How to get a Mac to stop trying to play audio through an HDMI monitor that doesn’t have speakers

How has it come to this? It’s 2020, and on top of everything else (a global pandemic, an incompetent and megalomaniacal U.S. president, police in my neighborhood murdering Black people, riots in my neighborhood over police murdering Black people, climate change-induced forest fires destroying California, murder hornets), my MacBook Pro has suddenly decided that it must try to send audio output to my HDMI monitor whenever it’s plugged in, even though the monitor doesn’t have speakers, and I have a set of speakers plugged into the headphone jack.

It’s a completely asinine scenario, and the solution is even more asinine, but it does seem to work. It also maybe just fixes one annoying issue I always had with my speaker setup: I would have to turn the Mac’s volume all the way up to get adequate output to the speakers, which have their own volume control.

What’s the solution? Create an aggregate device. What’s that? I’ll show you.

First go into Applications > Utilities and open Audio MIDI Setup. Hopefully you’ve never had to open this little utility before, because I doubt anyone who works in interface design at Apple ever has. (ZING!)

You’ll see something like this… but without the last item, which is the aggregate device I already created, much like a TV chef who already has a finished dish waiting in the oven.

That “VS248” is my HDMI monitor. “External Headphones” is my speakers, plugged into the MacBook Pro’s headphone jack. Then of course there are the internal microphone and speakers of the Mac itself.

Click the little plus sign at the bottom left, and choose Create Aggregate Device. Click the checkboxes under Use for “External Headphones” and your monitor. That will make them appear in Subdevices above. When I did this, it had VS248 on the left and External Headphones on the right, which was assigning the monitor to channels 1 and 2, and the headphones to channels 3 and 4. You can drag-and-drop the names of the devices to change the order. Move your External Headphones to the left so their color is assigned to channels 1 and 2. You can also give this aggregate device a distinct name by clicking its name in the left sidebar and typing in what you want. I cleverly called mine “Headphones and VS248.”

That’s it! Now close this window, open System Preferences, and click on Sound > Output. Select your new aggregate device for sound output, and you should be all set.

One thing I noticed about this that was initially annoying, but then I realized is actually a good thing! was that now the volume control and mute “buttons” on my MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar were grayed out. Damn it! Oh, wait. That’s actually fine, because this aggregate device is automatically setting the output on the headphone jack to maximum, allowing me to easily control the volume in the speakers with the speakers’ volume knob. I no longer have to manually turn the Mac up to maximum. And, hopefully, although I haven’t tried it yet, this also means that when I take my Mac away from my desk and plug my earbuds directly into the headphone jack, I won’t have to remember to adjust the volume before blowing out my eardrums! The Mac should remember the optimal volume I already have set for when the sound output is External Headphones-only.

Hey look, new fonts

I’m sure by the time you read this, 5 years from now, I will have changed things 8 to 10 times since writing this, but as of right now… hey, look. Same old site design, but with new fonts!

One new font, actually: Work Sans, in three weights. It’s a great new, no-nonsense but aesthetically pleasing sans serif font that is free which makes it extra nice. (Though I do not begrudge font designers the right to compensation for their work.)

This one initially got my attention by way of a blog post by the great Khoi Vinh. I figured, if he likes it, it’s worth noting.

On IKEA’s sad validation of Verdana

IKEA 2010 catalog, set in... GAACK! VerdanaAny use of a font is a validation of its aesthetics, and since I find the aesthetics of Verdana appalling, I am sad to see it get validation from the likes of IKEA.

I feel like I got a bit of a scoop here, because I first noticed the use of Verdana at IKEA about a month ago. At the time I thought it was a fluke — I saw it on one of their vertical banners, posted near the cafe, and it appeared to be a locally-produced sign advertising some particular regional specialty they were temporarily adding to the menu. It looked like someone at the local store had tried to design a banner to match the corporate standard, but was ignorant of the nuances of fonts, and used Verdana because they either didn’t have Futura or couldn’t tell the difference (gasp!)… or both.

