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Microphone audio capture arrives in Linux on Chromebooks. Here’s how to use it

At long last one of the major features I’ve missed from Linux on Chrome OS has arrived. And nobody even told us. I’m talking about audio capture in a Linux container on Chromebooks. You can actually use it now on the Chrome OS 79 Stable Channel that launched a few weeks ago.

Normally experimental new features are hidden behind a Chrome OS flag but audio capture hasn’t even reached that stage yet. Instead, you have to start Termina, the virtual machine where your Linux containers run on a Chromebook, with a command line flag.

To enable audio capture through either your Chromebook’s built-in microphone or a USB mic, go in the Chrome browser and press the ctrl – alt – T keyboard combination. This should open up what’s known as the crosh shell.

Next type the vmc stop termina command to shut down any currently running Termina VM. Then restart termina with this command: vmc start termina –enable-audio-capture. Then, simply launch your Terminal app.

Enable audio capture in Chrome OS
Enable audio capture in Chrome OS

Once you do, Linux apps will have access to any internal or external microphones.

I tested this with Audacity, an open-source audio application I’ve used for podcasting since 2006. I did have to choose the right audio input from the many listed options, but once I found the correct one — sysdefault: Mic 0 worked for my Samson USB mic — I was able to record and save audio.

Choose microphone input on Chrome OS in Audacity

This method to enable audio capture won’t be needed for long thankfully. It was added as a way to test the feature. A Chrome OS experimental flag will arrive in a future version of Chrome OS; I wouldn’t be surprised if it found its way into Chrome OS 80 since it’s a relatively small change to add a flag.

Eventually, just like GPU hardware acceleration, audio capture in Linux on Chromebooks will be enabled by default, although I wouldn’t expect that scenario for a few Chrome OS software versions yet.

author avatar
Kevin C. Tofel

12 thoughts on “Microphone audio capture arrives in Linux on Chromebooks. Here’s how to use it

  1. Once again, Crostini is SO far behind Crouton. I have been running Audacity under Ubuntu via Crouton since I had my first Chromebook and discovered Crouton. How is it that an individual Google employee, apparently in his spare time, can accomplish a full implementation, when Google with all its resources limps along adding one feature after another to Crostini at a snail/s pace? And with the xiwi paramter (X in a window) there is no need for hot-key switching between Chrome and LInux – a simple click in the desired window switches between Chrome and LInux.

    1. Good luck developing a fully-featured Linux VM that performs well without compromising Chrome OS security such as powerwashing to Dev Mode. xiwi doesn’t even have GPU acceleration.

    2. You’re not giving google enough credit here and comparing crostini to crouton is like apples to oranges. Crouton is simple because its just using linux natively and as such it has all the security pitfalls of any normal os. Crostini however is fully containerised and sandboxed meaning that they pretty much have to reimplement everything from scratch (driver etc) in order to redirect those resources to the chrome os layer in completely secure and isolated manner whilst still appearing as though it were native.
      Trust me this is v hard, it hasn’t been done before on this scale. It would be like google creating a new vmware product from scratch, something thats been developed for decades at this point.

    3. That’s because Google is afraid of direct hardware access and they want to put everything behind a virtualized container, even though ChromeOS is basically a stripped away Gentoo

    4. Yes – they should just put Windows on it. I remember I was capturing audio on Windows systems years ago.

    1. Yup, I typed two dashes but WordPress merged them. The correct command is shown in the screenshot. Thanks!

  2. Hey guys- you know allot more linux than I do. I got a samson condenser mic like the one dude mentions and win7 just wont install it. So im forced to go down this VM linux adventure. Chromebook lenovo c330. Saw the vmc start termina –enable-audio-capture comment about two dashes and was excited to think I had it finally. Funny thing is it DID make a difference. now when I change around inputs or monitor sound I get a corresponding buzz in the right channel. this means to me the USB is finally talking in some way with the computer. I am also using audacity. any advice. I had no buzzing before the start termina–. Im getting closer! Dude..sorry.. Kevin says at the end: “Then, simply launch your Terminal app.” and I don’t really understand what that means. run audacity from within the shell? how do I do that? Close the shell and run audacity. How do I close the shell. I’ve been minimizing the shell and running audacity.
    Hmm… I haven’t tried running these commands with audacity open. Help me out. I want to get my daughter into multi tracking but I’ve always done it with win7 and audacity. Got this condenser mic g track pro for her and the a-hole who sold it to me wont take it back. people on the web have the same problem with the mic. error when windows tries to install the usb device. most get a fix just swapping a usb cable except for one guy. I’ve tried multi cables. plus its not a cable or I wouldn’t be getting it on the chrome book either, right?
    ethan thanks you for any help!
    [email protected]

  3. Nope. Here we are, July 2022 – 2 and 1/2 years later, ChromeOS 103, and this feature still doesn’t work.
    The part that upsets me is that this is the main functionality I purchased a Chromebook for, based on articles like this one, and it doesn’t work. So I still need my old linux laptop to work with my guitar daily.

    It’s too bad, there is a lot to like about a Chromebook. But the screen resolution isn’t as good as advertised, and many of the upgrades you cover in your column never work. Don’t expect me to buy another one. And don’t expect me to recommend them to anyone – I tell everyone I meet what a piece of crap Chromebook is.

    1. Yup, here we are, July 2022 – 2 and 1/2 years later, ChromeOS 103, and this feature DOES work. I just used Audacity in Linux on my 2018 Acer Chromebook Spin 13 to record audio through the built in microphone. It played back with no issues.

      Bruce, I get that you have had issues with Chromebooks or specific features. And I know that ChromeOS isn’t perfect. But your factually incorrect blanket statements aren’t appreciated as they add no value to the About Chromebooks community. Aside from being wrong on this microphone capture feature, you’ve also been wrong about the external monitor output of the Lenovo Chromebook Duet. I’ve even suggested the reasons for your issues on that one (your connection type, your monitor specifications and capabilities, etc…).

      If you want to tell everyone one you meet “what a piece of crap Chromebook is”, that’s certainly your perogative. Going foward, it won’t be tolerated here. Real issues that apply to everyone are certainly welcome. Issues specific to your use case, equipment or device should be sent to Google as bugs. Cheers!

  4. Well, look who posted the first comment on this topic in January 2020! I came back to say the same thing again, and then I saw my comment, and I guess there is no need to. I have both Crostini with no desktop environment and Ubuntu Bionic, 18.04, under crouton, with a full desktop environment. Yes, I know I am stuck in a time warp until Google figures out how to run a full desktop environment with Crostini. Google’s original idea of who would use Linux and how they would use it on a Chromebook was just so wrong (command line only to do development). Crouton is NOT actually insecure – the only way anyone could do anything malicious is to actually be at my keyboard. And it is such a better, more productive experience to have the full desktop environment. I simply do not understand the apologists for Crostini.

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