Apple's wireless earbuds aren't limited to use with your phone. Whether you're using a desktop or laptop, below are detailed instructions on how to set up your AirPods or AirPods Pro to work with your Mac. You already use your AirPods or AirPods Pro with your iPhone or iPad (or maybe even the your Android phone), but what if you want to connect them to your Mac desktop or laptop? It is possible, as long as the computer and operating system are not very old.
Before you begin, make sure you have updated to macOS Catalina and that it has been updated to version 10.15.1. A wide range of computers are supported, including members of the iMac, Mac mini, Mac Pro, MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro family.
Updating your computer's operating system will likely take longer than connecting the wireless headphones, especially if you haven't done system updates in a while. Note that you will need a not very old computer to support Catalina. If your MAC is over 10 years old, it may be old. Catalina supports systems from 2012 onwards.
Find your AirPods
Take the charging case, with the AirPods placed inside, turn on and unlock the computer, not far from the headphones. The H1 chip inside the headphones makes them easy to pair with iOS phones and tablets, but offers no help getting set up with your Mac. For this reason, it's best to leave all nearby iOS devices locked.
Open the Bluetooth preferences pane
Now, on your Mac updated with Catalina, click on the Bluetooth icon. It is usually displayed in the upper right corner of the screen, near the clock. A drop-down menu will show a list of connected devices, with an option to open Bluetooth Preferences at the bottom - this is where you need to click.
If you don't see the drop-down menu next to the clock, click the System Preferences menu and open the Bluetooth preferences pane. Check the “Show Bluetooth in menu bar” option if you want to enable quick access from the drop-down menu mentioned above.
Request a connection
In the Bluetooth preferences menu, find your AirPods - our AirPods Pro are called Escape Pods. This will prompt you to open a new Connection Request window, asking if it is okay to connect to the AirPods. Click Connect.
If the window disappears before you have time to click Connect, click AirPods again in the list of Bluetooth devices. After clicking Connect, you should be connected. That said, this is a decidedly manual process compared to iOS devices. Once the AirPods were paired, however, the rest was very smooth.
Change some settings
Now it's time to configure some basic settings. If you've already done this on your iPhone or iPad, you don't need to do it again here. Now that you're connected, you should see an Options button to the right of your AirPods in the list of Bluetooth devices. Click on it. In the options menu you should see a window. It shows the settings of the AirPods that you can now adjust. Let's go down to the menu. In this case, the menu is for AirPods Pro.
Click on the first field, Microphone. This will show you a drop-down menu with three options. You can select from AirPods (default), AirPods Always Left, or AirPods Always Right. Unless you have a good reason to want the microphone to always default to the left or right earbud, you should leave it on automatic. It allows you to use both earbuds to answer calls and control Siri, which is very useful when using only one earbud.
Automatic ear detection
The checkbox next to Auto Ear Detection automatically switches the audio from your computer speakers to the AirPods when you use them. You can play and pause music on your Mac's Music app with a single tap on the control surface of the AirPods. A double tap or triple tap will go forward or backward one track, just like with your iOS device.
Removing the headphones takes you back to the computer speakers, but with no sound. Playback pauses when you remove them, so you'll need to hit the Play button to restart the music.
Press and hold Settings
The next two fields are Press & Hold: one for the left earphone and one for the right earphone. By clicking on the drop-down menu, you can choose Noise Control or Siri as the Press and Hold command.
This means that when you press and hold the control area - the stem on each earbud either summons Siri or switches to Noise Control mode or switches to noise canceling mode. You can even have one ear summon Siri and one Noise Control… go wild!
And yes, these are universal settings, so if you set them here, the changes will be reflected in the settings menu on your phone when the AirPods are connected.
Noise control settings
You can also customize how Noise Control flows between its various modes. The next set of options in this window says Noise Control Enable / Disable and there are three items that you can select or deselect.
You control all three: Noise Cancellation, Transparency and Off, so press and hold the control surface to cycle through the three modes. But you can get rid of one of these - you can toggle between Transparency and Off modes, for example.
Switch from Mac to iPhone
It might take some getting used to, but the AirPods H1 chip allows you to easily switch between your Mac and iPhone as a sound source pretty fast. On your phone, you can simply select the AirPods as the audio output on the audio screen and this will break the connection with the computer.
To get back to your Mac, connect via the Bluetooth menu like we did earlier and you'll quickly listen and check your computer's audio. These two steps act as an effective fast switching system between sound sources.
Other ways to connect your AirPods
For more tips on how to pair your AirPods with other devices and get the most out of them, check out our guides for connecting AirPods to Android phones and iPhones and iPads.