How to instantly switch audio sources in OS X

If you have your Mac connected to different audio input and output sources, having to switch between them can be a process: You have to open up System Preferences, click on the Sound preference, and toggle the Input and Output tabs to find the right source. Or do you? Here's a much faster way to do it.

The Mac is well-designed for audio media management. Whether you're just listening to music and podcasts, or whether you're a professional musician, the Mac has abilities (and complicated software tools and workflows) to suit you.

So it's easy to get your Mac set up with audio inputs ranging from USB interfaces to the digital audio input, output including Bluetooth speakers, AirPlay and more. And keeping track of what audio is routing through which device can get to be a bit much to manage, at least if you're doing it all through the Sound system preference.

How to add volume to the menu bar

You're probably familiar with the volume level manager in the menu bar. If not, let's get that out of the way first. Here's how to turn it on:

  1. Click on the menu.
  2. Select System Preferences.
  3. Select Sound.
  4. Check Show volume in menu bar.

Yosemite sound preference

Now click on the sound icon in the menu bar. You can adjust the volume of whatever speaker is selected for output at present.

How to get more volume menu bar options

If you hold down the option button on the keyboard and then click on the sound icon in the menu bar, you'll see a different menu appear. Now you can select whichever sound input method you'd like, and if you do it again, you can select whatever sound output method you'd like.

Obviously this has its limits: If you have really complicated audio workflows, you may not see all of your options listed here. And if you're trying to manage multiple devices at once — let's say AirPlay speakers throughout the house, for example — you may have to resort to iTunes or whatever app you're using to control audio instead.

But this offers a quick and easy way to redirect audio into and out of your Mac without having to deal with the Sound system preference, so that's something.

Any questions?

Any trouble with this? Or have any questions, comments or thoughts to add? Let me know!

Peter Cohen