Why You Don’t Want the New Apple TV if You Just Want to Stream Audio

The new Apple TV is a great device, for using with a TV. But if you want to connect it to an amplifier, to stream music over AirPlay, then it’s not for you. Here’s what the back of the device looks like:

Apple tv

You’ll notice that there is no longer a Toslink (optical audio) output on the back of the Apple TV. The only option you have is HDMI; this is fine to connect to a TV or AV amplifier, but if you want to connect an Apple TV to a DAC, and then to an amp, you’re out of luck. Of course, one option is to use both: an Apple TV 3 for music only, and the new Apple TV for videos, games, apps, etc.

You can still buy the Apple TV 3, which does have a Toslink output; Apple hasn’t discontinued that model, and I speculate they’ll keep it around for a while.

And if you want to stream music to a speaker that doesn’t have AirPlay built in, then you’ll need an AirPort Express, which has a standard headphone jack at the back. (The AirPort Express has a combined analog/digital jack.)

It’s also worth noting that the new Apple TV also only has 10/100BASE?T Ethernet, and that Ethernet is slower than the 802.11ac wi-fi.

Update: As a commenter points out, HDMI allows for DRM, whereas Toslink doesn’t. This could be the reason for the elimination of the digital optical output: since you can stream Apple Music on the Apple TV, perhaps Apple needs to ensure that you can’t easily copy music you play from it.

98 thoughts on “Why You Don’t Want the New Apple TV if You Just Want to Stream Audio

  1. Yes I spotted this straight away. Having tested several AV amps I was unimpressed with their audio performance so went back to good old stereo and bought an amp with a built in DAC. This is fed via the Toslink connector on my Apple TV 3 receiving music via Airplay from my MacBook Pro.

    • I’m actually very pleased with the audio on my amp, a Yamaha RX-A1010. So I run the Apple TV 3 into it over HDMI; it sounds just as good as with Toslink.

      • The annoying thing about my Apple TV2 is that the HDMI connection to the television turns the big LCD tv on showing the ATV interface. Turn the tv off and I can’t stream audio, i.e., I have not found a way to get solely audio. So I have a separate Toslink connection to the Denon audio amp and manually disconnect the HDMI cable from the ATV (or LCD television) when I want to just stream music.
        Can you disable your large screen television with the Yamaha?
        I’ll get the new ATV for “TV” and repurpose the current ATV2 connected simply as an audio source, no HDMI connection.

        • I connect my Apple TV to my AV amplifier, not to my TV. So I don’t turn the TV on if all I’m doing is stream music; I use the Remote app on my iPhone to control it.

          • Kirk,

            Good Morning! Regarding Apple 4 and its lack of Toslink. The solution is Bluetooth. Using a Peachtree BT1 Bluetooth receiver and connecting via Toslink to my Peachtree Decco DAC works great.

            • Bluetooth quality is limited; Toslink can support high-resolution, multi-channel, etc.

  2. Yes I spotted this straight away. Having tested several AV amps I was unimpressed with their audio performance so went back to good old stereo and bought an amp with a built in DAC. This is fed via the Toslink connector on my Apple TV 3 receiving music via Airplay from my MacBook Pro.

    • I’m actually very pleased with the audio on my amp, a Yamaha RX-A1010. So I run the Apple TV 3 into it over HDMI; it sounds just as good as with Toslink.

      • The annoying thing about my Apple TV2 is that the HDMI connection to the television turns the big LCD tv on showing the ATV interface. Turn the tv off and I can’t stream audio, i.e., I have not found a way to get solely audio. So I have a separate Toslink connection to the Denon audio amp and manually disconnect the HDMI cable from the ATV (or LCD television) when I want to just stream music.
        Can you disable your large screen television with the Yamaha?
        I’ll get the new ATV for “TV” and repurpose the current ATV2 connected simply as an audio source, no HDMI connection.

        • I connect my Apple TV to my AV amplifier, not to my TV. So I don’t turn the TV on if all I’m doing is stream music; I use the Remote app on my iPhone to control it.

          • Kirk,

            Good Morning! Regarding Apple 4 and its lack of Toslink. The solution is Bluetooth. Using a Peachtree BT1 Bluetooth receiver and connecting via Toslink to my Peachtree Decco DAC works great.

