Apple Airport Express as Internet Audio Streaming Receiver

tmallin

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May 19, 2010
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The Apple Airport Express is not much talked about these days. Even within Apple's stable of products, it would seem to have been superseded. The Airport Extreme is a more recent and supposedly better performing router, but, try as I might, I could never get the Extreme to work at all with my Comcast service, so I abandoned it, went with a Netgear Nighthawk X8, and have yet to look back. The Apple TV is much more powerful in terms of the types of Internet streaming it can handle. The Apple TV functions fine as an internet streaming receiver for both video and audio, but more about the audio quality of that unit in a minute.

My reason for bringing up the Airport Express is to alert everyone to the fact that, if you use a fairly recent iPhone or iPad, any of those capable of AirPlay, the $100 Airport Express is basically all you need to stream any audio from the Internet into your audio system. If you can access it and play it back on the crummy little speaker in your Apple mobile device, you can get bit-perfect 16/44 digital stereo sound into your audio system from your iPhone using the Airport Express. The subjective audio quality of playing back Internet audio via my iPhone 6 connected by AirPlay to the Airport Express and then by Blue Jeans Cable toslink (with Blue Jeans optical miniplug adapter at the Airport Express end) into a Toslink input of my Benchmark DAC3 DX, then via balanced Blue Jeans starquad cables to my Janszen Valentina Active speakers very closely matches the best I can get from any other Internet streaming method for streams up to and including Tidal's CD-quality 16/44 streaming. (I am not yet equipped to listen to Tidal Master MQA streams.) I get the same results listening through my Audeze LCD-4 headphones driven either via the Benchmark or via my SimAudio Moon Neo 430HA headphone amplifier.

Now, I know there are a lot of more recent and seemingly very sophisticated and expensive audio streamers out there these days. However, I also know that with CD quality streaming, the sound of Tidal streamed from the USB dongle of my EVS-modified Oppo BDP-105D very closely matches the same program material played from the CD in the disc drawer of that Oppo. I also know that that same Tidal program material played from my iPhone via AirPlay and through the Airport Express also matches the CD and the Oppo's own streaming sound quality very closely. I'm thus not sure how much more there is to gain from those sophisticated and expensive streamers out there since the CD playback quality of this modified Oppo is the best I've experienced.

And it's not as though I don't hear differences in streaming sound quality. I mentioned the Apple TV. For whatever reason, Apple chose to make the Apple TV convert all audio streams to 24/48 before output. The most recent Apple TVs only output their signals via HDMI. That's no problem for audio systems with HDMI inputs and my Oppo has one. You might think that the resampling and/or upsampling done by the Apple TV would be beneficial since both the bit depth and sampling rate are increased. But, while some might prefer the subjective quality of its sound output to other audio streamers, what I hear is added brightness and brittleness compared to CD playback. Nothing really obnoxious, but the difference is very clearly audible. The Airport Express stream, on the other hand, sounds instantly extremely like the CD of the same material. The Airport Express does not upsample/resample Internet audio, but puts out a bit-perfect signal of the same bit depth and sampling rate of the original Internet audio stream it is receiving.

I've also owned and used a number of other inexpensive streaming receivers, including several models from E-Z Cast. All of those have had some sonic or functional problems; for example, the E-Z Cast models all sound dull, unclear/veiled, and undynamic compared to the CDs, as well as having occasional connection and drop-out issues. The Airport Express has rock-solid connectivity and no sonic issues whatsoever.

The Airport Express streaming sound quality also matches that obtained from the Logitech Squeezebox Touch running the aftermarket Enhanced Digital Output software which resides in the same system. The Squeezebox Touch, if you still have one, is still, several years after it was discontinued, a fine streaming device. The aggregation services it makes available are second to none. Most recently, Tidal was added to the services it can play. The Tidal output from the Squeezebox Touch also matches the CD sound of the same program material very closely.

So why do I need the Airport Express if I have the Squeezebox Touch? Well, one of the streams which neither the Touch nor most (any?) of the fancy modern streamers can access is Sirius/XM. Now I know the Sirius/XM streaming is only 100 kbps, but I happen to greatly enjoy several of their curated streams (e.g., Siriusly Sinatra and The Grateful Dead Channel) and want access to them in my home audio system as well as in my car. Sirius/XM has an iOS App, so those streams are as easy to play through my iPhone and the Airport Express as any other Internet audio content.

