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How to Connect Apple TV to a Stereo

How to Connect Apple TV to a Stereo

published by Chand Bellur
December 3, 2014 at 6:49 p.m. PST

Apple TV can be easily connected to external audio systems. This article covers how to connect Apple TV to a stereo, with or without an optical connection.

Apple TV is a small, inexpensive device that streams media to a television set. Beyond supporting the Apple ecosystem, this flexible device serves up content from many different providers with its built-in channels. It also offers the ability to beam content from iOS, Mac OS X, Windows, Windows Phone, Linux and Android devices using hundreds of AirPlay enabled apps, in addition to screen mirroring.

Apple TV is one of the few television set-top boxes that offers an optical audio output. This makes it easy to connect directly to home theater systems for amazing Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound.

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Connect Apple TV to Stereo With Optical

If you have a home theater audio system or flat screen TV, you may have noticed an optical audio connector. This port uses a Toslink cable to transmit audio with light. The pulses of light transmit digital audio, providing better sound quality.

Before you connect your Apple TV to a stereo with an optical connection, you must purchase a Toslink cable. There are many choices and these cables are inexpensive. Make sure that your cable is long enough to connect your Apple TV to your home theater system.

Making the connection is simple enough. First, make sure that all of your equipment is turned off. Next, plug one end of the Toslink cable into your Apple TV and the other end into your home theater system. Power up your TV, then your Apple TV and finally your home theater audio system. Start with your home theater audio system on low volume and gradually increase the volume until you reach the desired level. This will prevent damage to speakers, as well as your ears.

You can go to Settings > Audio & Video on Apple TV to confirm that Dolby Digital sound is enabled. I recommend setting it to “auto”. That’s it. You can now enjoy movies and tv shows in stunning Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound!

Connect Apple TV to Stereo Without Optical

If you have an older stereo, it probably doesn’t support Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. It also won’t have an optical audio connector. That’s not a problem. You can still enjoy better sound quality from your Apple TV.

The HDMI connection from Apple TV to your television supports audio and video. In this configuration, you need to connect your television’s audio output to your stereo.

First, turn off your Apple TV (Settings > Sleep Now), television and stereo. If you look at the back or side of your television, you will probably see red and white RCA connectors. These are grouped in a stereo pair — red is right and white is left. Find the pair labelled “audio out” or “line out” and connect a standard RCA cable. Make sure the red and white plugs on the cable mate with the corresponding jacks on your television. Sometimes RCA cables have red and black ends. Red is always for the right stereo channel. Make sure that you plug the red cable into the red connector, and the white or black cable into the white connector. 
RCA Cable

Next, take the other end of the cable and attach it to the RCA input on your stereo. This is usually labelled “line in”. Do not connect this to a “phono” jack. Turn on your TV and turn down the volume all the way. Next, turn on your Apple TV. Finally, turn on your stereo, turn down the volume, and set the input selector to “aux”. Play a video or some music on your Apple TV and slowly turn up the volume on the stereo. You should hear Apple TV’s audio output from your stereo.

It is important to note that if you have an older stereo, connecting to a phono jack will produce very loud and distorted audio. This is because record players tend to have a lower audio output, so they need a pre-amp. Older audio receivers had these pre-amps built-in to the “phono” input.

If you’re not hearing sound out of your Apple TV, you may need to change some settings on your television. Most modern flat screen TVs will just work. Their audio line-out connector will always transmit audio, even if the volume on the TV is turned down. If this isn’t the case, you’ll need to look at the audio settings on your television’s settings menu. The line-out level could possibly be controlled by volume or mute settings, however, this is unlikely. It is possible that the audio output needs to be enabled in the television’s settings menu.

Too Much Bass?

I love my Apple TV, but I notice that iTunes Music and Radio often has too much bass and not enough midrange. It seems to be optimized for playback through TV speakers. This makes sense, but if you connect your Apple TV to a stereo, you should make some EQ adjustments to compensate. I typically decrease the bass and treble slightly, which is known as subtractive equalization. This is the most transparent way to increase audibility. By lowering the bass and treble slightly, mid-range frequencies become more prominent. It makes it easier to hear the music and produces less “boom” on the bass. You could turn up the midrange, but this usually doesn’t sound as good as subtractive EQ.

If you like a lot of bass, by all means, leave it as is. However, iTunes music seems to be adding more bass than you would hear on the equivalent CD track. I have compared the same song on CD and iTunes with this setup. With a flat EQ, the CD sounds more clear. I highly recommend attenuating the bass and treble slightly. iTunes Music and Radio will sound much better.

Sound Check

Sound Check is an Apple Ecosystem feature which normalizes the volume of music playback. This ensures that all of your songs play back at the same volume. This is great if you have a playlist assembled from different artists and albums. You can just let the music play, instead of fiddling with the volume. I recommend turning Sound Check on. You can do this by navigating to Settings > Audio & Video. With Sound Check enabled, you can enjoy music with less fiddling and fewer loud surprises.

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