Apple TV: Poor Audio Quality

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Isn’t that convenient?

We often trade-off quality for convenience. Cassette tapes and CDs are inferior to vinyl, but are more convenient. MP3s and AACs sound worse, but offer even more convenience. Most of the online video content, be it Netflix, Hulu, or iTunes, is vastly inferior to a movie theater, but is so much more convenient. That said, the audio quality issue with Apple TV has no good explanation. It seems like it was just more convenient for Apple to take a one size fits all approach — use a 48kHz sampling rate for videos and music. Even music purchased from iTunes sounds fishy on an Apple TV.

I would still recommend purchasing an Apple TV, if you have a Mac and/or iOS device. It can do some amazing things. AirPlay mirroring on the iPad is a surprisingly great gaming experience. MetalStorm: Wingman, for example, has a split display where the iPad becomes a cockpit controller and the game play is on the HDTV. This sets Apple TV apart from competitors.

Now that Apple TV has Hulu Plus (in addition to Netflix and iTunes), it is much more competitive with Boxee and Roku. You can also stream movies to Apple TV (via AirPlay screen mirroring) with the Amazon app for iOS, but it offers poor quality and a poor user experience. In fact, if you own Apple products, buying an Apple TV seems like the most logical choice. There are other options. Since AirPlay is a de facto standard, companies like Pioneer, Marantz, and Yamaha feature built-in AirPlay support in select A/V receivers.

If you are a Windows user, Android user, or both, Apple TV is not the best way to go. Many Windows laptops can use WiDi for wireless display — you can even buy movies from iTunes and watch them on your HDTV. Products such as Roku and Boxee offer Netflix, Hulu, and much more at half the price, and had 1080p quality long before Apple TV. I almost have media envy over the non-Apple offerings. That said, Apple TV is all about the ecosystem. On its own, it is weak. Combined with your Apple products, it is essential. Unfortunately, Apple really screwed up the music experience with Apple TV. If you are an audiophile, look into other solutions, such as Amphony. There are also other manufacturers that make AirPlay compatible AV receivers, such as Pioneer, Yamaha, Marantz, etc. Make sure to do some research on the specs and read the reviews before buying.

I still use Apple TV for playing music occasionally. If I am going to listen to some music really quick, and don’t want to bother booting my Mac, it’s a good way to go. I also like the thousands of internet radio stations available on Apple TV. I always have a cache of music on my iPad to listen to, but when I really want to listen to music, I play it from my Mac to my stereo, via the Amphony transmitter.

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  1. Interesting article.
    This confirms my experience with the sound quality on my Appletv3 against Mac mini with Plex as a media center. I changed from ATV to Plex because of comp ability with different file formats. And then I played some music in Plex…and…yes it sounds much better. Especially the higher frequencies and an overall more substant sound. I have an Onkyo surround receiver and B&W DM602 and B&W 10″ sub.
    Thanks for this article.

  2. What I don’t get is why the sound via AirPlay is unacceptable and poor when sent from iTunes on my MacBook Pro but when I use the Apple TV 3rd Gen to browse through the same Macbook iTunes library and then play the exact same music the sound is much better???

    No way near as good when played through my bitperfect chain but acceptable.

  3. Same here, audio quality is drop when I stream my music from iPhone to ATV2 compare to same song if stream from Mac mini to ATV2. The song in my iPhone is transfer from mac mini’s iTunes library

  4. I had lag problem too but it did not bother me much. But there were gaps in playback (over ten wifi networks here) so I bought 2.4/5 GHz Airport Express and lag and gaps are gone with 5 GHz network.

    I have 3 gen ATV and I’m quite happy with it. I have pair of Genelec speakers (6010A at the moment but going for m030) and Beresford TC-7510 dac. Toslink would maybe give better sound but I have laptop and do not want to be tied down.

    You said ATV was expensive. Here in Finland Boxee box was about 50 euros more expensive and it looks and feels cheap. Only really crappy Android devices are cheaper than ATV.

    1. Apple’s AirPort routers are really top notch. I used to think WiFi routers were pretty much the same, but after purchasing the AirPort Extreme, it’s clear that most WiFi routers are junk. I’m glad to hear the Express is also great. The Express also has an audio out that functions as an AirPlay target.

      Compared to Roku and particularly Chromecast, Apple TV is relatively “expensive”. You’re right about Boxee. It’s expensive here too. Some of the models are almost $200. The model I was referring to is an older model, which cost less than $60.

      BTW, Boxee just got acquired by Samsung. It looks like their current lineup of devices will be discontinued as well as support for their cloud-based DVR.

      I am really happy with my Apple TV. When I first got it, about 2 1/2 years ago, I wasn’t that impressed. When iOS 5 came out, AirPlay was very unstable. Apple fixed all the issues and added tons of channels. That’s one thing I like about Apple — the device you bought a few years ago gets better over time. They keep supporting devices for a long time. In the end, some of their products may be a bit more expensive, but they will last longer. These days, their prices are very competitive.

      Sounds like you have a great audio setup. The 5.1 surround sound using TOSLINK is great, but you have to position those speakers all around your living room. I just use stereo speakers. I have some studio monitors for my Mac that connect via a digital connection, but they are also just stereo.

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