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Apple TV 3'rd Generation - AirPlay measurements over TOSLINK

trl

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Hello all,

I was about to get rid of my old Apple TV 3'rd generation, A1469 model, due to the fact that it has no HBO Max, just Prime Video and Netflix and not sure for how long, given that streaming platforms will probably get updated in few years again, while this Apple TV model is already not receiving anymore updates due to being a discontinued model, so I purchased on Black Friday a couple of Fire Stick 4K Max instead.

On a second thought, I said to myself that might worth checking how it will sound when streaming from my iPhone to this Apple TV connected via TOSLINK to my Yamaha A-S701 stereo amplifier + Canton GLE 496 speakers + SVS SB3000 subwoofer. Overall, I was quite impressed when I did a few A/B tests by switching between TOS vs. USB on my ASUS Essence One MKii and I realized that is pretty difficult to my ears to identify which source was the USB/Computer and which one was the TOS/AppleTV, so I'll need to give this another try later, by using headphones, to see if I can spot any difference this way.

So, I'm quite pleased with the sound quality of AirPlay (I guess it's AirPlay v1), while initially I thought that audio quality will be less than acceptable and there will also be higher latencies while skipping and glitches while playing on Wi-Fi (I haven't connected my Apple TV to LAN yet, just 5 GHz Wi-Fi for now), but it seems that I was very wrong about this...and now I'm glad I decided to keep the Apple TV and perform the below tests and measurements.

Till now, the only measurements I was able to find on Internet would be:
- https://kenrockwell.com/apple/airport-express.htm#perf
- https://www.kenrockwell.com/apple/airport-express-audio-quality-2014.htm#meas
- https://www.stereophile.com/digitalprocessors/505apple
- https://audiophilestyle.com/ca/revi...-and-Second-Generation-Apple-AirPort-Express/
The above webpages were previously spotted by other ASR members in this thread: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/airplay-vs-bt-ldac.40185/ and also few other threads are talking about Apple TV and/or AirPlay too: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...lay2-vs-direct-hdmi-input-measurements.20585/ and https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...v-4k-airplay-airport-express-version-1.26784/

As reference, I'll upload here the test results from today's measurement setup, Topping D90 MQA + Cosmos ADC. The ADC was "warmed-up" by placing it on top of the D90 for over an hour while playing some music, hence the SINAD of almost 120dB that I was able to get out of it in the below pics. For those being unaware why Cosmos ADC performs better when warm vs. when cold can read https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...adc-chip-currently.13469/page-25#post-1017068.

REW-Preferences_Soundcard_Panel.jpgREW-Signal_Gen.jpgToppdin_D90-Cosmos_ADC_Mono-REW.jpgTopping_D90-Cosmos_ADC_Mono-ARTA.jpg
Test setup: Cosmos ADC (mono), Topping D90 MQA (XLR), REW & ARTA


Now I'm going to give a spin to @IVX's measurement device, Cosmos ADC, and see how this Apple TV measures. I will feed it with sinewaves grabbed from audiocheck.net, Apple Music Lossless and Tidal Hi-Fi Plus, although inside the Apple TV the signal will probably get down-sampled. Apple TV was optically interconnected with my Topping D90 and the below graphs were measured with Cosmos ADC by using ARTA and REW apps.


1kHz_.jpg

THD+N: -102.1dB - Apple TV 3'rd Generation (A1469) driven by iPhone 14 Pro over Topping D90 @1kHz sinewave
Sinewave is 16-bit/48kHz and it was generated from audiocheck.net and played directly from iOS's Files manager


I wouldn't thought I would get a THD+N higher than 90dB, which still would be decent enough coming from a device of its age (Year introduced: 2012), so I was really pleased to see a THD+N of 102.1dB. Below I'll test couple of streaming services playing similar sinewaves too, but also a playback from VLC app too.


