How to Enable the Optimal Audio Codec for Your Bluetooth Headphones in macOS

by

How good your digital music sounds often comes down to which file format it's encoded in. Be that as it may, every Mac audio setup is only as strong as it's weakest link, and if your Bluetooth connection isn't up to scratch, even the best BT headphones will fail to deliver a decent wireless listening experience.

By design, all Bluetooth devices support the low-power SBC audio compression codec as standard. Fortunately, modern Macs also support AAC (Apple's preferred iTunes codec) and aptX, which Android devices often use. These two codecs offer higher quality audio and generally lower latency than SBC, which is why most third-party wireless headphones on the market support one or the other, and sometimes both.

mac bluetooth audio codec aptx aac
Yet for whatever reason, despite their AAC/aptX support, some headphones fall back to the bog-standard SBC codec when connected to a Mac. This can lead to a particularly underwhelming audio experience, not to mention latency-related sync issues, which will be a distinct concern if you use your headphones while gaming or watching movies.

Thankfully, it's possible to force macOS to connect to your headphones using one of the two superior codecs. In this article, we'll show you how to do so using Apple's Bluetooth Explorer utility. (And if you're comfortable opening a Terminal window, we've included a couple of commands at the end that do the same thing.)

Bluetooth audio codecs
But first, it's worth checking which codecs your brand of headphones actually supports: Look for codec logos on the box, and make sure to check for references to codecs in the manual and any accompanying/online spec sheets.

Once you've established that your headphones support aptX and/or AAC, you'll want to identify which codec is being activated when you connect the headphones to your Mac. Follow these steps to find out.

How to Identify Which Bluetooth Codec is Active

  1. Establish a Bluetooth connection between your Mac and headphones in the normal manner.

  2. Play some audio on your Mac so that it's streaming to the headphones.

  3. Now hold down the Option (Alt) key and click on the Bluetooth symbol in the menu bar. (If you don't see it there, you need to check Show Bluetooth in menu bar in System Preferences -> Bluetooth.)

  4. Hover your mouse cursor over the headphones in the connection list. You should see the headphones' Active Codec shown in grey.
    active bluetooth codec macos

If your headphones are using AAC or aptX, you don't need to do anything. Without going into the technical details, both standards provide relatively stable wireless connections and – as far as Bluetooth goes – comparably decent sound quality. However, if the codec shown is SBC, you'll probably want to change it. Here's how.

How to Force-Enable aptX and AAC Codecs in macOS

  1. Open a web browser, navigate to Apple's developer downloads page, and download Additional Tools for Xcode 9 [Direct Link] which contains Apple's Bluetooth Explorer utility. Note that to access the page you'll need to register for a free Apple developer account if you don't already have one. Alternatively, use Google to find the Bluetooth Explorer utility hosted elsewhere and skip to step 5, but if you're not downloading from Apple, be sure to screen the file for malware.
    xcode developer tools

  2. Once downloaded, double-click the Additional Tools dmg file to mount it on your desktop.

  3. Open the Additional Tools drive and navigate to the Hardware folder.

  4. Open your Mac's Applications folder in another Finder window or tab.
    Bluetooth Explorer copy

  5. Drag Bluetooth Explorer into your Mac's Applications folder and launch the app from there.

  6. From the Bluetooth Explorer menu bar, select Tools -> Audio Options.

  7. In the Codecs section, tick the checkboxes alongside Enable AAC and/or Force use of aptX (depending on your issue). Make sure Disable AAC and Disable aptX are left unchecked.
    Bluetooth Utility codec enable

  8. Click Close to finish.

  9. Restart your Mac, or reset the Bluetooth module.

When your Mac reboots, you can confirm that the codec change has been applied by following the first series of steps in this article.

Terminal commands for enabling AAC and aptX Codecs

To enable aptX, input the following command, press Enter, and type your user password if prompted:
sudo defaults write bluetoothaudiod "Enable AptX codec" -bool true

Alternatively, to enable AAC, input the following and press Enter:
sudo defaults write bluetoothaudiod "Enable AAC codec" -bool true

To disable either codec via Terminal, simply replace -bool true with -bool false at the end of the command.

Top Rated Comments

jb-net Avatar
35 months ago
Sadly, Apple doesn't seem to support aptX on iOS :(
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
fitbunny Avatar
35 months ago

What I always wanted to know is: when listening to iTunes music already encoded in AAC, will it pass-through or re-encode in AAC? Because you potentially loose the benefits of good compression if you recompress. This came to my mind when finding out about albums that sound bad because they are recompressed themselves.

I have read in multiple sources that all audio is reencoded to AAC whether it comes from itunes as AAC or not. However, all the sources say that this reencoding does not cause much of a quality loss because AAC as a codec is transparent even after 100 reencodings. I use beoplay e8 and the sound is the best I have ever listened to with Bluetooth headsets that I have used so far and I have used quite a few aptx headsets by Sennheiser. The only problem with the above tutorial is that the setting are lost when reconnect your beoplay e8. I used sudo and normal user to change the plist instead of using the gui and the settings seem to be saved now. here is the commands that I used:
defaults write bluetoothaudiod "Enable AAC codec" -bool true

defaults write bluetoothaudiod "AAC Bitrate" 320

sudo defaults write bluetoothaudiod "Enable AAC codec" -bool true

sudo defaults write bluetoothaudiod "AAC Bitrate" 320
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
timmyh Avatar
35 months ago

Interesting! I suspect Apple’s own audio devices, such as AirPods, and all of their newer OSs, support AAC?

