If you want to output optical audio with the new Apple TV…

“The new Apple TV is a great device, for using with a TV,” Kirk McElhearn writes for Kirkville. “But if you want to connect it to an amplifier, to stream music over AirPlay, then it’s not for you.”

“There is no longer a Toslink (optical audio) output on the back of the Apple TV,” McElhearn writes. “The only option you have is HDMI; this is fine to connect to a TV or AV amplifier, but if you want to connect an Apple TV to a DAC, and then to an amp, you’re out of luck.”

McElhearn writes, “Of course, one option is to use both: a [Toslink-equipped] Apple TV 3 for music only, and the new Apple TV for videos, games, apps, etc.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Or you can simply get an HDMI splitter that outputs optical audio for around $30.

37 Comments

      1. If you have good ears, you will hear the difference between a dedicated output and an integrated one. The presence of splitters/connectors, the types of metal used in them, the length of cables, leaks of other signals into audio… all this can greatly affect the quality of sound.
        Moreover, Apple TV for some reason converts ALL audio input into 48 kHz (even if it was a standard 44.1 kHz from an audio CD), and each conversion introduces artifacts.

        1. I can hear that hiss from across the room.
          Wow.
          You do know that most of the audiophile special cables, gold plated monster cable, etc myths was destroyed in an extensive sound test article many years ago?

          They couldn’t even tell the difference pushing it thru coat hangers for wires.

          I think the HDMI splitter will be just fine.

          1. Yes, except it’s an added expense to an already expensive device. Also have you seen them? you’re adding several additional wires including a wall wart to your collection if you use it. Apple probably could fix this with a self-powered USB-C dongle.

        2. The only time I heard a massive improvement in sound was when helping a coworker redo his audio setup.
          He had a set of very nice speakers (forget the brand) but they had the option to be driven by two amps, one for the low end and one for the mid and high. He had been using them with a single amp and wired for that setup.
          He finally bought a second amp.

          I also forget the brand of the amps but I recall they were decent stuff too. Got it all setup and just flipped to the local rock FM station to verify we were getting sound. Once all was balanced and seemed correct, John Cougar’s Jack and Diane song came on. Me, my buddy and his wife all looked at each other and said, holy shit, that sounds better than we ever heard it, and that was just off the radio. Plus being a song we were all very familiar with, we could tell. It just sounded clearer.

        3. Get back to me after you’ve done a double-blind test. I don’t trust the opinions of so-called “golden ear” audio folks unless they understand the value of, and implement, double-blind tests to prove their accuracy.

        4. “presence of splitters/connectors, the types of metal used in them, the length of cables, leaks of other signals into audio… all this can greatly affect the quality of sound.”

          No way.
          Ones and zeroes here.
          So, no.

          1. It’s not just about ones and zeroes. It’s also about the moment at which each bit is received. Depending on the characteristics of the circuit, the periodicity of the signal can jump around like crazy, which will lead to a significant amount of errors. This is called jitter and is the primary source of errors in digital information transport.

  1. This is BS… Dedicated output integrated output…

    Data is data, please… We argue about tethered vs non-tethered data plans etc, as example that all data is the same.

    You must buy MONSTER cables…

    I think MDN’s comment about splitting HDMI audio to optical is dead on. It simplifies your configuration without compromising quality… There is no conversion of anything, but from electrical bit stream to optical bitstream, without loss of anything. I swear to anyone/entity that will listen, you will not be able to tell the difference. If you can, you are insane.

    1. Gollum, please don’t speak where you don’t know things.

      Digital data is not just digital data. When converting from one digital format to another the conversion is almost always lossy. Some of these conversions are horrendously lossy — as well as injecting conversion artifacts (noise).

      The issue is really not light (optical) versus electrons (copper). The issue is data format and data rate.

      While I don’t consider myself a true audiophile, I do store all my audio on my systems in a lossless format as I *can* tell the difference under most circumstances between lossless and AAC — and I can *easily* tell the difference between lossless and MP3 for every song for which I have tried it.

      Apple seems to have hobbled the outputs of the Apple TV, and I’m at a complete loss to understand why. Not having a dedicated audio output that supports multiple audio modes and bit rates is bewildering to me. I believe it should be bewildering to everyone.

      1. Are we even talking about the same thing? There is only one streaming format to your digital receiver. I’ll take that back, there are several formats, such as PCM, DTS, TrueHD, Dolby 5.1 etc. once the signal is out of the player, there is no more conversion. This is what I am taking about. You have three ways to get the digital info from your player to your receiver, coax (RCA), optical, and HDMI. There is no difference. The format carries over this to be picked up on the other side to your DAC so you can listen for your pleasure. Elections and Photons make no difference as it’s the carrier.

        1. The main point of having an optical or Coaxial output is to send the audio data directly to an off-board DAC. Because it’s off board and usually dedicated to just one thing only, the components are generally of a higher quality, and therefore usually gives a better output to a speaker setup.
          With HDMI-only, you’re reliant on the quality of the DAC built into the TV, or the AV receiver. While those would work and sound ok, having a dedicated DAC would be better. Of course, one other option would be that the receiver have its own optical output that could send to an off board DAC, but that depends entirely on how your home AV is done.
          For me, my home is tiny, so I just have 3rd gen AppleTV sending video via HDMI to the TV, and optical output to a DAC, then audio cables to active stereo speakers. This gives me excellent clarity in audio, much better than if it’s just HDMI audio to TV, then TV audio output to speakers. See the difference in setup?