Airplay_1kHz_audiocheck_D90_optical.jpg

THD+N: -91.7dB - same 1kHz file from above, but now played via VLC app from AppStore
Not sure why the THD+N decreased so much while playing it with VLC, even if using the same cellphone


Airplay_1kHz_iPhone14Pro-AppleMusic-B.A.S.S._D90_optical.jpg

THD+N: -99.1dB - same iPhone Pro 14 + Apple TV + Topping D90, but now under Apple Music while playing 1kHz file from an artist named B.A.S.S.
There're also similar files on Apple Music's library to play, but with this one I found the best results


Airplay_1kHz_MacBookPro-TIDAL-B.A.S.S._D90_optical_01.jpg

THD+N: -99.1dB - MacBook Pro + Apple TV + Topping D90, but now under TIDAL while playing the same 1kHz file from the above graph, same B.A.S.S. artist



Airplay_IMD_audiocheck_D90_optical.jpg

IMD results on Apple TV + D90 via TOSLINK, audiocheck.net IMD test

Below I'll attach thumbnails from multiple measurement points, while checking for both THD+N and amplitude, which also gives me bandwidth linearity too. It seems that frequency response is quite flat between 20Hz and 20kHz, with only +/-0.05dB linearity:

20Hz_.jpg32Hz.jpg63Hz_.jpg100Hz.jpg250Hz_.jpg500Hz.jpg1kHz_.jpg4kHz_.jpg8kHz.jpg10kHz_.jpg12.5kHz_.jpg16kHz_.jpg18kHz.jpg20kHz_.jpg


To conclude now, I find the performance of this specific Apple TV A1469 Model as being good enough for decent audio streaming (a SINAD of 102dB). Especially when playing sinewave files directly from an iPhone, the performance of this device is more than acceptable. Despite of a bit lower performance when playing audio sines from the streaming services (a SINAD of 99dB), this may not be related to the Apple TV itself, but to the songs I've used from their libraries. Until I'll be able to find top-notch audio test files listed on audio streaming services I'll keep comparing apples with peaches...well, in a manner of speaking.

For me at least, this Apple TV is a keeper, at least until I'll get a better streamer, although I'm not actively looking to get one...yet :)

Thanks for reading!
 
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I’m not sure why more people don’t consider the Apple TV as a very affordable streamer.

It is a capable 48 kHz 24-bit device.

It is built around a very stable platform in IOS. It supports staying current with apps via auto-updating better than any device built by an audio company ever could.

I think it is a case of people not being aware of its capabilities. People are often surprised to learn you are not limited to Apple proprietary apps. It is a “platform” and can install Spotify and other apps, along with native Apple Music, directly on the device.
 
It probably wouldn't be hard for Apple to enable 24/96, (even 192, though I don't see the point). They could sell a bundle of them. Iphones and ipads can already be used as Hi Res apple music streamers. Many people end up ditching Apple Music because of the hassle of being anchored to your iOS device (unless mobility is a priority).
iPad works with 96/24 files properly, best to use external DAC connected via lightning connector. Apple TV 3 is limited to 48/16.
 
@trl , are your test signals dithered?
Hi Pavel,

Can't remember right now, why do you ask? When not using the default ARTA or REW generators, I fed the ADC with sines grabbed from audiocheck.net or from @Archimago collection (not sure how he generated those sines, but are perfect).
 
iPad works with 96/24 files properly, best to use external DAC connected via lightning connector. Apple TV 3 is limited to 48/16.
Or via a USB adapter or in the modern iPads a USB-C DAC
 
Testing also with Apple Music would have been informative.
I find old Airport Express v2 to sound a little better. I have no idea why. The AE2 also has a decent AKM DAC in it. No need for a small external DAC with AE2 IMO.
You will need it for the ATV3 unless you utilize the DAC in the TV or AVR via HDMI (out to RCA from TV).
 
I’m not sure why more people don’t consider the Apple TV as a very affordable streamer.

It is a capable 48 kHz 24-bit device.

It is built around a very stable platform in IOS. It supports staying current with apps via auto-updating better than any device built by an audio company ever could.

I think it is a case of people not being aware of its capabilities. People are often surprised to learn you are not limited to Apple proprietary apps. It is a “platform” and can install Spotify and other apps, along with native Apple Music, directly on the device.
Biggest problem with Apple TV as a streamer is that the sample rate conversion for all material to 48 kHz is not very good. I would expect a SINAD result for a digital transport at 2023 to be at least 120 dB with 24 bit material.
This is what you get with a WiiM pro and in my opinion, my Apple TV used as a digital transport sounds slightly worse than my Yamaha wxc50, and my Mac with DDC sounds clearly better than both Apple tv and wxc50. This is entirely subjectively, and I have no measurements to back this up.

