Apple TV Streaming Sound Quality vs Streamer?


I am looking for the weak link to improve sound quality.   Seems logical it is the Apple TV as a source.  Would a moderate streamer inside of $1500 make much of a difference when streaming Tidal and the like?  

Current Equipment:
Speaker: Dali Euphonia MS-4
AMP: Modwright KWA 150 SE
Preamp/ DAC: Peachtree Grand Integrated
Source: Tidal / Apple TV
puffbojie
I would say yes. 

ATV does not support 24 bit streams and resamples everything to 48 khz so it is not a "bit perfect" device. This in itself doesn't mean that it doesn't sound good, but it leaves room for improvement especially considering your paying for Tidal. Additionally you can improve general usability by getting into a prettier and more robust streaming GUI. 

The BlueSound Node or Auralic Aries Mini would be good places to start looking and both are under $500. Alternatively, you could swap out your Peachtree integrated amp for a true preamp that incorporates this type of functionality. This could further improve usability by folding proper volume control into the same app.  

If you are committed to going further upmarket, You could take a look at Roon as a front end. This would allow you to use a network audio adapter like a sonore microrendu or SotM device. Even the BlueSound and Auralic gear would  allow for this. Roon opens the door to a world of cool functionality and nearly infinite flexibility. 

It really depends on what you want to do and your predisposition for tinkering and upgrading. You have some very nice gear. 

I would dip your toe in the water and have fun with it. Streaming is the best thing to happen to high end audio in years. 

 
Robr45 makes some good points.

The Apple TV is a great device and can sound wonderful when connected to a well designed system, but because of how it samples/clocks, a dedicated AirPlay source/stream can sound better when properly implemented.

I mention AirPlay because it’s a high quality (bit perfect) transport/network source that is integrated into all of Apple’s operating systems and applications.  You can use Tidel directly into a nice AirPlay/DAC if you use Apple Mac or iOS (iPhone/iPad).

If you move away from the Apple TV interface, how would you prefer to control your music?
Sorry if this a bit off topic, but out of curiosity, how do you stream Tidal through the Apple TV box and what connection and how do you mange/view the Tidal music content?
@Kalali -With an Apple mobile device or computer, you basically just hit play and then choose the Apple TV box to send the music to.  Per robr45, it is truly one of the main reasons I listen to music as much as I do.  It changes so much about what you can experience in listening sessions.  -*Even though it may hamper the sound quality to some degree. 
This means you are already using Apple AirPlay.  As I mentioned, there are better AirPlay sources than the Apple TV, especially for music.  The network can also make a difference.
Apple TV streaming sounds really poor. I was excited to get the Tidal app on it but it just sounds poor via hdmi into an Arcam AVR 850. Ok for tv but not for audio. 
Apple TV with the Tidal app sounds fantastic IMO.

Tidal is only CD quality after all.

I use the Sony TV optical digital out to a Gungnir Multibit D/A converter into my audio system and get great TV, BluRay, and audio playback from my iMac SSD.
Curious why you say Tidal is only cd quality after all?
Or are you of the opinion, as some are, that the MQA titles do not offer any improvement over 16/44 redbook content?
Just my 2 cents but I can hear a considerable difference on some MQA titles compared to the "regular" 16/44 stream offered on Tidal.
But a lot of that could be the rest of my system, who knows?
ATV Gen 3 doesn't TIDAL APP. Gen has Tidal but without optical out. You would need a good DAC to sound better from ATV.
Imo-A cd in my $200 lg blue ray player sounds much better than the Tidal. This is what sparked my feeling that the source was the weakest link. Is a cd always better than streaming? I ask because I think I would be satisfied if a streamer could offer a similar sound quality. 
MQA is 14.4khz just like CD

The quality deference is in the mastering and not anything else IMO.

Sometimes it sounds better, sometimes worse.

Mastering from the original source is the most important factor in SQ! And with streaming and downloads the provenance is never certain, compared to LP's and CD's! Authenticity is given up for convenience! A bad bargain, indeed!
Stick to hard media like LP's and CD's for the best SQ!
On most MQA contents my DAC shows 96 and sometimes 192 rates. And they do sound better than the same music when played using my CD player through the same DAC. The rest of the system is a constant.
So streaming can sound better than CD and in my system does most of the time.

You could replace the ATV with another streamer, but it will have high jitter just like the ATV.

Jitter is the thing that you must reduce, the thing that most digital audio suffers from.

