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Sometimes, when I connect an external set of headphones/speakers, I am unable to change the volume. When I press one the volume keys, I see the image below.

Why does this happen? Interestingly, if I am playing music using software that has a volume control (e.g. Spotify or Youtube) I can still change the volume with the mouse using the application's volume bar. However, the system's volume bar is greyed out and can't change it either.

enter image description here

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This icon appears when the external device or application has taken over and is to be used to adjust volume. –  Buscar웃 Mar 16 '14 at 0:26
Thanks @Buscar웃 Is there any way to override that? Why does it have to be one or the other? YouTube and Spotify retain their volume controls, and in many systems the final volume is usually the product of any intermediary volumes. Why can't the system volume be yet another intermediary volume? –  Amelio Vazquez-Reina Mar 16 '14 at 0:31
see my answer below –  Buscar웃 Mar 16 '14 at 0:34

10 Answers 10

up vote 5 down vote accepted

This icon appears when the external device or application has taken over and is to be used to adjust volume.

That also means the internal speakers are disabled.

To verify, go to system preferences sound, and look in the output tab which device is to be used to adjust volume.

See following example

If I select the Sharp TV I will get the icon like you have if I try to adjust volume on may mac, so i have to use the TV volume adjustment.

However if i select Internal speakers the volume adjustments works on my mac.

volume adjustment device

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What worked for me: open up a Terminal window and:

sudo killall coreaudiod
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Awesome, worked for me! –  Vojtech Vrbka Dec 2 '14 at 9:30
I had no audio and the same symbol showing for one user on my MacBook Pro and audio working fine when changing (without logging out) to another user. Changing back, I had the same problem. Killing coreaudiod fixed the problem. –  Dag Høidahl Dec 11 '14 at 20:35
Worked for me too! –  hfossli Jan 23 at 20:34
After killing coreaudio I also did: sudo kextunload /System/Library/Extensions/AppleHDA.kext sudo kextload /System/Library/Extensions/AppleHDA.kext –  Neil 13 hours ago

If all else fails, open a terminal window and type the following to adjust it your volume:

sudo osascript -e "set Volume 5"

You can change to "5" to a higher or lower number to make the volume go up and down

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I think I found a quicker and easier fix. At least it works for me.

When the volume keys don't respond (happens pretty often and I haven't figured out why) I simply put the computer in sleep mode then re-awaken it. Takes a few seconds but it works every time.

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I tried all the other answers (enabling the internal speakers, killing coreaudiod, putting the computer to sleep), but the only thing that worked for me was a reboot.

I also read somewhere that rebooting into safe mode might fix it, but thankfully I didn't need to do that.

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This happened to me too I just shutdown the mac and turned it on again, after this it was back to normal.

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I just plugged an audio device back into my macbook air, worked. didn't need to put to sleep or do some code or restart.

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I had this problem twice within this week, first time it happened.

I checked the settings but did not have any other audio device connected. Tried putting my computer to sleep and waking it again, tried quitting the sound applications and started it again, all didn't work.

What worked was I adjusted the volume in the settings by dragging the volume bar manually and I was able to use my volume buttons again.

Kinda annoying.

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Simple Hack: Plug in a pair of headphones, then unplug them. This will allow you to control the volume again.

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I just rebooted and it worked for me! Been having this trouble since I did the last round of updates.

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