Until this moment we have been dealing with graphics, but another key aspect of every game is audio. This capability is going to be addressed in this chapter with the help of OpenAL (Open Audio Library). OpenAL is the OpenGL counterpart for audio, it allows us to play sounds through and abstraction layer. That layer isolates us from the underlying complexities of the audio subsystem. Besides that, it allows us to “render” sounds in a 3D scene, where sounds can be set up in specific locations, attenuated with the distance and modified according to their velocity (simulating Doppler effect)

LWJGL supports OpenAL without requiring any additional download, it’s just ready to use. But before start coding we need to present the main elements involved when dealing with OpenAL, which are:

  • Buffers.

  • Sources.

  • Listener.

Buffers store audio data, that is, music or sound effects. They are similar to the textures in the OpenGL domain. OpenAL expects audio data to be in PCM (Pulse Coded Modulation) format (either in mono or in stereo), so we cannot just dump MP3 or OGG files without converting them first to PCM.

The next element are sources, which represent a location in a 3D space (a point) that emits sound. A source is associated to a buffer (only one at time) and can be defined by the following attributes:

  • A position, the location of the source (xx, yy and zz coordinates). By the way, OpenAL uses a right handed Cartesian coordinate system as OpenGL, so you can assume (to simplify things) that your world coordinates are equivalent to the ones in the sound space coordinate system.

  • A velocity, which specifies how fast the source is moving. This is used to simulate Doppler effect.

  • A gain, which is used to modify the intensity of the sound (it’s like an amplifier factor).

A source has additional attributes which will be shown later when describing the source code.

And last, but no least, a listener which is where the generated sounds are supposed to be heard. The Listener represents were the microphone is set in a 3D audio scene to receive the sounds. There is only one listener. Thus, it’s often said that audio rendering is done form the listener’s perspective. A listener shares some the attributes but it has some additional ones such as the orientation. The orientation represents where the listener is facing.

So an audio 3D scene is composed by a set of sound sources which emit sound and a listener that receives them. The final perceived sound will depend on the distance of the listener to the different sources, their relative speed and the selected propagation models. Sources can share buffers and play the same data. The following figure depicts a sample 3D scene with the different element types involved.

OpenAL concepts

So, let's start coding, we will create a new package under the name org.lwjglb.engine.sound that will host all the classes responsible for handling audio. We will first start with a class, named SoundBuffer that will represent an OpenAL buffer. A fragment of the definition of that class is shown below.

package org.lwjglb.engine.sound;
// ... Some inports here
public class SoundBuffer {
private final int bufferId;
public SoundBuffer(String file) throws Exception {
this.bufferId = alGenBuffers();
try (STBVorbisInfo info = STBVorbisInfo.malloc()) {
ShortBuffer pcm = readVorbis(file, 32 * 1024, info);
// Copy to buffer
alBufferData(buffer, info.channels() == 1 ? AL_FORMAT_MONO16 : AL_FORMAT_STEREO16, pcm, info.sample_rate());
public int getBufferId() {
return this.bufferId;
public void cleanup() {
// ....

The constructor of the class expects a sound file (which may be in the classpath as the rest of resources) and creates a new buffer from it. The first thing that we do is create an OpenAL buffer with the call to alGenBuffers. At the end our sound buffer will be identified by an integer which is like a pointer to the data it holds. Once the buffer has been created we dump the audio data in it. The constructor expects a file in OGG format, so we need to transform it to PCM format. You can check how that's done in the source code, anyway, the source code has been extracted from the LWJGL OpenAL tests.

Previous versions of LWJGL had a helper class named WaveDatawhich was used to load audio files in WAV format. This class is no longer present in LWJGL 3. Nevertheless, you may get the source code from that class and use it in your games (maybe without requiring any changes).

The SoundBuffer class also provides a cleanup method to free the resources when we are done with it.

