How to Fix Locked Sound Volume on a Mac

Why Volume Gets Locked on a Mac (and How to Change It)

Suddenly find you can’t change the volume on macOS? Find out here how to unlock and change locked volume on a Mac (and why it can get stuck in the first place).

First, What’s Wrong with All the Tape Measures

Any good (and every cheap) tape measure comes with a hook (or tang) that makes measuring easy even if you’re measuring alone. Every single one of these hooks wiggles a bit, though. Even if one buys a new tape measure… the hook wiggles right out of the box.

Why? This is a device for measurements after all… should things not be fixed, stable, and predictable?

Turns out it is the very wiggle room makes the measurements predictable and precise.

For when you push the measure against a wall, the hook’s metal is in between the tape and the wall—and you measure the distance including the metal strip. When you hook the measure to an edge, the wiggle room opens—exactly to the width of the metal strip’s thickness, and again you measure the distance including the metal strip.

So, a tape measure’s hook should not get stuck… and neither should a Mac’s volume:

Why Volume Gets Locked on a Mac

Typically, a Mac’s volume becomes locked when you plug headphones in to or out of the headphone jack.

During plugging, the audio controller switches between internal speakers and headphones. Each has its own volume associated (and saved) with it, and during the change volume is locked. As it looks (and much of this is speculation), the interplay of physical connector and software can get stuck in that in-between state sometimes.

How to Fix Locked Sound Volume on a Mac

Time needed: 2 minutes.

To change a Mac‘s locked volume (and possibly unlock the volume):

  1. Plug headphones out and back in.

    Vice versa: If plugging out headphones caused the issue, plug them back in and then back out again.
    Mac volume locked

  2. If that failed, force quit the coreaudiod process.

    It will restart: macOS will automatically reset and restart the process.
    Why it works: Coreaudiod is the process that manages audio output on a Mac; like any piece of software, it can run into issues.
    How to do it: Find and quit the coreaudiod process in Activity Monitor or run sudo killlall -9 coreaudiod in Terminal.
    Force quit coreaudiod to fix locked volume on a Mac

  3. If that failed, try changing volume in System Settings under Sound.

    Why: Even if this does not unlock the volume for the keyboard, you may be able to at least turn down a locked volume.
    Another option: Try switching to a different audio output, say an Apple TV.
    Change locked Mac volume in System Settings

  4. If that failed, do restart the Mac.

(How to fix locked sound volume on a Mac tested with macOS Big Sur 11.3; updated December 2022)

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