VoiceOver turned speech off by itself on MacOS

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macOS & Mac Apps

Hi all. Today, VoiceOver speech has suddenly turned itself off on my MacBook. Note that sound is still on, and VoiceOver sound effects are still on. Also, I checked in the VO utility and speech is not muted. I also checked that system preferences sound output is configured correctly. VoiceOver volume is set to 100%. I get the same problem regardless of which voice I select.

I'm on Catalina, but it's not an OS problem. My computer dual boots Mojave, and I experience the same problem if I boot either OS. This appears to be a hardware or NVRAM issue.

Edit: Update: I rebooted with Command+Option+P+R to reset the NVRAM, while all external devices were removed, and this fixed the problem. However, when I plugged the 3.5mm audio jack into the headphone port, the problem immediately recurred - No VoiceOver speech, but all VO effects and all Music played through my external audio device normally.

Final update: I only experience this issue when plugging in my external speakers. If I plug in any headphone or earpud set, there's no problem. I'm assuming something is fried in my external speakers. However, I'm still baffled as to why all sound plays without issue except the VoiceOver voice.

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Submitted by LaBoheme on Wednesday, January 22, 2020

this has been going on as early as sierra, it is typical that features get yanked without warning while bugs stay forever.

the only reliable to bring vo back to life without rebooting is ssh from another computer, then do:

sudo killall -HUP VoiceOver

you can try doing this from the affected mac itself, but it only works about half of the time.

Submitted by John T on Wednesday, January 22, 2020

In reply to by LaBoheme

VoiceOver has been turning itself of on my MacBook for 6 months or so! I have to press Cmd+F5 four times to kick VoiceOver back to life! Can happen at anytime e.g. webpages, listening to music or even worse when using my DAW and editing software.
Might be I need a new MacBook as my present is a MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Mid 2014) running macOS Catalina.

Submitted by PaulMartz on Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

I will remember the kill command in case I encounter the issue again.

Just to be clear, VoiceOver is still running. I hear the sound effects just fine, and with sighted help, I know the highlight rectangle is still visible and still moves around the screen. I can easily turn VO on and off with Command+F5 but the missing voice doesn't come back.

The problem seems to be my old 5:1 surround sound speaker system. Plugging headphones into the same audio jack works fine. Maybe it's finally time to buy USB speakers.

Submitted by Carlos Alonso on Wednesday, January 22, 2020

this happens to me when using a certain parir of bluetooth headphones, (the aftershokz sunglasses), I can hear the voiceover sounds and sighted help confirmed that voiceover is still on but no speech, I usually get it back by turning the headphones off and on (turning them off returns speech to the internal speakers)

Submitted by LaBoheme on Wednesday, January 22, 2020

quote: Just to be clear, VoiceOver is still running. I hear the sound effects just fine, and with sighted help, I know the highlight rectangle is still visible and still moves around the screen. I can easily turn VO on and off with Command+F5 but the missing voice doesn't come back. unquote

yeah, i know. i'm amazed this only got talked about now, this problem started from sierra.
the -HUP option makes sure the process is killed and the configuration is read and process restarted.

Submitted by PaulMartz on Thursday, January 23, 2020

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

In reply to by LaBoheme

Initially, I solved the problem my way, by ditching my old speaker system and using headphones. But I got curious about the killall solution mentioned above. So I rescued my speaker system from the electronics recycle box in the garage, set it back up, plugged it in, and reproduced my initial problem again - all sound works fine except the VoiceOver voice is gone. Then I did the killall to restart VO. Presto! Problem solved. I didn't even have to log in from a second system.

Thanks! AppleVis rocks.

Submitted by Scott Duck on Friday, January 24, 2020

I have been having this problem sense Mojave but turning VO off and back on a few times by pressing Command F5 always fixes it. I have not encountered a situation where I had to do a reboot or do anything more drastic. I am running Catalina on a 2015 MBP 13 inch.