Select Audio in and out From Your Mac's Menu Bar

Changing audio inputs and outputs is just an option-click away

Young woman with pink hair listening to music via laptop at home

 Westend61 / Getty Images

The Mac has a number of audio in and audio out options, so many in fact that if you regularly use more than one, you may find the standard method of selecting an audio input source, or audio output destination, cumbersome at best.

Depending on your Mac model you may have quite a few sources for the audio in, including analog in, digital (optical) in, and microphone in. The same is true for audio output; you could have internal speakers, analog out (headphones), and digital (optical) out. And these are just the normal options that may show up in the Sound preference pane.

Depending on how you use your Mac, and what third-party audio devices you have connected to it, you could have quite a few additional options to choose from, including any USB, Thunderbolt, or FireWire devices you may have. And they don’t even need to be physically connected to your Mac. Do you have an Apple TV that will be showing up as an available audio output? How about a Bluetooth headset; yes, that's going to show up as an output, and probably an input as well, if it has a microphone.

The point being, if you routinely need to select one of your audio devices, then the Sound preference pane, part of the System Preferences, isn't the easiest or most intuitive way of making the selection.

Thankfully, Apple added an alternate method of choosing a source for the audio in, as well a device for the audio out, and it can be found in the Apple menu bar.

When you move your cursor up to the menu bar, you may notice a volume control icon over near the right-hand side of the menu bar. Placing your cursor on the volume control and clicking once reveals a slider for setting the volume. But while that is certainly handy, it doesn’t provide a way to select the source or destination -- or does it?

One of the many secrets of the Mac is its affinity for menus that have alternate functions. These alternate functions are usually invoked with the use of a special modifier key, and the volume control in the menu bar is no different.

Changing Audio In or Out

Hold down the option key and click the Volume icon (the little speaker) in your Mac’s menu bar. A list of your Mac’s audio inputs and audio outputs will display. Click the input or output you wish to use, and the change will be made. If you don’t see the Volume icon in your menu bar, you can enable it by following the steps below.

Enable the Volume Control in the Menu Bar

  1. Launch System Preferences by clicking the System Preferences icon in the dock, or selecting System Preferences from the Apple menu.
  2. Click the Sound preference pane in the System Preferences window.
  3. Place a checkmark next to the ‘Show volume in menu bar’ item.
  4. Close System Preferences.
  5. The ability to change the audio in or out is now just an option-click away.

Now that you know about this handy tip, you can make changes to your audio source and destination much more quickly and easily than having to go through the System Preferences.