Apple TV vs. Mini vs, Sonos

I've been reading these forums for a couple weeks trying to figure out the best way to organize a large CD collection (2000 CD's) and to access it wirelessly on two systems. Having a friendly interface for the other family members is important.

At first I was leaning toward a Sonos solution with a NAS attached. Then, I replaced my old IMac with a new one and really like the Front Row feature. I also have an Apple Wi-Fi using Airpport Extreme (the older 801b/g version). Having Front Row available to manage my iTunes library via the video seems like a better solution than Sonos.

He're my questions:

I read that Apple TV won't support web radio. I usually tune in a channel and open it with ITunes, drag it to a Playlist and name it. Whenever I want to listen to it, it's in a playlist. Front Row accesses these easily on the new IMac. I assume they work the same way with Apple TV. Also works for stations accessed through, which gives you 10,000 stations to choose from.

I'm not clear why Apple TV has the built in hard drive. Does your ITunes content have to be on the Apple TV drive or can you access your library stored at another location wirelessly, such as a NAS, via Front Row and the Apple TV?

It seems to me that the simplest solution is to use a NAS to store my collection and add an Apple TV to each system, accessing the library via Wi-Fi and connecting the audio via Toslink to a DAC and the video via composite video. Is there a flaw in my thinking? Is there an advantage to using a mini? There's no place in either installation for another screen.

Any suggestions would be appreciated.
Ag insider logo xs@2xbbopman
I use a modified Squeezebox 2 to outboard dac. This device has access to every audio service that I can think of.
check out the other threads on this site about using macs as a media server. there are some lengthy discussions.
Trying top get up on this myself but was going suggest squeezebox myslef.Also I am trying to think of the reasonably priced cylinder shaped Wifi add on.CNET has some good info on scene and might justify the layout for the Sonos.But lossless sound,cheap DACS (I just read about neat little T-AMP one by co, called King Rex that won award at and cheap HD's make me think it's time to get in.Thought about the Redwine modded stand alone unit from Olive but not sure the control of add on HD's makes sense to lay out close to what a Mac would cost.But you get multiple inputs for USB's,internet,radio,CD and internal HD plus Wifi.What Larry say's about DAC makes sense.If I didn't need so many other upgrades my friend told me about Wavelength USB DAC and said it's superb.But many cheaper options open.
Apple TV doesn't support airtunes, you would use the apple express with airtunes($99 not $299) to supply toslink to a dac. Neither will send usb to a dac. Since you already have an iMac, and airport express at each stereo location (up to four I think) would get you going. It should work very seamlessly- that's what apple is all about.
On Tuesday, a new version of AppleTV will be announced at Macworld - whether it has a hardware update or just software update is anyones guess - the new AppleTv will be able to download movies from Itunes (my guess) this would lead to being able to save data to AppleTV drive that isnt synced with Itunes library - I have my CD's ripped to hard drive and play them thru appleTV where I have my Home Theater set up - it is streamed from my 2 channel room where I have a mac mini running and this works very well
Use an iPod touch to control a laptop with iTunes driving out USB to a USB converter or USB DAC. You can not only do web radio and iTunes downloads, you can do 24/96 hi-res.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Thanks for all the replies. I'm a little confused. 4est says that Apple TV doesn't support Airtunes and that I should use Airport Express. Doesn't sound like what I'm looking for since it sounds like I'd have to control everything from the computer two floors away rather than using the Front Row remote.

On the other hand, Thymanst (and others elsewhere in this forum) say they are using Apple TV to stream wirelessly.

Can someone explain?

Thanks again.
you can use front row with your apple tv. if all you want is music, just use an airport express or if you want more control, use a used mac mini at each location that shares your common itunes library.

if you use airport express units and want to control the mac running itunes, just use leopard's screen sharing pgm or use an iphone or itouch with remote buddy.
I've never tried to stream a internet radio station - just my CD collection that resides on my mac mini (if the internet radio station is a playlist it might work)- The mac mini must be on and itunes open so that Apple TV can stream from it (any computer in the house that has itunes can stream to AppleTV (pc or mac) AppleTV has optical out to my Home theater receiver - I've also been backing up my movies onto hard drive and can stream them to AppleTV also thru Itunes (i use handbrake)
With regard to Apple TV - one reason I went with Sonos (tried a Mac Mini as a music streamer with Airport Express) is because I thought it was ridiculous to turn on a 61" plasma monitor (or any TV) to play music. Why generate the noise, heat and waste the energy.