One set up hint: the connecting cable quality DOES matter a bit or more, even with my superbly jitter-immune Benchmark DAC3 DX. The best sounding cable, the one which provides the audio which most closely matches the sound of the CD playing in the drawer of my Oppo, is the Blue Jeans Cable Toslink fitted with the Blue Jeans mini jack adapter at the Airport Express end. With this cable, and when I know that the Tidal CD-quality stream is from the same disc I can play in the Oppo drawer, it is exceedingly difficult to hear any sonic quality difference, and if I do think I occasionally hear differences, they are not always in favor of the CD in the drawer. Another cable which I suspect might provide similar quality is the Benchmark Toslink which comes factory fitted with the optical miniplug at one end. I did try a highly-reviewed Micca Toslink cable which is similarly fitted and which received excellent reviews on Amazon, however, and the Blue Jeans Cable with adapter provided a superior match to the actual CD sound. The Blue Jeans Toslink (without any adapter needed) also provides the closest match to the actual CD when streaming Tidal from my Squeezebox Touch.

Note also that I have tried streaming from an iPhone and iPad via a wired connection from the phone's Lightning connector using a long Blue Jeans Cable HDMI cable with Apple's Lightning-to-HDMI adaptor at the iPhone end. While this sounds pretty fine, oddly enough to my ears it does not yield streaming sound as indistinguishable from the CD of the same program as does the wireless AirPlay method. The cable playback sounds a bit brighter yet not as clear and honestly detailed.

Finally, I should mention that I have not tried the Google Chromecast Audio streaming receiver which costs less than half as much as the Apple Airport Express. From online reviews it appears that that device works best with Android streamers. Online reviews also mention that it's not a universal receiver in the sense that Internet audio streams not formatted for Chromecast Audio will not play through it.
 
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mcondo

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Feb 24, 2015
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Wow, great article. I've got so many apple products lying around unused - iPod Touch, original iPad, 2 Express units I was hoping I could figure out how to use them for streaming. Seems simple but one question ( it might be stupid) Why do you need the DAC? - is it only to send audio to the speakers?
 

tmallin

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May 19, 2010
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I use the Benchmark DAC3 DX to send sound both to the speakers and to headphones. I think the DAC in the Benchmark is of higher quality and sounds better than the DAC in the Apple Airport Express. Therefore, I keep the signal from the Airport Express in digital form until it gets to the Benchmark. The same goes for all my other sources.

Some would say, and I generally agree, that these days you should keep digital signals in digital format as far down the signal chain as you can before turning them into analog. Perhaps ideally all speakers should have digital power DACs inside them with digital to analog conversion taking place only inches from the speaker driver inputs. The Janszen Valentina Actives are not that "advanced," but they are active speakers with internal amps custom matched by the manufacturer to achieve the target response and those amps use DSP to implement the crossover between the electrostatic and dynamic drivers as well as to tailor the overall frequency response of the speaker.
 

audioguy

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Very interesting. I just purchase the Bluesound Vault 2 to provide streaming (digital out to my processor) AND to replace my dedicated music server. The user interface is more than adequate. In the short term, I have attached my backup music hard drive via USB and the app sees it so I can already play all of my music in addition to Tidal music (which is just plain AWESOME for discovering new music). They have a less expensive version ($499) that provides Tidal (and other) streaming services but does not provide the server functionality. I'm impressed.

I will be taking this product to a friend house to be able to direct A/B test to his dedicated server!!

