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Apple TV: Poor Audio Quality

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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.

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. (continue…)

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UPDATES:

  • 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.

  • 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.

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