is there audio quality difference between the airport extreme and Apple TV

I want to bring the iTunes library to my stereo, and googling on this there were a number of posts that suggested that Airport Extreme had better decoding for CD quality audio then did the AppleTV. All the iTunes files are of course digital, and I am intending to use the optical output of either the Airport Express or AppleTV.

To really hear a difference I would need to do an A/B test of one against the other - which I do not intend to do, but I do have a very high end system so when things are not as they should be there is no hiding it.

I don't need the AppleTV right now for the theater setting - so video streaming ability would be on hold there, for now but likely added sometime in the next year or so.

It's really a matter of which device is going to be better for delivering the iTunes music library to the stereo system. Why there would be a different between the Airport Extreme and the AppleTV is not clear to me. The limiting source would seem to be the bit rate of the files in iTunes - but perhaps I am missing something. Perhaps there is a difference in DA converters - though that too would seem strange, but with the use of the Digital Optical Out I would think that there should be no difference.

But certainly better to know about it before I buy the device and get it set up - appreciate any thoughts and suggestions.

AirPort Express

AirPort Express

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2 Answers from the Community

  • Best Answer:

    I just got an ATV 3rd Gen and experimented with it's TOSLink audio out compared to the optical out of the Express. My Moon Simaudio amp indicates that it's receiving an input from the ATV at 48KHz compared to 44.1KHz from the Express. Given this is a higher sample rate, you might expect some benefit but as far as I'm aware, it'll depend on a number of factors such as the integrity of the digital signal (incl. error correction capability) from the source i.e your Mac, over your wireless network to when it enters the digital input (Toslink, SPDIF etc) of your amp. Then there is the issue of the quality of the DAC in your amp or separate DAC unit. After all, a high quality DAC will over sample sufficiently and deal with other digital artefacts to minimise noise etc etc and not suffer the effects of a steep LP filter.

    If anyone else with an audio engineering/digital audio background can explain further then that would be great! I can't help but think that there is a lot of unnecessary myth and confusion created in the digital domain (esp optical) I.e applying techniques to preserve the integrity of analogue signals carried over copper/silver to those in the optical digital domain. Why? How is a digital optical signal adversely affected by electromagnetic interference and in any case, even if it were, aren't errors corrected?
    Just a thought and would love to hear from others.

  • (This is an old post, but in case some anyone is still interested, here is the answer)

    For most standard audio songs, especially originally from CDs, the format are 44.1kHz 16 bits even if they are in AAC/MP3.

    Most Videos, DVDs or Bluerays are 48kHz/96kHz/192kHz 16 or greater bits.

    So, if you are using iTunes for audio, the AE is the best choice AE only puts out 44.1kHz 16 bits.

    ATV are geared to be connected to TVs and Home theater system via HMDI, so that is a better match. If you are streaming movies, the ATV is the better choice. ATV on TOS link only puts out 48 kHz 16 bit for audio.

    In both case, if you stream the other format, it will perform a conversion, but it will results in some artifacts especially to or from 44.1 tand 48. High sampling rates to 44.1 kHz is not as noticeable.

    Now if you connect a Mac laptop via TOS link directly, there it can handle both if you equipment can handle it. I am using a laptop directly and outputting 24bits for 16 bit sources so I can use the iTunes volume control using the remote, my stereo has no volume control. Using AE, you should not use the volume control in iTunes since it will divide the 16 bit value to reduce the volume.

    If you migrate to high definition audio, use the laptop instead of the AE or ATV.