The Simple Way to Get 5.1 Surround Sound Audio Working in Ubuntu 08/15/07

I recently upgraded the audio card on my Ubuntu (7.10) system, which was an “issue” simply because I created it (instead of looking at the issue and jumping to conclusions instead of analyzing possible causes). Suffice it to say, a word to the wise… If your motherboard comes with a soundcard embedded and you want to use an enhanced or better quality sound card in one of your PCI slots… Make your life easy, simply disable the on-board audio in the BIOS setting of your motherboard. I did not do this initially. The two were not compatible and I spent countless hours trying to troubleshoot the issue that took less that 30 seconds to fix! Needless to say, next time I won’t be as foolish.

However, the primary purpose of today’s post is enabling 5.1 surround sound. During the upgrade I was also able to grab an almost new set of Creative Inspire 5.1 5200 series speakers. When I plugged them in I was only hearing audio from the front speakers.

While troubleshooting the earlier sound card issue, I remembered that ALSA was one of the components in the configuration. After lots of research, here is the solution that worked (below).

Edit the configuration file like this:

gedit .asoundrc

(You can use vi or nano to edit it if you don’t have gedit).

Then add the following:

pcm.!default {
type plug
slave.pcm “surround51″
slave.channels 6
route_policy duplicate

I think however, that it might be helpful to include some of the sound card related issues…

In my case the above 5.1 solution worked well (ONLY after I disabled the onboard audio of the motherboard!)

You can check to ensure that an issue is the sound card (and not the speakers) by using the following command in a terminal.

aplay -l

This will list the sound card installed. (If you see others, just remove or disable them).

If using the “aplay -l” command does not show your sound card, then try listing the sound card (PCI) device by entering:

lspci -v

If you see your card, then (most likely) the drivers are not installed, so just install them. More information for this can be found here:

Update: The edit to asoundrc is to configure the surround output so that it duplicates the stereo output to all 6 channels, instead of only through the front channel speakers.

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19 Responses to this article

UbuntuLinuxHelp November 25, 2007 Reply

When Ubuntu Linux is loaded on many laptops, the sound does not work initially. So what’s up? Well, it’s pretty simple. Linux is sending the sound to an external speaker. The problem is that you don’t have an external speaker. So here is how to fix the issue:,-even-the-MX7118.html

rhazor January 13, 2008 Reply

Still central speaker doesn’t work. I have Creative A500 5.1 speaker system and Trust 5.1 SC-5100 sound card.

rhazor January 13, 2008 Reply

Whoops! Just fixed. Had to change Line-In mode to Rear Output.

Thanks for all help Roger.

UbuntuLinuxHelp January 14, 2008 Reply

I have the same issue with the connections. Maybe it’s just me, but I wish the manufacturers would provide better labeling for the speaker connections.

andrewz March 11, 2008 Reply

I stil can not make my soundcard 5.1.My sound card is SoundBlastelive

UbuntuLinuxHelp March 11, 2008 Reply

@ andrewz – Have you disabled on-board sound for the motherboard? I found that was part of my issue. Creative Audigy 2 ZS with Creative Inspire 5.1 5200 speakers is working on Ubuntu Feisty 7.10 at this end. Working on Amarok, Ekiga and Adobe Flash 3 (Firefox browser). Maybe some of your troubleshooting is application based?

Michael March 17, 2008 Reply

What if i dont have the .asoundrc file to edit how do I create one! This is really not step by step instructions someone please help. Explain it to me as you would a child. –Thanks in advance


UbuntuLinuxHelp March 18, 2008 Reply

@Michael – You’re right, this is not step-by-step (it never was). ;) This is primarily for those upgrading a sound card or trying to get 5.1 surround sound working with an existing sound card.

It would be difficult for me to provide a step-by-step. Why?…

What is the sound card?
What are the speakers (how are they connected)?
Is ALSA being used?
What version of Linux?
And so on… :)

To answer your immediate question however, you can create the .asoundrc in your home directory. Caution here! It might already be there!

The “.” (“dot”) in front of the file name means the file is hidden and you will not see it via casual directory observation. (Enable the viewing of hidden files).

If you edit that “hidden” file, you may be able to continue. :)

Let me know okay? And have a great day!

Robert June 25, 2008 Reply

I have Alsa on Ubuntu 8.04 with an external Soundblaster card. I can get the card to work, but would like 5.1. Where should the asoundrc file be located?

UbuntuLinuxHelp June 26, 2008 Reply

@Robert – If I remember correctly, there are two places you will find the file.

For system wide configuration, it will be: /etc/asound.conf
For user specific configuration, it will be: /home/[username]/.asound.conf

I hope this helps you. :)

UbuntuLinuxHelp June 26, 2008 Reply

@Robert – Also… Look here for some good asound information:

Travis Place September 2, 2008 Reply

For a more complete upmixing solution, where dmix will still work, and surround sounds aswell as stereo sounds can be ‘upmixed’ at once.. check out – – This config can be used as a template for many other cards.. by changing sample format etc.

Travis Place September 2, 2008 Reply

Also note, for the EMU10K1 based cards (Sound Blaster Live! and some Audigy cards) no .asoundrc is needed for playing stereo sounds on 5.1 speakers. You just need to adjust the “Wave Center” and “Wave LFE” and “Wave Surround” controls in alsamixer.

andrei December 12, 2008 Reply


i have a terratec aureon 5.1 usb mk2 sound card. it is connected to my notebook. i can’t disable the other sound card from bios. how does it like the .asoundrc file for card 1 ?

UbuntuLinuxHelp December 15, 2008 Reply

@andrei – Sorry, I’m not sure what you mean. Please can you clarify a bit more? – Thanks.

Maj August 27, 2009 Reply

Yeah. This doesn’t give you ’5.1 audio.’ All it does is make the same audio play through all the speakers. Misleading article title is misleading.

UbuntuLinuxHelp August 28, 2009 Reply


You may want to double check your sound then. With this fix I got 5.1 working on my system. I can hear sounds behind me and in front, I can hear sounds left and right – Only when I play games or DVD’s and CD’s where they have used the correct channels. So… Please don’t assume something is misleading without getting all the facts. If a CD, DVD, etc. is not using front, back, left, right, etc. channels, then of course the sound will be through all the speakers.

abdul basith September 14, 2010 Reply

i download ubundu and installed.icant play vedio,songs on my linux what i do

UbuntuLinuxHelp November 19, 2010 Reply

@abdul basith

You need to install the appropriate packages. You can find that information here:

Build a Web Developer PC and Enable Most Media Playback Using Ubuntu Linux

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