Jack vs USB headphones on Mac

A work colleague recently resigned and left his USB headset on his desk. Foolishly thinking that one plug is better than two, I swapped my old jack-connector skype headset for his. Unlike the headphone jack, USB-connected headphones do not automatically disable the internal speakers on my macbook when plugged in, leading to a blast of noise across the cube farm when I tried to test them.

The problem is twofold – firstly, Mac OS treats the headphone jack and internal speakers as the same device, whereas USB headphones are naturally treated as an extra device. There is therefore no configuration option in the software to alter the behaviour – it’s buried in the BIOS for all I can tell. I got around this by downloading SoundSource – it remembers speaker and microphone configurations and restores your earlier sound settings as you plug devices in and out.

But then I came across the second problem – it only worked 50% of the time. Turns out that a single physical device appears as different virtual devices depending on what USB port it’s plugged into. I had to configure the headset to be the default mic and speakers while it was plugged into one port, then plug it into the other and repeat the process.

It’s at times like this that I appreciate how my mother feels.

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