Audio debugging

This article describes some tips and tricks for debugging Android audio.

Tee sink

The "tee sink" is an AudioFlinger debugging feature, available in custom builds only, for retaining a short fragment of recent audio for later analysis. This permits comparison between what was actually played or recorded vs. what was expected.

For privacy the tee sink is disabled by default, at both compile-time and run-time. To use the tee sink, you will need to enable it by re-compiling, and also by setting a property. Be sure to disable this feature after you are done debugging; the tee sink should not be left enabled in production builds.

The instructions in this section are for Android 7.x and higher. For Android 5.x and 6.x, replace /data/misc/audioserver with /data/misc/media. Additionally, you must use a userdebug or eng build. If you use a userdebug build, then disable verity with:

adb root && adb disable-verity && adb reboot

Compile-time setup

  1. cd frameworks/av/services/audioflinger
  2. Edit Configuration.h.
  3. Uncomment #define TEE_SINK.
  4. Re-build
  5. adb root
  6. adb remount
  7. Push or sync the new to the device's /system/lib.

Run-time setup

  1. adb shell getprop | grep ro.debuggable
    Confirm that the output is: [ro.debuggable]: [1]
  2. adb shell
  3. ls -ld /data/misc/audioserver

    Confirm that the output is:

    drwx------ media media ... media

    If the directory does not exist, create it as follows:

    mkdir /data/misc/audioserver
    chown media:media /data/misc/audioserver
  4. echo af.tee=# > /data/local.prop
    Where the af.tee value is a number described below.
  5. chmod 644 /data/local.prop
  6. reboot

Values for af.tee property

The value of af.tee is a number between 0 and 7, expressing the sum of several bits, one per feature. See the code at AudioFlinger::AudioFlinger() in AudioFlinger.cpp for an explanation of each bit, but briefly:

  • 1 = input
  • 2 = FastMixer output
  • 4 = per-track AudioRecord and AudioTrack

There is no bit for deep buffer or normal mixer yet, but you can get similar results using "4."

Test and acquire data

  1. Run your audio test.
  2. adb shell dumpsys media.audio_flinger
  3. Look for a line in dumpsys output such as this:
    tee copied to /data/misc/audioserver/20131010101147_2.wav
    This is a PCM .wav file.
  4. Then adb pull any /data/misc/audioserver/*.wav files of interest; note that track-specific dump filenames do not appear in the dumpsys output, but are still saved to /data/misc/audioserver upon track closure.
  5. Review the dump files for privacy concerns before sharing with others.


Try these ideas for more useful results:

  • Disable touch sounds and key clicks to reduce interruptions in test output.
  • Maximize all volumes.
  • Disable apps that make sound or record from microphone, if they are not of interest to your test.
  • Track-specific dumps are only saved when the track is closed; you may need to force close an app in order to dump its track-specific data
  • Do the dumpsys immediately after test; there is a limited amount of recording space available.
  • To make sure you don't lose your dump files, upload them to your host periodically. Only a limited number of dump files are preserved; older dumps are removed after that limit is reached.


As noted above, the tee sink feature should not be left enabled. Restore your build and device as follows:

  1. Revert the source code changes to Configuration.h.
  2. Re-build
  3. Push or sync the restored to the device's /system/lib.
  4. adb shell
  5. rm /data/local.prop
  6. rm /data/misc/audioserver/*.wav
  7. reboot


ALOGx macros

The standard Java language logging API in Android SDK is android.util.Log.

The corresponding C language API in Android NDK is __android_log_print declared in <android/log.h>.

Within the native portion of Android framework, we prefer macros named ALOGE, ALOGW, ALOGI, ALOGV, etc. They are declared in <utils/Log.h>, and for the purposes of this article we'll collectively refer to them as ALOGx.

All of these APIs are easy-to-use and well-understood, so they are pervasive throughout the Android platform. In particular the mediaserver process, which includes the AudioFlinger sound server, uses ALOGx extensively.

Nevertheless, there are some limitations to ALOGx and friends:

  • They are susceptible to "log spam": the log buffer is a shared resource so it can easily overflow due to unrelated log entries, resulting in missed information. The ALOGV variant is disabled at compile-time by default. But of course even it can result in log spam if it is enabled.
  • The underlying kernel system calls could block, possibly resulting in priority inversion and consequently measurement disturbances and inaccuracies. This is of special concern to time-critical threads such as FastMixer and FastCapture.
  • If a particular log is disabled to reduce log spam, then any information that would have been captured by that log is lost. It is not possible to enable a specific log retroactively, after it becomes clear that the log would have been interesting.