The Synchro-Mesh will reduce jitter to 8 psec and you can have 44.1, 48 or 96 for output, your choice. Most DAC’s sound best with 96.

Here are some jitter measurements, before and after the Synchro-Mesh:

https://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=154310.0

https://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=154408.0

There are no streamers that will deliver 8psec of jitter at the end of a coax cable. The only way to get there is the Synchro-Mesh.  Cheaper than buying another streamer.  If anything, get a Sonos Connect and reclock it with a Synchro-Mesh.

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

Steve from Empirical:

Does the Synchro-Mesh improve the optical out of most TVs, especially Sony?

Does the Synchro-Mesh improve the optical out of the Apple AirPort Express (sadly becoming legacy)?

Do you know of a high quality AirPlay streamer (source only) that can take the place of, or improve upon, the AirPort Express?
I use an Apple TV with an optical out into my DAC.  I also have several Airport Express devices (with optical out) that I can use.   I cannot tell the difference between the bit-perfect Airport Express (16/44.1) and the upsampled Apple TV (16/48).  In my casual testing, the sound quality of either apple device equals the sound quality of the CD I ripped the files from.  As long as I'm not concerned about high res (higher than redbook) or "fully unfolded" MQA I am completely satisfied with the sound quality.

I guess I don't have the gilded ears (or revealing enough system) to hear jitter.  As much as I have obsessed over this, I have come to the conclusion if I cannot hear it (including long listening sessions), I won't worry about it.  My observations match other observers who have written about this on the internet.  I'm sure that somewhere along the line, it makes a difference.  That said, I do think I notice a difference between USB and SPDF (at least with my equipment).  After much listening I prefer the SPDF connections over USB.  Before I invest in a Remedy reclocker or USB "Decrapifier", I think it's more likely I'll move to a Micro Rendu (or something similar), or an asynchronous USB input DAC (lots of upgrade options here, and more hitting the market every day).

Note that the newer Apple TV and AEX units do not have SPDF out.  Plenty of older models of both available on the used market for around $50 or less.
As an adjunct to what I wrote previously, I must admit that I do enjoy Tidal MQA when running directly from a Mac mini>DAC (no AEX or Apple TV).  It's my opinion that most of the difference is in the mastering.  When I switch over to the AEX (limited to 16/44.1) and play the same Tidal files, I think it sounds the same.  When I compare the same Tidal tracks to an older CD (different mastering), I notice a difference.

I have the same experience when I listen to hi-res files (direct to the DAC from the Mac Mini) vs. the same files streamed through the AEX or Apple TV (downsampled to 16/44.1).  I just thank my lucky stars that either my ears aren't good enough or that my system is not revealing enough to merit worrying about anything higher than 16/44.1!

Apple device > DAC (I have several, my current favorite is Schiit's Bifrost multibit) > Odyssey Candela pre-amp > Odyssey Khartego power amp > Harbeth P3esr speakers.  Also have desktop system with Audioengine DAC and A2 speakers, and a headphone system consisting of AEX > Schiit Modi Multibit DAC > Schiit Vali amp > Senn 650 or Grado SR325e.  I probably notice the difference between file types most with headphones (no pesky room acoustics to deal with).

Full disclosure:  when I really want to raise the hairs on my neck, I play records (another discussion)!
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Kahlenz: I agree with your assessment.  Both, the AEX and ATV, can sound excellent when using a nice DAC processor.  I also enjoy and prefer spinning vinyl sometimes.  It’s a great time to be a music listener!


You have a wonderful system, I bet your Harbeth speakers sounds amazing.  They are one of my favorites.

I tried the Apple TV for the first time for music streaming from Tidal in my bedroom system and I think my Chromecast Audio ($35) is a better option as a budget streamer. I think it sounds a little better through the same DAC, is more compact, is cheaper, and is just a bit easier to select on the phone/tablet. Of course its audio only. It does need a mini-optical to optical cable which may not be as useful in other systems.
Ditch the Apple TV for Tidal and use an older Mac mini. HDMI out to the TV for the video, USB DAC of your choice. Set the correct output device via the MIDI settings. I'd keep the ATV for the video content just route the TVs digital output to a proper DAC. Could even use the same DAC you have for Tidal if it has switchable inputs.  

