The Bluetooth standard has evolved steadily over time, and remains one of the most useful wireless developments of the past 15 years. Wireless keyboards, headphones, our smartphones, and technologies like AirPlay and AirDrop all rely on the ever-changing Bluetooth standard.
But things can and do go wrong: devices won’t pair, speakers don’t work, and files won’t transfer. Here’s what to try when you’re having a Bluetooth problems.
Note: If your Mac has become unresponsive in terms of Bluetooth connectivity, skip ahead.
First: Check Your Device
Your device needs to be on, and it needs to have battery. This might sound obvious, but it’s worth checking before you go to great lengths fixing a problem that doesn’t really exist. If you haven’t paired this device before, make sure you’re doing it correctly (and that it’s visible to your Mac).
If you’re trying to get a Bluetooth speaker or other audio device working, have already paired it, and are wondering why you can’t hear anything then you’ll need to make sure it’s selected as your primary output under System Preferences > Sound > Output. You can also click on the Volume button in the menu bar and pick your audio device there.
The same goes for Bluetooth headsets with microphones: head to the Input tab and choose your Bluetooth device there. Your Mac should remember your choice for the next time you connect a wireless audio device.
Disable and Re-Enable Bluetooth
For a quicker version of restarting your whole Mac, head to System Preferences > Bluetooth and click Turn Off. You can also toggle Bluetooth by clicking on the menu bar icon — click Turn On to try again. I’ve found this is useful for solving file transfer issues between Mac and iOS over AirDrop.
You can also try killing the Bluetooth process entirely, though this isn’t as effective as killing other core Mac processes for fixing issues. Open Terminal and enter
sudo pkill blued followed by your admin password. This should kill and restart the background process, allowing you to try again.
Pair Your Device Again
If you’ve already paired the device in the past, another option is to tell your Mac to forget it and start again. You can reveal all currently paired Bluetooth devices under System Preferences > Bluetooth. Find whatever is causing you problems, select it, then click on the “X” followed by Remove to get rid of it.
Reboot, Remove, Reset
Rebooting your Mac under Apple > Restart will fix almost every Bluetooth problem, particularly those where the Bluetooth module has crashed and you’re experiencing an unresponsive macOS. Similarly, removing any USB devices can help (according to Apple) so you might want to give that a try too.
I had to reboot my Mac twice today, wasn't this a Windows thing?
— Enrico Signoretti (@esignoretti) April 21, 2017
You can also try resetting your Mac’s PRAM, which can often be the cause of wireless connectivity issues.
“Bluetooth Not Available” Errors
macOS stores information about Bluetooth devices in two files on your hard drive, one that is personal to you and another which is used by all users on your Mac. Deleting these files is often recommended when users encounter Bluetooth issues, as it forces macOS to create fresh ones when your computer restarts.
Both files are PLIST files which are used all over the operating system for storing application data in XML format. To delete and recreate these files:
- Open Finder and click on Go > Go to Folder from the menu bar.
- Type or paste /Library/Preferences.
- Look for a file called com.apple.Bluetooth.plist and drag it to the Trash.
- Click Go > Go to Folder again and type or paste ~/Library/Preferences/ByHost
- Look for a file that starts with com.apple.Bluetooth followed by numbers and letters (finishing in .plist) and drag it to the Trash.
- Disconnect any USB devices and shut down your computer.
- Turn off your Bluetooth devices, and start up your Mac again.
- Enable Bluetooth on your devices and attempt to pair again.
Nuke Your Bluetooth Module
As a last resort, you can try resetting your Bluetooth module to factory settings. This means you will lose all existing paired connections. If you’re still having issues after trying all the above, that may be a small price to pay to get your device working again.
If you haven’t got a Bluetooth icon in the menu bar, head to System Preferences > Bluetooth and check Show Bluetooth in menu bar. Now hold Shift + Option and click on the Bluetooth icon in the menubar. In the menu that appears, select Debug > Reset the Bluetooth module. You can now try re-pairing your devices.
Also, Option + Click often reveals more information and options within context menus, while the shift key enables debug menus. Check out what else you can do with the Mac option key.
Still Got Problems?
Most issues should have gone away after deleting system files, resetting PRAM, and reverting your Mac’s Bluetooth module to factory settings. If you still have problems, it’s likely your Mac is experiencing hardware issues but you might want to try a fresh install of macOS too.
The best option is to purchase your own USB Bluetooth adapter and use that instead. Older Apple computers are more likely to have issues than newer ones, so the price of a repair is often not worth it when compared with the price of a USB dongle. D-Link’s DBT-120 ($79) would do the trick, though you could go even cheaper and buy from a more generic brand.
If your Mac was purchased recently, is still under warranty, or you purchased Apple Care then be sure to get Apple to look at the problem, as they’ll fix it for free and it could be indicative of a broader issue. If you’re still serious about getting the issue fixed but aren’t covered, you can take it to Apple and they will charge you for repairs.
Remember: A Genius Bar appointment is always free, staff will run a full diagnostic check on your Mac, and you won’t have to pay anything without being notified of the costs beforehand.
Did this article help solve your Mac Bluetooth issues? Add your solutions and issues in the comments below, we’ll try our best to help you out.