Sonos' interface and portable controller is so convenient. I even take mine outdoors in summer to control the music in the back yard - no line-of-sight required, since it's Wi-Fi.
you don't need a display with a mac mini and airport express. you can use an iphone or itouch to remote control a mini running itunes. sonos doesn't give you the flexibility that a mini/airport express gives you and sonos cost more.
The sonos is an amplifier also{zp 100}. I use a sonos system for whole house audio. Put the zp100's { i have 3} under the house. I run in ceiling speakers to the units under the house. Wireless and convenient.
Now, i will have a mini for the main rig for hi fi reasons.
Also, the sonos can't play songs you downloaded from itunes. But, i will hook my airport express to a sonos to play those songs.
Thanks for the responses.

Has anyone thought about the new Apple Time Capsule as an alternative NAS device?. Looks like you could set up a second wireless network with one of these and use Apple TV for very little coin (about $730 for a terabyte of memory with an 811.n network plus an Apple TV)

Plus, it looks like Apple has upgraded the Tv and dropped its price.

Too many choices!

i wouldn't use time capsule for whole house repository unless you partition the disk so you will not run out of space. time machine will always use all the disk that you give it. my hard drive that i use for time machine filled up over a month ago. now what it does is drop off old files only keeping the most current. if the drive is full and you want to rip cd's or movies to this disk, you will get a disk is full error. plus you want to backup your audio/video library to time capsule so you want to store all of your computer data as well as your music and movies on a separate disk
Another option for Apple TV display is to use a small LCD monitor w/ DVI/HDCP monitor. Then take a HDMI->DVI output.

If video feature is needed sometimes, get a HDMI/DVI splitter. One goes to TV and one goes the monitor.

Sonos has a product but the price tag is just a bit too high. If it's 50% less, I would bought it long ago. Most of the media streamer now runs at $200-$400 price tag and all have HD video at the same time.
I tried a Mac mini, and I'm thinking of playing with Apple TV as well, but I went with Sonos because, among other things, I don't have a TV available in every location I have a Sonos system and, where I do, it seems silly to run a 50" and 61" Plasma TV to play music (expecially since the TV is a significant source of electrical noise, and uses a lot of energy).

The Sonos hand-held and computer interfaces are just too convenient, and I haven't seen a better alternative.

I can even lay in my hammock and control the Sonos system in my back yard.
i can do the same thing with my ipod touch. i can be anywhere in my house and control my mac with itunes. plus, i can surf the web, answer emails, play games, etc... on the ipod touch.
Thanks to all who replied. I ended up going the Apple TV route and couldn't be happier. I am now looking for an appropriate DAC.

Question to Rbstehno: Can you elaborate a little on how to use and Ipod Touch as a control device? Sounds like the ideal solution for my second system.

get remote buddy for the touch from a company iospirit. it allows you to take control over the mac with itunes on it and you can use cover flow and turn on which speakers you want to listen to.
Thanks Rbstehno. A point of clarification. Will Remote Buddy work to control an Apple TV or must I use a Mac Mini? I am considering a second system with no HD TV attached. Can I just use another Apple TV or should I go with a Mac Mini? My 1500 CD Apple Lossless files reside on a HD plugged into my iMac which I now access over my Airport Extreme Wi-Fi network.

Thanks again.
i don't think so. the apple tv is not a computer (unless you hack it) and remote buddy has software that needs to run on a mac.

why do you need another system? just have your 1500 cd's stored on your imac. you can distribute the music over many airport express devices or 1 or many apple tv's. if you wanted different sources playing in different rooms, then you would need an apple tv or a mac mini. then remote buddy can control different macs in your house.
Thanks Rbstehno. Maybe I am confused about Remote Buddy. My CD's reside on a 1T HD attached to my imac. My "secondary" system (actually pretty nice: a Magnum Dynalab receiver, EPOS speakers, Sony SACD player, ROKU Soundbridge, Proceed DAC) is a floor away from my imac. I don't mind having the imac on all the time. If I understand you correctly, I could just use Airport Express (I have a new one in the box somewhere) to distribute music to the DAC via Toslink and control it with an Ipod Touch or Iphone using Remote Buddy.