NBLOG, media.log, and MediaLogService

The NBLOG APIs and associated media.log process and MediaLogService service together form a newer logging system for media, and are specifically designed to address the issues above. We will loosely use the term "media.log" to refer to all three, but strictly speaking NBLOG is the C++ logging API, media.log is a Linux process name, and MediaLogService is an Android binder service for examining the logs.

A media.log "timeline" is a series of log entries whose relative ordering is preserved. By convention, each thread should use its own timeline.


The benefits of the media.log system are that it:

  • Doesn't spam the main log unless and until it is needed.
  • Can be examined even when mediaserver crashes or hangs.
  • Is non-blocking per timeline.
  • Offers less disturbance to performance. (Of course no form of logging is completely non-intrusive.)


The diagram below shows the relationship of the mediaserver process and the init process, before media.log is introduced:

Architecture before media.log

Figure 1. Architecture before media.log

Notable points:

  • init forks and execs mediaserver.
  • init detects the death of mediaserver, and re-forks as necessary.
  • ALOGx logging is not shown.

The diagram below shows the new relationship of the components, after media.log is added to the architecture:

Architecture after media.log

Figure 2. Architecture after media.log

Important changes:

  • Clients use NBLOG API to construct log entries and append them to a circular buffer in shared memory.
  • MediaLogService can dump the contents of the circular buffer at any time.
  • The circular buffer is designed in such a way that any corruption of the shared memory will not crash MediaLogService, and it will still be able to dump as much of the buffer that is not affected by the corruption.
  • The circular buffer is non-blocking and lock-free for both writing new entries and reading existing entries.
  • No kernel system calls are required to write to or read from the circular buffer (other than optional timestamps).

Where to use

As of Android 4.4, there are only a few log points in AudioFlinger that use the media.log system. Though the new APIs are not as easy to use as ALOGx, they are not extremely difficult either. We encourage you to learn the new logging system for those occasions when it is indispensable. In particular, it is recommended for AudioFlinger threads that must run frequently, periodically, and without blocking such as the FastMixer and FastCapture threads.

How to use

Add logs

First, you need to add logs to your code.

In FastMixer and FastCapture threads, use code such as this:

logWriter->logf("format", parameters);

As this NBLog timeline is used only by the FastMixer and FastCapture threads, there is no need for mutual exclusion.

In other AudioFlinger threads, use mNBLogWriter:

mNBLogWriter->logf("format", parameters);

For threads other than FastMixer and FastCapture, the thread's NBLog timeline can be used by both the thread itself, and by binder operations. NBLog::Writer does not provide any implicit mutual exclusion per timeline, so be sure that all logs occur within a context where the thread's mutex mLock is held.

After you have added the logs, re-build AudioFlinger.

Caution: A separate NBLog::Writer timeline is required per thread, to ensure thread safety, since timelines omit mutexes by design. If you want more than one thread to use the same timeline, you can protect with an existing mutex (as described above for mLock). Or you can use the NBLog::LockedWriter wrapper instead of NBLog::Writer. However, this negates a prime benefit of this API: its non-blocking behavior.

The full NBLog API is at frameworks/av/include/media/nbaio/NBLog.h.

Enable media.log

media.log is disabled by default. It is active only when property ro.test_harness is 1. You can enable it by:

adb root
adb shell
echo ro.test_harness=1 > /data/local.prop
chmod 644 /data/local.prop

The connection is lost during reboot, so:

adb shell
The command ps media will now show two processes:
  • media.log
  • mediaserver

Note the process ID of mediaserver for later.

Display the timelines

You can manually request a log dump at any time. This command shows logs from all the active and recent timelines, and then clears them:

dumpsys media.log

Note that by design timelines are independent, and there is no facility for merging timelines.

Recover logs after mediaserver death

Now try killing mediaserver process: kill -9 #, where # is the process ID you noted earlier. You should see a dump from media.log in the main logcat, showing all the logs leading up to the crash.

dumpsys media.log