But then earlier this week I was leafing through the 2010 IKEA catalog that was sitting on our coffee table, when it struck me that the whole bloody thing was set in Verdana. How could this be?!

As I said, I feel like I got a bit of a scoop here, because I mentioned this observation on Twitter three days ago, and only now is it showing up on Daring Fireball via lonelysandwich via Hunk-O-Mass via jhn brssndn via hellaposer via Typophile. And apparently Typophile does not yet have the bandwidth to handle being “fireballed” and “sandwiched” (and… uh… “34ed”… yeah, that’s it), since I can’t get it to load right now.

I feel like I’m in good company though, because these guys are echoing my longstanding sentiments towards Verdana. From Gruber:

I have never seen Verdana look good in any way other than in small sizes on-screen.

And, even more on-the-money, from Lisagor:

Sure, Gruber uses it tastefully, but at anything larger than 11pt, it feels to me a bit squat and dopey. Friendly and readable, but a little bit simple, in the way you’d say a person is simple, but only behind his back.

Well played. Part of IKEA’s rationale is that “they want to be able to give the same visual impression both in print and the web.” Well, that can be done without resorting to this abominable solution. Especially with the imminent ascension of @font-face.

Here’s hoping 2011 will bring a return to sanity.


Originally posted July 21, 2006. See below for an update!

Not unlike Charles Foster Kane’s plaintive deathbed whisper — “Rosebud!” — I awoke this morning with one word in my brain (though fortunately for my surely-to-be-perplexed wife, I did not utter it aloud)… “Haystacks!”

Not a literal stack of hay, mind you, but a particular type of candy my grandfather adored (for some inexplicable reason); one I haven’t seen in years, if not decades.

The haystack is a peculiar candy. Start with a mound of a mysterious white sugary substance, the most cloyingly, sickeningly, tooth-rottingly sweet concoction you can imagine. Form it into the vaguely parabolic shape of a haystack (hence the name), and cover it in chocolate.

I think Brach’s used to sell these in cellophane bags, along with dozens of other kinds of candy not enjoyed by anyone born after 1929. But my grandfather used to buy his in bulk at a fresh produce market (that also had a greenhouse and a large bulk candy section), improbably located in Mapleview, Minnesota.

In attempting to locate more information about these candies, I was reminded of two things: 1) There’s another, completely unrelated (although much more accurately describable as “haystacks”) type of candy involving butterscotch, peanut butter, and chow mein noodles, and 2) although my grandfather, and by extension my parents, called them “haystacks,” I think Brach’s and Super Fresh Produce actually called them something else.

And so, I am brought back to Citizen Kane. Like Charles Foster, I am probably destined to live my entire adult life never to relive certain childhood memories. Unlike Mr. Kane, however, I doubt it will lead to any deathbed regrets.

Addendum (July 21, 2006): I was simultaneously validated in my memory and pigeonholed geographically and culturally by this discovery. In my various and relatively fruitless (not to mention pointless) Google searches to try to get an answer, I found a reference in a post on the Prairie Home Companion message boards to the candies I’m talking about, even calling them “haystacks,” distinctly different from every other type of “haystack” candy I’ve so far found online, all of which seem to contain coconut, chow mein noodles, or shoestring potatoes. Not at all what I remember, though I will happily concede that they do much more closely resemble actual haystacks.

Update (August 26, 2006): I guess it’s good that my parents read this after all! They informed me today that the “other” name for these candies is chocolate cream drops. A fine example of what they look like can be seen at the Vermont Country Store website, where you can even order the godawful things if you want. Knock yourself out. If you’re just interested in more pictures (recommended) rather than actually tasting them, you can also see some examples at the Spangler Candy (archrival to Brach’s in the inedible candy wars) website or, strangely, on a site called (which, after further consideration, I guess makes sense, considering the only way you can stand to eat these things is if your sense of taste is numbed by alcohol or a 2-pack-a-day habit).