Mail 1.3 and Mail 2.0: Sound effects play through sound output device selected for system alert sounds

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Mail
May 14th, 2005 • 5:03 am

I think I’ve finally understood the reasoning behind Apple’s decision to make Mail’s sound effects play through the sound output device selected for system alert sounds in the first tab in the “Sound” preference pane in System Preferences.

A year ago, I complained about the fact that Mail 1.3 had introduced a change that made it incompatible with Rogue Amoeba’s Detour utility.

The observation is still true, but now I realize that the change was in fact intended to eliminate the need for a utility such as Detour in the first place.

See, in the “Sound” pref pane, there are two places where you can select a sound output device. The general system-wide setting is in the second tab (“Output“), and then there is a specific setting for “alerts and sound effects” in the first tab (“Sound Effects“).

You can choose the option “Use selected output device” in this first tab, in which case Mac OS X will use the same device for all sounds, including alert sounds and sound effects.

But, if you are like me and have two different sound output devices — the G4’s internal speaker/headphone jack and a Griffin PowerWave — then you might want to listen to some nice music through one of the sound output devices and not hear the system alert sounds through that same device, which would disrupt the music listening experience.

By the same token, however, you probably won’t want to hear Mail’s sound effects in the middle of your music either. So it makes sense for Apple to make it so that Mac OS X plays Mail’s sound effects through the same device as the one that is selected for system alert sounds. That’s also the device through which the new Finder sound effects in Tiger will be played.

In other words, I think Apple made the right decision here. People with two devices like me are able to listen to music or a movie/game soundtrack through one device and not be disrupted by system alert sounds or application sound effects during that experience — without having to purchase a third-party tool such as Detour.

Unfortunately, that means that Detour cannot control the sound effects from Mail and the Finder separately from the system alert sounds. But I think it’s a minor drawback. You can still use Detour to further fine-tune the rest of your audio environment on your Macintosh computer. But, as a Mac user, you do not have to purchase Detour in order to channel system alert sounds and sound effects through a different device.

The only problem is that there appears to be a bug in Mac OS X 10.4 that causes Mail to become silent when you change the sound output device for system alert sounds and sound effects. Quitting Mail and relaunching it fixes the problem, but it’s still a bug. But presumably one doesn’t have to change the sound output device too often.

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