            • Bluetooth quality is limited; Toslink can support high-resolution, multi-channel, etc.

    • If you’re streaming through an Apple TV – and that’s what I’m talking about here – then I don’t think the signal would stay digital through the TV and out again. There might be some TVs that do that, but I’d be surprised.

      • I think that’s how my LG TV is setup with my Apple TV. I have 3-4 devices go to the TV (with the TV speakers turned off) and it goes from the TV to my Yamaha receiver via Toslink. It just sends 2 channel PCM. (I do have a direct audio connection from my Blu-Ray player to the receiver for multi channel)

        Can’t believe no GigE Ethernet!!!

    • If you’re streaming through an Apple TV – and that’s what I’m talking about here – then I don’t think the signal would stay digital through the TV and out again. There might be some TVs that do that, but I’d be surprised.

      • I think that’s how my LG TV is setup with my Apple TV. I have 3-4 devices go to the TV (with the TV speakers turned off) and it goes from the TV to my Yamaha receiver via Toslink. It just sends 2 channel PCM. (I do have a direct audio connection from my Blu-Ray player to the receiver for multi channel)

        Can’t believe no GigE Ethernet!!!

  3. I’m assuming an HDMI splitter (into HDMI and optical audio) will work with the New Apple TV for those who need optical audio output.

      • True, but if you’re thinking of using both an ATV3 and ATV4 side by side, would a splitter be worse? There are some decent splitters on Amazon for $30-45, maybe sell an ATV3 to pay for a splitter?

        • Given that the Apple TV 3 costs only $69, I’d personally avoid the splitter. I’ve never had joy from HDMI hubs or splitters.

      • I agree – it’s hardly an elegant substitute for Apple TV’s missing optical audio output, and I’d rather have an optical audio output in the Apple TV itself. A splitter costs $25 – $35. But as long as it works, I think it’s an option for some who may need one.

    • You’re right… this is what you need if your audio device doesn’t support HDMI passthrough. Most modern recievers do. About the only modern HW that doesn’t is the Sonos soundbar. Hopefully they upgrade that to include HDMI passthru, I the mean time, this will do:

      http://amzn.com/B00KHGK29Q

      • Do I understand it correct that I should put this splitter between ATV and my TV and then route the audio straight into my amplifier?

  4. I’m assuming an HDMI splitter (into HDMI and optical audio) will work with the New Apple TV for those who need optical audio output.

      • True, but if you’re thinking of using both an ATV3 and ATV4 side by side, would a splitter be worse? There are some decent splitters on Amazon for $30-45, maybe sell an ATV3 to pay for a splitter?

        • Given that the Apple TV 3 costs only $69, I’d personally avoid the splitter. I’ve never had joy from HDMI hubs or splitters.

      • I agree – it’s hardly an elegant substitute for Apple TV’s missing optical audio output, and I’d rather have an optical audio output in the Apple TV itself. A splitter costs $25 – $35. But as long as it works, I think it’s an option for some who may need one.

    • You’re right… this is what you need if your audio device doesn’t support HDMI passthrough. Most modern recievers do. About the only modern HW that doesn’t is the Sonos soundbar. Hopefully they upgrade that to include HDMI passthru, I the mean time, this will do:

      http://amzn.com/B00KHGK29Q

      • Do I understand it correct that I should put this splitter between ATV and my TV and then route the audio straight into my amplifier?

  5. And here is why the new Apple TV doesn’t work – even for some TV setups:

    I am using a Sonos Playbar with my Plasma TV. The Playbar can be connected to the TV via Tosklink, but only a stereo signal is passed through that way (limitation of most TV’s), not 5.1 surround. In order to get true surround, one has to connect the Apple TV’s digital audio out directly to the Playbar, which is working great.

    Thank you Apple. It’s not that the new Apple TV’s design is too small to accomdate an additional port…

  6. And here is why the new Apple TV doesn’t work – even for some TV setups:

    I am using a Sonos Playbar with my Plasma TV. The Playbar can be connected to the TV via Tosklink, but only a stereo signal is passed through that way (limitation of most TV’s), not 5.1 surround. In order to get true surround, one has to connect the Apple TV’s digital audio out directly to the Playbar, which is working great.

