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Apple TV: Poor Audio Quality


  • Apple TV 4 offers better AirPlay audio quality. I noticed the improvement immediately after replacing my 2nd generation Apple TV with the new model. Low end frequencies are clear and not muddled. Bass is no longer hyped. The highs are clean and undistorted. This is based on listening to Spotify over AirPlay with Extreme audio quality (320kbps Ogg). I recommend turning off “Reduce Loud Sounds”. You can do this in Settings > Audio & Video or simply tell Siri to “turn off Reduce Loud Sounds”. Make sure to turn down the volume on your stereo before you do this!

    Unfortunately, the new Apple TV offers buggy AirPlay functionality. AirPlay was overhauled in iOS 9 and tvOS to improve stability and performance. After setting up my new Apple TV, my music listening sessions were interrupted by brief audio drop-outs. I looked into every possible cause, and tried every device, but the problem is definitely with the AirPlay implementation on the new Apple TV. It worked fine with my old Apple TV. The only thing that changed in the setup was the new Apple TV 4. It is in the same, exact location as my previous Apple TV and doesn’t have any network issues. The pattern and consistency of the drop outs also indicates a problem with AirPlay on the new Apple TV. It’s not a network issue!

    After researching this problem, it appears a lot of users are having even worse problems with AirPlay on the new Apple TV. I would advise anyone who relies on AirPlay for music streaming to avoid the new Apple TV until this issue is resolved. Stick with your old Apple TV or purchase a third generation model.

    Streaming video with AirPlay has worked well so far, however, I have not tested this extensively. I listen to music every day, and this problem surfaces with every session. Rebooting doesn’t work. Closing apps doesn’t work. AirPlay is simply defective on tvOS.

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  • The title “Poor Audio Quality” is a bit harsh. It’s not really poor, just not audiophile-quality. Since writing this article, much has changed. Apple TV now plays iTunes purchases directly from the cloud, even without iTunes Match. These days, I rarely use AirPlay. Now that I can play my iTunes music and use iTunes Radio directly on my Apple TV, AirPlay just isn’t that useful. This is also a better user experience. The rest of the mobile world is just starting to catch up to their own AirPlay-like capabilities. Apple is transcending AirPlay.

    Apple TV seems to be designed to use TV speakers. When I play music on my Apple TV, just through my TV, it sounds good. When I play it through my stereo, it has hyped bass and swishy artifacts in the treble range. After some minor subtractive EQ adjustment (attenuate bass and treble slightly), it sounds much better. Of course, EQ can’t remove the minor treble artifacts, but it makes them much less noticable. With these minor EQ adjustments, I now enjoy playing music on my Apple TV through my stereo. The sound quality is good enough to appreciate music without being distracted by audio quality issues.

    AirPlay will still be around, but its usefulness is diminishing. The user experience of using the small Apple TV remote is so much better than picking up the iPhone or iPad off the coffee table, unlocking it, and using it to control what’s on TV. But for those critics who claim Apple limits the user experience and doesn’t offer choice — they’re wrong. With the Apple ecosystem, there’s so many ways to interact with Apple TV and play music or video. You’re not locked in to iTunes. These are myths created by so-called “tech experts” who haven’t used an Apple product in years. They’re still chewing on the same old talking points, which apply more to their beloved products.

    As for audio quality, playing music directly from Apple TV sounds just fine. Recently, I played music from my iPad, over AirPlay, to hear if it has improved. I’m not hearing the artifacts anymore. It’s academic at this point. It’s so much easier to play music directly on my Apple TV, and it sounds great.

    Apple TV has really impressed me. This $90 box has grown so much since I purchased it two years ago. Every few months, I am surprised by more content channels on the home screen. Some companies have come out with TV set-top boxes, only to discontinue them, leaving their users hanging. Apple TV has improved so much since I have purchased it. I no longer regret cutting the cord. Indeed, Apple TV works better than any cable set-top box I have owned. I’m interested to see what Apple does with this product in the future.