Let's continue by modelling an OpenAL, which will be implemented by class named SoundSource. The class is defined below.

package org.lwjglb.engine.sound;
import org.joml.Vector3f;
import static org.lwjgl.openal.AL10.*;
public class SoundSource {
private final int sourceId;
public SoundSource(boolean loop, boolean relative) {
this.sourceId = alGenSources();
if (loop) {
alSourcei(sourceId, AL_LOOPING, AL_TRUE);
if (relative) {
alSourcei(sourceId, AL_SOURCE_RELATIVE, AL_TRUE);
public void setBuffer(int bufferId) {
alSourcei(sourceId, AL_BUFFER, bufferId);
public void setPosition(Vector3f position) {
alSource3f(sourceId, AL_POSITION, position.x, position.y, position.z);
public void setSpeed(Vector3f speed) {
alSource3f(sourceId, AL_VELOCITY, speed.x, speed.y, speed.z);
public void setGain(float gain) {
alSourcef(sourceId, AL_GAIN, gain);
public void setProperty(int param, float value) {
alSourcef(sourceId, param, value);
public void play() {
public boolean isPlaying() {
return alGetSourcei(sourceId, AL_SOURCE_STATE) == AL_PLAYING;
public void pause() {
public void stop() {
public void cleanup() {

The sound source class provides some methods to setup its position, the gain, and control methods for playing stopping and pausing it. Keep in mind that sound control actions are made over a source (not over the buffer), remember that several sources can share the same buffer. As in the SoundBuffer class, a SoundSource is identified by an identifier, which is used in each operation. This class also provides a cleanup method to free the reserved resources. But let’s examine the constructor. The first thing that we do is to create the source with the alGenSources call. Then, we set up some interesting properties using the constructor parameters.

The first parameter, loop, indicates if the sound to be played should be in loop mode or not. By default, when a play action is invoked over a source the playing stops when the audio data is consumed. This is fine for some sounds, but some others, like background music, need to be played over and over again. Instead of manually controlling when the audio has stopped and re-launch the play process, we just simply set the looping property to true: “alSourcei(sourceId, AL_LOOPING, AL_TRUE);”.

The other parameter, relative, controls if the position of the source is relative to the listener or not. In this case, when we set the position for a source, we basically are defining the distance (with a vector) to the listener, not the position in the OpenAL 3D scene, not the world position. This activated by the “alSourcei(sourceId, AL_SOURCE_RELATIVE, AL_TRUE);” call. But, What can we use this for? This property is interesting for instance for background sounds that shouldn't be affected (attenuated) by the distance to the listener. Think, for instance, in background music or sound effects related to player controls. If we set these sources as relative, and set their position to (0,0,0)(0, 0, 0) they will not be attenuated.

Now it’s turn for the listener which, surprise, is modelled by a class named SoundListener. Here’s the definition for that class.

package org.lwjglb.engine.sound;
import org.joml.Vector3f;
import static org.lwjgl.openal.AL10.*;
public class SoundListener {
public SoundListener() {
this(new Vector3f(0, 0, 0));
public SoundListener(Vector3f position) {
alListener3f(AL_POSITION, position.x, position.y, position.z);
alListener3f(AL_VELOCITY, 0, 0, 0);
public void setSpeed(Vector3f speed) {
alListener3f(AL_VELOCITY, speed.x, speed.y, speed.z);
public void setPosition(Vector3f position) {
alListener3f(AL_POSITION, position.x, position.y, position.z);
public void setOrientation(Vector3f at, Vector3f up) {
float[] data = new float[6];
data[0] = at.x;
data[1] = at.y;
data[2] = at.z;
data[3] = up.x;
data[4] = up.y;
data[5] = up.z;
alListenerfv(AL_ORIENTATION, data);

A difference you will notice from the previous classes is that there’s no need to create a listener. There will always be one listener, so no need to create one, it’s already there for us. Thus, in the constructor we just simply set its initial position. For the same reason there’s no need for a cleanup method. The class has methods also for setting listener position and velocity, as in the SoundSource class, but we have an extra method for changing the listener orientation. Let’s review what orientation is all about. Listener orientation is defined by two vectors, “at” vector and “up” one, which are shown in the next figure.

Listener at and up vectors

The “at” vector basically points where the listener is facing, by default its coordinates are (0,0,1)(0, 0, -1). The “up” vector determines which direction is up for the listener and, by default it points to (0,1,0)(0, 1, 0). So the three components of each of those two vectors are what are set in the alListenerfv method call. This method is used to transfer a set of floats (a variable number of floats) to a property, in this case, the orientation.