    Thank you Apple. It’s not that the new Apple TV’s design is too small to accomdate an additional port…

  7. I’m posting this in a lot of places today. You do not want an Airport Express if you plan on using the optical outputs. The newish Airport Express optical outs are subject to very bad jitter. Depending on your converter and what it does when it detects jitter, you are likely to get either degraded audio or drop outs when using the TOSLINK outputs on the Express. There is a lot more here:

    https://discussions.apple.com/thread/4104819

    Heed the descriptions of problems. They are real and so far Apple has been unable to fix the problems since the Airport Express was released in 2012. I bought two Airport Express units recently. One is the very latest version along with a previous hardware revision. They both exhibit the same problem. You will get intermittent drop outs and clicks if your digital to analog converter (DAC) is capable of detecting bad jitter. It seems like you are getting network drop outs but in my case it was absolutely the Airport Express digital out. I can switch to analog out without noise or drop outs or I can use a very old 802.11g Airport Express which does not have the problem. But both revisions of the new Airport Express simply do not work reliably.

    • James is absolutely correct about the jitter issue with the Airport Express. I have a new Peachtree Nova 125-SE, an excellent two-channel integrated amp. They SPECIFICALLY warn that if one wants to stream music to buy the AppleTV, not an Airport Express, due to the jitter problems with the latter.

      I bought an AppleTV for streaming. But I had to try my existing Airport Express, to see if Peachtree was correct. Sure enough, I get constant drop outs due to the jitter problem.

      I’m also finding, though, that I get significant drop out even with my AppleTV serving only to stream audio. It’s not jitter problems but network issues. If I make sure that no other computer or device is using the network, the streaming is clean. But if I try to go online, or if my wife goes online on her MacBook Air, I get drop outs.

      For now, my most reliable to enjoy music is with a TOSLINK cable from my MacBook Pro (yes, the headphone out jack also serves as optical out) to the Peachtree.

  8. I’m posting this in a lot of places today. You do not want an Airport Express if you plan on using the optical outputs. The newish Airport Express optical outs are subject to very bad jitter. Depending on your converter and what it does when it detects jitter, you are likely to get either degraded audio or drop outs when using the TOSLINK outputs on the Express. There is a lot more here:

    https://discussions.apple.com/thread/4104819

    Heed the descriptions of problems. They are real and so far Apple has been unable to fix the problems since the Airport Express was released in 2012. I bought two Airport Express units recently. One is the very latest version along with a previous hardware revision. They both exhibit the same problem. You will get intermittent drop outs and clicks if your digital to analog converter (DAC) is capable of detecting bad jitter. It seems like you are getting network drop outs but in my case it was absolutely the Airport Express digital out. I can switch to analog out without noise or drop outs or I can use a very old 802.11g Airport Express which does not have the problem. But both revisions of the new Airport Express simply do not work reliably.

    • James is absolutely correct about the jitter issue with the Airport Express. I have a new Peachtree Nova 125-SE, an excellent two-channel integrated amp. They SPECIFICALLY warn that if one wants to stream music to buy the AppleTV, not an Airport Express, due to the jitter problems with the latter.

      I bought an AppleTV for streaming. But I had to try my existing Airport Express, to see if Peachtree was correct. Sure enough, I get constant drop outs due to the jitter problem.

      I’m also finding, though, that I get significant drop out even with my AppleTV serving only to stream audio. It’s not jitter problems but network issues. If I make sure that no other computer or device is using the network, the streaming is clean. But if I try to go online, or if my wife goes online on her MacBook Air, I get drop outs.

      For now, my most reliable to enjoy music is with a TOSLINK cable from my MacBook Pro (yes, the headphone out jack also serves as optical out) to the Peachtree.

  9. You’ve got to wonder what Steve Jobs hired so-called Hollywood audio guru Tomlinson Holman to do. Audio quality across all the Apple products has been in decline over the last few years, with “convenience” still seen to be more important than fidelity. Holman’s collecting some fat paycheck and doing nothing of any importance. It’s even been reported elsewhere that the audio engineering team at Apple (Holman’s not an engineer) has snubbed him from day one. Just goes to confirm that when it comes to quality audio, Hollywood is NOT the place to be looking for guidance.