Thanks for taking time to reply.
all you have to do is hookup the airport express next to your second system, then from to imac, configure the airport express and name it "2nd system", or "rec room" or something unique. then when you want to play from itunes to this 2nd system, at the bottom of itunes, there is a pull down to allow you to pick which rooms or all rooms you want to distribute the music. in itunes, under preferences-advanced, make sure you click the button to have itunes look for remote speakers connected with airtunes. you can also share multiple itunes if you have multiple computers setup. doing it this way, you listen to the same itunes selection in all rooms you have setup. if you want multi-source from each room, you can setup a mac mini in each room all sharing the 1 large itunes repository from your imac and each room could have different music/radio playing. then remote buddy can control the computer you want your music to come from.
also, it doesn't hurt having your imac all all the time. all my macs are on all the time. they go to sleep after a certain period of time, but they will wake up when you prompt them. if you are nervous about running the imac all the time, get a cheap mac mini (older g4 for example) to run your itunes connected to a NAS.
good luck!
Thanks Rbstehno. I appreciate your reply. I have learned a lot from your various posts in many different threads. Very nice of you to share your knopwledge with newbies such as my self.

Best regards. I'll let you know how it all works out.
Is there any sonic advantage to AppleTV v. Squeezebox/Duet if you're feeding and external DAC? Does one setup have more reliability/stability when streaming over your network?
any of these devices will connect to an external dac but i wouldn't connect straight from any of these devices to an external dac without going thru a jitter reduction/eliminator device. apple tv gives you much more functionality than the squeezebox (video), but for audio only, both units give you the option of using analog outputs to a receiver/preamp or using the toslink to a jitter device/dac and the squeezebox adds a coax output which is normally preferred connection if going straight to an external dac.

apple tv allows wireless 802.11n and the squeezebox uses 802.11g, the apple tv can network up to 300mbps vs squeezebox 54mbps, and the wireless coverage using 802.11n is much wider.
I love my Apple TV. I haven't thought about cleaning up the signal, but it's so convenient for the second zone of my house and playing compilations, it's also the reason I haven't bought a BluRay player yet. The firmware/software upgrades they continue to make, lead me to assume I won't need to ever get a BluRay player to enjoy HD movies.

So what is the suggestion for a DAC/Jitter reducer for this?
there are many: audio alchemy dti, monarchy audio dip, genesis digital lens, and others. then you go into a good external dac with either a digital coax or toslink cable (stay away from usb dacs) and you will be on your way to a nice sounding setup.
I have an Apple TV loaded with 3000 lossless songs going into a TADAC with a Wireworld toslink cable and the sound is great. The TADAC (Tube Dac/Preamp) runs into my Wyred for Sound power amp. I'm sure an anti jitter device would help but this is the best sound I have ever had. PS Audio will be coming out with a new version of the Digital Lens later this year for $1000, and I intend to pick one up. But the truth is the sound is already excellent. I am using my 50 inch plasma as my monitor although I had considered the small computer monitor previously suggested. But I was able to put 2000 pictures on my Apple TV that I had got from Webshots, so it is really great to have the music on and the Apple TV showing the pictures at the same time.
Most of the jitter reduction products are using 90's digital technology and are a bit long in the tooth for use with data extracted CD's ... "computer audio". I have owned or tried just about every one of these products that have come down the pipe, and IMNSHO, they are mere toys when compared to the latest development from Empirical Audio called the Pace Car.

I have been using a Pace Car for about 1 year now, it is set up for Airport Express and Apple TV. (See Empirical Audio's website for details). The sound is nothing short of astonishing, right up there with my Reel to Reel and Analog Rig! With the use of Computer Audio & Pace Car, CD spinners are now left in the dust!!! (My $5K transport is now relegated to ballast duty on my rack).

This is ironic, because up until a year ago when the Pace Car arrived, I was of the strong opinion that my highly modified transport and DAC was superior to any flavor of the "computer audio" digital solutions. While I have softened my stance in light of a few recent USB devices that sound quite excellent. IMHO my Pace Car & DAC deliver more resolution to my ear/brain interface than even the latest greatest USB Dac's.

For more "digital" perspective, I am also of the opinion that you rip and playback digital music files in their native language. If they are recorded at 44/16, leave them alone, rip the file and play it back at 44/16. In other words don't use any sort of lossless ripping or upsampling of the files on playback. The less you mess with the data … the better it sounds!

