Workaround to solve cracks, noise and bad sound quality in Linux Mint

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Published on August 11th 2021 - last updated on August 30th 2021 - Listed in Multimedia Linux Hardware

On a few occasions I've hit this problem in Linux Mint, that the sound suddenly starts cracking or buzzing, having a constant noise in the background. The sound quality gets really bad - and the music is not enjoyable anymore.

I've occasionally experienced this problem on Linux Mint 20.1 and 20.2. But other Linux Mint (and maybe even other Linux distributions) might have the same problem.

What is causing these cracks in the sound?

Unfortunately I have (as of now) no idea what exactly is causing this problem - however it could have something to do when the browser (Firefox?) is loading multimedia content in the background. Even though it's not actively played.

Another idea hints that it might be a problem with two sound cards:

After some research I learned that the AMD High Definition Audio Device (found through Control Panel -> Device Manager -> Sound, video and game controllers) is responsible for sending audio through the graphics processor's HDMI output. I figured that could be the link between video and audio.

This workstation does indeed have "two" sound cards, as the GPU also features a HDMI port which forwards sound to a screen:

ckadm@mintp ~ $ lspci|grep Audio
04:00.1 Audio device: Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. [AMD/ATI] Ellesmere HDMI Audio [Radeon RX 470/480 / 570/580/590]
06:00.4 Audio device: Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. [AMD] Starship/Matisse HD Audio Controller

A workaround / quick fix

Rather by chance I discovered a quick fix. Whenever this sound problem appears, simply open the "Driver Manager". Wait until it has finished loading, then simply close the "Driver Manager" program again.

Notice that the sound suddenly goes back to normal, without any cracking or buzzing or constant noise in the background!

Video shows it better

It's kind of difficult to describe a typical multimedia/sound problem with words. Hence I created a video which is now on YouTube, where the workaround is shown.

Update: The workaround does not always work + potential problem source

Of course a day after this workaround article was published, the workaround doesn't seem to work anymore. At least in most cases (works maybe every third time). However the sound issue can be reproduced now. The crackling sound usually appears when the computer was freshly booted, some music is playing (doesn't matter whether the music plays from a player such as VLC or through a web radio) and then Firefox is started. It seems that loading ads in Firefox triggers this crackling sound.

In my case I can reproduce the sound problem:

  • Boot the computer
  • Start Google Chrome and launch a web radio or launch VLC and simply play a music file
  • Start Firefox, certain sites (including this blog) loading ads and the sound starts cracking and buzzing.

Additional research could actually be a hardware problem. My machine runs the following setup as of this day:

  • Linux Mint 20.2
  • Kernel 5.11 (sound issue also happened with 5.8 so I don't think it could be a Kernel problem)
  • Motherboard: ASRock B550M Pro4 (BIOS version: 1.80)
  • CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3600 6-Core Processor
  • Using onboard sound card with speakers and an additional USB head set from Jabra

According to a Reddit post, the issue could be in the AMD X5XX chipset. Users have reported that this chipset has USB issues and also causes crackling sound and AMD released AGESA to address these issues. Another Vlogger, TheFullSetup, also mentioned crackling audio in his AMD B550 motherboard and that these issues are gone after a BIOS upgrade.

As mentioned above, my current BIOS version is 1.80. This version contains the AGESA version. The next BIOS version, 1.90, would actually contain AGESA (with the potential fix?). And as of this writing, BIOS 2.20 with AGESA Patch C is also available. I will definitely give the BIOS upgrade a shot.

Still reproducible after BIOS upgrade

After upgrading the BIOS to 2.20, the problem can unfortunately still be reproduced.

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