April 11, 2016 at 1:32 p.m. PST
Spotify is one of the most popular streaming music services in the world. This article explains how to play Spotify on Apple TV 4.
Music streaming services have taken the world by storm. In an effort to curb piracy, the music industry succumbed to licensing content for streaming. Instead of paying $10 for an album, consumers are able to stream and download over 30 million songs for $10 a month. This is a great savings for the avid music listener. It’s like an all-you-can-listen-to sonic buffet.
No Native Spotify tvOS App
The new Apple TV 4 features an App Store and native, built-in support for Apple Music. While other streaming services, such as Pandora, have already released tvOS apps, Spotify has yet to do so.
Having read the discussion forum on the Spotify community, a lot of people are requesting a Spotify tvOS app. Spotify may be working on this, but it is unclear when it will be released. For now, Spotify subscribers must use AirPlay to play music on Apple TV.
Use AirPlay to Play Spotify on Apple TV
Apple’s AirPlay technology enables beaming audio and video content onto Apple TV using just about any device. Given its tight integration with iOS, AirPlay is typically used with an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. Other devices, such as Macs, Windows PCs, Chromebooks, Android devices and even Linux computers can also use AirPlay. It’s a remarkably popular technology.
This article assumes that you’ve installed Spotify on an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch and your iOS device and Apple TV are on the same WiFi network. First, turn on your Apple TV, television and any connected audio equipment, such as a stereo receiver. Make sure the volume is turned down on your audio equipment. Launch Spotify on your iOS device. Swipe up from the bottom of any screen to reveal Control Center. Make sure that WiFi and Bluetooth are turned on. Tap the AirPlay button and select your Apple TV. Make sure that the volume on Control Center is turned all the way up. Tap anywhere on the screen, outside of Control Center, to dismiss Control Center. Now you can play music on Spotify. Slowly turn up the volume on your television or audio system until it is at the desired level. After a minute, the track information and album cover will appear on Apple TV. We’ll take a look at visual options for Spotify later in this article.
If you are using a recent Mac, you can play Spotify from the web or desktop app using AirPlay. Open the System Preferences app and click on Sound and then Output. Select AirPlay for the output. This will beam any audio from your Mac onto your Apple TV, without sharing the screen. You can beam your Mac’s entire screen and audio onto Apple TV by turning on AirPlay from the top menu bar on your Mac’s desktop.
Older Macs and other computers and devices don’t have native support for AirPlay. There are a variety of free and paid apps that add AirPlay functionality to just about any computer or device. I personally use AirParrot 2 and recommend it. It works on Mac OS X, Windows and even ChromeOS.
Why Does AirPlay Need Bluetooth?
Apple overhauled AirPlay in iOS 9 and tvOS. The new implementation is supposedly more robust, as it can use Bluetooth and WiFi to maintain a better connection. AirPlay will still work without Bluetooth. I have found it to be more reliable with Bluetooth activated.
I find Apple’s new implementation of AirPlay to be a bit buggy. I experience the occasional audio dropout when I walk in between my router and Apple TV, especially on humid days. This never happened with my older Apple TV 2, so I suspect the problem is with tvOS on Apple TV 4. The problem seems to be that the buffer size is too small. Unfortunately, users cannot configure the AirPlay buffer size.
I have to wonder if Apple intentionally hobbled AirPlay in order to thwart third-party services such as Spotify. Whatever the case, their new, improved AirPlay implementation isn’t as good as its predecessor. I still find Spotify to be more reliable than Apple Music.
Siri Remote Offers Limited Control Over Spotify
The Siri remote offers limited functionality when using Spotify (or any other audio player) over AirPlay. The play/pause button will stop playback from just about any screen on Apple TV. This is more of problem than a solution. For example, if you want to play a video game on Apple TV while playing Spotify, it will work until you press the play/pause button within the game. It seems as though Apple hasn’t thought through all of the edge cases when it comes to multitasking. Ideally, the remote should only work with the current app in focus.
