Since OS X 10.11 El Capitan was released to developers about a year ago, I have had intermittent problems when using my beloved Plantronics headset* with FaceTime and other VoIP applications. In this post I’ll talk about a bug that makes FaceTime ignore a selected output device when using Wi-Fi calling.
On newer releases of OS X, FaceTime supports a variety of call options, including:
- FaceTime Video: This was the first mode FaceTime supported when it was released a couple of years ago.
- FaceTime Audio: As the name suggests, a Voice over IP (VoIP) call without video.
- iPhone Cellular Calls: Through a feature Apple calls Continuity, you can make and receive regular phones call on your Mac. For this to work, your iPhone needs to be in close proximity to your Mac.
- Wi-Fi Calling: This feature requires support from your mobile provider and allows you to make and receive regular phone calls, even if your iPhone is not in range.
Wi-Fi calling routes calls through your regular internet connection. I have used Wi-Fi since it became available on AT&T last year. There is very bad cell service where I live and work, with both AT&T and T-Mobile, but I have a rock-solid internet uplink through Comcast Business. Thanks to Wi-Fi calling I now have perfect cell service and can enjoy crystal clear call quality.
Since OS X started supporting Wi-Fi calling, I could even get rid of my desk phone and instead, I can make and receive all calls directly from my Mac using my Plantronics headset.
Audio Device Selection
Unfortunately, there appears to be a bug in FaceTime that makes it ignore the selected output device (my headset).
There are various places on a Mac where you can configure available audio devices:
- OS-wide: System Preferences —> Audio
- App-specific: i.e. FaceTime —> Video
Under System Preferences you can select the audio devices the operating system uses by default. But apps can override those general audio settings and use different audio devices.
I have usually the built-in devices (iMac microphone and speaker) selected in System Preferences but for VoIP apps like Skype or FaceTime, I have selected my Plantronics headset. Those settings work well and without any issues for Skype and for most call modes in FaceTime. In other words, FaceTime Video, Audio and iPhone Cellular Calls work with whatever output device I have selected in FaceTime’s preferences.
Bug in FaceTime
However, for Wi-Fi calls, FaceTime always defaults to the iMac’s built-in speakers, completely ignoring the selected Plantronics output device. Even worse, FaceTime also ignores any choice I may have made under System Preferences. The only way for me to force FaceTime to use my Plantronics headset is to switch to the Plantronics headset under System Preferences, after the Wi-Fi call has been fully established. Unfortunately, FaceTime forgets that choice again after the call has completed and I have to do it all over for the next call. If I select the Plantronics headset as the output device before I establish the call, I have to de- and then re-select it for FaceTime to actually re-direct audio output to my headset.
I could reproduce the issue in the following versions of El Capitan with various headsets connected via USB and Bluetooth.
- 10.11.5 (GA)
- 10.11.6 (Beta, build 15G19a)
I haven’t tried macOS 10.12 Beta 1 yet but I will do that next. I have also filed a bug report with Apple to make sure they’re aware, if they don’t have that issue on their radar yet. In the past, Apple took until version 10.11.4 to fix an audio device disconnect issue that I reported already during the Beta phase. I hope this time it won’t take as long.
If anyone has found a workaround for this annoying issue, I appreciate a comment below!
Update: 10.11.6 Beta (15G26a) seemed to have fixed the issue. I also couldn’t reproduce the problem in macOS 10.12 Beta.