Your idea is quite ingenious. Thanks for posting !!
 

ddk

Industry Expert
May 19, 2013
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We use Airport Expresses & Extremes and Pandora streamed from tablets and phones around the house for children's, bedroom and living room systems and the sound is equal to any high end streaming setup I've heard, actually IMO it's better than most I've come across.

david
 

asiufy

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I believe I first tried one of those like 10 years ago, and every time I see a thread like this I give it another go, with the same results. Toslink is crap, and so is the Airport as a transport. Not in the same league of even a $499 Auralic Aries Mini.
 

tmallin

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Results using Toslink cable may well vary from DAC to DAC. I mentioned in my initial post in this thread that even with my Benchmark DAC-3 HGC--which the manufacturer's published measurements show to be superbly immune to upstream jitter--the sonic results vary a bit from cable to cable. With the Squeezebox Touch as a source, I can instantly A/B/C compare the sonic results of coaxial digital, toslink, and USB connections to the Benchmark. The coax and toslink are quite similar (both Blue Jeans cables) with the Toslink sounding a tad smoother in the highs, yet equally detailed. The USB connection (Oyaide Neo+ d Class A) sounds more three dimensional, but distinctly brighter in the highs, which may well cause the impression of greater three-dimensionality. Different USB cables give slightly different impressions, but they seem consistently to have this brighter quality; the Oyaide is the best sounding one I've found, besting even some very pricey WireWorld silver-wired versions I've tried.

In no way do I find the Blue Jeans Toslink connection to be inferior to the other two methods of connecting the Squeezebox Touch to my Benchmark. This is consistent with my findings using other digital sources as well. While there are minor sonic differences between coax and Toslink, I am not willing to say one is "better" or "more accurate" than the other. USB connections consistently sound a bit more different in a way that I usually don't find musical because of the increased high frequency emphasis.

Some other set up hints for getting the most from the AirPort Express fed via Airplay from an iPhone:

1. Use a 5-GHz wireless from your wireless router if such is available and strong enough. Such streaming consistently sounds a bit better than 2.4 GHz band streaming in my systems.

2. Get the Airport Express utility app on your phone and use it to measure your wireless signal strength. Orient the router and Airport Express so as to maximize the measured signal strength. Any number of -70 or a smaller minus number will show "Excellent" signal strength in the utility. I usually measure about -66. The measured signal strength will vary a bit depending on environmental conditions, but physical orientation of the Airport Express can often increase or decrease signal strength a few units. You can also use the Utility to make sure your Airport Express firmware is up to date.

3. If you are streaming Tidal via the Tidal app from your phone to the AirPort Express via AirPlay, make sure that within the settings of the Tidal app the "Loudness Normalization" (a type of automatic gain control) is off (very important!) and that the "Optimized Playback" feature is off. Of course, for highest quality (CD lossless) streaming, you also need to be a Hi-Fi or Masters subscriber to Tidal. In all your music streaming apps, make sure to adjust the app's settings so as to use the highest streaming rate allowed by that app--such as 320 kbps for Jazz Radio.

4. Finally, once you are playing a stream, turn off the display of your phone. I do this by clicking the on/off button on the right side of my iPhone 6. This does not interrupt the streaming, at least with my phone and system. Especially in a partially darkened room, subjectively, this can make a significant difference in audio quality of Tidal and even most lower-quality streams. Part of this may be just eliminating the distraction of the lighted screen, allowing me to "see" the images/staging more explicitly. But the difference also seems to be one of greater high-frequency smoothness and a general lowering of perceived "digital" distortion. The audible difference seems to occur even when I put the phone face down so that the glare is eliminated. Of course, this wouldn't be the first time turning off displays of audio equipment produced an increase in perceived audio quality. Try it; you may have the same reaction I do.
 

Empirical Audio

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Oct 12, 2017
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Many years ago, I also thought that the AE had potential for audio playback. I even designed a product based around it that had low-jitter clock, improved power supply and a good 75 ohm S/PDIF coax output. I opened the wall-wart case, removed the board and modified it extensively. Mounted this modified board it in a larger case with linear power supply and separate clock module.

Before I took this product to market, I abandoned it. Why? Because I could never get the sound quality to match that of other devices I offered at the time. The conversion of all files to ALAC in the Apple WIFI process and the way that clocking was done on that board (with a single oscillator) limited the ultimate performance IMO.

If your other devices are not giving you a lot better results than the AE, there must be something wrong with the other devices IMO. Modern digital sources have much lower jitter than the best of those even 4 years ago. These include XMOS-based USB interfaces and Ethernet renderers/bridges as well as reclockers. Even my Synchro-Mesh reclocker connected to a $200 CD player will beat the AE by a mile.

