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A mainstreaming future with Apple TV & app store

  • Just soothsayin’. The final quarter of this journo’s first Digital Audio Demystified presentation last week was dedicated to two mainstream streamers (mainstreamers!).

    The first was the Sonos Connect, whose piece-o’-piss setup and integrated search – where results from streaming services and local storage are returned to the same screen – make for a user experience that niche audiophile manufacturers could (probably) never compete with. Only Roon comes close but it’s not a hardware streamer…yet.

    As a digital audio transport, the Sonos Connect is far from perfect: its onboard D/A converter wouldn’t keep pace with current sub-$100 eBay offerings from the Pacific Rim and its coaxial output spills much of the internal’s electrical noise into the connected DAC such that treble glare can be heard (seen!) within the first few bars. That’s where the likes of Aurender and AURALiC have the edge.

    But with electrical isolation inherent to toslink connectivity, EMI/RFI does not pass go, does not collect $200. And whilst the Sonos Connect’s optical output sounds considerably better than its coaxial neighbour, the Aurenders and AURALiCs of this world still maintain their sound qualitative edge. And not simply because the Sonos system’s PCM compatibility doesn’t stretch into hi-res territory. The Aries and N100H simply sound better as digital transports.

    One way to haul the Sonos Connect into audiophile territory is to have its digital output reclocked and cleaned up by a third party device. For this, I use a Wyred4Sound Remedy: toslink in, coaxial out, up-sampled to 24bit/96kHz. Hi-res aside, the Sonos Connect now plays in the AURALiC and Aurender league whilst adding streaming services that will likely never natively come to the Chinese and South Korean rivals: Spotify, Pandora, Soundcloud, rdio. The list of services that can be hooked into Sonos is seriously impressive.


    I closed my DAD presentation with this: do not underestimate the Apple TV (and not simply because of its Airplay functionality). As soon as Team Cupertino drop a native Apple Music app onto the Apple TV it suddenly becomes a bona fide cloud music streaming device. Lossy-encoded streams, yes, but streams nonetheless.

    Today, Forbes reports via Buzzfeed that Apple plan to announced a hardware-refreshed Apple TV in September. Rumoured for the next generation model are a thinner chassis, faster processor, more RAM and a touchpad remote control. So far, so ordinary. Apart from the new remote control.

    (*Deep inhale*) However, also rumoured to be coming down the pike are a dedicated app store and associated SDK. Not such a fanciful leap when you consider the Apple TV already runs a variant of iOS.

    The implications for the digital audio world are heavy. With an SDK, Spotify can write an Apple TV app and add it to the associated app store…and bazingo, its multi-million user base now has the option to stream music from an Apple TV, complete with HDMI connection to an outboard display for extra-sociable wow. Then Pandora writes an app. Then Qobuz. Then Tidal. Almost overnight we have an Apple TV capable of streaming lossless audio from the cloud. Tell me that’s not exciting.


    “Ah, but the Apple TV device only outputs over toslink,” I hear you say. That probably won’t be an issue for all but the most ardent audiophiles. (Which is probably you if you’re reading this). No worries: a S/PDIF re-clocker can step in to step things up. And that’s not just a game only for California’s Wyred4Sound. The 2015 Empirical Audio Synchro-Mesh is reportedly significantly improved over the version I reviewed for 6moons way back in 2012.

    I still feel a little uncomfortable in prognosticating what may or may not happen in the world of Apple but if the new generation Apple TV does indeed come to fruition as rumoured, and even if it does double in price, we’re going to see some interesting new times for wallet-sensitive mainstreamers and digital audiophiles.

    Further information: Apple TV | Wyred4Sound | Empirical Audio

    John H. Darko

    Written by John H. Darko

    John is the editor of Darko.Audio, from whose ad revenues he derives an income. He is an occasional contributor to 6moons but has previously written pieces for TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Twitter


    1. For a few years now, I can use TIDAL or Spotify app on my iPad to Apple USB camera kit adapter to USB cable to DAC to preamp. Or AirPlay on iPad wirelessly to Apple TV to DAC directly or through USB/ SPDIF converter. Please tell me what’s different or better with Apple’s upcoming Apple TV?

      • The app is ‘relocated’ from your iPad to the Apple TV – no more Airplay. The app in the Apple TV handles the digital audio stream, taking it from the Internet and sending it out via optical to your DAC. Make sense?

    2. Perhaps, but for me, much more exiting news would be Apple starting supporting hi-res audio.

      • Last year I thought that *might* happen. This year, I’m not so certain. Living inside the audiophile bubble it’s easy to think that we represent a significant slice of consumers. Alas, we don’t. We are a wafer-thin niche and with HDTracks and Pono already serving that niche, what’s in it for Apple?

    3. Although not audiophile quality – I just use the HDMI output to my Denon receiver in my living room HT. I think it sounds acceptable for casual listening. Just curious how the HDMI audio out compares to the optical out. I have to check but do you know if I can use both outputs at the same time, HDMI for video and optical for audio?

    4. One question: in your experience using digital re-clockers like the Remedy, do they introduce any lag or delay in the audio output? This could be a problem when watching video on the Apple TV.

    5. Great article,John. When you say Sonos with a re-clocker is in the same league as Aires / Aurender are you saying Sonos + re-clocker sounds close to these streamers? If so one gets both the connectivity + great User interface with good sound. That is very interesting.

      • Yes, that’s exactly what I am saying. I’d still give a VERY slight edge to the Aries over USB but still, as you say the Sonos’ UI is superb.

    6. Ismail, yes, you can use both outputs at the same time. We have our Apple TV connected via HDMI to our (non-smart) TV and via an optical cable to an outboard D/A converter and RCA cables to my amplifier. Works a treat.

    7. I love my Apple TV for streaming movies etc. however I find it redundant to have to turn my TV on when I want to listen to music.

      • And yet others are quite happy to deploy full size Macs and PCs as digital front ends. Think of it this way: an Apple TV + television is just a computer (sans storage) in a different form. Not for everyone – as you point out – but still noteworthy.

    8. …mhh why should I give up on my Squeezebox feeding into a PS Audio DL3 Stage IV… nope no reason so far;)

      Cheers from Berlin

      • You shouldn’t and I’m certainly not trying to sway people. Just saying that the new Apple TV *could* be a real step up for entry-levellers. Alas, with toslink off the table, it isn’t.

    9. Looks like your forecasting was correct! The new AppleTV and app store should make for an interesting year!

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