Correct!
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
levitynyc Avatar
35 months ago
iPhones don’t support APTX which blows.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
RedGala Avatar
35 months ago
Great article. This is what macrumors is all about.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
djlythium Avatar
35 months ago
Interesting! I suspect Apple’s own audio devices, such as AirPods, and all of their newer OSs, support AAC?
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

Apple Watc black friday 20 sale feature

Apple Black Friday 2020: Best Apple Watch Deals [Updated]

Wednesday November 25, 2020 4:01 pm PST by
Black Friday sales have begun on a variety of products, including the Apple Watch. There are quite a few deals across the Apple Watch lineup this year, including one of the lowest price we've ever seen the Apple Watch Series 3. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these vendors. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which helps us keep the...
AirPods Pro black friday 20 sale feature 2

Black Friday 2020: AirPods Pro Reach Lowest Price Ever [Updated]

Wednesday November 25, 2020 3:22 pm PST by
Black Friday has kicked off this week, and one of the first major sales for the AirPods Pro is available right now on Walmart. You can find this deal below, along with a few other solid discounts on the regular AirPods. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these vendors. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which helps us keep the site...
windows 10

Developer Successfully Virtualizes Windows for Arm on M1 Mac

Friday November 27, 2020 7:16 am PST by
Developer Alexander Graf has successfully virtualized the Arm version of Windows on an M1 Mac, proving that the M1 chip is capable of running Microsoft's operating system (via The 8-Bit). Currently, Macs with the M1 chip do not support Windows and there is no Boot Camp feature as there is on Intel Macs, but support for Windows is a feature that many users would like to see. Using the...
General black friday 20 sale feature

Thanksgiving Day Deals Still Available on AirPods, M1 Macs, Apple Watch Series 6, iPads

Thursday November 26, 2020 10:21 am PST by
Black Friday deals seem to start earlier and earlier every year, so there were already a wide variety of discounts available for Apple products on Thanksgiving Day. Many of the deals remain available even after Thanksgiving, but act fast, as inventory quickly fluctuates. Thanksgiving Day Deals on Apple Products — Still Available:AirPods with a wireless charging case remain available for...
iPhone black friday 20 sale feature

Apple Black Friday 2020: Best iPhone Deals

Friday November 27, 2020 12:56 pm PST by
Black Friday is halfway done, but there are still a few deals to shop for on iPhones at carriers like AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile/Sprint. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these vendors. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which helps us keep the site running. AT&T Starting with AT&T, you'll find up to $700 off any iPhone 12 when...
13 16 inch macbook pro air trio

Reliable Leaker Suggests Redesigned MacBooks in 2021 Will Include Both Apple Silicon and Intel Models

Wednesday November 25, 2020 9:15 am PST by
Reliable leaker known as "L0vetodream" has today suggested on Twitter that redesigned MacBooks coming in the second half of 2021 will include models with both Apple Silicon chips and Intel processors. The brief Tweet came in response to a MacRumors article from earlier today, which outlined a report from Ming-Chi Kuo claiming that Apple plans to release redesigned MacBook models with Apple ...
iphone trade in store

UK Environmental Committee Says Apple Contributing to 'Throwaway Culture' of 'Short-Lived Products'

Thursday November 26, 2020 7:07 am PST by
Technology companies like Apple are contributing to e-waste by making their products difficult to repair, and charging expensive repair fees, according to a lengthy report published today by the UK Parliament's Environmental Audit Committee. "We were told that Apple glues and solders parts together on their laptops, which makes repairing them very difficult," the Committee wrote in a summary ...
m1 chip macbook air pro

Kuo: Redesigned MacBooks With Apple Silicon to Launch in Second Half of 2021

Tuesday November 24, 2020 7:53 pm PST by
Apple plans to release additional MacBook models with Apple Silicon in the second half of 2021, according to analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, as part of the company's two-year transition away from Intel processors across its Mac lineup. In a research note today, obtained by MacRumors, Kuo said that these MacBook models will feature a new design. Kuo did not specify which models these will be, but he...
mac mini macbook pro macbook air

Apple M1 Hands-On Comparison: MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro vs. Mac Mini

Monday November 23, 2020 3:40 pm PST by
Apple's M1 Macs are out in the wild now, but ahead of the holidays, you might still be trying to figure out which one to pick up, either for yourself or as a gift for someone else. We've got all three of the new Macs available, so we thought we'd give MacRumors readers a hands-on overview of each machine in our latest YouTube video. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. ...
iPad Pro 5G and Mini LED feature

Rumored 2021 High-End iPad Pro May Feature 5G With mmWave Support

Thursday November 26, 2020 2:14 am PST by
Apple's rumored high-end iPad Pro models to be released next year will be 5G-enabled with mmWave support, according to sources cited by industry publication DigiTimes. Multiple rumors have suggested Apple is planning to release a high-end 12.9-inch iPad Pro with a mini-LED display next year, with the possibility that there will be an 11-inch mini-LED model too, but details beyond that have...