Apple has a serious, apparently unresolved bug that causes issues with all audio performance with external devices across all its latest Macs, thanks to the company’s own software and custom security chip. The only good news: there is a workaround.
Following bug reports online, the impacted machines are all the newest computers – those with Apple’s own T2 security chip:
- iMac Pro
- Mac mini models introduced in 2018
- MacBook Air models introduced in 2018
- MacBook Pro models introduced in 2018
The T2 in Apple’s words “is Apple’s second-generation, custom silicon for Mac. By redesigning and integrating several controllers found in other Mac computers—such as the System Management Controller, image signal processor, audio controller, and SSD controller—the T2 chip delivers new capabilities to your Mac.”
The problem is, it appears that this new chip has introduced glitches on a wide variety of external audio hardware from across the pro audio industry, thanks to a bug in Apple’s software. When your Mac updates its system clock, dropouts and glitches appear in the audio stream. (Any hardware with a non-default clock source appears to be impacted. It’s a good bet that any popular external audio interface may exhibit the problem.)
The workaround is fairly easy: switch off “Set date and time automatically” in System Preferences.
But more alarming is that this is another serious quality control fumble from Apple. The value proposition with Apple always been that the company’s control over its own hardware, software, and industrial engineering meant a more predictable product. But when Apple botches the quality of its own products and doesn’t test creative audio and video use cases, that value case quickly flips. You’re sacrificing choice and paying a higher price for a product that’s actually worse.
It’s also a cause for concern that here it appears Apple may have lacked a test regimen that would have uncovered the problem with their code.
Apple’s recent Mac line have also come under fire for charging a premium price while sacrificing things users want (like NVIDIA graphics cards, affordable internal storage, or extra ports). And on the new thin MacBook and MacBook Pro lines, keyboard reliability issues.
Before Windows users start gloating, of course, PCs can have reliability issues of their own. They’re just distributed across a wider range of vendors – which is part of the reason some musicians sought out Apple in the first place.
But it’s also a cause for concern that here it appears Apple may have lacked a test regimen that would have uncovered the problem with their code. Some of those mainstream PC vendors do now test with third-party pro audio hardware (I’ve talked to Razer about this, for instance). And that’s to say nothing of vendors like pcaudiolabs who custom-configure each machine for the actual DAWs. Apple clearly has the resources to do the same, and they make a DAW of their own (Logic Pro). This appears to be an issue they could possibly have reproduced and corrected before shipping.
Updated: The 2018 iPad Pro also suffered from audio issues, which appear to be software related. This seems not to have any direct relation to the issue with the Mac line, but is further evidence of some quality control and testing issues involving real-time audio performance and Apple firmware and software.
Regardless, Apple needs to test and address these kinds of issues. Apple’s iPad Pro line is strong and essentially unchallenged because of its unique software ecosystem and poor low-cost PC or Android tablet options. But the Mac has to compete with increasingly impressive PC laptops and desktop machines at low costs, and a Windows operating system that has improved its audio plumbing (to say nothing of the fact that Linux now lets you run tools like Bitwig Studio and VCV Rack). And that’s why competition is a good thing – you might be happier with a different choice.
Anyway, if you do have one of these machines, let us know if you’ve been having trouble with this issue and if this workaround (hopefully) solves your problem.