If you want to do WIFI or wired network audio streaming on the cheap, get a Sonos and connect it to a Synchro-Mesh to lower the jitter. Killer source IMO. Make sure you power your router from a fast responding LPS with DC-common tied to earth ground.

BTW, there was another company that also tried to productize a modded AE. They also gutted the device and put it into another case. They didn't last long.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
 
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Empirical Audio

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I have a question for you:

If the Benchmark is rejecting jitter so well, then why is there any difference in SQ between different Toslink or Coax cables?

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
 

tmallin

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Steve, are you saying or at least implying that if one of the devices you mentioned is used to reduce the jitter input to the DAC, then the sonic differences among digital cables will disappear? As I stated at the beginning of the thread, the differences I hear among digital cables feeding the Benchmark DAC-3 are much smaller than with previous DACs.

Benchmark has documented and explained the jitter immunity of the DAC-3 in detail and with what appears to be complete openness. I have not seen any other manufacturer offer such proof of its DAC's jitter immunity. If you see any flaws in Benchmark's measurement protocols which resulted in graphs 15 and 16 on pages 60 and 61 or the explanations offered on pages 36 - 39 of the DAC-3 HGC manual, please elaborate. It is clearly Benchmark's position that upstream jitter is not an issue with its DAC-3 and thus any equipment added upstream in an attempt to lower the jitter reaching the DAC input is needless.
 

Empirical Audio

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Steve, are you saying or at least implying that if one of the devices you mentioned is used to reduce the jitter input to the DAC, then the sonic differences among digital cables will disappear? As I stated at the beginning of the thread, the differences I hear among digital cables feeding the Benchmark DAC-3 are much smaller than with previous DACs.

No, I am saying that with a given jitter of any source, changing the cable to the Benchmark should not change the SQ, unless the DAC reclocking is not immune to incoming jitter. If the DAC is as you say rejecting all of the incoming jitter, then there should be no difference heard when changing cables or sources for that matter, assuming bit-perfect signal.

This is a common thing I hear from DAC manufacturers, that the jitter rejection is so good that you will not hear any difference in sources or cables. I have yet to hear a DAC that delivers on this claim.

The Synchro-Mesh reclocker is the ONLY device I have found that actually seems to reject all incoming jitter. I cannot change the SQ from it by changing sources or coax or Toslink cables. The input to it simply does not seem to matter.

BTW, I modded the Benchmark DAC-1 for customers for close to 8 years in my modding days. I don't mod anymore, except for making tweaks to my own products. I'm actually not a fan of using reclockers in DACs to lower jitter. This forces the customer to listen to the clock inside the DAC, with little chance of improving the sound quality by using improved sources. My own DAC does not have a clock involved in the S/PDIF or I2S inputs. This has allowed me to improve the SQ continuously over time by developing lower and lower jitter solutions externally or in modules that insert into the DAC. If I had a reclocker in the DAC, how can I evaluate a new external USB converter, Ethernet renderer or a Roon endpoint? An internal clock would mask all improvements.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
 

Tobogan

New Member
Feb 2, 2018
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Hi,
I recently subscribed to Tidal. To my surprise, I couldn’t really hear any difference wiyh Spotify with my system using digital amplifiers from Musical fidelity(2x100w). Actually, both Spotify 320 kbps and Tidal FLAC sounded good.
I thought that maybe my speakers were not good enough, or my hearing was not what it used to be. I also used the DAC of my Marantz SACD player, with no success.
Then I remembered the experiment I did 2 or 3 years ago: ripping a CD, and listening via my MacBook Air connected to my Musical Fidelity SDAC preamplifier. The software was Decibel, and the sound was quite incredible. I understood the importance of mains when I noticed that the sound even better when the Mac was running on battery. Unfortunately, Decibel doesn’t stream Tidal.. but Audivarna plus does. And then the revelation: Tidal files played with Audivarna sounded so much better than Spotify, really better, a profound and instantaneous difference, very difficult to ignore.
The quest to reproduce Tidal without a computer started with acquiring a streamer from Yamaha(wxc-50). It ended up on eBay the same day. What to do now? Maybe buying a streamer from Aurender? A visit to my preferred Hifi store, and I was about to pay 2600€ for their basic model. But the model was not available and had to be ordered. So I left the shop with the feeling that Audirvana sounded best, but the Aurender streamer was so convenient with its dedicated iPad app.
Strange that the Aurender didn’t sound that good, but I couldn’t do a A/B comparison. Then I was wondering what if I could use the Tidal app via Airplay to an Apple Device and send the sound to my DAC? This is how I found this post on the web. The description of the AE was so precise that I could’t resist: I bought one and plugged it via a TOSLINK cable to my DAC. The sound was just incredible: holographic sound, deep bass, micro details and above all a musicality that made me think about my whole adventure. How could an AE sound that good? Low noise? Bit perfect? I don’t know, but the AE is now an essential piece of my system. I did change the TOSLINK cable, and the difference in sound was very perceptible. Seems that the Airport Express is so transparent that one can perceive minor differences such as a change of cable.
I’d like to thank tmallin for his original post. Without it, I would have been equipped with an Aurender and ignoring the little AE. A joy to listen.
 

