Mac Sound Basics: How to Control the Sound on Your Mac

Your Mac can recognize your voice, and play many different sounds. As everyone knows, Macs chirp at start-up, and grunt when the user hits a wrong key. They can offer congratulatory whistles when you save documents, and can play digital music files through programs such as iTunes. They can also record your performances. You can speak to your friends around the world using your Mac, and you can even talk directly to your computer!

Mac Sound Basics: Controlling the Sound on Your Mac


You can change the overall volume on your Mac by using the drop-down slider located on the menu bar, by the clock. If it is not there, you can open System Preferences from the Apple menu, choose Sound, and check the box at the bottom of the panel.

Note that most Mac keyboards include keys for quickly changing the volume and muting the sound altogether – three little speaker symbols can be found along the top of the keyboard..

Inputs and Outputs

Without special hardware, the common Mac deals with one incoming and outgoing sound source at a time (for example, a microphone or internal speakers). If you have more than one input or output, you need to specify which one you would like to use. You can do this in the Output and Input pane of the Sound section in System Preferences.

By default, one output is set up – Built-in-Out. This output covers your built-in speakers or headphone socket (the name will change depending on whether there is anything plugged in). Today, all Macs have an audio line-in port listed within the Input pane. This socket encompasses both optical digital audio and regular analogue audio sources, such as a radio or hi-fi, connected using a mini-jack cable.

Mac laptops and iMacs also have an integral microphone that can be selected within the input pane. If you have an older Mac, you may have no input sources listed.

If the user adds external audio devices, such as a USB mic or a full-on audio interface, he or she may need to open the Preferences panel and select the device for it to work..

Alerts and Effects

The Sound Preferences panel contains the settings for Sound Effects. You can choose a sound from the alerts sound list, and toggle whether you would like to hear sounds every time you copy or delete a file or folder.

Alerts can also be signaled visually instead of audibly. You can do this by using Universal access.

If you have more than one sound output set up, you can have your system alerts and sound effects play through one, and everything else through the other. You will find this option under the Sound Effects tab in System Preferences – Sound.


Mac Speech Recognition

Computers are capable of interpreting human speech with a degree of reliability. In OS X, you can give commands in certain applications, hide the Dock, switch between programs, open contacts in Address Book, and more. To do so, open the Speech Recognition tab and click the Calibrate… button to teach your Mac to recognize your accent and pronunciations. Next, turn Speakable Items on to reveal a floating speech tool, and decide how you would like to tell the Mac that you are about to issue a command. Either define a listening key, which is Escape by default, or have your machine permanently listen for a spoken keyword, “computer” by default. Finally, look under the Commands tab to get a feel for the different commands that your Mac will recognize, and then start speaking.

Mac to an Speech

You can also have your Mac speak to you. It can read out alerts, texts, and more. This feature is useful if you have difficulty reading small font on your screen. Press System Preferences – Speech – Text to Speech and choose a voice. You will need to set a key combination to tell the computer when to start speaking. Be sure to pick something that is unlikely to clash with a key combination in another program.

Note: For more speech access features, you can look under Universal Access.

Some Useful Tips for Controlling the Sound

  • If you use a dial-up modem, and want to silence the noise the modem makes when it connects to the Internet, you can turn off the modem sound within System Preferences – Network – Modem.
  • To mute the feedback sound, hold down the Shift key if you are using your keyboard to change the volume. To turn off these sounds completely, uncheck the Play feedback when volume is changed box under the Sound Effects pane of the Sound section of System Preferences.
  • If you intend to work while listening to music through headphones, you may want to turn the volume of alerts down, as they can be very loud and interrupt your music.
  • If you want your Mac to access even more sounds for your Mac, there are many apps available for this purpose.


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  • If you are having problems with sound on your Mac, the following Website (trusted source) provides useful information:


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