    • It’s about imagination. You don’ t want to separatie things in youtube: audio needs ‘image’. Play a cassettetape of a musician/band who’s concert you’ve enjoyed live…..there’s more than audio(phile) and Apple’s also in the entertainment business (understatement).

  10. You’ve got to wonder what Steve Jobs hired so-called Hollywood audio guru Tomlinson Holman to do. Audio quality across all the Apple products has been in decline over the last few years, with “convenience” still seen to be more important than fidelity. Holman’s collecting some fat paycheck and doing nothing of any importance. It’s even been reported elsewhere that the audio engineering team at Apple (Holman’s not an engineer) has snubbed him from day one. Just goes to confirm that when it comes to quality audio, Hollywood is NOT the place to be looking for guidance.

    • It’s about imagination. You don’ t want to separatie things in youtube: audio needs ‘image’. Play a cassettetape of a musician/band who’s concert you’ve enjoyed live…..there’s more than audio(phile) and Apple’s also in the entertainment business (understatement).

  11. I may be wrong, but I believe the primary reason Apple is discontinuing support for digital optical co es down to three letters: DRM. To the best of my knowledge, HDMI is DRM-compliant while digital audio is not.

    As for Apple TV 4.0, I don’t see the consumer value proposition here. I know, I know, it’s the interoperability, dummy. Thing is, I’m a long-term Apple customer and I’ve found myself having to exercise exceptional patience with the glacial adoption of current tech.

    For example, bought an iPhone 3GS and waited five years until the iPhone 6 Plus was released to garner enough features (IMHO) to plunk down $800 for a new model. Also, been wanting to supplant/replace my MacBook Pro (2008) with a 27″ Retina 5K iMac, but while waiting (and waiting) for the newest Intel chip (Broadwell –> now SkyLake) to arrive. In the meantime, I replaced the HDD with SSD which makes it somewhat tolerable for now.

    Back to Apple TV, many others have hit upon the interoperability issues with Sonos vis-a-vis digital audio and HDMI, plus the lack of high speed Ethernet and 4K streaming. I know there’s not much 4K content, much less the bandiwidth to deliver it (and few using h.265 compression). So its another area where I’ll either continue to wait, or shop for the Roku 3 / Apple TV 3 to manage between now and 2017-’18 when the transition to 4K will be in full bloom.

  12. I may be wrong, but I believe the primary reason Apple is discontinuing support for digital optical co es down to three letters: DRM. To the best of my knowledge, HDMI is DRM-compliant while digital audio is not.

    As for Apple TV 4.0, I don’t see the consumer value proposition here. I know, I know, it’s the interoperability, dummy. Thing is, I’m a long-term Apple customer and I’ve found myself having to exercise exceptional patience with the glacial adoption of current tech.

    For example, bought an iPhone 3GS and waited five years until the iPhone 6 Plus was released to garner enough features (IMHO) to plunk down $800 for a new model. Also, been wanting to supplant/replace my MacBook Pro (2008) with a 27″ Retina 5K iMac, but while waiting (and waiting) for the newest Intel chip (Broadwell –> now SkyLake) to arrive. In the meantime, I replaced the HDD with SSD which makes it somewhat tolerable for now.

    Back to Apple TV, many others have hit upon the interoperability issues with Sonos vis-a-vis digital audio and HDMI, plus the lack of high speed Ethernet and 4K streaming. I know there’s not much 4K content, much less the bandiwidth to deliver it (and few using h.265 compression). So its another area where I’ll either continue to wait, or shop for the Roku 3 / Apple TV 3 to manage between now and 2017-’18 when the transition to 4K will be in full bloom.

  13. I’m wondering if this is why there is no new Airport Express with 11ac yet. The existing Airport Express has a TosLink that you use Airplay with (no need to fire up the TV/AppleTV). So, they need to figure out how to allow streaming Apple Music to those devices.
    BTW, here’s a thought on streaming music to AppleTV 3 without turning on your TV. Use the Apple Remote on the iPhone to control the music on the AppleTV. No need to fire up the TV to navigate.

