Apple’s newest Mac and MacBook devices have an easily overlooked but welcome surprise addition, according to a new report.
Essentially, it appears that new Mac products — including Apple’s recently debuted MacBook Air and Mac mini refreshes — include distinct audio output devices for their headphone jack and built-in internal speakers. The change was first spotted and publicized in a blog post by software firm Rogue Amoeba.
That may not sound all that exciting, but it allows new Mac computers a capability that just hasn’t been possible before.
On previous generations of Mac, the 3.5mm headphone jack and internal speakers were two separate “ports” on a single output device. Because of that, you could only use one device at a time — plugging in headphones would automatically disable playback through the internal speakers, for example.
Newer Macs make the headphone jack and the speakers separate audio output devices. Because of that, users now have the ability to send different audio sources to the separate outputs.
That means users can have a movie on iTunes output audio to a Mac’s internal speakers while Spotify plays music through a pair of plugged-in headphones.
There are more useful ways to take advantage of the change, too. You can, for example, have operating system sound effects play through a Mac’s speakers while music or video content outputs audio through a pair of headphones. That way, you aren’t disturbed by routine notification pings.
You can make that change by going to System Preferences > Sound > Sound Effects and setting Play sound effects through your Mac’s internal speakers. Just make sure that your headphones are set for the standard audio output device (in the Output tab).
Of course, Rogue Amoeba points out that audio-switching still functions normally. If you plug in a pair of headphones, macOS will prioritize that and switch the standard audio output to that source.
It’s not just the MacBook Air or Mac mini that have this ability, either. Rogue Amoeba notes that 2018 MacBook Pro and iMac Pro devices also seem to sport separate output devices — which led the software company to theorize that it’s a function of Apple’s T2 security chip.