Sound issues when connecting your Mac to a TV with HDMI? Try this

By , Jan 26, 2016

retina macbook pro hdmi port macworld

On the right side of all modern MacBook Pro models is an HDMI port used for digital video and sound. It’s a great way to take in all of your favorite movies on the big screen.

On the other hand, if you wanted to use external speakers or headphones, it can cause issues if your sound settings aren’t configured just right because HDMI itself is also an audio out port in addition to video out.

In this piece, we’ll walk you through how to make sure your audio out is going to the right place.

Problems that can arise

Over the weekend, I decided to sit back and watch some Star Wars movies using the new Samsung smart TV I got for Christmas, but when I connected my Mac to the TV and started to play my movie, the sound was all coming out of the TV instead of my Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 sound system despite the fact that I had the speakers plugged in via the 3.5mm headphone jack on the left side of my MacBook Pro.

The sound was loud coming from the TV, so I decided to try and adjust it with the volume keys on my keyboard only to find the following prompt come up when attempting to press the volume up and volume down keys:

volume prompt not working mac

So what gives? – It turns out OS X is designed to automatically route all sound out of the HDMI port to the device where the video is being played, so the sound was all being handed over to the TV for the TV to handle, forcing me to use my TV remote to adjust the volume.

Not only wasn’t this ideal, but I wanted the audio to play on my speaker system while the video played on the TV so I’d get the full effect of lows, mids, and highs from my speaker system. After all, and as Meghan Trainor would agreeI’m all about that bass, ’bout that bass, no treble.

The solution

On a more serious note, fixing the problem was pretty easy, and if you find yourself in a similar scenario as me where you want to use a speaker system for your sound instead of your TV when you’re using your Mac to play a video and are using the HDMI port to send video signals to your TV, then all you have to do is hold down the Option key while clicking on the Volume icon in the Menu Bar and you’ll find more options than just a volume slider.

Mac sound out settings HDMI

Doing this shows options for selecting an output device, as well as an input device, and if you have both an HDMI device connected, as well as headphones or speakers, you should see both of them in the output device list. In this case, you can see my speakers listed as “Headphones” and you can see my TV listed as “SAMSUNG.”

If I wanted to have my sound play from my speaker system, all I would need to do is click on “Headphones” from this list instead of “SAMSUNG.” When I was having the issue with all sound being uncontrollable from the Mac and being routed to the TV, “SAMSUNG” was selected from the list, but after picking “Headphones,” all the sound began coming from my speaker system and I was able to use my Mac’s volume up and volume down keys to adjust the volume once again.

Note: You can also go to System Preferences > Sound to view a list of input and output devices, but the interface isn’t as simple and sweet as the one above.

But I don’t have a volume icon in the Menu Bar

If you don’t have a volume icon in the Menu Bar to click on, then you will have to enable it from the Mac’s System Preferences app. This is done with the following steps:

Step 1: Launch the System Preferences app on your Mac and navigate to the “Sound” section.

mac system preferences sound menu bar icon

Step 2: Click on the “Show volume in menu bar” option to select it and enable it. A blue check mark means the option is turned on.

Step 3: Verify that the volume icon is now present in your Menu Bar – you can click it to reveal a volume slider, or hold the Option key and click it to reveal a list of input and output devices.

mac menu bar volume slider

The end result

After having made sure that your sound is being routed to the source you want, you’ll get the best of both worlds – HD video on your TV, and rich sound delivered through your speaker system.

Those using a VGA connection on an older TV won’t have this problem because VGA doesn’t handle audio out – HDMI on the other hand, does. When using an HDMI connection, you will have to choose which audio out you want to use, and in my case, it just happened to be the sound-rich speakers that I wanted to use instead of the muffled built-in TV audio.

If you’re using an HDMI-capable TV, but are not using any kind of speakers or headphones, then you can disregard the problem this piece is trying to address, unless of course, you wanted your sound to play from the Mac’s internal speakers instead of the TV’s speakers, which would seem like an unlikely scenario.

If you found this piece helpful, let us know in the comments below.

Top image via MacWorld

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  • Joel

    Really not a good solution for this because when using 3.5 mm you only get analog sound compared with HDMI wich sends digital. You should connect your Mac with only HDMI to TV and from the TV to soundbar a Optical cable. Then you got both video and sound digital! 🙂

    • Anthony Bouchard

      In that case, I get to choose between a TV’s itty bitty built-in speaker (digital) and my analog speaker system with THX certified sound 🙂

    • MonsterInaBox

      Actually, that is not an ideal solution since a lot of TVs strip out stuff like DTS encoding when using an HDMI passthrough. The ideal solution would be to get a TOSLINK to a Mini TOSLINK adapter that plugs into the headphone jack of your mac and get your digital audio straight from the source.

      Little known fact! Mac computers have had a special headphone jack that has an optical connection tucked away at the back for years and years!

  • Anthony Bouchard

    I was trying to use the audio out on the TV, but still, I had to use my remote for that and was unable to adjust with the Mac’s volume keys.

  • Ben Bache

    Didn’t work. When I hold the option key down and click the sound icon, it gives me the options of only my internal speakers and does not see my TV or stereo system. Thanks for the try.