Bluetooth is a miraculous technology for audio when it works flawlessly, allowing you to stream crisp, high-quality sound from a variety of devices you own. But most Bluetooth headphones have one limitation: they can pair with multiple devices, anywhere from two to eight, but they can only be actively connected to one playback device at a time.
Bluetooth multipoint technology was introduced ten years ago with the Bluetooth 4.0 specification to allow audio devices to receive streaming input from multiple paired sources at once. However, few headphones implement this, and often only with specific Bluetooth audio compression profiles.
Instead, with most headphones, most of the time you have to do a dance to move between devices.
Many headphones re-establish connection with the last device they paired with, but not always. In my testing with iOS 14, macOS 14 Mojave, and macOS 15 Catalina, a set of Bluetooth headphones I use only automatically reconnects to iOS 14 if this is the last connection made. This seems to be asserted by the operating system, not the headphones, as the operating system asserts the desire to connect.
To check if your Bluetooth headphones are connected to iOS or iPadOS, go to Settings> Bluetooth. Find the item in the list. It displays Connected if it is currently active and Not Connected otherwise. (You can also swipe up to bring up Control Center, hold down the networking panel, and hold down the Bluetooth icon to retrieve the same list.)
You can not Disconnect from the audio source by tapping the item in the list, however. Instead, tap the i info icon to the right of the Connected label, and then tap Disconnect.
(You can press to connect if it is not currently connected to another audio source.)
In macOS, click the Bluetooth icon in the system menu and choose the headset name to see if it’s connected. If so, you can select Disconnect; otherwise, select Connect and the audio link becomes active if it is not connected to another device.
You can also use the Bluetooth preference pane, which reveals all the connections in a list. To disconnect, Control-click the headset and select Disconnect. (Don’t click the X icon in the item’s entry when it’s selected, which prompts you to remove the pairing from your Mac.)
If you are having trouble with any of the above, you may be able to resolve it by following these steps:
Switch the headphones off and on again.
Tap the Bluetooth button in the iOS / iPadOS Control Center to turn it off, and then tap to turn it back on.
In macOS, choose Turn off bluetooth in the Bluetooth menu, then choose Activate bluetooth.
Remove pairing in iOS and iPadoS in Settings> Bluetooth by touching the i info icon to the right of a device name, by touching Forget this device, and confirming. Then put the headphones into pairing mode and re-pair them with your mobile device.
Unpair in macOS by opening the Bluetooth preferences pane, selecting the device from the list, clicking the x icon to the right of its name, and confirming its deletion. Next, put the headphones into pairing mode and re-pair them with your Mac.
This Mac 911 article is in response to a question asked by Lynn, Macworld reader.
Ask the Mac 911
We’ve compiled a list of our most frequently asked questions, along with answers and column links – read our awesome FAQ to see if your question is covered. Otherwise, we’re always looking for new issues to solve! Email yours to [email protected], including screenshots if any, and if you’d like your full name used. Not all questions will be answered, we do not respond to emails, and cannot provide direct troubleshooting advice.