Quickly Enable HDMI Audio & Toggle Sound Output from Mac OS X

May 4, 2013 - 2 Comments

Mac audio output If you’ve ever connected a Mac to something else like a TV through HDMI, you’ve probably noticed that, unlike the video source, sound output does not automatically change to the newly connected hardware. This is intentional, but many users misinterpret that as a problem with their HDMI adapter or cable, or even their Macs output capabilities, when in fact it’s almost always just a matter of adjusting the OS X audio output settings.

The standard approach is to go through System Preferences to Sound settings and change output, but there’s actually a much faster way to adjust where sound output is directed, and it can be done from anywhere, without going into preferences at all.

Toggle Audio Output Quickly on the Mac

This works in virtually every version of OS X, revealing all audio sources:

  • Hold down the Option key and click the Sound icon
  • Find the desired audio output destination under “Output Device” and select it from the pull-down menu

Toggle audio output sources in Mac OS X to HDMI sound, speakers, etc

The change is immediate, and the set audio output destination will have a checkbox next to it’s name. Play a sound effect or any form of audio to confirm it is working. Though we’re focusing on HDMI here, this will apply to all other means of exporting audio as well, including apps like WavTap that capture all sound.

Of course it’s still possible to use the other method of going through System Preferences > Output to control this, but since it can all be done from anywhere without launching into settings there is little reason to go that route.

Switching back to the default audio source (typically the internal speakers or sound port) can be done by again Option+Clicking the sound menu icon and then choosing “Internal Speakers” from the pulldown.

Going the other way, this menu trick will also let you change input sources as well, making it easy to toggle input from an external microphone, another audio source, or back to the default internal mic as well.

Why is the Sound Menu Icon Grey?

You will notice that after an HDMI sound output source (and many other output options) has been selected, the Sound menu icon turns grey:

Grey volume menu icon on the Mac indicates audio volume must be changed through the device rather than OS X

This does not mean that exporting sound is not working, it simply means that sound volume must be controlled through the hardware the Mac is now outputting to through HDMI, which is typically a TV or presentation shooter, as the internal volume adjustment sliders and keyboard buttons will no longer work.

HDMI Audio Output Still Not Working? Check the Mac for HDMI Sound Support

Almost all new Macs support audio over HDMI, and practically anything newer than a 2010 model year will have native support. Nonetheless, if none of this is working, you don’t have the HDMI output source visible in the menu options or the Sound Output preferences, and you’re absolutely positive there’s nothing wrong with the HDMI cables and adapters, then you may want to double-check that the Mac supports HDMI audio output.

  • Hold down the Option key and click the  Apple menu, then choose “System Information”
  • Select “Audio” from the Hardware menu
  • Click the triangles to open each audio channel option, and look for “HDMI Output”, “HDMI / DisplayPort Output”, or something similar

How to know if a Mac supports HDMI audio output

If you see nothing in the hardware audio menus about HDMI output, then the Mac doesn’t support exporting audio over HDMI. If the Mac is brand new and thus supposed to support HDMI sound, then there could be a hardware issue either with the adapter itself (this is a very common problem with the super cheap adapters bought online, get a reliable brand like Monoprice and pay a few bucks more), or, in less usual cases it could be a problem with the Mac itself, and you may want to contact AppleCare to make a determination.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks

2 Comments

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  1. Thank you, Paul, for the very clear description of audio management on the Mac. Very helpful.

  2. Sair says:

    Hi, thanks for your explanation, it avoided too much techie talk so it was easy to follow.

    I’m using an AOC I2367FH monitor my MacBook Pro.
    I’ve managed to get volume through my monitor, but as you’ve mentioned the volume control via the keyboard has been lost. Is there a way to get this control back whilst using an HDMI lead, as my monitor has no volume control, so its either LOUD or mute.

    Thanks,
    Sair

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