Apple TV is the device that Apple never took seriously. It was supposedly Steve Jobs’ hobby. It actually costs twice as much as competing units by Roku, Boxee and others. Of course, if you have invested in the Apple ecosystem, you are better off with Apple TV. Unfortunately, Apple TV has inferior audio quality.

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I purchased Apple TV 2 mainly because of AirPlay. I already had a high quality audio transmitter made by Amphony. It boasts exceptionally high audio quality — 24bit/96khz. I connected the transmitter to the analog line out on my Mac and the receiver to my stereo. It sounds very good. The only problem is that if I play music in my bedroom and livingroom, there is a noticeable delay. It is so noticeable that I only play it through my stereo’s speakers and turn off my Mac’s studio monitors. Perhaps if you buy their extra receivers, everything will be in sync. This may be a great solution for people who live in large houses. Their receivers are inexpensive compared to Apple TV or Airport Express units and offer superior, audiophile sound quality. They also offer receivers with built-in amps, which can power your favorite speakers in any room of the house.

After purchasing my Apple TV 2 last year, it temporarily replaced my Amphony transmitter. Unlike the Amphony unit, the music was perfectly in sync between my Mac and stereo. I could play music directly from my iPad or iPhone, and my TV would show the album cover and track info. Something was wrong, however. It just did not sound right…

The problem with Apple TV (versions 2 and 3) is that it converts the audio into a different format. If your music is encoded at 44.1khz, which is common, it will be converted to 48khz by Apple TV. This conversion process leaves noticeable audio artifacts, particularly in the high frequencies. I can hear swishy cymbals and generally bad reproduction of high frequencies. I noticed the audio problems first, and then searched for reasons. This is not a case of the specs fooling me into thinking the quality is inferior. The inferior audio quality is quite noticeable, and other people hear it too. This is not good. I have an excellent B&O stereo. I have studio monitors on my Mac. I take audio quality seriously. Once again, Apple’s product quality is the fly in the ointment.

Apple’s specs do not indicate sampling frequency conversion. In fact, they don’t even mention sampling frequency (kHz) with regard to audio formats. The specs for video formats indicate that only 48kHz is supported. Indeed, it appears that 48kHz is the supported sampling frequency for audio. That’s very odd, as music downloaded from iTunes is 44.1kHz.

This seems par for the course as Apple becomes more consumer oriented. Perhaps most average consumers will not notice this. If you listen to modern popular music, mastered with oodles of program compression, you might not be able to hear this. If you listen to classic/progressive rock, classical and jazz, or other music with a wide dynamic range, you will hear these artifacts.

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Thank goodness I didn’t sell my Amphony system. I once again use it to play music on my stereo. I use Apple’s Remote Control app for iOS to control my iTunes library with my iPhone or iPad. I don’t see the album art on my TV. Instead, I turn off the picture on my TV and turn off the display on my Mac. It saves electricity. Of course, if I wanted the album art, or the iTunes visualizer, I could use AirParrot to display it on the big screen.

The Apple Remote app displays the album art on your iOS device. If you want to beam the visualizer onto your TV with AirParrot, you can press a “button” on the Apple Remote app to turn the visualizer on. There’s no need to go into the other room or use a remote desktop app to control the Mac, which would just add more complexity. I prefer to keep it simple. I just play my music onto my stereo via the Amphony transmitter, and turn my TV and Mac monitor off. In the end, the audio quality is what matters. It is disappointing that Apple TV 2 and 3 offer an inferior music listening experience. This is nothing new for Apple. I stayed away from iTunes until they offered music in the 256kbps AAC format. Instead, I bought CDs and ripped them into iTunes using the Apple Lossless converter. Apple is a consumer electronics company. Their motto should be “give me convenience or give me death”. Apple has no problem sacrificing quality for convenience.

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.

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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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