***buy an old Mac mini off ebay or wherever. You do not need a new one. I have a 2012 model with a busted ethernet card so I know you can easily stream MQA masters via wi-fi. 
puffbojie:  I have not been able to get streamed hi-res files to sound anywhere near as good as my CDs and LPs. I really wish that wasn't the case. I have a great MF dac, and a good asynchronous MF V-link to get the files to the dac from my computer. But the hi-res sounds flat and very little sound-stage.
Whereas the CDs sound almost as good as my vinyl. Different, but almost as good. Very large. accurate. sound-stage. Great vocals etc.

Dave 
Steve from Empirical:

Does the Synchro-Mesh improve the optical out of most TVs, especially Sony?


If it's PCM, the answer is yes.  If it's Dolby Pro-logic or Dolby Digital, you need the iFi SPDIF iPurifier.


Does the Synchro-Mesh improve the optical out of the Apple AirPort Express (sadly becoming legacy)?


Absolutely.  You would go optical into the SM and coax out to the DAC.


Do you know of a high quality AirPlay streamer (source only) that can take the place of, or improve upon, the AirPort Express?

To get a higher quality streamer, you will need to change to DLNA/UPnP renderer like the Empirical Audio Interchange or the Sonos Connect with Synchro-Mesh.

The Interchange will play up to 24/192

The Sonos Connect will play only 44.1

Interchange will deliver 10-12 psec of jitter at all supported sample-rates from these outputs: S/PDIF coax, AES/EBU, I2S SE, differential I2S on HDMI connector.

https://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=156409.0

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

 I have not been able to get streamed hi-res files to sound anywhere near as good as my CDs and LPs. I really wish that wasn't the case.

The streamer you use and the playback software is the usual culprit, but also FLAC encoding will never sound as good as .wav files, like the CD playback.

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

I guess I don't have the gilded ears (or revealing enough system) to hear jitter.  As much as I have obsessed over this, I have come to the conclusion if I cannot hear it (including long listening sessions), I won't worry about it.

There must be something else holding your system back if you don't hear the benefits of lower jitter.  Active preamps are the usual culprit.

The uRendu is a good choice BTW, but I have gotten away from USB after designing 6 generations of it.  Ethernet is easier to make stellar.

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

Steve N (and anyone else with streaming experience):  Thanks for the info, Steve, I've been trying to decide whether to expand my CD collection (which can be very affordable right now), or begin streaming, where there is unlimited music available.
The issue is that I like a large, room-filling, sound-stage, with good detail in the instruments/vocals, and so far, CDs and LPs are the only sources that have provided that for me.
And from what you are saying; even with a leading streaming service, and a good playback software, it's still not going to be as good as my CDs.
Would one of the new DSs help? The good ones are kinda pricey, tho.

Dave  

Streaming is FLAC files so far, so it will never be quite as good as wav files.  The difference I hear with wav files is soundstage and high-frequency reflections off the venue.  Whether you will hear this difference depends on your system.

I personally like owning my content rather than renting it, however it is nice to have access to a lot of new material.

If you stay with a transport and DAC, at least lower the jitter by adding a good reclocker in the coax cable, like the Synchro-Mesh.  8psec of measured jitter.

If you go with a streamer, it is critically important to get low jitter.  The kind of imaging and soundstage you are wanting has everything to do with extremely low jitter.

Here is a renderer that gets you to ~10psec at all sample-rates from 44.1-192:

https://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=156409.0

See the plots at the end of the posts.  If you find one that achieves lower than this at the end of a 4 foot coax cable, I'd like to know about it.

thanks,

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

ATV is a great streamer for 16/44 (48). 
Recently added the Cambridge CXN V2 streamer:
https://www.cambridgeaudio.com/usa/en/products/cx/cxn-v2

I'm playing back via Tidal and have been pleasantly surpised at the sound quality.  I mainly listen to LPs, but wanted to have access to the extensive libraries available on TIDAL.  

Equipment:
Integrated Amp: Belles Aria
Speakers: B&W 705 S2
Turntable: Clearaudio with Ortofon 2m Black
Steve N:  I agree with your assessment regarding my apparent inability to distinguish between "hearing jitter" and "not hearing jitter".  If "less jitter" means more accurate spatial clues, then I may have quite a way to go with my room acoustics before I can appreciate lower jitter levels.   I am also curious about going direct from DAC to amp.

It is also entirely possible I simply have not experienced "low jitter" playback.  All of my experimenting with digital playback has involved either a Mac>optical out>DAC or an AEX/ATV>optical out>DAC.

