Can a apple airport express be part of a audiophile system?


Hi, I am curious as to who uses the airport express in their system and how the experience compares to a cd player or high end music server. What I like about the airport express is the price and ease of use with itunes. I am worried however about the audio quality since I have read about people experiencing delays, dropouts, and the newest model having unacceptable jitter. I have also looked at the Sony Hap S1 and Aurelic Aries Mini as high end options but the price and usability scares me off. Thoughts?
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I’m using AE with Benchmark DAC1. AE has respectable 258ps jitter on the Toslink out but is 10 times worse on analog outs.

http://www.stereophile.com/digitalprocessors/505apple/#ZkLWsVXP8lfdo196.97

I cannot tell how audible 258ps is (My DAC supresses jitter), but according to things I’ve read about jitter audibility starts around 50ps.
I would recommend jitter supressing DAC like my Benchmark (async rate converter) or separate reclocker before DAC. With Toslink transitions are slower because of the slower slew rate of optical drivers. Slower transitions are OK as long as your system noise is low - otherwise it will create jitter. Because of that I use Furman Elite PFi 20 power conditioner.

If you operate router at 2.4GHz you don’t really have 12 channels since each channel is 3-channel wide making it susceptible to neighbors routers interference and there are other things operating at 2.4 GHz. My microwave operated at exact frequency of one of the router channels blocking transmission completely. I decided to get dual band router and use 5GHz. Since then I haven’t have a single drop-out and it is working perfectly for many years. 5GHz is much less common and penetrates walls poorly shielding my room from the outside 5GHz sources, if any. Also number of available channels is in hundreds. I can detect, after scan, couple of channels being used at 5GHz but their level is very low.

WiFi connection makes you independent from computer quality, playback program, etc. saving you money. AE is limited to 16/44.1 but all my music comes from CDs. Apple TV is tempting, but it outputs at 48kHz making interpolation of 44kHz data, that might result in loss of sound quality.



Hi thanks for the input! I intend on having the AE connected by ethernet to my router. I did read about the Remedy Reclocker which directly reduces jitter. Unfortunately it misses the point of saving money and making things simpler when I start thinking about adding chains to the system to fix the inherent problems of the AE. This all gets really confusing. 
Reclocker (or reclocking DAC) is always a good thing.  The other option is to use async USB, that should do the same.  Jitter is not inherent problem of AE - it is inherent problem of all devices.  I wouldn't call 258ps jitter a problem (a lot of CDPs have similar). Reclocker you can buy later.  It runs around $400. but perhaps you could get used one for about half.  I would look for one that has coax output to connect it to DAC with very short (about 6") 75ohm cable.

It is also possible that you will not like the sound that is free of jitter. My DAC was called, sterile, analytical etc.  Jitter is adding noise to music.  This noise is proportional to signal level thus undetectable without it.  You can only hear it as lack of clarity, harshness, worse imaging etc.  At the same time added noise can make music sound more euphonic and dynamic.  

There are other better choices than AE but they cost more than mentioned reclocker (that can do better job overall).
Look at reclockers at Empirical Audio and Wyred 4 Sound ("Remedy Reclocker").  

http://www.empiricalaudio.com/products/synchro-mesh
https://wyred4sound.com/products/digital-converters/remedy-reclocker
Thanks. Why did you personally choose to go with the AE over some of the other digital solutions?
- It was less expensive
- It worked with Itunes
- My DAC is jitter supressing (reclocking)
- All my files are 16/44.1

I have a LOT of experience with the AE. I even gutted it and created my own product from it, using reclocking and a lower jitter clock. I ultimately abandoned the product because the SQ just wasn’t there and I didn’t want my company name on such a product. I think it has something to do with the CODEC used on the board to decode ALAC, which is what is transmitted to the AE. Nothing you can do to fix that, even with a reclocker. Reclocker did improve things, but still had SQ issues due to the on-board CODEC.

You can do a LOT better by using a Sonos Connect and reclocking with a good reclocker like the Synchro-Mesh.

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

Steve, I’m not sure why Stereophile opinion, that AE sounds good even without reclocker, and the measurements provided are so different from your experience. Since AE is bit perfect, as Stereophile tested, the only thing that would make any difference is jitter that was also measured. I’m also puzzled with the statement that reclocker cannot fix it since my reclocking DAC doesn’t show any signs of jitter with AE. It doesn’t take a lot supression to clean 258ps of jitter beyond audible levels. Jitter suppression of Benchmark DAC1 was also praised by many independent reviewers, including Stereophile to be excellent. You stated once that rejection of DAC1 was poor. It is in direct contradiction with all the reviews I’ve read - and it was a lot of them. Perhaps all of them were wrong? Sound is as clean as it gets (possibly too clean) while imaging is wonderful. Perhaps you had defective AE (or source)?
Here is detailed measurement of the Airport Express:
http://www.kenrockwell.com/apple/airport-express-audio-quality-2014.htm#meas
i use it to stream 320 KBPS to a Naimunitiserve for Radio Paradise only..it sounds OK for what it is thru my DAC Aesthetix Pandora SIG. I have no plans to run higher rez thru it.

The Newark airport express does not work with the newer saber dacs . Before forewarned. You were better off with an older airport express that you can buy on eBay.
I meant "newer" as in current version
I'm using an earlier generation AE with Toslink to a Rega DAC-R and I'm deeply reluctant to part with it. My wifi router in the office is within 8 feet of the unit and dropouts are rare. SQ is great. I've compared it with USB direct from my Mac to the DAC-R and it's incredibly hard to distinguish. (Easier with high-res files, which AE/AP doesn't support).

I've also compared SQ streaming Tidal to the AE unit versus iTunes playing on either my office PC or Mac. Again, hard to tell, though I think the local source edges Tidal (barely). The convenience of the AE is pretty wonderful. I suspect I'll use it until it gives out then I'll hunt another one online.

Embarrassing confession: for the first year I owned it I didn't know there was a digital out.  At that time, I owned an older Harmon-Kardon AV receiver and even the DAC in the HK was superior to the onboard AE DAC (to my ears). Discovery of the optical out was an instant upgrade, haha.

I'm a fan of the AE, but only with the digital out, of course.
Don't want to go off on a tangent, but you may want to consider the following. If you can find a used Wadia 171i (not 170) or a Cambridge Audio ID100 Ipod docks then hook them up to your DAC you are in business. Read reviews on both items and decide for yourself.

I have both but my preference is the ID100. I have 100gb of music (apple lossless) on my Ipod Classic, and I never have to leave my seat to look for a CD. Put it on shuffle and wait for the next surprise. Life is good. Sound quality is as good or better then any CD transport I have ever used.

Good Luck   
 
   
I tried AE but now I use Bluesound for the whole home audio thing.  Bluesound wipes the floor sonically with AE--it's not even a fair fight-and while it is far from perfect, I prefer the Bluesound app
to i tunes for managing the collection.  I also enjoy being able to play my music without having to have Apple sell me something every time I want to relax
Of course it can...give me an Apple Express connected to a great pair of speakers in a well-treated room over a $5000 DAC connected to a mediocre set of speakers in a carelessly set up room everyday and 23 times on Sunday.
+++1 bcgator

mahler123, I'm currently using Apple TV which is probably even worse than AE due to sampling issues. I'm looking very closely at the Bluesound Node 2, so would really appreciate it if you can expand on exactly how the "Bluesound wipes the floor sonically with AE...". What specific sonic improvement(s) did you notice in your system?

Lastly, I've not had the issue of Apple trying to sell me something whenever I use my Apple TV as a streamer. Just curious about how that's different than an AE.