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You have the choice of running PulseAudio either in system mode or user mode. For headless servers, i.e. systems without desktop users, system mode is recommended.

If there is a desktop user logged in most of the time, a setup with network access via localhost only for daemons is a more appropriate solution, since the normal user administration (with, e.g., pulseaudio -k) works as advertised. Also, the user specific configuration for PulseAudio is preserved across sessions as expected.

System Mode with Bluetooth support

Credit: Rob Pope

This guide was written based on headless Debian Jessie platforms. Most of the instructions will require that you are root.

Step 1: Setting up PulseAudio

If you see a "Connection refused" error when starting the server, then you will probably need to setup PulseAudio to run in system mode [1]. This means that the PulseAudio daemon will be started during boot and be available to all users.

How to start PulseAudio depends on your distribution, but in many cases you will need to add a pulseaudio.service file to /etc/systemd/system with the following content:

# systemd service file for PulseAudio running in system mode
Description=PulseAudio sound server

ExecStart=/usr/bin/pulseaudio --system --disallow-exit


If you want Bluetooth support, you must also configure PulseAudio to load the Bluetooth module. First install it (Debian: apt install pulseaudio-module-bluetooth) and then add the following to /etc/pulse/

#### Enable Bluetooth
load-module module-bluetooth-discover

Now you need to make sure that PulseAudio can communicate with the Bluetooth daemon through D-Bus. On Raspbian this is already enabled, and you can skip this step. Otherwise do one of the following:

  1. Add the pulse user to the bluetooth group: adduser pulse bluetooth
  2. Edit /etc/dbus-1/system.d/bluetooth.conf and change the policy for <policy context="default"\> to "allow"

Phew, almost done with PulseAudio! Now you should:

  1. enable system mode on boot with systemctl enable pulseaudio
  2. reboot (or at least restart dbus and pulseaudio)
  3. check that the Bluetooth module is loaded with pactl list modules short

Step 2: Setting up the server

Add the user the server is running as (typically "owntone") to the "pulse-access" group:

adduser owntone pulse-access

Now (re)start the server.

Step 3: Adding a Bluetooth device

To connect with the device, run bluetoothctl and then:

power on
agent on
scan on
**Note MAC address of BT Speaker**
pair [MAC address]
**Type Pin if prompted**
trust [MAC address]
connect [MAC address]

Now the speaker should appear. You can also verify that PulseAudio has detected the speaker with pactl list sinks short.

User Mode with Network Access

Credit: wolfmanx and this blog

Step 1: Copy system pulseaudio configuration to the users home directory

mkdir -p ~/.pulse
cp /etc/pulse/ ~/.pulse/

Step 2: Enable TCP access from localhost only

Edit the file ~/.pulse/ , adding the following line at the end:

load-module module-native-protocol-tcp auth-ip-acl=

Step 3: Restart the PulseAudio daemon

pulseaudio -k
# OR
pulseaudio -D

Step 4: Adjust the Configuration File

In the audio section of /etc/owntone.conf, set server to localhost:

server = "localhost"

[1] Note that PulseAudio will warn against system mode. However, in this use case it is actually the solution recommended by the PulseAudio folks themselves.