Take from this what you will but "perfect sound forever" has finally arrived ... that is once you properly dispose of "the plastic" from your CD's!!!!!

drbe, i wouldn't call all jitter devices outside of the pace car mere toys. its cool if you like your pace car, but don't put everything else down. i could easily say the genesis digital lens blows away the pace car, but i won't. it's all a matter of opinion. also, when you state most jitter devices are using 90's technology, you need to state your proof? some of the companies were making these devices in the 80's, 90's, and even in business today and some devices are better than others. as for your $5k transport, you need to state what transport you have/had to get a perspective on how the 2 compare. i think we will be working on perfecting the source equipment for many years to come so i don't think we have the perfect anything yet.

i do agree with some of your statements that a good music server setup (jitter device, external dacs with coax or aes or glass inputs with good quality cables) can equal or better most of the cd players out there.
Rbstehno - drbe is quite correct that the clocks used in these older devices are just not up to the standards of more modern clocks. The jitter is much lower in both recent monolothic SMT oscillators and in modules like the Superclock4. There was not even a Superclock1 existing when the Big Ben was designed. I've modded the Big Ben BTW to install Superclock and other mods (as well as the Monarchy DIP), so I'm familiar with it.

Steve N.
I took a look at the Pace Car webpage, and maybe I'm dumb (very possible), but I cant' figure out which iteration I'd need to connect my Apple Tv (via optical cable) > Pace Car > DAC (preferably via digital coax; I've ordered a Cullen modified PS Audio DL 3 DAC). The page references Airtunes, but not ATV (from my recollection). Even though the DL 3 supposedly "re-clocks", I know I'm also interested in PS Audios Digital Lens when it gets released.
Cubbie5150 - to answer your question, the AirPort Express and the Apple TV are handled the same. The Pace-Car is "tuned" to both. In fact most of the AE's and Apple TV's both work with the same tuning, but there is an exception once in a while that needs a different tuning.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Has anyone seriously compared AppleTV's digital vs analog output? I am pretty happy with AppleTV's analog output so far. Here's my equipment:

Amp: NAD M3 integrated amp: a wonderful piece of equipment, built like a tank with enough, but not too many, features to be flexible. The NAD replaced my Cary SLI-80 Signature a few months ago. Before the Cary, I had the Plinius 8200.

Speakers: Diapason Adamantes III (very nice mini monitors from Italy). Speaker cables are 10 gauge no name cables.

Sub: Von Schweiker VR-S1 powered sub.

My other digital source: Denon DVD-3910, analog section upgraded by Roger Sheker. Interconnects are Signal Cable Silver Resolution.

The AppleTV audio output is fed into the amp via AppleTV's analog output. I use regular interconnects I dug out from my garage.

So how does the AppleTV sound compared to my Denon? The Denon might be a bit warmer sounding than the AppleTV, but the AppleTV sounded very detailed and lively. I can live very happily without touching the Denon much these days. The only time I needed the Denon was when I needed to play SACD or DVD-Audio discs. Oh yeah, also when I watched DVD movies.

Oh, I can now control my music playing from any room using my new iPhone 3G.

PS Audio's latest newsletter has quite a good discussion of all of this. Paul is very high on the Apple TV controlled via the iPod Touch. Such a setup requires that your main iTunes library reside on another Mac, I believe. And you synch the ATV with that other library. Is this correct? With ATV, you can't add storage, so you are limited to the size of its internal hard drive as far as your accessible library is concerned, as I understand it. Bummer.

In the August TAS, Steven Stone's article on this subject contains the following statement: "Even the 160GB version [of Apple TV] is on the small side if you intend to assemble a library of more than 2500 uncompressed CDs." His math is off by a factor of 10. 160GB will hold closer to 250 CDs uncompressed or 400-500 with Apple Lossless, which is far too few. So how does one use Apple TV with a large CD collection?

And where was Editor Robert Harley when that egregious mistake slipped through?
i create smaller subsets called playlist. then i can sync to my different devices to these playlist depending on how big the devices are.
Let me pose this question to the group:

I want my iTunes workstation (where I rip CDs) to be a computer in another part
of the house from where my stereo is.

I know I can use SlimServer and the Slim Devices products as a way to interface
to my iTunes library. But what if I want the interface to be iTunes itself? I think
the iPod Touch is the answer. But If I use an iPod Touch to access the iTunes
workstation on the network, what's the best way to get the music to stream to
my stereo? Airport Express near the stereo, right? But is this solution going to
get me the best sound, or will I get better results if I find a way to co-locate the
iTunes computer (or some computer, or Apple TV) with the stereo?

I hope this all makes sense. These topology issues drive me nuts!
I have my iMac in one room connected wirelessly to an Airport Extreme base station. My music files (400GB, 1400 CD's, Apple Lossless) are in a hardrive attached to the iMac. I have an Apple TV connected to my HD television via HDMI cable, with the speakers in the TV turned off, and analogue audio output from the Apple TV routed into my Rogue preamp using Synergistic cables. I plan to either go with a DAC attached to the Apple TV via Toslink, or switch the Rougue out for a Benchmark DAC 1 Pre preamp.

