Apple TV – Function and Fidelity

May 2, 2011

It has been said that if you want a woman to fall in love with you then take her over a swing bridge. She will confuse the effort, drama and excitement of the experience with her feelings for you. This may be one explanation as to why so many of us love the analogue experience. It sounds good to us because of the drama and hi-maintenance of the thing. In simple terms we love those things people and experiences that we have to put some effort into.

By the above criteria I should dislike the AppleTV. Left on shuffle mode it is little effort. But I don’t dislike it. No, it doesn’t currently generate the same fidelity in my system as with the Cyrus CD8SE at the front end but is still very enjoyable. I am however getting ahead of myself, so back to how it all started.

My son like some of the other writers on this site is more of a nerd than me. He also spends a lot of time at home with the grandchildren and loves movies. Chris offered to install AppleTV for me so that I can watch the latest movies at home without going to the DVD store. Oh I said innocently, does that also mean I can play music in the lounge from the computer in the office at the back of the home? So that is how it all began.

For less than $170 and all that convenience, how could I say no? It didn’t sound too bad initially even through the TV via an HDMI cable. Then Apple upgraded their software and things stepped up. Initially however the signal was not that stable so we spent a morning installing an Ethernet cable under the house. Another step in fidelity was achieved especially after I persuaded myself that the Ethernet cable is directional and that the 6 sounds better than the 5 (from a different manufacturer).

The AppleTV has an optical out connection and to connect it to a stereo system a DAC is usually needed. I had a Matrix amplifier sitting around with its own DAC that provided a pleasant warm and forgiving interface to the main system. I also discovered that optical connections to me are very clean but are not the best on timing. My current best sound is from a Chord optical cable however. The big cost came when I upgraded my Cyrus amplifier to one with a built in DAC. This is commitment to a new way of listening and will allow a coaxial input when later this month I trial the Cyrus streamer.

With so many changes to the system I cannot give you a realistic idea of what the AppleTV ‘sounds like’. Technically one should not expect much as it is cheap,

has a noisy built in power supply and a modest memory. It did improve in sound when I put it on insulating support feet from Reference Audio and the two-pin power socket is also reversible with interesting results. When I bought an adapter from Russ Andrews to attach a quality mains cable there was another lift in sound.

On the front end of this system is an iMac computer running iTunes through the Pure Music software. This process has also encouraged me to go through some 5000 tracks and cull then down to a more realistic and enjoyable 4000 and it was so easy to do in this set up. When I add to that friends who share recordings with me and a public library with $2.00 albums on loan the software costs look very attractive.

My real enthusiasm however is that at long last I am back listening to the music rather than just my favourite 100 tracks. I can’t put a price on that but in the meantime the various upgrades do need funding so if you want to buy the Matrix amplifier or the Cyrus CD8SE player just drop me a line.

Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here


  1. At last, someone is thinking about Apple TV as a music playing device. I’ve looked long and hard for info on this as I couldn’t understand why my beloved Apple TV 1 sounded so much better than the Apple TV 2 – so much so that I returned the new one to the shop. I’m listening to it now in fact, lying on the couch controlling access to all my music with the iPhone remote app. The Apple TV feeds the Pioneer receiver over HDMI – no need for a separate DAC – and it sounds great IMHO. Most of my music is encoded at Apple Lossless now.

    Any idea why the (admittedly) cheaper new version should have sounded so poor in comparison? Do they need to be run in? I’m worried now that my old-hat version 1 will die one day leaving me with nothing.

  2. Hi Dan,

    Thanks for your comment. I do wonder what the internalized power supply in the Apple TV 2 does to the sound and I am very suspicious. The other writers here are more technical than me and there is enthusiasm to get into the question of optimizing the AppleTV sound, so watch this space. In the meantime I am wondering if someone out there can loan or sell me an Apple TV 1 to repeat your experiment. My LG TV has an optical out but it sounds worse than the apple optical connection. I infer that you are using the DAC in the TV by using its analogue out? I am also wondering if my TV has a digital coaxial out connection or even how i could tell?. So much to learn. John.

  3. Hi Dan,

    I borrowed an early model Apple TV for the weekend and thought the sound was worse!

    It was also slower and had a limited memory. If you cruise the web you will find there are ways to make the Apple TV 2 sound better. Cheers John.

  4. Well the Cyrus8SE CD player soon found a very appreciative home so that just leaves the Cyrus power supply and the Matrix DAC. Any interest out there? JG.

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