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How to tame annoying alert sounds in OS X

OS X supports a few custom handling options for alert sounds to make them less intrusive.

One of the primary uses of computers is, of course, for media, whether you're watching movies, listening to music, playing a game, or running through a feature-packed slideshow. In the middle of the fun, it can be incrediby frustrating to get interrupted by a loud swoosh as you receive a new e-mail, or a speech alert telling you some other program needs attention.

To avoid such interruptions, of course you can quit the various applications like Mail and instant-messaging clients that may cause them, but this will not guarantee silence, as alerts can still crop up from other sources.

There are several ways you can manage alert sounds in OS X:

Sound Volumes in OS X
Place custom sounds in the /Library/Sounds/ folder. You can also separately adjust alert volumes and output devices in the Sound system preferences. Screenshot by Topher Kessler/CNET
  1. Use a less intrusive sound
    OS X has a few different alert sounds, some more prominent than others. You can try them out in the Sound Effects section of the Sound system preferences and choose one you find less jarring. In addition to Apple's sounds, you can supply custom sounds of your own. Simply take any sound clip in AIFF format and place it in the /Library/Sounds/ folder in the drive named Macintosh HD (or in the library within your user account) and the sound should show up as "Custom" in the Sound Effects list.
  2. Reduce alert volumes
    OS X treats alerts differently than other audio (such as audio from games and media players), so you can control their volume separately. Again in the Sound Effects section of the Sound system preferences, set the "Alert volume" slider to a lower value, or lower it completely to mute all alert sounds.
  3. Use a different output device for alerts
    If you have multiple audio interfaces, then you can specify one for alerts that's separate from the one for default audio playback. In the same Sound Effects tab, simply choose the device to use in the "Play sound effects through:" menu, and that will isolate them to that interface. You can set the default audio output in the Output section of the Sound system preferences. This can be useful if, for example, you are giving a presentation or your family is watching a movie, with audio coming through regular speakers, while you keep tabs on system alerts via earphones.

Another tip that might be beneficial for people who regularly just plug their Macs in and play audio through them. If you need to adjust playback volume you can usually do so from within the media player itself, or perhaps more conveniently you can adjust the overall system volume using your Mac keyboard's volume controls. However, this does by default result in a "pop" sound demonstrating the new volume level.

If you don't want to hear this, you can disable it temporarily by holding the Shift key when adjusting the audio volume, or you can disable it completely by unchecking "Play feedback when volume is changed" in the Sound Effects audio preferences.

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