      2. Well, it’s not bewildering to me, given that the name is Apple TV, not Apple Jukebox, or Apple Hi-Fi. In the context of its intended design, HDMI is all that is necessary. If you are at the level where it makes a difference to you, with a $5,000 amp powering a $10,000 pair of speakers, you are likely spending more than a couple hundred dollars on your play-out device.

      3. I can “tell” the difference between two things when I expect one to sound better, too. Unless you are asserting that you’ve compared two methods using a double-blind test, your opinion is too easily colored by human nature and confirmation bias. I’m not accusing anyone of being dishonest, I’m accusing people of being human and ignorant about what confirmation bias is.
        In short, if you want to compare quality of two methods, do a double-blind test to see if you _really_ can tell the difference. If you or the person managing the test know which method is which, you cannot trust your senses, since those senses (even golden ears) are filtered through your very human brain.
        But, if you want to take advantage of this effect to feel happy because you can “hear” the difference, go right ahead. Just don’t try to make the rest of us believe there is a real difference unless you can back up your comparison with a double-blind test. Otherwise, you’re giving people bad advice. Then again, I guess if they believe the advice, they will “hear” the difference, too, so spending the extra money will make them enjoy the music more. Maybe I’m the one giving bad advice. 🙂
        I’ve heard that the best way to “buy happiness” is to buy a slightly more expensive bottle of wine than you normally would (whatever “normally” is for you), and share it with friends. A study actually showed that caused a significant increase in happiness for very little extra money.

        Being human is weird. 🙂

  2. My question is will it even work?

    Let’s say we use this $30 splitter, can you leave your TV off and say “Hey Siri” play ….
    and expect music to start playing.
    Or
    Will the Apple TV go to sleep until video input has been detected.

    What if you want to listen to music while viewing a slide show?

    1. There are plenty of receivers on the market TODAY that do not have HDMI input. Most amplifiers available TODAY do not have HDMI input. Every single Mac TODAY has optical audio out including the Apple TV 3.

      Songs playbar has optical audio input only and many TV’s sold today do not have optical audio output.

      Plain and simple… Apple wanted to save a few bucks on each unit and decrease their tech support cost.

      Welcome to 2015 🙂

  3. Whether the sound emanating from AppleTV is less accurate and less pure is one thing. Having to jury rig an audio set up is just stupid. Apple could have produced a single device that could have been used by everyone, or offered multiple versions for specific need. Apple is marketing mediocrity by reducing consumer choice and eliminating consumer preference.

    1. You must be new to Apple.

      Floppy disk, analog modem, PC Card, removable battery, optical drive, Ethernet plug, and many more. Apple will unapologetically remove a feature from a device if they determine that 95% of customers don’t use that feature. In all fairness, you cannot expect that 95% of Apple TV owners subsidize optical out they’ll never use, so that you can connect yours to your Denon preamp.

  4. I have a LG 3D cinema TV and it has optical audio out. I can get 5.1 or what ever digital audio came across the HDMI and get it into my home system via fiber cable, the only problem is that the TV must be on so if I want to stream audio only, the TV will be on wasting energy.
    Of course I am not using it that way, but since I am planning to get the new Apple TV ASAP, I am considering my options.

  5. Many TVs will not pass the digital audio from a connected device out of the TV’s TOS Link. That TOS Link is primarily for the built in tuner. Also, then you have to leave the TV on to listen to music. I usually use Apple’s remote app to play music through the Apple TV to my soundbar, which does not have HDMI. So I won’t be buying Apple’s latest, much to my sadness.

    1. This is my issue. I have 2 Apple TVs that have the optical audio connected to a small DAC and a small amp to get just the audio out to speakers. One connects to my patio and the other to the speakers in the master bath (the wife requested this to listen to music in the bath). I don’t have to turn the TV on to get music to these locations via AirPlay, which is how they are used. I can even watch the TV in either location from my cable input while someone is playing music with the Apple TV. I would hate to have to power on a TV just to get audio and lose the dual use ability. I’m not sure how this HDMI splitter works, but I guess I’ll have to see if it can allow a similar function. I was really wanting to upgrade both Apple TVs.

    1. You could, even in a wired network, by putting it between the main router and the AppleTV with a Mini-Toslink to Toslink optical cable out to the receiver.

      The audio out of an Express is kept at 44.1 kHz while the Apple TV is up sampled to 48 KHz for movie soundtracks (if I remember correctly) but I doubt if you gain anything from that.

      My main issue with either setup for audio through a really good system is that it will down-sample any hi-res music you send through it from 24/96 or DSD to 16/44.1.

      They are great for streaming through the house, though. I use an Express in my bedroom hooked to an ancient (well, 15 year old) Bose Wave CD player

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