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 (for example, Ruby Sinatra).

How can I do this?

  • 2
    Just in case you're looking for example files: /usr/share/sounds is a good place to look for them. Sep 16, 2014 at 11:37

10 Answers 10


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

sudo apt-get install mpg123
  • 15
    This doesn't play wav files.
    – Cerin
    Jun 14, 2017 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, 2015 at 6:12
  • 2
    In Ubuntu Xenial, there is libsox-fmt-all package to install all formats. Aug 6, 2017 at 19:23
  • BTW, the -v option specify the volume, e.g 1 is normal, 0.5 is half, 2 is twice.
    – Eric
    Mar 15, 2020 at 11:56

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)

(Both in Fedora and in Ubuntu/Mint it is part of the alsa-utils package)

This does not require any additional packages to your Linux installation like sox or mplayer or vlc, just the basic ALSA which is a part of any system nowadays.

  • 9
    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 Dec 6, 2012 at 1:35
  • 2
    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, 2012 at 7:39
  • 2
    Dead easy and already installed everywhere. +1
    – Pitto
    Jul 26, 2013 at 9:08
  • 12
    Remember that you can't play an MP3 with aplay. You'll just get static. Jul 25, 2016 at 20:03
  • 2
    @Maxim I know! I just added that comment because I tried to play an mp3 :P Aug 8, 2016 at 5:39

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 
  • 2
    cvlc too slow to boot up? and need to run by a non-root user?
    – c2h2
    May 9, 2011 at 3:24
  • 2
    cvlc --play-and-exit done.mp3 if you don't want to ctrl-c it. Nov 5, 2015 at 20:23
  • 1
    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) Apr 18, 2018 at 8:46
  • note that vlc usually depends on qt5 and X on some distribution, but mpg123 depends on only alsa-lib.
    – recolic
    Oct 2, 2019 at 18:25

On Ubuntu 16.04 (Xenial Xerus), 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
  • 2
    I would think this works only if paplay --list-file-formats includes MP3 in the format list, which it does not on my machine (which, admittedly, is not Ubuntu). Does paplay ever really include MP3? Feb 12, 2020 at 14:42
  • Correct. WAV seems to be on that list but not MP3. You might need to install proprietary codecs. On Ubuntu that would be sudo apt-get install ubuntu-restricted-extras.
    – mxdsp
    Mar 9, 2020 at 12:53
  • This actually worked for mp3 files and it was on my system all along :o
    – Jore
    Sep 6, 2023 at 23:02

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, 2011 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, 2011 at 8:05
  • 7
    I don't have the /dev/pcsp device. What else can I try?
    – trusktr
    Aug 31, 2013 at 5:21
  • I get "cat: rawsound: Datei oder Verzeichnis nicht gefunden"
    – Timo
    Apr 8, 2015 at 7:04
  • 1
    This is so beautifully simple. I love it. Jul 8, 2020 at 3:08

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]

I found another way:

FFmpeg is installed on my Ubuntu 19.04 (Disco Dingo)


$ ffplay music.mp3

hide spectrum analyzer

hide cursor/file information

hide build information

Hide all (no output):

$ ffplay music.mp3 -nodisp -nostats -hide_banner
  • Is there a way to use the interactive commands with stdin and -nodisp?
    – Avrumy
    Dec 11, 2020 at 4:10


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.


You can play all sound files (mp3, wav, ogg etc) via ffplay

ffplay -nodisp -autoexit ticktock.mp3

ffmpeg is very powerful and you can steam it to other sockets as well as sound cards.

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