  14. I’m wondering if this is why there is no new Airport Express with 11ac yet. The existing Airport Express has a TosLink that you use Airplay with (no need to fire up the TV/AppleTV). So, they need to figure out how to allow streaming Apple Music to those devices.
    BTW, here’s a thought on streaming music to AppleTV 3 without turning on your TV. Use the Apple Remote on the iPhone to control the music on the AppleTV. No need to fire up the TV to navigate.

  15. Just want to add to the people saying that your TV can send optical to your DAC/receiver, so the ATV doesn’t have to. Most TV’s and Reveivers have a setting to turn the screen off if that’s the issue.

  16. Just want to add to the people saying that your TV can send optical to your DAC/receiver, so the ATV doesn’t have to. Most TV’s and Reveivers have a setting to turn the screen off if that’s the issue.

  17. Kirk, or anyone else who’d like to respond,

    I am not a techno wiz; I am a CPA. I believe I have a pretty good system of components that I selected but was set up by my initial tech guy who I no longer use. My second tech guy says by adding Apple TV, I will get better sound through my speakers using a Toslink Optical connection than just by running it through the TV. He mentioned this to me before the specs on the new Apple TV came out. Here are my components:

    Bryston SP3 Processor
    Bryston 6B SST Amplifier
    Bryston 14B SST Amplifier
    Martin Logan Montis Towers (front)
    Martin Logan EM-ESL Towers (rear)
    Martin Logan Stage (center)
    Martin Logan Grotto subs (two)
    Sharp 80″ (has the audio output port)
    MIT cables, all around

    I desired that my system maximize music first over theater/surround sound, etc. Since the processor only had one subwoofer connection, I (we) contacted both Bryston and Martin Logan for the workaround on the connecting ports to allow for both subs and got the same response.

    Question:

    Now that the new Apple TV does not have the Toslink Optical port, how would I make the most of my connections to maximize sound through the use of the new Apple TV? I will not be listening to music through the new Apple TV. Will I be running HDMI from TV to A/TV, then HDMI from A/TV to SP-3? Will I not be able to use the Toslink Optical cable anywhere in my connections?

    In summary: How do I best connect the TV, A/TV, and SP-3 to fully enjoy sound through streaming over Wi-Fi?

    I am hoping to get some feedback here before I approach my new tech guy as it has been several weeks since we spoke.

    Thanks in advance for any assistance anyone may be able to provide me.

    Brian

    • Hello Brian, on the back of your Bryston SP3 Processor there are 8 HDMI inputs and 2 HDMI outputs. Connect your AppleTV to any of the 8 HDMI inputs and then output the signal via one of 2 HDMI outputs to your TV/display. It couldn’t be any simpler with your Bryston SP3 (or a similiar processor that is capable of looping HDMI signal), regardless whether you wanted to listen to music of watch video content from ATV4.

      • Hi Scott,

        Thank you very much for your feedback! I have yet to make a move on this issue but will seek out additional MIT cables and forego the Toslink Optical cable. Thanks again!

        Brian

  18. Kirk, or anyone else who’d like to respond,

    I am not a techno wiz; I am a CPA. I believe I have a pretty good system of components that I selected but was set up by my initial tech guy who I no longer use. My second tech guy says by adding Apple TV, I will get better sound through my speakers using a Toslink Optical connection than just by running it through the TV. He mentioned this to me before the specs on the new Apple TV came out. Here are my components:

    Bryston SP3 Processor
    Bryston 6B SST Amplifier
    Bryston 14B SST Amplifier
    Martin Logan Montis Towers (front)
    Martin Logan EM-ESL Towers (rear)
    Martin Logan Stage (center)
    Martin Logan Grotto subs (two)
    Sharp 80″ (has the audio output port)
    MIT cables, all around

    I desired that my system maximize music first over theater/surround sound, etc. Since the processor only had one subwoofer connection, I (we) contacted both Bryston and Martin Logan for the workaround on the connecting ports to allow for both subs and got the same response.

    Question:

    Now that the new Apple TV does not have the Toslink Optical port, how would I make the most of my connections to maximize sound through the use of the new Apple TV? I will not be listening to music through the new Apple TV. Will I be running HDMI from TV to A/TV, then HDMI from A/TV to SP-3? Will I not be able to use the Toslink Optical cable anywhere in my connections?

