(pacmd list-sinks|grep -e 'name:' -e 'index:'|fzf|cut -d: -f2-)
    – Dagelf
    May 5 at 13:32

5 Answers 5


You can control PulseAudio thoroughly through the command line using pacmd and pactl commands. For options see pacmd --help or the wiki at PulseAudio:

pacmd list-sinks for name or index number of possible sinks

pacmd list-sources for name or index number of possible sources

pacmd set-default-sink "SINKNAME" | index to set the default output sink

pacmd set-default-source "SOURCENAME" | index to set the default input

pacmd set-sink-volume index volume

pacmd set-source-volume index volume for volume control (65536 = 100 %, 0 = mute; or a bit more intuitive 0x10000 = 100 %, 0x7500 = 75 %, 0x0 = 0 %)

and many many more CLI options.

Note: Changing the output sink through the command line interface can only take effect if stream target device reading is disabled. This can be done by editing the corresponding line in /etc/pulse/default.pa to:

load-module module-stream-restore restore_device=false

Restart PulseAudio for changes to take effect:

pulseaudio -k

For a more elaborate tutorial on how to do this, and for instructions on how to change the sink during playback see this answer.

  • 3
    Pulseaudio has changed, the first command now should be pacmd list-sinks I think
    – Anwar
    Jun 14, 2012 at 18:59
  • How would one go about setting an output device to the default input device? I have a Line6 ToneportUX1 (used for moulding guitar tones) that shows up as an output device in Ubuntu's sound control panel, but it should be an input device.
    – anon
    Apr 30, 2013 at 1:44
  • @MikeDtrick: this can't be done with these commands. I have no experience with USB devices, but I believe it may be a profile/driver/port/ALSA issue you may have. Is the device recognized as input in ALSA?
    – Takkat
    Apr 30, 2013 at 6:46
  • I've just started using AlsaMixer, so I'm probably not going to be much help. Under /proc/asound/cards/ it lists the Toneport as a USB device and under /proc/asound/pcm it says playback 1: capture 1. This is all after running alsamixer and clicking [f2].
    – anon
    May 1, 2013 at 19:15
  • 1
    I couldn't switch from headphone to HDMI output this way. Here is how I solved it. Mar 30, 2017 at 23:24

Yes there is type alsamixer in terminal

alt text

Press ,

F1 - Help

F2 - System Information

F6 - Select Sound Card

Esc - Exit the menu

  • 4
    alamixer seems good for changing the volume. How do I change the default device?
    – paleozogt
    Nov 19, 2010 at 20:53
  • I use it only for adjusting volume levels.Try pressing F6 key and let me know if it helps you.
    – karthick87
    Nov 20, 2010 at 7:26
  • 38
    F6 lets you choose a sound card to manipulate, but it doesn't change the default.
    – paleozogt
    Nov 20, 2010 at 15:48
  • While it's useful (essential) to know about alsamixer, it does not answer OP's question whatsoever.
    – Levente
    Apr 26, 2021 at 12:33

I found these instructions to be clear and easy to follow. It explains how to set the default audio output device (speakers, etc), from the command line, as well as how to make your chosen setting the system default, so that it is set after the machine is rebooted.

Set the default output sink

To list the output sinks available, type the following command:

$ pacmd list-sinks | grep -e 'name:' -e 'index:'

  • index: 0

    name: <alsa_output.pci-0000_04_01.0.analog-stereo>

    index: 1

    name: <combined>

The * in front of the index indicates the current default output.

To set a system wide default, add the source name in the default.pa file:



set-default-sink alsa_output.pci-0000_04_01.0.analog-stereo


When done then you can logout/login or restart PulseAudio manually for these changes to take effect.

from Set the default output sink

  • $ pacmd set-default-sink $(pacmd list-sinks|grep -e 'name:' -e 'index:'|fzf|cut -d: -f2-)
    – Dagelf
    May 5 at 13:31

Not the actual Ubuntu volume control, but better! It lets you control default devices, and even devices per application/stream.

You have to have the app actually be recording/playing for it to appear in the 'Playback' or 'Recording' tabs, but once you choose the device for that app, it seems to remember it forever.

Also, (on a side note), for old (non pulse) applications, run them after padsp, eg:

padsp some_old_app


  • 14
    The question is how to change the audio device from the command line. This is not an application for the command line.
    – xorinzor
    Jan 19, 2019 at 17:55
  • 1
    also, pavucontrol is showing only connected devices, not the paired but disconnected ones.
    – cipricus
    Jun 26, 2019 at 7:58

In the case of WirePlumber (a PipeWire session manager), wpctl can help you.

Get the available audio devices with wpctl status (default is shown with a *):

PipeWire 'pipewire-0' [0.3.77, machitgarha@machitgarha, cookie:2827478639]
 └─ Clients:

 ├─ Devices:
 │      46. Built-in Audio                      [alsa]
 │      78. Headset H390                        [alsa]
 ├─ Sinks:
 │  *   49. Built-in Audio Analog Stereo        [vol: 0.90]
 │      84. Headset H390 Pro                    [vol: 1.00]
 ├─ Sink endpoints:
 ├─ Sources:


Extract the number of the device from the "Sinks" section, and change the default audio sink (i.e. device) using wpctl set-default. For example, to change it to "Headset H390 Pro":

wpctl set-default 84

Check if the default sink is changed with wpctl status.

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