/dev/audio: Raw Audio

Most Linux users are familiar with /dev/audio. Writing to it plays audio and reading from it records it. It accepts raw audio.

Some popular tricks with it are:

cat /dev/urandom > /dev/audio #Play Random Noise
cat /dev/audio > soundrecording #Record audio to file.
cat soundrecording > /dev/audio #Play recorded file.

A more complex one is eavesdroping on a room with a remote computer.

cat /dev/audio | nc -lp $PORT #Remote Computer
nc $IPADDR $PORT > /dev/audio #Local Computer

Where $PORT is the port you wish to use and $IP is the address of the remote computer.

But can one make synthetic sounds? I couldn’t find any documentation on how /dev/audio represents information. After playing around with it, however, I have come up with a model that at the very least predicts it reasonably well.

It seems that every character represents a certain voltage being applied to the speaker. Each characters value is proportional to its integer representation. /dev/audio accepts approximately 6000 chars/s. Thus, we can create a C function like:

/** @param freq: The frequency in Hertz (s^-1)
  * @param amp:  The amplitude (ie. loudness), unit not defined. Within the range 0-256.
  * @param time: The length in seconds.
  * @return A string representing the sound. Write to /dev/audio to play.  */
string sound(double freq, double amp, double time) {
	double r = 6000; // The number of characters interpreted by the speaker per second.
	int n = (int) time*r;
	string ret;
	for (int i = 0; i < n; ++i){
		ret += (char) (sin(i*freq)*amp+128);
	return ret;

It’s not perfect, but it works. In particular, the low sampling rate results in horrible sound quality. r is not quite right either…

Update: It has come to my attention that /dev/audio accepts .wav files. The resolution can be changed.


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