Posts Tagged ‘sound’

Playing MP3 on Raspberry Pi with low latency

May 11th, 2013 1 comment

One commercial project I was working on for Raspberry Pi involved playing various MP3 samples when a button is pushed. The original implementation used mplayer to play back the samples, however the issue is that there was up to 1500ms latency between mplayer was executed and start of playback.

I didn’t do detailed profiling, but I think two factors causing high latency of mplayer were that (i) just loading all the .so libraries mplayer depends on can take many hundreds of milliseconds (ii) the file is being scanned for whatever stuff, streams detected etc. and that can also take some extra time; perhaps I could force mplayer to realize this is a simple MP3 file, but (i) is still the much bigger factor.

I wanted to avoid recoding all the samples to wav. That would allow me to use aplay directly and the playback starts immediately, but it would also feel really silly; decoding of MP3 is not the bottleneck, just the latency of mammoth software loading and initializing itself is. I also didn’t try mpd as that might have been a bit painful to set up.

Another point worth noting is that I didn’t use the crappy on-board PWM audio but a $3 chinese USB soundcard (which is still much better than PWM audio). And using reasonably up-to-date Raspbian Wheezy. So I tried…

  • mplayer -slave -idle, started in parallel with my program and receiving commands via FIFO. It hangs after the first file (even though it works fine when ran without -slave).
  • cmus running in parallel with my program, controlled by cmus-remote. Convincing it to use ALSA device of my choice was really hard, but eventually I managed, only to hear my files sped up about 20x.
  • madplay I couldn’t convince about using a non-default ALSA device at all.
  • mpg123 started immediately and could play back the MP3 files on a non-default ALSA device. Somehow, the quality was very low though (telephone grade) and there was an intense high-pitched clip at the end of the playback.
  • mpg321 I couldn’t convince to produce any sound and anyway it had about 800ms latency before playback started, probably due to its libao dependency.
  • sox, or rather AUDIODEV=hw:1 play worked! (After installing a package with MP3 support for sox.) No latency, normal quality, no clips, no hangs. Whew.

Verdict: There still is a software on Linux that can properly and quickly play MP3 files on Raspberry Pi, though it was a challenge to find it. I didn’t think of sox at first and I was almost giving up hope. BTW, normally you would use sox and play for applying a variety of audio transformations and effects in a batch/pipeline fashion and it can do a lot of awesome magic.

Categories: linux, software Tags: , , , , , ,

Arduino Software Tone Generator

February 20th, 2011 2 comments

This is something really trivial, but I have not actually googled out a recipe so I thought I’d post it anyway for the googlers out there. Sometimes, you discover the Arduino tune() function does not really work – in our case, it was since we have ethernet shield attached and apparently, some other piece of the software drives the timer (not surprising at all) – besides, the tune() function may silently abuse other pins than the chosen one, AIUI, due to its timer usage.

Therefore, it may be useful to manually generate sounds. The code snippet really is simple, with play-by-melody code thrown in for good measure too:

#include "pitches.h"
/* Cue Star Wars - Darth Vader theme, opening notes! */
int melody_nak[] = { NOTE_G5, NOTE_G5, NOTE_G5, NOTE_DS5, NOTE_AS5, NOTE_G5, NOTE_DS5, NOTE_AS5, NOTE_G5};
int noteDurations_nak[] = { 330, 330, 330, 250, 120, 330, 250, 120, 500 };
int melody_ack[] = { NOTE_D6, NOTE_A6, NOTE_C7, NOTE_A6 };
int noteDurations_ack[] = { 120, 500, 120, 500 };
void toneManual(int pin, int frequency, int duration)
  unsigned long period = 1000000/frequency;
  unsigned long length;
  boolean state = false;
  for (length = 0; length < (long) duration * 1000; length += period) {
    state = !state;
    digitalWrite(pin, state);
    /* The 50uS correspond to the time the rest of the loop body takes.
     * It seems about right, but has not been tuned precisely for
     * a 16MHz ATMega. */
    delayMicroseconds(period - 50);
void playMelody(int *melody, int *noteDurations, int notes)
  int i;
  for (i = 0; i < notes; i++) {
    toneManual(8, melody[i], noteDurations[i]);
    delay(noteDurations[i] * 6/10);
void playMelodyAck()
{ playMelody(melody_ack, noteDurations_ack, sizeof(melody_ack)/sizeof(melody_ack[0])); }
void playMelodyNak()
{ playMelody(melody_nak, noteDurations_nak, sizeof(melody_nak)/sizeof(melody_nak[0])); }

Grab pitches.h from the digital -> tone generator example sketches, i.e. /usr/share/arduino*/examples/2.Digital/toneMelody/pitches.h.

There is one important point. With tone(), you did not need to correctly set pin mode of the pin to output – you do need to do that with this routine! This took me quite a while to debug…

Categories: hardware, software Tags: ,