You can get more control over Spotify if you are in the Now Playing view. Unfortunately, there’s no way to manually view this screen. You have to wait for the Now Playing view to display. The Now Playing screen appears one minute after starting the Spotify stream. Once this screen appears, you can click on the right side of the touchpad to skip forward. You can’t skip to the beginning of a song or previous tracks using the Siri remote. Clicking the touchpad in the center will pause the stream, however, clicking it again will not resume it. Press the Play/Pause button to resume the stream. The Play/Pause button will also pause the stream.
Unless you have disabled the screensaver or set it to not display during music playback (Settings > Screensaver > Show During Music), the Now Playing view will eventually be replaced with the screensaver. The Siri remote can’t fully operate Spotify when the screensaver is active. One can only pause music by pressing the Play/Pause button. This will also restore the Now Playing view. You can dismiss the screensaver by pressing the Menu button on the Siri Remote. This will restore the Now Playing screen and the Siri remote’s capabilities.
Given the incapability of the Siri Remote, it may just be easier to control Spotify on the client device. This might not always be convenient, especially if you are playing Spotify on a computer located in another room. The Spotify Connect feature can turn any device into a remote control. Simply start Spotify on a different device and it will automatically connect to the currently playing device. You can then use this device as a remote control with far more capabilities than the Siri Remote. Connect allows you to browse music and fully control Spotify. It provides much more functionality such as streaming music to multiple targets. You can stream music to Apple TV, Chromecast, Bluetooth speakers and many more targets simultaneously.
Controlling Spotify’s Dynamic Range on Apple TV 4
Both Apple TV and Spotify offer capabilities for controlling the audio dynamic range. This prevents music from playing louder than expected. I personally feel that music is over-compressed these days. Adding additional dynamic range processing is not ideal. Sometimes these features come in handy, especially if you are playing music late at night when others are trying to sleep. Whatever the case, it isn’t necessary to have both of these features turned on.
Apple TV 4 features a Reduce Loud Sounds option that does what it says — loud sounds are reduced. This means that if you are listening to music with a wide dynamic range, the loud parts won’t be loud. You can turn this feature on or off using Siri. Hold down the Siri button on the remote and say “turn on Reduce Loud Sounds” to activate it. “Turn off Reduce Loud Sounds” will deactivate the feature. Siri isn’t perfect, and after the last tvOS update, its speech recognition seems to be compromised. It may prove easier to access this feature by going to Settings > Audio and Video > Reduce Loud Sounds.
Spotify also offers a feature to normalize audio. Normalization is slightly different from Apple’s Reduce Loud Sounds feature. It’s more like Sound Check. It keeps the level of music the same across different tracks. This is great if you have a playlist that draws from different albums. You won’t need to constantly fiddle with the volume. For the purist, dynamic range is important. Most audiophiles will want to turn this feature off. You can enable or disable Spotify’s normalization feature by going to settings (the gear wheel on the menu) and tapping Playback. Next, turn Enable Audio Normalization on or off.
Visualizer Options for Apple TV
If you play music using iTunes or other music players, you’ve probably enjoyed using a visualizer. Visualizers provide a graphical display synchronized to music. They are absolutely mesmerizing, yet absent from Apple TV 4. Given the processing power of the 64-bit, A8 processor, this seems almost inexcusable. Although there are tvOS apps that claim to work as visualizers, they do not work as expected. I wasted a small sum of money to discover this fact. Don’t fall for these apps!
The main problem is that, even though there are visualizer apps, the AirPlay implementation will display the Now Playing screen after a minute of idle time. This means as soon as you stop fiddling with the visualizer app, Now Playing will be displayed within a minute. I’ve tried disabling the screensaver and everything else. tvOS visualizer apps will not work with AirPlay! Don’t buy one! They also don’t work with Apple Music.
Screensavers are a good option for a visualizer, but they really aren’t the same thing. They’re not synchronized with music. I sometimes prefer the screensaver to the Now Playing view. The aerial screensavers are actually quite amazing.
