Apple TV 4 outputs audio and video through its HDMI port. This article covers how to fix distorted audio with Apple TV 4.
Apple TV 4 is the first major overhaul of Apple’s TV platform. Previous versions of Apple TV offered an optical audio output. Connecting audio equipment to the optical audio port fixed most problems with distorted audio. Unfortunately, this can’t be done with Apple TV. HDMI is the only option for connecting Apple TV 4 to audio systems using a cable.
A common Apple TV 4 setup routes audio through a television and into a stereo. In this configuration, Apple TV 4 is connected to a TV using an HDMI cable. A stereo amplifier is connected to the television using an RCA or optical audio cable. This setup provides decent sound for music and movies, but I find that Apple TV sound effects are distorted. Also, games that generate sound using tvOS, such as Nightgate, also sound distorted. It seems that tvOS sound effects are the culprit. Their levels are too high and cause distortion with line-level audio systems.
A few users are reporting that all Apple TV 4 audio sounds distorted. Movies, TV shows and music are all affected by distorted audio. This problem is more severe and harder to solve. We’ll take a look at how to fix this later in the article.
Apple TV 4 Sound Effects Are Distorted
My Apple TV 4 suffers from distorted sound effects only when audio is routed through my stereo. I have a standard setup. My TV is connected to Apple TV 4 with HDMI. The stereo connects to my television with a line level stereo pair RCA connection. This setup works fine with my television, Blu-Ray player and every other device. It worked with my previous Apple TV 2, without any distortion.
When I navigate the Home screen, sound effects are distorted. Sound effects in some video games are also distorted. All other audio sounds fine. The problem isn’t severe, but it is annoying. Unfortunately, there’s no perfect solution to this problem. At best, it can be ameliorated.
It’s important to note that when a stereo is connected to a TV with a line out connection (RCA stereo pair) or optical audio connector, the audio level is fixed. Most TVs can’t adjust this level, by design. Line level is supposed to be fixed, precisely so audio won’t be distorted. The vast majority of TVs are designed like this. This is not a problem with your TV or stereo. It’s a problem with Apple TV 4. Even my Apple TV 2 did not have this problem. It was set up the same way. I simply swapped out the old one with the new one. Try any other HDMI device (Blu-Ray player, DVD player) and you probably won’t hear any distortion. That’s because the problem is with Apple TV 4’s generated sound effects. Even movies and TV shows on Apple TV 4 won’t sound distorted. This problem only affects tvOS sound effects and apps that use sound effects, such as video games.
Your TV speakers probably don’t produce distorted Apple TV sound effects. This is because most TVs have built-in dynamic range processors that prevent loud sounds from distorting. This dynamic range processing is bypassed when audio is transmitted through line out or the optical audio output. That’s why Apple TV sound effects are distorted on a connected stereo, but sound fine on TV speakers.
Turn off Reduce Loud Sounds
Apple TV 4 sound effect distortion can be reduced by turning off Reduce Loud Sounds. This feature compresses the dynamic range, making loud sounds quieter and quiet sounds are louder. It’s very useful for watching movies or TV shows late at night. You can hear the dialog, but loud noises are quieter. Unfortunately, Reduce Loud Sounds has the side effect of boosting tvOS sound effects volume. When you navigate the Home screen, icons on the far left or far right may produce distorted sound, with a “crunching” noise. This is because the sound effects are stereo. Far left and far right icon sound effects are panned hard left and hard right.
Turn off Reduce Loud Sounds by holding down the Siri button on your Siri Remote and saying “turn off Reduce Loud Sounds”. Siri doesn’t confirm that Reduce Loud Sounds has been turned off. If Siri doesn’t display a message and the screen returns to its original brightness, Reduce Loud Sounds was turned off successfully. You can also turn off Reduce Loud Sounds by going to Settings > Reduce Loud Sounds.
Turning off Reduce Loud Sounds will only ameliorate this problem. You may still hear some distortion. If distorted sound effects are still a problem, you may want to turn them off.
Turn off Navigation Clicks and Sound Effects
When I first bought my Apple TV, I liked the sounds it made when I navigated the user interface. After I turned on my stereo, I noticed that they sounded distorted. I put up with this for several months. I eventually grew tired of both the sound effects and the distortion.
There are two types of Apple TV sound effects — navigation clicks and sound effects. The term “navigation clicks” is misleading, because they don’t sound like clicks. They are the tones played when you select icons or menu items. You can turn these off by going to Settings > Audio and Video > Navigation Clicks. The other sounds are labelled as Sound Effects and Music. These sounds are played when you open and close apps. Turn these off by going to Settings > Audio and Video > Sound Effects and Music. The Music aspect is a bit misleading. It does not mute the Music app. It won’t mute generated video game music. I don’t know which music they are referring to. It seems more like a labelling error.
Adjust Video Game Sound Effect Volume
Turning off sound effects will only affect the main tvOS user interface — the Home screen, Settings and a few other first-party Apple apps. Video games that generate their sound using tvOS application programming interfaces (APIs) may still sound distorted. You can often remedy this by turning down sound effects within the video game. These settings differ, depending on the game. They are usually located in the game’s setting menus.
Not all games feature adjustable volume. One of my favorite games, Nightgate, suffers from distorted audio. It doesn’t offer any settings. There’s no way to quiet the sound effects and generated music. The distorted sound can be a bit distracting. The only solution to this problem, for now, is to play the audio through my TV speakers.
