Why Does Music Streamed to My Apple TV Sound Bad?
Q My system consists of Aerial speakers, a Rotel 5 x 100 watt amp, a Marantz AV-7701 pre/pro and a Panasonic Blu-ray player. All my music is stored on a Mac computer and streamed to an Apple TV which is connected by an optical cable to the processor. The sound with movies is fine, but digital music lacks detail and has no WOW to it. My car’s Krell audio system sounds far superior in comparison. All music files on my Mac are in 16-bit WAV format. What am I missing? —Roland Bertha / South Florida
A Sorry to hear about your system’s lack of WOW, but it doesn’t appear that there’s anything wrong with your wireless audio setup. You’ve even gone through the trouble to encode ripped audio files in space-hungry uncompressed WAV format. That said, some audiophiles prefer to stream music wirelessly using Apple’s Airport Express base station instead of an Apple TV. Why? The Apple TV upsamples 16-bit/44.1 kHz digital music files to 48 kHz for output over its optical digital or HDMI connections. So, while the sound may be okay, you’re not hearing a bit-perfect version of the original file. This shouldn’t have huge implications for sound quality, but a discerning listener such as yourself (Krell car audio system!) might be able to hear a difference.
Suggestions for improvement? The first thing I’d recommend is to play a few tracks on CD using your Blu-ray player and compare the sound with the wireless version of the same track played through the Apple TV. If the CD sounds notably better, you’ll know for sure that the problem lies with your wireless setup. You might also want to try using a wired Ethernet connection instead of a wireless one. Once again, this in theory shouldn’t make a sound quality difference, though some audiophiles strongly maintain that wired connections sound better than wireless ones.
Another route would be to check out a higher-quality wireless audio option than the Apple TV. AudioEngine sells a wireless sender/receiver system called the D2-24-Bit-Wireless-DAC that can transmit up to 24-bit/96 kHz resolution audio files. You can’t use it to stream movies or perform other tricks aside from sending music wirelessly, but it might just sound better than your Apple TV.