Q&A: Bluetooth headphones

Q Following favourable reviews, I bought Bluetooth headphones to use with my Macs and iPad. Although they work fine with my iPad, my Macs have been less successful. With my MacBook Pro, they disconnect every so often, so I tried them with my venerable early 2008 Mac Pro, and cannot get them to work at all with that. Have I got a duff set?

A Probably not, if they work well with your iPad.

The problem with your MacBook Pro might be down to El Capitan, which has suffered Bluetooth disconnect problems since its release. These are apparently fixed in the update to OS X 10.11.2, so once you have installed that, your headphones should be good with that.

Your Mac Pro may not be fixed so easily, though. There have been sporadic reports of problems like this with Bluetooth audio streaming in specific models. Although the Mac Pro does not seem to have been particularly affected, older MacBooks and MacBook Pros seem quite prone to this, and it remains unresolved.

One issue that certainly can cause problems is using other Bluetooth devices, especially those that generate steady streams of input, such as a Magic Trackpad. If you use one, then it would be worth moving it out of radioshot, replacing it with a wired mouse, and restarting. I have observed fairly strange Bluetooth radio coverage fields in some circumstances, so you should also try moving the headphones around the Mac’s case. Most problems with transmission seem to occur when external Bluetooth devices are placed below the aerial, which seems unlikely with a big case like that of a Mac Pro.

Audio output on Mac Pros is also more complex than on other Macs, and you should study settings in the Output tab of the Sound pane to ensure that audio streaming is properly configured. It can also be helpful to open and check the Audio MIDI Setup utility (in /Applications/Utilities). If your Mac Pro’s firmware is fully updated, you have checked for conflicting applications, and your logs are clean, it may be that your Mac Pro just does not work well with Bluetooth audio streaming.

Updated from the original, which was first published in MacUser volume 27 issue 18, 2011.