Before continuing it's necessary to stress out some concepts in relation to source and listener speeds. The relative speed between sources and listener will cause OpenAL to simulate Doppler effect. In case you don’t know, Doppler effect is what causes that a moving object that is getting closer to you seems to emit in a higher frequency than it seems to emit when is walking away. The thing, is that, simply by setting a source or listener velocity, OpenAL will not update their position for you. It will use the relative velocity to calculate the Doppler effect, but the positions won’t be modified. So, if you want to simulate a moving source or listener you must take care of updating their positions in the game loop.

Now that we have modelled the key elements we can set them up to work, we need to initialize OpenAL library, so we will create a new class named SoundManager that will handle this. Here’s a fragment of the definition of this class.

package org.lwjglb.engine.sound;
// Imports here
public class SoundManager {
private long device;
private long context;
private SoundListener listener;
private final List<SoundBuffer> soundBufferList;
private final Map<String, SoundSource> soundSourceMap;
private final Matrix4f cameraMatrix;
public SoundManager() {
soundBufferList = new ArrayList<>();
soundSourceMap = new HashMap<>();
cameraMatrix = new Matrix4f();
public void init() throws Exception {
this.device = alcOpenDevice((ByteBuffer) null);
if (device == NULL) {
throw new IllegalStateException("Failed to open the default OpenAL device.");
ALCCapabilities deviceCaps = ALC.createCapabilities(device);
this.context = alcCreateContext(device, (IntBuffer) null);
if (context == NULL) {
throw new IllegalStateException("Failed to create OpenAL context.");

This class holds references to the SoundBuffer and SoundSource instances to track and later cleanup them properly. SoundBuffers are stored in a List but SoundSources are stored in in a Map so they can be retrieved by a name. The init method initializes the OpenAL subsystem:

  • Opens the default device.

  • Create the capabilities for that device.

  • Create a sound context, like the OpenGL one, and set it as the current one.

The SoundManager class also has a method to update the listener orientation given a camera position. In our case, the listener will be placed whenever the camera is. So, given camera position and rotation information, how do we calculate the “at” and “up” vectors? The answer is by using the view matrix associated to the camera. We need to transform the “at” (0,0,1)(0, 0, -1) and “up” (0,1,0)(0, 1, 0) vectors taking into consideration camera rotation. Let cameraMatrix be the view matrix associated to the camera. The code to accomplish that would be:

Matrix4f invCam = new Matrix4f(cameraMatrix).invert();
Vector3f at = new Vector3f(0, 0, -1);
Vector3f up = new Vector3f(0, 1, 0);

The first thing that we do is invert the camera view matrix. Why we do this? Think about it this way, the view matrix transforms from world space coordinates to view space. What we want is just the opposite, we want to transform from view space coordinates (the view matrix) to space coordinates, which is where the listener should be positioned. With matrices, the opposite usually means the inverse. Once we have that matrix we just transform the “default” “at” and “up” vectors using that matrix to calculate the new directions.

But, if you check the source code you will see that the implementation is slightly different, what we do is this:

Vector3f at = new Vector3f();
Vector3f up = new Vector3f();
listener.setOrientation(at, up);

The code above is equivalent to the first approach, it’s just a more efficient approach. It uses a faster method, available in JOML library, that just does not need to calculate the full inverse matrix but achieves the same results. This method was provided by the JOML author in a LWJGL forum, so you can check more details there. If you check the source code you will see that the SoundManager class calculates its own copy of the view matrix. This is already done in the Renderer class. In order to keep the code simple, and to avoid refactoring, I’ve preferred to keep this that way.

And that’s all. We have all the infrastructure we need in order to play sounds. You can check in the source code how all the pieces are used. You can see how music is played and the different effects sound (These files were obtained from Freesound, proper credits are in a file name CREDITS.txt). If you get some other files, you may notice that sound attenuation with distance or listener orientation will not work. Please check that the files are in mono, not in stereo. OpenAL can only perform those computations with mono sounds.

A final note. OpenAL also allows you to change the attenuation model by using the alDistanceModel and passing the model you want ('``AL11.AL_EXPONENT_DISTANCE,AL_EXPONENT_DISTANCE_CLAMP```, etc.). You can play with them and check the results.