As of this weekend, I can control the whole thing using an Apple iPod Touch with the newly released "Remote" application. I can also access Pandora by using a docking station connected to my second system with a mini to RCA cable.

All in all, I am very happy so far, and will be even more so once I get a DAC installed, although the RCA output is pretty good to my ears, as well as to others in this forum.

Good luck.
Bpopman, what is the relationship between the music files on the drive connected to your iMac and the Apple TV?
Drubin: I am not sure I understand your question, but here is what I have done and it works fine. The Apple TV comes in two versions, one with a 40GB hard drive and the other with 160. If these capacities are sufficient, you can "sync" the Apple TV to your iTunes library and it essentially copies your music files over to the Apple TV (as duplcate files, so the originals are not affected). One can then play the files off the Apple TV without having the computer on (or so I am told).

In my case, because my music files were so much larger than the capacity of the Apple TV, I did't sync them. Instead, the Apple TV accesses the files on the HD attached to the iMac over the Wifi network which streams them to the Apple TV. The downside (not an issue for me) is that the iMac has to remain on.

I hope this answers your question and is of some help.

Regards and best of luck!
PS: I have a question for the group as well: Has anyone tried to install the Apple TV without hooking it up to a HD television? I bought a second one over the weekend for my second system which dosn't have room for any sort of TV or monitor. Can I take the Apple TV out of my first stsyem ( i.e. unplug it and move it and still have it work when it is "reinstalled") and then take the new one and go through the usual installation procedure?
Bbopman -- thank you, you did answer my question. So you use the Apple TV for streaming instead of storing your music library. Is there an advantage to using it in that way compared to using the less-expensive Airport Express?
I like using the Apple TV for a number of reasons. In my main rig where I also have a 60" Sony LCD TV, I can view my photographs from iPhoto as well as YouTube. There are some very cool older TV spots featuring jazz and blues greats. The screen saver feature can be set to either show your photos or your album covers floating radnomly in space. I haven't used Airport Express, but as I understand it, even using the Touch to control it, you have a more limited ability to search your library. Using Apple TV, you can search genres and songs as wells as artists and albums which I can't seem to do using Touch. Maybe I just haven't worked through it completely though since I only bought the Touch on Saturday. I haven't used it to rent movies, but that is an option also. Since I am only streaming, I went with the 40 GB model which is only about $229. I plan to continue to mainly use the remote that came with the Apple TV.
Are you tuning in to Pandora on your ITouch and then docking the ITouch to play Pandora through your system?
I didn't quite understand that part and am interested.
That's the way it's working. I downloaded the Pandora software application from the iTunes store. I already had a Pandora account set up, so the Touch instantly accessed the account. I tune in the station I want to listen to, stick the Touch in the dock and its good to go. I had been struggling thinking I needed to go with Squeezebox or Sonos in order to get Pandora, which I love. Maybe not the best fidelity, but it's probably no worse that a stock Squeezebox or Sonos.

If anyone else has any ideas about how to do this, I would be very interested. I've thought about an Airport Express. If I understand it, it streams whatever is playing on your computer, so I guess one could use the Touch to access the main computer and direct the stream to an AE. Any other ideas?

I'd love to know if you can tune in an Itouch to Pandora and then place it in a Wadia iTransport and pass the digital signal to an external dac. Anyone know if this would work or could give this a try?
For AppleTV,

If you don't have a TV in the room, another option is hook up a small 19" LCD monitor with DVI input. Just need a short HDMI-> DVI cable.

For external storage, it's possible to hook up a larger drive directly to AppleTV but it will require some hacking. I think it's actually better to have that noisy drive elsewhere in the house. A 1TB drive is only $150-$200. Put 2-4 in a cheap PC acting as RAID server running itune and you are all set. Yes AppleTV also works with PC based Itune.

160 GB -> ~400 CDs. 2 TB for ~$600 -> ~5000 CDs. Should be big enough for most people.

So figure about $250 for Apple TV and another $600 for an older PC w/ RAID connections. Add a monitor for $150. There is a music server for 5000 CDs for less than $1000.
Just a quick FYI. There is a very good article on using the Apple TV as a music server in the July, 2008 newsletter found on the PS Audio web site. I hope this is helpful to those getting started. It pretty much sums up what has been discussed in this thread.
For those that have Sonos, there's now a controller app for iTouch / iPhone. Simply simple and killer. I'll be sitting in my living room listening to my music while you continue to discuss airport / mini setups!