If you have a MacBook Pro or an iMac you can play both music and sounds effects, such as a new message ping, through the internal speakers within your Mac. What happens if you want to play music, on your external speakers so you get full sound spectrum in your room through those sweet high end speakers, and the subtle sound effects close to you. Nothing is worst when you hear the new mail ping at 100dB over a subtle melody of your favourite tune. This post should hopefully show you how to set up this configuration on your Mac.
Setting Up The Hardware
Your Mac will typically have two methods of outputting sound, through the headphone jack and through your ThunderBolt port. Plugging in speakers into the head phone jack will not allow you to split the audio, I think this is down to a physical change within the sound card, rather than something controlled by software. What we are going to use is the Thunderbolt port, that little square shape that has a million uses.
Getting the sound output is a little complicate, and may be expensive. The steps are as follows, we first need a thunderbolt to HDMI cable or converter.We can the connect it to a compatible receiver or amp with HDMI interface, I have a Onkyo receiver which is excellent. We then have our speakers, as many as we need, connected to the receiver.
This set up allows us to set the external receiver as an external device which we can configure. Unfortunately, this means we need a larger dedicated setup, rather than just plugging in a speaker. However, the advantage of this setup means we get better sound (due to higher end speakers), more speakers (which is louder) and surround sound (which is awesome). If you play a lot of music, movies or other media through you Mac and you want to get great sound I recommend this sort of setup.
Setting Up Your Mac’s Sound Output
Since we now have some external speakers set up, we need to configure your Mac to see them and play the correct audio through each setup. Open up Applications > Utilities > Audio MIDI Setup. This is where you can set up how you speakers work. This can be done, to a certain extent, through System Preferences, however I have had more success with the MIDI setup app.
In the app you will see a side bar with all of the input and output audio devices. You will notice a built-in output, which are your normal speakers, and the HDMI output. Right click on the HDMI device, it has a list which states two things; “Use this device for sound output” and “Play alerts and sound effects through this device”. Select the option you want for each set of speakers. For example if you want your music to play through your audio setup select the device for “sound output”, then select the built in output for the sound effects. You can choose how you set this up.
The last thing to do is to play some music. I found that your Mac needs a bit of a push to get going. The sound selection is now done at the software level. So you can play your favourite album at full volume, when you get a new mail message you don’t hear the sound over the speakers.
The audio MIDI setup can also be used to tell your receiver which channel goes to which speakers, using the configure speakers button. Useful if you find the right and left audio has been mixed up. You can also tell your Mac how to send the information to your receiver, 8ch-24bit integer is typically the norm.
This method is a bit long winded. I haven’t found a method that can do this by simply plugging in a speaker set. Using this method does allow you to play sounds effects through your Mac and music through external speakers.
If you have an alternative method, please leave a comment.