Any suggestions for a cheap "low jitter" solution?
Maybe someone should design a high quality AirPlay DAC....?  Hmmmm....

What are some of you using, planning to use, to replace the AirPort Express?  For those of you using AirPlay only and don’t want/need additional features.

Allan
www.In-Tone.com
This thread has been an interesting read. I currently have my Appletv hooked up via HDMI to my Oppo105D (to use its DAC) and it sounds like I could have a better quality experience if I used a different streamer? 

Will I even notice the difference if it were a Blunode hooked up to the Oppo? 

Personally it sounds pretty good to me but I'm curious as I do not have something to compare against. 
I have no experience with the DAC in the Oppo but I’ve found streaming Tidal through Chromecast Audio ($35) had better sound quality as compared to the AppleTV. My comparison was running both through a Schiit Modi Multibit ($250). I used the optical connection in both cases. I also tried the same comparison with my Bluesound Node2 from my other system and Node2 was better than the Chromecast Audio but not by an order of magnitude. However, the user interface and the access to options from the Node2 are significantly better and much more robust. You may want to try the optical port since HDMI connection to got audio content is less ideal than coax/optical.
I replaced my ATV with a dedicated Innuos server over ethernet- this was as large a difference as a preamplifier change. YMMV.


"Any suggestions for a cheap "low jitter" solution?"

You could try the iFi SPDIF iPurifier for $150 on Amazon.  Not as good as the Synchro-Mesh reclocker, but you can always return it for refund.

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

ATV for video streaming is sufficient good. But for HDMI to DAC, not that good. Too bad ATV4 eliminate the optic out.
@kahlenz  Could you list the DACs you've had success with pairing with the Airport Express?

I've tried a couple different DACs (Marantz PM6005, Arcam irDAC) but had to move them after they would not maintain a 'lock' on the signal.  The only one that's worked for me is the FiiO D3.

Thanks!
Hello and thank you for all your feedback on this topic. :).
In keeping it simple, does anyone has any recommendation on a simple cable that can be purchased to hook up the ATV4 via HDMI out to my Canary KD2000  Dac, preferably USB as it supports all music files, as well as  DSD64 and 128....
If USB is not an option, AES/XLR or Coax works just as well. I think....
Thanks 
HP

It doesn’t take much to better ATV sonically, and you don’t need to spend more than $500, the price of the Bluesound Node2i
AppleTV resampling to 48k makes highs sound tizzy. It doesn’t sound good. Do yourself a favor and get a decent streamer, like a Blusound Node 2/2i as others have suggested. If you’re going to use an external DAC and don’t need the enhanced wifi of the 2i, save a few bucks and get the Node 2. Node 2i DAC section sounds better than the older Node 2, and the wifi is faster.

I'm using ethernet connect my Node 2, and also using an external DAC so only need the streaming features. Don't need the enhanced wifi and don't plan on using the internal DAC so I went with the older Node 2 and saved $175.
Does anyone know if the node2i will bypass it’s own dac and serve to my Benchmark dac?
Supposedly the main change in the Node2i vs the N2 is enhanced WiFi.  It should still have the same digital outs and therefore connect to any DAC
"Does anyone know if the node2i will bypass it’s own dac and serve to my Benchmark dac?"

Yes, except you'll not get the MQA treatment through Benchmark. 
There are some streamer products in the $700-$800 range such as cocktail, marantz, Cambridge and others that offer additional functionality etc.  Are these good options in terms of comparable sound quality as the node? Any in particular as you go up the price scale slightly?
I would get the Node 2 used. If you decide you want to upgrade you'll pretty much make your money back when you sell it. The next step up price wise if the Auralic Aries, but it is limited to Apple devices for remote control and from what I've read it only sounds better than the Node 2/2i if you splurge for the better power supply which significantly increases the price to ~4x that of a used Node 2.
Ok. Thank you all.

Jeenam55 - You mentioned Auralic Aries, it supports dsd up to 256. Good option. G1 is the latest version which supports 512. Thumb's up :) either one is better than ATV. 
My KD-2000 supports 64/128. Is there another component you know of that can be used to downgrade dsd 256/512 to 128?
No idea regarding DSD capabilities. I've never heard a single piece of music that was DSD encoded. I have a Job Integrated amp that can decode DSD128, but I do not have any DSD encoded music to give it a try.
Are there any streamers in which you have the option of plugging your iPhone or iPad (wired) into a usb plug and play?  If so, might this sound better than streaming wirelessly?