ATV or AirPort Express?

Discussion in 'Apple TV and Home Theater' started by nittany, Jul 12, 2008.

  1. nittany macrumors member

    May 21, 2008
    If all I want to do is pump iTunes-based music content to a dedicated D/A converter that is not located near the computer, would the best Apple solution be:

    1. An :apple:TV by using the optical audio out (presumably Toslink), or
    2. An AirPort Express by using its 3.5-mm audio minijack for analog or optical digital sound (although I have no idea how one jack can support both formats)
    Forget price. Forget size. And yes, I realize the :apple:TV can do much more than the AirPort Express. What I'm after is the least damage to the digital signal from my computer to the D/A input.

    In fact, if anyone knows of other digital out options offered by the :apple:TV or the AirPort Express, I'm all ears (so to speak), as I'm really not that fond of optical connections. From my perspective I can't believe the process of converting electrons to photons and back again for a carrying distance of less than 3 feet can do anything but potentially introduce problems.

    Anyone have any thoughts on this?
  2. mchalebk macrumors 6502a

    Feb 4, 2008
    First, I don’t think you can transmit uncompressed audio through AirTunes. If that’s true, your sound quality will be adversely affected by using an AirPort Express. AppleTV will let you send lossless or even completely uncompressed audio, so the sound is not compromised.

    However, your concern about an optical connection degrading the quality of your audio is unfounded. Since it is already digital, there is absolutely no degradation whatsoever to use the optical out from a Mac. To convert to photons and back doesn’t mean anything. It’s all data (ones and zeros) and the conversion doesn’t change any of the data.
  3. theBB macrumors 68020


    Jan 3, 2006
    I have both and they can both transmit Lossless audio such as Apple Lossless or WAV. There is nothing wrong with electrons to photons, as everything is digital. Any such communication protocol has error detection and correction schemes built-in, so your music does not degrade at all unless something is wrong with the cable, then you won't get much out of it, so it is easy to debug.

    The main advantage with aTV is its hard disk. You don't need to stream even though you can if you want to. The local copy protects your music from interruptions that might take place while streaming wirelessly, such as using a microwave oven or some 2.4GHz cordless phones close by. I would check to see if the new airport express has the option of using 5GHz band, where the likelihood of interference is much less. If so, that may not matter as much.

    Of course, with aTV you can connect the video to your TV and actually control your music options without going to the computer.
  4. nittany thread starter macrumors member

    May 21, 2008
    My files are all uncompressed AIFF. I know they transmit fine from iTunes to my :apple:TV, but as I'm currently only using the analog RCA outs, I want to make sure it can also support it in the digital realm.

    As for the AirPortExpress, I can't find any audio format information on the Tech Specs page on the Apple site. As there is very little difference between WAV and AIFF, I'm hopeful, but do you have experience with AIFF files?

    I'm not a big fan of wireless. From a technology perspective, the day I wired the house was one of the best ever. I run everything possible on a wired basis - it has taken nearly 99% of the mystery out of my tech-related problems. I know the :apple:TV can run this way - I've done so since it became available, but can the AirPort Express?

    Sure, but with the recently released Remote application for the iPod touch and iPhone, this makes the need (actually, hassle in some cases) of having to turn on the monitor, just to select the music, go away.
  5. Galley macrumors 65816


    Mar 24, 2008
    I found audio to be much better coming from an Apple TV versus an AirPort Express, both connected via the optical jack. Don't ask me why. :confused:
  6. kjr39 macrumors 6502

    Nov 26, 2004
    Very strange to me, but I found the same to be true...
  7. beejam macrumors member

    Jul 18, 2007
  8. kolax macrumors G3

    Mar 20, 2007
    Apple TV.

    The ability to use AirTunes and stream music wirelessly as well as have the album art and song details showing up on the TV is just awesome.

    Also you'll be able to use your Apple TV remote to skip songs when using AirTunes, or browse your Music Library manually.
  9. nittany thread starter macrumors member

    May 21, 2008
    Thanks for the suggestion, but I'm trying to keep this an all-Apple setup to the input of the D/A converter. Lots of other equipment is terrific and I don't mean to suggest that other products are not as good as Apple's (some are much, much better), but I'm after simplicity and I've found that despite glitches here and there (some more glaring than others), Apple products generally work well/easily together.
  10. sandman42 macrumors 6502a


    Oct 23, 2003
    The Airport Express has a 1/8" stereo jack on it that also serves as an optical out. I use it with a standard 1/8" stereo plug, but when you take the plug out you can see the red light emission for the optical connection.
  11. nittany thread starter macrumors member

    May 21, 2008
    For the family room where there is a big LCD TV and associated audio equipment, then I think you're right. For other rooms where dragging along a monitor or TV is either overkill or inappropriate design-wise, then it's more of a negative.

    However, given the release of Remote for the iPhone and iPod touch, the obvious advantages you've outlined for the :apple:TV over the AirPort Express (album art, song details, skip tracks) no longer seem to be true.

    That's why my original question had to do with the best Apple product to get digital content stored elsewhere in the house to a D/A converter.
  12. nittany thread starter macrumors member

    May 21, 2008
    Thanks. A little Googling last night and I found this on the PS Audio website (this is not an endorsement). Their newsletter talks about various Apple products as mechanisms to export digital content to an audio system.

    Attached Files:

  13. kolax macrumors G3

    Mar 20, 2007
    Well if you aren't going to be using a TV with it, then why the heck would you buy an Apple TV?
  14. nittany thread starter macrumors member

    May 21, 2008
    Short of installing another computer in rooms in which I want music, there are currently only two Apple products that I know of that can accomplish what I need (see the original post for more detail). Under the circumstances, is it not worth discussing the merits of both? For example, Mac Minis can do lots more than just serve iTunes on a network and provide shared storage, yet that's all one of them (in a headless configuration) does in my household. So I don't see what's wrong with using another :apple:TV or three in the household to enable linkage between an iTunes server and various audio systems.