So for me there is unfortunately an audible difference that makes everything sound slightly less interesting and with less dynamic power from the perceived music with an Apple TV.

I have also compared my Apple AirPort v2 to my Apple TV and the Apple AirPort with digital out sounds slightly better than Apple TV from toslink with 44.1 kHz source material. Apple AirPort dont do any sample rate conversion to 48 kHz so maybe this is the reason.

Apple airport v2 sounds slightly warmer and softer than absolutely neutral as a digital drive , less detailed, compared to the best digital transports like a Linn player.
 
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I use an old Apple TV 2nd gen I must have bought like 12 years ago as a streamer over AirPlay via toslink to my DAC. Sounds fine to me, but I primarily listen to vinyl so I'd rather buy more records than upgrade my streamer. Just waiting for it to shit the bed like the Apple TV 1st gen it replaced.
 
3 takes since i have a 2nd and 3rd gen I've used a lot

1. Resampling to 48k can suck and I prefer keeping airplay bit perfect, and found an airport express sounded better
2. 3rd gen apple tv has a super high noise floor that i couldnt duplicate on the 2nd gen
3. 3rd gen loses lock and drops stream all the time, leading me to think it has worse jitter than the 2nd gen, which has been running without issue. Maybe my 3rd is just marginally faulty? 2nd gen has been rock solid
 
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Biggest problem with Apple TV as a streamer is that the sample rate conversion for all material to 48 kHz is not very good. I would expect a SINAD result for a digital transport at 2023 to be at least 120 dB with 24 bit material.

Kind of an irrelevant point when airplay is limited to 16 bit. One thing is for sure, the AppleTV SRC is good enough to maintain 16 bit fidelity.

Michael
 
what is the best option between:

ATV4k -> HDMI -> DAC
iPhone -> lightning to usb3 -> DAC

thanks

and for those using ATV, do you sometimes have music interruptions (I use my iphone to play music on atv)? Sometimes music just stops and I have to click on 'Play' and it restarts immediately.... As it doesn't happen very often, I didn't really search for a solution. Maybe this would not happen if I use the ATV directly... but I don't like to have my TV screen ON when listening to music!
 
AppleTV to DAC limited to 24bit/48Khz (due HDMI connection)
Iphone to DAC unlimited when using USB cable (usually 192khz).
Would you notice difference between 48Khz and 192khz?
 
Thank you for doing these measurements and confirming what I finally figured out today. I‘ve been trying to get wireless lossless 24 bit volume control over optical or coax Apple Music bits at higher than acc sampling rates. airplay 2 won’t do it without a wire from your iOS device. The ATV A1469 is the only thing I can think of with 2 digital outlets that will. I bet there are lots of these things sitting in closets for no good reason. Nice work and yes, one of my DACs reports 48/24 on the stream over optical, and 256k 16bit if hitting an airplay2 DAC capable of redistribution.
apple is smarter than I am no doubt. I have 3 of them I abandoned years ago. They are back in business in my house .
 
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There are apparently 2 versions of the 3rd gen ATV. A1469, and A1427.

In my systems only the A1469 will light up a DAC with a 24bit stream from Apple Music on iOS via airplay. All other non hdmi ATVs with an optical output will only output 16bit on the optical connection.

These things are 20 bucks on eBay. It’s cheaper than a camera adapter. Any outbound DAC with EQ and pass through gets you past apple music airplay distributed as you please and without hdmi or a dedicated iOS device.

The way these things behave (iOS to ATV airplay), it would appear to me that Apple will change the master on the fly as it streams over airplay as you switch DACs.

24bit and back to 16bit depending on the song, and most of the stuff is labeled 16bit 44.1 on apple music but it’s pulling a 24bit file ?

Sounds great. Is cheap.
 
Any ideas how 2022 3rd gen AppleTv 4K behave? A2843 (Wifi+ethernet) A2737 (Wifi only) models lost Toslink connection. They are HDMI ARC only.
 
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