Play 5.1 audio in iTunes

Reader Lyle Opseth feels he isn’t getting everything he should from his MacBook Pro and iTunes. He writes:

I have a 17” MacBook Pro (2009 vintage), which has a digital optical output. I’m trying to play 5.1 audio through iTunes and I find my receiver plays only stereo audio. Is there a way to do this?

There is, but it’s hardly straightforward. The method, originally posted by Graham Booker in his Record and Reverie blog, describes the process. You should definitely read through it, but here’s the gist for movies that contain AC3 audio files:

Install a copy of the free Perian QuickTime plug-in on your Mac. String an optical cable between your Mac and a compatible receiver. Launch Audio Midi Setup (found in the Utilities folder) and in the audio output area select Digital Out from the Source pop-up menu and 48000.0Hz and 2ch–16-bit in the Format area.

Launch the Terminal app and enter

defaults write com.cod3r.a52codec attemptPassthrough 1

Press Return.

If iTunes is running, quit and relaunch it.

Locate the movie you want to view, and play it with iTunes’ Volume slider set to its highest level. Also be sure that the equalizer is off. Place your cursor over the movie so that the on-screen controls appear, click on the small bubble icon, and choose the surround sound track. With a little luck, iTunes should now play the movie with surround-sound audio.

At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Major improvements to iPhone-app organization
    • Genius Mixes feature provides automatically generated playlists
    • Significantly improved media management and syncing features
    • Home Sharing feature lets you easily copy media between iTunes libraries


    • No way to edit Genius mixes, or even view their contents
    • Occasional crashes
    • Growing feature list and responsibilities add to interface clutter
    • Home Sharing's auto-transfer feature limited to iTunes-purchased media
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