Mac Sound Basics: How to Control Sound on Your Mac

Mac can handle sound in many ways. As everyone knows, Macs chirp on start-up and grunt when the user hits a wrong key. They can offer congratulatory whistles when people save documents; they play digital music files through programs such as iTunes and they can 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: How to Control Sound on Your Mac


It is possible to change the overall volume on the Mac using the drop-down slider on the menu bar, by the clock. It it is not there, you can open System Preferences from the Apple menu, choose Sound and check the box at the button 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 sound source and one 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 you would like to use. Use 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 plugging into the latter). 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 this Preferences panel and select the device before they can get it to work.

Alerts and Effects

The Sound Preferences panel contains the settings for Sound Effects. From the alert sound list, you can pick the sound you will hear when you try to do something impossible. To toggle whether you hear sounds every time you copy or delete a file or folder, use the Play user interface sound effects check box.

Besides, Alerts can be signaled visually instead of audibly. You can do it 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.


Human Speech to Mac

Computers are able to interpret 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 so on. 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 little speech tool, and then decide how you would like to tell the Mac that you are about to issue a command. Either define a listening key that is Escape by default, or have your machine permanently listen out for a spoken keyword (by default, it is “computer”). Finally, look under the Commands tab to get a feel for the kind of commands that your Mac will recognize, and then start speaking.

Mac to Human Speech

You can also have your Mac speak to you. It can read out alerts, texts, etc. This feature is useful if you have difficulty reading small font on screen. Press System Preferences – Speech – Text to Speech and pick 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 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 avoid these sounds from ever happening, 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, it is worth turning the volume of alerts down, as they can give you a bit of a shock, suddenly ricocheting across your ear drums at high volume.
  • If you want your Mac to beep at you even more, you can download some amazing apps which could do the trick.


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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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