pcoop3

New Member
Aug 14, 2018
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0
0
Hi Tobogan, I am resurecting an old thread. I too have been on a quest to find a better way to stream Tidal and Spotify with better sound. I have have been using Apple TV 3rd gen to DAC using Toslink. It's okay, but I know there is a better and cleaner way. I have several Apple Express and have read where the sample rate on the AEx isn't upsampled like the Apple TV so I will likely go this route. I have 2 versions of the Apple Express. I have 2 of the latest version (square w/ cord A-1392) and 1 of the original (AEx plugs into wall-A1264). I was wondering if one was better than the other. I am currently using the 2 latest version (square w/ cord) as repeaters so I'd rather keep using them for that purpose and use the older model 1st Gen Apple Express to stream using Airplay from my devices. Is one generation of AEx better than the other for this purpose? You may not know that answer having only used a specific version but I thought someone on this thread would know. Also, I have seen a wide range of Toslink to Mini Toslink cables in a wide range of prices. Does the cable make a huge difference in sound or would I just be spending more than I need to going with a higher end cable? My system is vintage. I have restored a 70's Marantz 2275 receiver,Thorens TD 320 TT, Elac Debut 6 2.0 speakers, Def Tech sub so nothing too high end but it sounds good to my ears and looks cool. I like the vintage vibe of components. Anyway, any thoughts on there is a difference in sample rate between the various generations of Apple Express and also the importance of the proper Toslink cable? Oh and I am considering ordering a new DAC - Shiit Modi Multibit.

Hi,
I recently subscribed to Tidal. To my surprise, I couldn’t really hear any difference wiyh Spotify with my system using digital amplifiers from Musical fidelity(2x100w). Actually, both Spotify 320 kbps and Tidal FLAC sounded good.
I thought that maybe my speakers were not good enough, or my hearing was not what it used to be. I also used the DAC of my Marantz SACD player, with no success.
Then I remembered the experiment I did 2 or 3 years ago: ripping a CD, and listening via my MacBook Air connected to my Musical Fidelity SDAC preamplifier. The software was Decibel, and the sound was quite incredible. I understood the importance of mains when I noticed that the sound even better when the Mac was running on battery. Unfortunately, Decibel doesn’t stream Tidal.. but Audivarna plus does. And then the revelation: Tidal files played with Audivarna sounded so much better than Spotify, really better, a profound and instantaneous difference, very difficult to ignore.
The quest to reproduce Tidal without a computer started with acquiring a streamer from Yamaha(wxc-50). It ended up on eBay the same day. What to do now? Maybe buying a streamer from Aurender? A visit to my preferred Hifi store, and I was about to pay 2600€ for their basic model. But the model was not available and had to be ordered. So I left the shop with the feeling that Audirvana sounded best, but the Aurender streamer was so convenient with its dedicated iPad app.
Strange that the Aurender didn’t sound that good, but I couldn’t do a A/B comparison. Then I was wondering what if I could use the Tidal app via Airplay to an Apple Device and send the sound to my DAC? This is how I found this post on the web. The description of the AE was so precise that I could’t resist: I bought one and plugged it via a TOSLINK cable to my DAC. The sound was just incredible: holographic sound, deep bass, micro details and above all a musicality that made me think about my whole adventure. How could an AE sound that good? Low noise? Bit perfect? I don’t know, but the AE is now an essential piece of my system. I did change the TOSLINK cable, and the difference in sound was very perceptible. Seems that the Airport Express is so transparent that one can perceive minor differences such as a change of cable.
I’d like to thank tmallin for his original post. Without it, I would have been equipped with an Aurender and ignoring the little AE. A joy to listen.
 