You can have the screensaver turn on during Spotify AirPlay playback by going to Settings > General > Screensaver and set Show During Music to “Yes”. This will display the Now Playing view after one minute, but then display the screensaver after the set interval. The screensaver can also be launched manually. From the home screen, tap the Home button twice and the screensaver will appear. You will still see a small track information graphic (with album cover art) on the upper right corner of the screen. This is displayed momentarily when a new track begins.
If you are really addicted to visualizers, there is a workaround. Using one of the many AirPlay utilities, it’s possible to beam your entire desktop to Apple TV. Simply play music on Spotify and run a visualizer in full screen mode while beaming your desktop to Apple TV. Keep in mind, you will need a fairly powerful computer to render the visualizer, play Spotify music and beam it all to Apple TV. I have a quad-core Mac Pro, and it was just barely able to do this after changing to a lower resolution and performance tuning AirParrot.
Keep in mind that since Apple TV is 1080p, your desktop computer resolution should be set accordingly, with nothing greater than 1080 pixels in height. Specifically, 1080 resolution is 1920 x 1080. Some computers can set the resolution to 1080p, which is the ideal setting. Resolution options for computers depend on the attached monitor. The closest I can get on my Mac is 1600 x 1000.
Why Not Use Apple Music?
Apple Music is a native, first-party app included with tvOS on the new Apple TV 4. It is fully integrated with Siri. With all that it has going for it, why would anyone beam Spotify to Apple TV using AirPlay?
I tried Apple Music for three months, taking advantage of the free trial offer. I found the service to be horribly buggy. I’m not the only one. There were numerous complaints about missing music, songs that couldn’t be added to playlists and its complete failure to operate on the iPad 2. Some of these issues were eventually remedied, but the worst problem, audio dropouts, continued until the end of my trial. When playing music, there would often be 30 second segments of dead air. This happened whether I downloaded the music or streamed it. It happened all too often and had me leaving Apple Music. Instead, I opted for a premium Spotify music subscription.
Beyond being reliable, Spotify’s premium service boasts better audio quality. At 320 kbps (vs. 256 kbps for Apple Music), it’s virtually indistinguishable from a CD. Spotify works on more devices than Apple Music, even Apple devices. I can use Spotify on my old iPhone 4. Apple Music requires a device capable of running iOS 8. Although my iPad 2 could run iOS 8, Apple Music was barely usable on this device. Spotify offers a web-based player capable of running on virtually any operating system. They make desktop software for Mac OS X and Windows. Most importantly, Spotify is rock solid and reliable. I don’t have disappearing music or 30 second audio dropouts.
I also think that Apple should not be rewarded for copying Spotify. They blatantly ripped off the concept, workflow and user interface of Spotify, all while touting some moral superiority. Jimmy Iovine contends that Apple is once again rescuing the music industry.
Both Spotify and Apple are accused of poor compensation for artists. If you subscribe to the premium Spotify service and listen to your favorite artists regularly, they will be compensated. I listen to music I own on CD and iTunes on Spotify, because the rights holders will get some compensation. I also find it much more convenient.
I am not thrilled about the paltry payouts for artists, but it has been proven that Spotify doesn’t make a difference in terms of overall payouts for artists. This is because people who would normally resort to piracy have the option to use Spotify’s free service, which at least gives the rights holders’ some revenues. If music streaming services were harming the industry’s bottom line, the rights holders wouldn’t allow their music to be streamed. Music streaming services have enormous collections of music precisely because the rights holders have allowed this.
Music streaming services are here to stay. They are getting more content every day. A few months ago, all of the streaming services obtained the entire Beatles catalog. The momentum is clear. Music streaming services are the way most music fans will enjoy music for years to come. Right now, Spotify is the best option, even for people vested in the Apple ecosystem. I own an Apple TV 4, yet still feel that Spotify is better, even though it lacks a tvOS app. For more information on the two music streaming services, check out “Apple Music vs. Spotify”.