The terrible tale of AirPods and MacBooks

, 5 minutes to read, 120 views

As I mentioned before, I often listen to music or podcasts. I mostly do this on the move using a phone, but every once in a while I also think listening to something on my laptop would be a good experience. It rarely is.

For some kind of strange reason, the connection between my Apple AirPods and my Apple1 MacBook seems to fail absolutely horribly. I cannot figure out the problem for the life of me. And to be honest, this should not be a issue. Not with these devices and not with any. It feels a bit like that2:

It works fine with my phone

I quite like my headphones, the AirPods work great with my phone. They connect almost immediately when I put them in my ears. The sound quality is excellent, the noise cancellation is really quite excellent, and the microphones are mostly acceptable and perfect for phone calls.

There is also a hand-off feature that automatically connects from the phone to the laptop when needed. And this works quite well. It works well between iPhone and iPad, it even works well from any device to my MacBook Pro. It’s just when I’m connected to my MacBook that things go awry.

What happens on the laptop

The thing that makes this so strange, is that it is not a persistent problem. The only thing that is consistent is that the issue is so bad that after some time the audio becomes so bad, that a reset or something similar is needed. Again, this pretty much makes it unusable.

The issue is kinda hard to explain, it’s like if you have audio that is excessively much compressed, not just compressed, but like compressed to unbearable (yes, even worth the music being played through a phone line, as is done by many customers support services).

I figured out that the issue must be something with Bluetooth, especially because the issue becomes much more pronounced when more Bluetooth devices are connected. Here are my very anecdotal findings:

So, somehow my laptop, a device that is much more powerful than my phone or iPad, is overloaded when a Bluetooth connection is running? That seems very implausible but yeah. I mean, the device also supports the Bluetooth 5.0 standard, which is fairly recent. I guess it must be some kind of software blunder, but I’m not entirely sure.

Look, I’m not the only one

Am I the only one with this issue; Not by far. I regularly read social media posts that show people having just the same problem. Here’s an example from Christian Seilig:

I think I'd revert to Ventura from Sonoma if it wasn't for the Mac Virtual Display feature, every time I do anything CPU intensive (compile an app), Bluetooth audio gets so crackly 😢

The strange thing is, most of the people complaining about the issue, seem to be power users. This would in turn suggest that the issue is somehow of computational nature, but it seems very strange to me that the Bluetooth connection to the headphones is very calculation intensive.

How to temporarily fix it

I found two commands that work in temporarily resetting the audio/Bluetooth connection.

sudo pkill bluetoothd

And finally also just restarting the audio works:

sudo killall coreaudiod

But again, these are very temporary fixes and after anywhere between 30 seconds and 3 minutes, the issue is back as always. And this really makes it not usable at all. Especially since this interrupts the audio being played in the progress.

If you look for it hard enough, you can find a silver lining

I kind of decided to give up, at least a bit. When I use my laptop, I currently use some wonderful Sennheiser wired headphones which have the added advantage of also having a much better microphone than the AirPods for video calls3 so there’s that. And I mean at least the MacBook still has a headphone jack!

  1. I would normally not emphasise the brand of the devices as much, but I think in this case it is necessary to highlight my point. I mean, I don’t even like it when the company with the fruit logo decides that my device should be called Oli’s iPhone, when it clearly just is Oli’s Phone↩︎

  2. Yes, this image is AI generated through DALL·E 3. While I’m not entirely sure of the usefulness of these modern AI tools and I generally don’t buy into the hype, this is a pretty good illustration of how I feel about these two things interacting together. ↩︎

  3. I’m not entirely sure the microphone on the Sennheiser’s is that much better, but the placement is so much better and so much closer to my mouth, which makes it sound so amazing. ↩︎

Tags: Apple, Bluetooth