RnRmf

Well-Known Member
Apr 29, 2015
60
21
138
Hi Tobogan, I am resurecting an old thread. I too have been on a quest to find a better way to stream Tidal and Spotify with better sound. I have have been using Apple TV 3rd gen to DAC using Toslink. It's okay, but I know there is a better and cleaner way. I have several Apple Express and have read where the sample rate on the AEx isn't upsampled like the Apple TV so I will likely go this route. I have 2 versions of the Apple Express. I have 2 of the latest version (square w/ cord A-1392) and 1 of the original (AEx plugs into wall-A1264). I was wondering if one was better than the other. I am currently using the 2 latest version (square w/ cord) as repeaters so I'd rather keep using them for that purpose and use the older model 1st Gen Apple Express to stream using Airplay from my devices. Is one generation of AEx better than the other for this purpose? You may not know that answer having only used a specific version but I thought someone on this thread would know. Also, I have seen a wide range of Toslink to Mini Toslink cables in a wide range of prices. Does the cable make a huge difference in sound or would I just be spending more than I need to going with a higher end cable? My system is vintage. I have restored a 70's Marantz 2275 receiver,Thorens TD 320 TT, Elac Debut 6 2.0 speakers, Def Tech sub so nothing too high end but it sounds good to my ears and looks cool. I like the vintage vibe of components. Anyway, any thoughts on there is a difference in sample rate between the various generations of Apple Express and also the importance of the proper Toslink cable? Oh and I am considering ordering a new DAC - Shiit Modi Multibit.

I'm not sure which versions you have, but your post reminded me of these articles from some time back.
If I recall correctly, Computer Audiophile found the older Airport express to measure better, but read the article to confirm. I don't remember if there was a difference in sound.

https://www.computeraudiophile.com/...-and-Second-Generation-Apple-AirPort-Express/

https://www.kenrockwell.com/apple/airport-express-audio-quality-2014.htm
 

tmallin

WBF Technical Expert
May 19, 2010
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I never tried the older version of the Airport Express, so I can't comment on its relative sonic merits.

I do suggest, however, that you get the latest firmware for the newer version and that you use Apple's Airport Utility to check for the latest firmware and orient the Airport Express so that it gets the strongest wireless signal possible in your home. Stronger signals are indicated by lower absolute numbers; minus 66 dB is a stronger signal than minus 67 dB, in other words.

Based on experience with streaming devices in general, I also suggest that you dedicate an Apple Airport Express (perhaps a brand-new one) to just streaming audio to your system rather than having it do double duty for routing signals to other devices. Less load on the power supply and CPU can't hurt. A new Airport Express can be had for about $100.

For other things which might make a sonic difference, see my comment in my later Auralic Aries G2 thread. Things like the speed of your internet service, the type modem and router you use, and whether your cable feed is grounded at the service entrance might all make a sonic difference.

Finally, I have definitely found the type of toslink cable used to make an audible difference and improvement. The best I've found are the Blue Je
ans Cable toslink used with the BJC optical adaptor, of the Benchmark Toslink to mini cable. Neither is very expensive, only $40 or so.
 

pcoop3

New Member
Aug 14, 2018
2
0
0
Thank you. I plan to dedicate the 1st Gen Airport Express to stream only and not set it up as a repeater and it has been updated to the latest firmware using the Utility app. Like my Apple TV, I will connect directly to my Extreme using ethernet rather than set it up wirelessly. I'll report back after I give a test.

I never tried the older version of the Airport Express, so I can't comment on its relative sonic merits.

