For the past 11 years, Apple has offered formal support for installing Windows on a Macintosh running OS X via its Boot Camp Assistant software. If you need Windows on a Macintosh and don’t want to use virtualization software to run it, Boot Camp will resize your hard drive partition to create a new Windows volume and ships with its own set of drivers for your underlying hardware. Apple tends to aggressively prune support for older operating systems — Boot Camp 6.1, which shipped with macOS 10.12 (Sierra), only supports Windows 10 — but Cupertino’s QA team clearly screwed up its compatibility testing, even with just one operating system to evaluate. Multiple customers who purchased one of Apple’s new MacBook Pros are reporting that the default Boot Camp audio driver can permanently damage the system’s speakers.
The initial report came courtesy of Mac user Tommy9695 who writes: “Just a heads up, there’s a known speaker issue with the new Mbp in Bootcamp… Most people are hearing random loud “pops” in windows, which happened to me even when the speakers were muted. This resulted in both speakers being blown.” Multiple MBP owners on Reddit and other Mac sites have confirmed they are having problems as well, with severe sound distortion above ~50% volume. In some cases, the speakers are physically damaged in the process, and Apple stores don’t seem to be equipped to do this kind of repair on-site just yet. Tommy9695 had to order a new laptop from Apple and ship the old one back with an estimated 30-day turnaround due to extended lead times on all Touch Bar-equipped MacBook Pros (The non-Touch Bar-equipped system can ship out this week, but the other systems have a 3-4 week back log). Some users appear to be seeing damage almost instantly upon booting into Windows and playing any sound, even simple system sound effects.
The new MacBook Pro’s speaker assembly. Image and teardown by iFixit.
Apple has apparently pushed an updated driver to Boot Camp already, but this will only help if you’ve installed your Windows partition in the last few days. Some users have also reported that installing an unofficial Realtek driver (126.96.36.19989) can resolve the issue. The third way to address the problem is to plug a pair of earbuds or headphones into the headphone jack (good thing Apple didn’t have the courage to remove it). This will bypass speaker output altogether and avoid the problem.
If you’re using Boot Camp on a new MBP we strongly recommend updating your audio driver, reinstalling the OS with an updated official Apple driver, or at least relying on earbuds until you can address the problem. With a 3-4 week lead time on system replacements, this would be a lousy reason to be stuck waiting for a computer, and the holiday season isn’t going to help Apple hit its shipment targets. This is the latest issue for the new MacBook Pro, which has already taken a great deal of heat for its dongle-happy architecture and even-more-ridiculous pricing. It’s not clear whose fault this problem is — I’ve owned and tested many Realtek audio solutions over the years and never seen this kind of problem from a driver, and if the problem was widespread across Windows we’d see systems from companies like Lenovo, Dell, and HP Inc failing left and right.