Why Does Music Streamed to My Apple TV Sound Bad?

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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.

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COMMENTS
true audio's picture

I also feel you pain. I've had a DAC manufacturer tell me that he has heard MP3 files that sounded really good, but played through the right set up. I will only down load 96/24 and higher for play back. Some sound fantastic and some compressed. So far all my files come from HD Tracks. I use Jriver as my file manager.My music is then sent to a Peachtree DAC-ITx through a top up the line Audioquest usb cable.From there stereo out using same brand anolog cables to a Pioneer VSX-94.This anolog direct to a new pare of definitive tech Mythos ST-L'S.I have to say at this point, I am most happy with what I'm hearing. Some day I will get a very high end 2 channel amp. Any how this is my story for better sound. Try everything you can ! Good luck.
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John Sciacca's picture
I'm just curious, why don't you use the media streaming feature built into the Marantz AV-7701 pre-pro and bypass the AppleTV altogether? Granted the Marantz interface isn't nearly as elegant -- I have the AV-8801 -- but it will completely bypass the AppleTV and the upsampling issue. Would certainly be worth investigating... Cheers, John Sciacca
Jackblues's picture

A separate issue, but my Apple TV is having problems playing Dolby Digital movies from Netflix. After going through several different procedures recommended by Apple and Netflix, still no luck. Apple's most recent update "cured" the problem for a few days. But now it's back to no surround sound just like before. Check the Apple forums, it's hardly an isolated incident.

If I had it to do over again, I'd lite a cigar with a hundred dollar bill instead of giving it to Apple.

pw's picture

Get a Pure I-20 for $90 bucks. Run some average RCA interconnects, I keep my Iphone setup 12 feet away from my tube amp stack, to avoid tube static interference. At this point streaming is a very over promised tech for audiophile levels of quality and enjoyment.

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