    For my purposes, both products do roughly the same thing. I was hoping others on the forum would be able to comment on aspects of each that would help me make a better decision. For example:

    1) I'd bet that an AirPort Express is dead silent - the :apple:TV is not. Quiet is sometimes really important, like for a bedroom. Experience regarding any noise produced by an AirPort Express would be helpful to know.

    2) The AirPort Express provides a combo analog/optical mini jack - the :apple:TV provides a full-sized TOSLINK jack. Since photons are small enough to squeeze down either, it would be helpful to know if people had any problems with either (e.g., build quality, cable availability, temperamentalness).

    3) Although both are wireless devices, the wireless state of the AirPort Express cannot be shut off, but can supposedly be turned down to some minimal state. To my knowledge, there is no ability to do the same with the :apple:TV, but I'm not sure exactly what happens when it becomes connected to a wired network. In both cases, it would nice to know of others' experience with digital noise that could be introduced into an audio system in close proximity.

    That's why I posed the original question. Can you help provide an answer?
  15. sandman42 macrumors 6502a


    Oct 23, 2003
    Another good thing to consider about the Airport Express... that it also extends your wireless network. I've had one for a while, and it was kind of superfluous in my small house, but I just moved it out to my detached garage. Now, not only can I stream music there, but it also gives me wi-fi access all in and around my garage (most of which used to be beyond the reach of my Airport Extreme) so I can now use my iPod Touch (with the fantastic Remote app) to control the music. This technology has come together very nicely.

    Sounds like the OP's biggest concern is which gives better sound quality. I have both an Express and an :apple:TV, but I think the rest of the equipment I'm using is not high-end enough not to mask any differences. It may be that, over Airtunes, there isn't much difference, if any.

    Naturally a lot of the benefit of the :apple:TV is lost if you don't have the visual interface at the device (I guess most people just say "hooked up to a TV"). In that case you could only use it as an Airtunes device, and the :apple:TV doesn't give you the network extending capability. Also, you'll need to connect the :apple:TV to a display of some kind any time you configure it or need to do any maintenance or diagnostics, as you can't do them remotely from your computer like you can with the Express (this may be an important consideration).

    Also, the Express is a lot cheaper! You might want to consider just buying a refurb Express and trying it out.
  16. kolax macrumors G3

    Mar 20, 2007
    No it isn't worth discussing both - because, for a start, the Apple TV is 3/4 times the price of the Airport Express, and the Apple TV is WAY more than just a device for AirTunes. It is a media centre for a TV. Just using it for AirTunes is an absolute waste of money, especially if you have no intention of ever hooking it up to a TV.[/quote]

    For your purposes of what? Streaming music wirelessly? I still fail to understand why you'd even bother considering the Apple TV JUST for streaming music.

    Apple TV is pretty silent too, it does have a fan but I can barely hear it. And if you are just streaming music, you shouldn't have a problem.

    Why bring photons into the equation?! Irrelevant! Apple TV also provides analogue stereo too, by phono connection.

    The Airport Express is a router, the Apple TV isn't. As for digital noise with wireless systems, I own both an Airport Express and Apple TV (well, gave Express away when I got the Apple TV). They were connected by optical to my 2.1 1000 watt sound system. I can't tell the difference between the Apple TV and Airport Express if I streamed from iTunes. I'd adjust the equaliser to suit my setup, and it sounds fantastic considering my audio files aren't lossless.
  17. nittany thread starter macrumors member

    May 21, 2008
    I might if people reported, for example, that the AirPort Extreme was a horrible piece of hardware, was prone to failure, was a security nightmare and was terribly finicky about power overages/underages. I'm looking to objectively determine which is better, not subjectively pronounce one as too good, too feature rich or too expensive for my audio-only needs.

    I too have an :apple:TV and to my ears, it's pretty noisy. Maybe it's the fan, maybe it's the disk spinning. Whatever it is, to me, this is a negative feature of the unit. From your experience, does the AirPort Express make any noise (hum, buzz, etc.)?

    I was trying to point out that since both a mini TOSLINK connector and a standard TOSLINK perform the same function (moving photons), information regarding the connectors themselves (e.g., build quality, cable availability, temperamentalness) would be of value to me. The analog capabilities of the :apple:TV are not relevant to me as I want the digital signal to be converted to analog by an outboard processor.

    Thanks for the data point.
  18. kolax macrumors G3

    Mar 20, 2007
    Okay I'll avoid turning this into an argument :p

    The Airport Express is silent because it is all electronic - there is no mechanics in it. Sound quality is great. I can't hear my Apple TV unless I actually go up to it and listen. I have a medium sized living room, and the TV, speakers + amp and Apple TV are down one end, and about 10 feet away are the sofas. So any minor buzzing will never travel that far. I guess it depends how close to it you are.

    I'm actually curious as to if Apple TV uses an equalizer setting when playing music directly from it (not streaming from iTunes). I much prefer actually using my own settings.


    That is my setting for streaming - I've got a 60 watt subwoofer which all the bass gets filtered to, so that's why I boost the lows, the mids I cut a bit to avoid distortion and I boost the trebles slightly to create a richer sound.

    Pity the Apple TV doesn't offer an equaliser setting for playing directly off the box, because I love my bass, especially in electro music.
  19. Galley macrumors 65816


    Mar 24, 2008
    A new AirPort Express is $99; a refurbished Apple TV is $199.

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