Apple’s Macintosh systems equipped with the company’s T2 processor reportedly have a serious audio bug that may be related to how that chip interacts with the rest of the system.
There have been reports of various audio drop-outs and problems almost since the new systems launched, but that’s not automatically surprising given the need for OS updates and software tweaks to support new hardware. The problems — and to be clear, this is separate from the other speaker issues reported with the new Macs, or the Adobe Premiere Pro problem reported earlier in February — are supposedly linked to, or at least exist simultaneously alongside, the T2 chip.
A bug report on OpenRadar by ricciadamsdocuments the initial issue. The author writes:
I’ve been having random audio overloads on my new 2018 MacBook Air. After browsing several logs, I noticed that IOAudioEngine::pauseAudioEngine() was called immediately after the ‘timed’ process attempted to synchronize the local time to a network time server.
This issue is 100% reproducible and persists across reboots. While audio was playing, I opened up Date Time preferences and repeatably [sic] toggled the “Set date and time automatically” check box. Each time I turned this setting on, I saw a log entry for IOAudioEngine::pauseAudioEngine(). These pauses are often long enough to cause an audio overload.
This problem doesn’t occur on 2015 or 2017 Macintosh systems — just the 2018 systems equipped with a T2 processor. It may also be related to system power management, as one user reported success disabling it to resolve the problem. But either way, there are periodic audio drop-outs and failures when attempting to perform audio processing over the USB bus using a number of professional tools.
The reason everyone seems to think it’s linked to the T2 security processor is because of the behavior in question. Apple’s previous Macs, including Macs with the T1 chip, don’t seem to have this problem. Peripherals attached to the Thunderbolt bus are at least less likely to evince issues, depending on how the device extends or creates its USB interfaces. Some USB-C devices that implement USB2 are also impacted, and equipment from Native Instruments, RME, Apogee, Yamaha, and MOTU (among potentially others) are collectively affected.
According to Apple, the T2 processor “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 issue appears to be related to the way the system handles audio when synchronizing the system clock. Bug reports and documentation are available at multiple sites online. (Each word is linked to a separate report).
Apple’s 2018 Mac refresh cycle, particularly the 2018 MacBook Pro, genuinely appears to be one of the worst refresh cycles the company has ever kicked out the door. Almost as soon as these systems appeared, there were reports slamming their heavy throttling. This was resolved with a UEFI update. But in the months since, we’ve had reports that the third-generation keyboard on the MBP still can’t prevent a single grain of dust from breaking the keyboard. It reduces, but does not solve, this problem. There have been at least two separate problems with audio issues causing actual physical speaker damage. The wires that connect the display to the GPU are prone to breakage, requiring the replacement of some $600 worth of screen rather than a $6 cable. And now, there’s yet another audio bug, this time related to a piece of custom silicon that Apple built and designed for itself. The conversation around Apple hardware in 2018 and 2019 has been dominated by problems to a degree that I genuinely don’t recall being true in previous years dating back to at least the company’s mobile GPU problem with Nvidia a decade or so ago.
Apple, for years, has benefited from the advantage of being a custom hardware designer — namely, that you can slap a shiny badge labeled “Custom-built” on the equipment you sell. But the downside to building your own equipment is that when things fail, the problem lands squarely on your own doorstep. These audio issues appear mostly or entirely unique to Macs with T2 chips. Assuming that’s true, it would mean Apple either didn’t perform due diligence on its own equipment or it knew and shipped the hardware broken. Given what it pulled with the iPhone 6 Plus, either is possible. But the end result is that the company that once led with “It just works” as a motto for its hardware and software is slowly acquiring a very different reputation, particularly with regard to how it treats its professional customers.
Feature image by iFixit
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