    In summary: How do I best connect the TV, A/TV, and SP-3 to fully enjoy sound through streaming over Wi-Fi?

    I am hoping to get some feedback here before I approach my new tech guy as it has been several weeks since we spoke.

    Thanks in advance for any assistance anyone may be able to provide me.

    Brian

    • Hello Brian, on the back of your Bryston SP3 Processor there are 8 HDMI inputs and 2 HDMI outputs. Connect your AppleTV to any of the 8 HDMI inputs and then output the signal via one of 2 HDMI outputs to your TV/display. It couldn’t be any simpler with your Bryston SP3 (or a similiar processor that is capable of looping HDMI signal), regardless whether you wanted to listen to music of watch video content from ATV4.

      • Hi Scott,

        Thank you very much for your feedback! I have yet to make a move on this issue but will seek out additional MIT cables and forego the Toslink Optical cable. Thanks again!

        Brian

  19. Is the Apple Tv 4 hdmi port enabled to output hi-res audio that could be extracted with a toslink splitter?
    I’d like routing 24/96 or 24/192 stereo hires audio to an optical DAC. For this reason I think I should use a TVos app that could deliver 24/96 sound via hdmi (eg. accessing my hires library on my NAS). Does anybody know if this could be done? Tks!

  20. Is the Apple Tv 4 hdmi port enabled to output hi-res audio that could be extracted with a toslink splitter?
    I’d like routing 24/96 or 24/192 stereo hires audio to an optical DAC. For this reason I think I should use a TVos app that could deliver 24/96 sound via hdmi (eg. accessing my hires library on my NAS). Does anybody know if this could be done? Tks!

  21. Well, heck. I just bought the new apple tv, only to find that it is useless for the reasons discussed here. I use it to connect to my peachtree decco to listen to music far more than to watch tv. Back to the apple store it goes, and I’ll be sticking with the old version.
    I find myself increasingly frustrated with Apple. Every new product seems to be just a little (or a lot) disappointing, and yet progressively more expensive. I’m definitely all in the apple family (computer, phone, apple tv, ipad, agh!), but looking for a way to extricate myself.

  22. Well, heck. I just bought the new apple tv, only to find that it is useless for the reasons discussed here. I use it to connect to my peachtree decco to listen to music far more than to watch tv. Back to the apple store it goes, and I’ll be sticking with the old version.
    I find myself increasingly frustrated with Apple. Every new product seems to be just a little (or a lot) disappointing, and yet progressively more expensive. I’m definitely all in the apple family (computer, phone, apple tv, ipad, agh!), but looking for a way to extricate myself.

  23. Two questions are bothering me.

    1) If I stream from a Mac pc to Apple tv I can control output volume from the Mac.
    Does the volume increase happen before the “upscaling to lossless” related to airplay streaming?
    Otherwise, does this mean a DAC > CAD > DAC is happening?

    2) What do you think about the “jitter” thing which apparently happens in every consumer digital audio output, Apple TV included?
    Is this one of those pseudo-problems with no real life audible impact?

    Hope the questions are clear,
    thank you from a long time follower.
    Mariano Giusti

  24. Two questions are bothering me.

    1) If I stream from a Mac pc to Apple tv I can control output volume from the Mac.
    Does the volume increase happen before the “upscaling to lossless” related to airplay streaming?
    Otherwise, does this mean a DAC > CAD > DAC is happening?

    2) What do you think about the “jitter” thing which apparently happens in every consumer digital audio output, Apple TV included?
    Is this one of those pseudo-problems with no real life audible impact?

    Hope the questions are clear,
    thank you from a long time follower.
    Mariano Giusti

  25. Hi,

    Can anyone tell me if ATV 4 outputs multi channel audio via wifi? I’m trying to use my old ATV 3 to stream audio to my receiver but I seem to only get stereo audio.

    Thanks

  26. Hi,

    Can anyone tell me if ATV 4 outputs multi channel audio via wifi? I’m trying to use my old ATV 3 to stream audio to my receiver but I seem to only get stereo audio.

    Thanks

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