Is there a way to detect if any sound is playing (using a bash script)?

(I'm on Ubuntu 11.10 using pulseaudio.)

I plan on using it in an indicator to visually remind me sound is playing while the mute is on.

1 Answer 1


Using pulse-audio: You can try pactl list to see what pulse audio is doing with the sound hardware. I'm leaving the specifics of pulling out the status to you. For e.g.: This command would list the Sink and Source states.

pactl list | grep State

Using procfs for ALSA (Caveat: these proc entries might go away in the future): This snippet runs through the pcm playback devices in ALSA proc heirarchy.

if grep -q RUNNING /proc/asound/card*/*p/*/status 2>&1; then
   echo "Playing"
   echo "Idle"
  • Thanks a lot! pactl list is working for me. Volume, mute status, etc. How did you find this out? I've been searching for "pulseaudio status" and nothing this simple came up.
    – dgo.a
    Feb 25, 2012 at 13:35
  • No problem :-) Find out the tools that come along with pulseaudio, then take a guess on the which one might be appropriate, check the man pages, try running it.
    – Anil
    Feb 25, 2012 at 15:14
  • pactl list output is locale-dependent and will be shown according to $LANG. Feb 6, 2022 at 20:34
  • pactl has a "short" format that's meant for parsing in scripts according to man pactl. In my case, I can use pactl list short sinks | cut --fields=5 to get the RUNNING/IDLE state directly.
    – Shane S.
    May 29, 2022 at 18:45

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