Play Audio Through TV Speakers
Most modern, flat screen televisions are actually computers. Look through the first few pages of the owner’s manual, and you will see all sorts of open source licenses. That’s because your television is a computer and it probably runs on an open source operating system. TV manufacturers start with an open source operating system, and then customize it with their own software. Modern flat-screen TVs are smart and adjust volume levels so that their internal speakers won’t produce distorted sounds. My Apple TV 4 does not produce distorted sounds when I use my TV speakers. I have resigned myself to using TV speakers with certain apps.
You can try using a hybrid approach — stereo and TV speakers. This involves turning down your stereo and filling in the sound with your TV speakers. This isn’t always an ideal solution. The sound effects will be distorted on your stereo no matter how much you reduce the volume. This is because the line level is too high. Furthermore, stereo cancellation can cause the overall sound to thin. Stereo cancellation occurs when two identical stereo speakers are in close proximity. The overlapping audio frequencies can cancel each other out at certain frequencies, resulting in a thin sound. I would only recommend the hybrid approach if your stereo speakers are several feet away from your TV speakers. Even if your speakers are in a good position for this, at best you can only reduce the distortion.
All Apple TV Audio Distorted?
We covered how to handle distorted Apple TV 4 sound effects when using a connected stereo. The problem is annoying, but not severe. Some users may face a much more serious issue — all audio is distorted. This would result in distorted audio when playing movies and TV shows. Fortunately, this is usually due to a wiring problem.
There are many ways to connect Apple TV to a stereo, but most of them involve going through your TV. This is because Apple TV only has one HDMI port. Unless you are using some kind of splitter, you have to connect your stereo to your TV. This usually involves using an RCA stereo pair or optical audio. RCA stereo pair connections are best suited for older stereos. Newer home theater systems use optical audio. With just one optical audio cable, your TV can transmit multi-channel surround sound to an AV receiver, which is connected to multiple speakers. In either of these setups, audio is transmitted at a fixed level. Most TVs don’t have controls to adjust these output levels. Optical audio connections don’t even transmit audio at a “level”. It’s a digital connection that simply passes pure digital sound data to the amplifier or receiver. With either of these methods, audio (other than Apple TV sound effects) should not sound distorted.
The problem arises when people use the headphone jack on their TV to connect to speakers. This is a common mistake when people use computer speakers connected over a single 1/8″ cable. This is the kind of cable that most headphones use. If your TV is connected to speakers in this manner, reducing distortion is easy. Simply turn down the volume on your TV until you don’t hear distortion. The headphone jack on TVs does not operate at a fixed level. It is controlled by your TVs volume. If you have speakers connected to the headphone jack, turn down the volume on your TV to reduce distortion. You can turn up the volume on the connected speakers to compensate for the reduction in overall volume.
Other Causes and Solutions to Apple TV 4 Audio Distortion
If you’ve tried everything in this article to no avail, there may be other problems and solutions. Perhaps your Apple TV is connected to Bluetooth or AirPlay speakers. While this article can’t address every type of Bluetooth or AirPlay audio system, coverage of essential settings may prove helpful.
AirPlay is Apple’s technology for beaming audio and video to different devices. It’s usually used to beam video to Apple TV, but it can also be used to beam audio from Apple TV to external speakers. If you are experiencing distorted audio with AirPlay speakers, try adjusting the AirPlay volume on Apple TV. Go to Settings > Audio and Video > Audio Output. From there, you can drill down into your AirPlay speaker settings and adjust the volume. Lowering the AirPlay volume on Apple TV should reduce distortion. You can increase the volume on the actual speakers in order to compensate.
Bluetooth is a completely different and open technology. Apple doesn’t own Bluetooth. It’s an open standard. Apple TV 4 does support Bluetooth audio systems, and with the tvOS 10 update, the number of supported devices has increased. Unfortunately, there are so many brands and models of Bluetooth audio systems, that I can’t cover every possible scenario. Beyond pairing the speakers, Apple TV doesn’t offer control over Bluetooth-transmitted audio levels. You may want to consult your owner’s manual or contact the manufacturer’s customer support if audio is distorted.
Bluetooth transmissions degrade over distance. If your Bluetooth speakers sound distorted, it may be due to their placement. Try moving them closer to the Apple TV 4 base unit. Also, make sure your Apple TV is not enclosed in an AV cabinet. Given the limitations of Bluetooth, you may want to consider going with a hard-wired or AirPlay solution. AirPlay works over your WiFi network, so it has much greater range than Bluetooth.
I Still Like My Apple TV
Even though the distorted sound effects are annoying, I still enjoy using my Apple TV. I am well aware that Apple TV does not exhibit the quality usually present in most Apple products. Apple doesn’t put their best and brightest engineers to work on Apple TV. They’re working on the iPhone. Apple TV is just about as good as any other TV appliance. If you are vested in the Apple ecosystem, it’s a good option. If not, you can spend less money and get a TV appliance made by Roku, Amazon, Google, Nvidia or many other vendors.
The root cause of the audio distortion problem I experience is within the code. The sound effects level is too high, and they probably didn’t test this with multiple audio setups. Most likely, this was tested with internal TV speakers, which won’t sound distorted due to their dynamic range processing. When audio is transmitted through line out or optical audio out, it bypasses the TV’s digital signal processing. It’s just pure audio. We can only hope that Apple fixes this issue with tvOS generated audio levels.