I do suggest, however, that you get the latest firmware for the newer version and that you use Apple's Airport Utility to check for the latest firmware and orient the Airport Express so that it gets the strongest wireless signal possible in your home. Stronger signals are indicated by lower absolute numbers; minus 66 dB is a stronger signal than minus 67 dB, in other words.

Based on experience with streaming devices in general, I also suggest that you dedicate an Apple Airport Express (perhaps a brand-new one) to just streaming audio to your system rather than having it do double duty for routing signals to other devices. Less load on the power supply and CPU can't hurt. A new Airport Express can be had for about $100.

For other things which might make a sonic difference, see my comment in my later Auralic Aries G2 thread. Things like the speed of your internet service, the type modem and router you use, and whether your cable feed is grounded at the service entrance might all make a sonic difference.

Finally, I have definitely found the type of toslink cable used to make an audible difference and improvement. The best I've found are the Blue Je
ans Cable toslink used with the BJC optical adaptor, of the Benchmark Toslink to mini cable. Neither is very expensive, only $40 or so.
 

Empirical Audio

Industry Expert
Oct 12, 2017
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200
150
Great Pacific Northwest
www.empiricalaudio.com
Hi Tobogan, I am resurecting an old thread. I too have been on a quest to find a better way to stream Tidal and Spotify with better sound. I have have been using Apple TV 3rd gen to DAC using Toslink. It's okay, but I know there is a better and cleaner way. I have several Apple Express and have read where the sample rate on the AEx isn't upsampled like the Apple TV so I will likely go this route. I have 2 versions of the Apple Express. I have 2 of the latest version (square w/ cord A-1392) and 1 of the original (AEx plugs into wall-A1264). I was wondering if one was better than the other. I am currently using the 2 latest version (square w/ cord) as repeaters so I'd rather keep using them for that purpose and use the older model 1st Gen Apple Express to stream using Airplay from my devices. Is one generation of AEx better than the other for this purpose? You may not know that answer having only used a specific version but I thought someone on this thread would know. Also, I have seen a wide range of Toslink to Mini Toslink cables in a wide range of prices. Does the cable make a huge difference in sound or would I just be spending more than I need to going with a higher end cable? My system is vintage. I have restored a 70's Marantz 2275 receiver,Thorens TD 320 TT, Elac Debut 6 2.0 speakers, Def Tech sub so nothing too high end but it sounds good to my ears and looks cool. I like the vintage vibe of components. Anyway, any thoughts on there is a difference in sample rate between the various generations of Apple Express and also the importance of the proper Toslink cable? Oh and I am considering ordering a new DAC - Shiit Modi Multibit.

You can improve the SQ of both feeds at the same time using the Syncho-Mesh. One can be connected with Toslink and the other with Coax. The switch on the SM can select between the two. I would high recommend using my BNC-BNC coax with RCA connectors on the output to the DAC however. RCA's cannot be cleanly terminated to coax for digital uses. Here is the Sonos and how the Synchro-Mesh improves it:

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

Only the SM can deliver 7psec of jitter at the end of the coax. And I suspect that the jitter from the ATV and AirPort Express are even higher than the Sonos. I have an AE, so maybe I'll measure it as well. More difficult since it's Toslink only.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
 

Tobogan

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Feb 2, 2018
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0
Hi Pcoop3,
I would rather use the newest Apple AE possible. I didn’t compare the 2 versions, but I remember that the old one had a tendance to be hot, not a good sign for a digital device, I guess Apple has perfected the AE over the years.
As I mentioned in my post, Toslink câbles are not born equal. Does the difference matter? It’s an observation, not really an absolute need. The big insulated cables didn’t sound better, they just sounded different. There’s no jitter with optical, so I guess the difference has to be found elsewhere. I found that some cables had a more “airy” sound than others, more space between the instruments; transients also were better with some of them. Try them and see which one you tend to leave plugged longer into your system. Price is an indication of the manufacturing process used, definitely not if the quality of the sound in your system.
If I had a choice, the new DAC would be definitely where I would invest my money, a good DAC is priceless and the difference can be huge.
FYI I recently replaced my AE with a Bryson Pi. The link to my DAC is done via asynchronous USB with a Wireworld cable. Is it better than the AE? Probably not, but the pi is a dedicated digital player, with more functions/connections.
 

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