Every time a new version of Ubuntu is being readied for release (version 10.10 is due on October 10), a whole slew of new features and programs are added. I usually take this time to get acquainted with what’s coming, but also to try out new programs outside of Ubuntu. I figure so many things are incomplete and broken anyway (with Ubuntu), I might as well see my other options, even if I end up returning to what’s installed by default. One of those programs is called Volti, a sound mixer and volume control for the panel.
When I first heard about Volti, I was intrigued, but not enough to try it out. I wondered what the point was, frankly. Every operating system I’ve ever tried has a volume control, right? How useful would it be if it didn’t? And Ubuntu’s sound mixer is available with only a couple clicks. As I’ve continued looking at Volti, it’s occurred to me that where it becomes valuable is for someone using a lightweight Linux distro, or someone who doesn’t want to install a lot of dependencies (or need a lot of fine-grained audio tweaking ability), just to change the volume or their audio-in and audio-out settings.
It makes sense, too, as listed first in the “Features” section of Volti’s website is: “no pulseaudio, gstreamer, phonon etc. only alsa is needed” and under dependencies are only a few items (pygtk, pulseaudio, dbus-python and python-xlib) that might already be installed. In fact, when I installed Volti from its Ubuntu PPA, all I needed to install in addition was a single library to access and control ALSA via Python. Simple and light, which is always good, especially on old and/or outdated hardware.
So what can Volti do? Well, in spite of being “lightweight,” it isn’t exactly bereft of features. You can, of course, control the volume of your computer via the Panel icon. But if you right-click on the icon, you’ll see a couple options that give you a decent amount of configuration options: Preferences and Mixer.
From the Mixer, you can control your computer’s Master volume, but also the volume for your headphone jack, your speaker, PCM, and system beep. All your various capture devices are listed (line-in jack, capture mux and built-in microphone, plus anything else that might be attached). Unlike Pulse Audio, the incredibly powerful sound system, which has the ability to tweak volume settings on a per-application basis, Volti is a bit more basic, but it also simpler to use and to set up (if complaints and bug reports are anything to go by regarding Pulse Audio).
As Volti only requires ALSA, the mixer provided is Volti’s internal mixer, but if you have Pulse (or another audio system) installed, you can set up Volti to use that system’s mixer, via the Preferences window. You can also control exactly which hardware you’re controlling, and set up multimedia keys, mouse button actions and desktop notifications. There are also six different icon themes available which help the Volti panel icon fit in with different environments such as GNOME, KDE and xfce, as well as a variety of general icon styles.
All in all, I’ve been a lot more impressed with the flexibility and features of Volti than I’d initially figured I might be. For a large majority of Linux users who don’t want or need the added power provided by Pulse Audio and its different controls, Volti is exactly what is needed. You can control your inputs and outputs, set different volume levels and all this with a lightweight program that fits in wherever it’s used. Not much to complain about there; it does exactly what it says and does it very well.