I would like to make an alarm system backed by a Ubuntu (no graphical interface) box, which plays various announcement and alarm audio tracks (.mp3 or .wav) via the command line.

For example:

$ root> audioplay ./hello.wav

The audio should come from the PC audio jack. I might also wrap it with another socket listener. (e.g. Ruby Sinatra)

Any ideas how I can do this?

migrated from stackoverflow.com Apr 28 '11 at 16:55

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  • 3
    So what is your question? – Quentin Apr 27 '11 at 13:01
  • 1
    Just in case you're looking for example files: /usr/share/sounds is a good place to look for them. – Martin Thoma Sep 16 '14 at 11:37

mpg123 is a command-line utility which plays mp3 files. You can install it in Ubuntu with:

sudo apt-get install mpg123
  • 5
    This doesn't play wav files. – Cerin Jun 14 '17 at 3:31

The play command from the sox package will play any file format supported by sox using the default audio device, e.g

$ play something.mp3
$ play something.wav

You may need to install extra packages to gain support for all formats, for example on Ubuntu 11.04 the MP3 support is not available until you install libsox-fmt-mp3.

  • 1
    it also supports ogg files (and probably others). – lepe Jun 3 '15 at 6:12
  • 1
    In Ubuntu Xenial, there is libsox-fmt-all package to install all formats. – Evgeniy Philippov Aug 6 '17 at 19:23

The most standard way to play a WAV file in Linux is using the aplay command, which is part of the ALSA system.

aplay [flags] [filename [filename]] ...

aplay a.wav

Links: (Wikipedia) (aplay man page)

(In Fedora it is part of the alsa-utils, and in Ubuntu the package likely has the same name.)

This does not require any additional packages like sox or mplayer or vlc, just ALSA.

  • 5
    Thanks for the tip! I added this alias to my shell config: alias beep="aplay --quiet /usr/share/sounds/pop.wav" . That way I can get a notification when long running commands finish. For example: compile && run && beep – Jesse Hallett Dec 6 '12 at 1:35
  • 1
    Yes, Jesse! I do exactly the same with compiling (long file conversions, etc). I use sounds from here: "Opilki sounds" (they are under the Creatve Commons license) forgive me this minor advertisement, i'm not related to the project in any way :) – Maxim Dec 7 '12 at 7:39
  • Dead easy and already installed everywhere. +1 – Pitto Jul 26 '13 at 9:08
  • 3
    Remember that you can't play an MP3 with aplay. You'll just get static. – starbeamrainbowlabs Jul 25 '16 at 20:03
  • @starbeamrainbowlabs, i wrote about WAV files only ! – Maxim Aug 8 '16 at 2:01

Install vlc by using:

sudo apt-get install vlc vlc-plugin-pulse mozilla-plugin-vlc

Make sure that you have all repositories open. Also run the following before you install:

sudo apt-get update

VLC has a command-line operation method invoked by cvlc. The next part would be to write a .sh that will call the command. I am no good at writing bash scripts. The end-result would be something like:

cvlc xyz.mp3
cvlc --play-and-exit done.mp3 
  • 1
    cvlc too slow to boot up? and need to run by a non-root user? – c2h2 May 9 '11 at 3:24
  • 1
    cvlc --play-and-exit done.mp3 if you don't want to ctrl-c it. – Michael Cole Nov 5 '15 at 20:23
  • cvlc --play-and-exit --no-loop done.mp3 . I need the extra option --no-loop, so that the sound file is not repeated over and over. (vlc 2.2.2, xubuntu 16.04.4) – loved.by.Jesus Apr 18 '18 at 8:46

You can simply pipe your sound data to the pc speaker device:

cat rawsound | /dev/pcsp
  • 1
    I very much doubt that is going to work with MP3 files. – user89061 Jul 9 '11 at 12:11
  • 2
    It won't work with mp3 encoded sound of course, but it will work with raw wav data – troelskn Jul 18 '11 at 8:05
  • 3
    I don't have the /dev/pcsp device. What else can I try? – trusktr Aug 31 '13 at 5:21
  • I get "cat: rawsound: Datei oder Verzeichnis nicht gefunden" – Timo Apr 8 '15 at 7:04

mplayer is another player which can play pretty much any audio/video format from command line. to install it in ubuntu just execute this command:

sudo apt-get install mplayer

you can then play the file using this syntax:

mplayer [path to file]

good luck!


On Ubuntu 16.04, there is no need to install anything. You can play a sound using paplay [audio] with is part of the PulseAudio sound server :

paplay mysound.mp3


For simple bash scripts mplayer is probably a bit too heavy and too verbose in terms of output. A built-in option is canberra-gtk-play which comes preinstalled on ubuntu:

canberra-gtk-play --file=/usr/share/sounds/gnome/default/alerts/drip.ogg

Note: it uses the alerts volume, and you must pass --file= in order to play a file from a path.

It can also play a sound by id which represents the file name without extension of media files under /usr/share/sounds (apparently this only works for sounds that are registered as part of a sound theme):

canberra-gtk-play --id="desktop-login"

canberra-gtk-play --id="message"


Another option is using the gstreamer command line tools which are present on most modern linux boxes:

gst-launch-1.0 playbin uri=file:///usr/share/sounds/ubuntu/stereo/message.ogg

To suppress all output redirect it to /dev/null:

gst-launch-1.0 playbin uri=file:///usr/share/sounds/ubuntu/stereo/message.ogg > /dev/null 2>&1

Both gst-launch-1.0 and gst-launch-0.10 might be present on your system.

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