Fix for Macbook Air audio problem: no sound

macbook-air-largeSummary of the fix: Re-route the audio flex cable in the Macbook Air to run around the other side of the battery from where Apple has installed it.

About 90% of the traffic on this blog comes to one post I wrote in 2012 about solving a problem with a swollen Macbook battery. A bit sad, really, considering that I’d far rather people were reading what I have to say about the crushing burden of inequality on human society, or of the massive potential for ecological restoration to begin undoing the extraordinary damage we’re doing to our single, tiny fragile planet-habitat.

But no – never mind the future of life on Earth – people mostly want to know how to fix their gadgets. And since I know how much pain, cost and frustration these problems can cause, I do like to help there too, if I can. Fixing things does help sustainability.

I’ve been the owner of a early 2009 Macbook Air with 2GB RAM for about a year now. I bought it second-hand, then discovered to my horror, especially since it was too slow to be properly usable at first, that a RAM upgrade was impossible. [Insert ‘Apple sucks’ rant here.] Eventually, I installed a 120GB solid-state hard drive from OWC, and that greatly speeded it up.

Fast forward about a year, to about three weeks ago, when the sound stopped working. There were no longer audio input or output devices listed in System Preferences – the internal speakers and internal microphone options were missing from the output and input options. The speaker icon in the menu bar was grayed out. There was no sound from either internal speakers or headphones.

I absolutely scoured the Internet looking for solutions. The problem with the issue is that there may well be a number of different or overlapping problems with the same resulting symptom. Mac owners with other models of computer sometimes seem to run into the same problem.

Deleting the audio preferences (.plist files in /Library/Preferences/Audio) seemed to work briefly, but the sound disappeared again. Other people suggested using Disk Utility to repair permissions, doing PRAM resets, deleting ~Library/Preferences/ Some people have toddled off to Genius Bars and had logic boards or even whole computers replaced.

(To find the Library folder, which Apple has hidden in Mountain Lion, hold down the alt-option key while selecting the Go drop-down menu in Finder. Remember that there’s a system Library folder and a user Library folder – this shows you your user Library folder.)

The more I read, the more it looked like the most likely solution might be an hardware repair – replacing an audio flex ribbon cable. But it’s a fairly expensive and (especially for someone living in Cape Town) troublesome solution… 

At last, I stumbled on a YouTube video – ‘Macbook Air audio flex cable fix’ – that does seem to have an answer. The video’s by someone calling himself GrowthGuided. The fix is basically to re-route the audio cable that so many have had replaced around the other side of the battery to where Apple have built it in. (Apple runs the cable between the battery and the trackpad/keyboard – the fix means re-routing it between battery and casing.)

I can’t for the life of me work out why this should make a difference. But I’ve tried it, re-routed the cable, and my sound is working again. Thanks, GrowthGuided! I did this ten days ago, and (touch wood) the fix seems to be holding.

If you’ve never take apart your older Macbook Air before, it’s not too scary, and you should be able to do it with a single small 4-pointed star or Philips screwdriver. I’ll leave the details to GrowthGuided’s video, but bear in mind that the screws you will be removing are of many different lengths, even though they look the same before being removed. So it’s worth keeping very careful track of which screws came from where. I suggest making a rough diagram of the Macbook interior and putting screws onto the corresponding parts of the diagram as you remove them.

Screengrabs from GrowthGuided’s YouTube video

1.  Macbook Air 2009, as it appears with the bottom casing freshly removed:
Screen Shot 2013-03-21 at 3.57.38 PM

2. The battery has been removed and the troublesome audio flex ribbon cable is exposed (on the left, GrowthGuided’s finger indicates the top end of the cable):
Screen Shot 2013-03-21 at 3.56.59 PM

3. The fix in place: The audio flex cable is now re-routed around the “top” of the battery (would be bottom when the Air is in use):
Screen Shot 2013-03-21 at 3.58.08 PM

If this helped you, and you have time, please wander over to my main blog and read about the many ways we could address inequality or the marvelous power of ecological restoration.

Update: Three weeks after implementing this fix, my sound stopped working again, and it looks like I will have to find a replacement audio flex cable. I can only assume that there is a break in it somewhere, but that it’s too tiny to see with the naked eye. As a workaround in the meantime, I have been using software that routes sound to my iPhone.

About David

I am an environmental writer, journalist and speaker living in Cape Town, South Africa.
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3 Responses to Fix for Macbook Air audio problem: no sound

  1. Macbook Air Sound Fixer says:

    I have found the solution for Macbook Air Sound loss issue. Just disconnect your macbook air sound card; then reconnect, reboot and it does a search to start the card and voila!! – second reboot everytime it comes back to life. And its been dead for over a year. After doing this the first time – i made the mistake of putting some mac earbuds in and it stuffed the sound again… removed sound card, and reconnected – all good again.

  2. Abhinav says:

    Need urgent help
    Having the same issue, can you please tell me the workaround for this how can I route audio to my iphone. Will be a big help.

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