• Welcome to the all-new HUG. All content has been converted from the old system, and over the next days we will re-style HUG in a more familiar way.

Airport express sound quality test

willem

Well-known member
I just found a serious test of the sound quality of Apple's Airport Express:
http://www.kenrockwell.com/apple/airport-express-audio-quality-2014.htm
It is useful for all those who use the Apple eco system as a streaming source. The conclusion is simple: it is perfect, and that includes the dac. No need at all to spend a penny more, unless you need to connect other sources as well.

I can only hope Ken will soon subject the new Chromecast audio to a similar test.
 

Gascho

New member
No more spend

No more spend

I love that he went to the extent that he did for these tests. It really does show that beyond a reasonable doubt there's no reason to spend more. If anything, just buy a couple if you have multiple sources. The only thing I'm investing in now is a better router to handle everything going over the network.
 

ssfas

Well-known member
Airport Expess, Quad and the Rockwell Review site

Airport Expess, Quad and the Rockwell Review site

No surprise about the Airport Express or Ken Rockwell's review. Ken is the best independent reviewer of camera equipment, bar none.

Like him, I used an Airport Express Toslink to DAC for about a year to stream online from my Macbook and now use a network bridge with Airplay onboard to do the same thing. It is the classic case of computer audio at a computer part price rather than at an audio component price.

The only possible issue with the sound is that it may be a bit rolled off at the top end although, as he says, some amps are designed to do that, some people use DAC filters for the same reason and it is not necessarily a bad thing.

We must all love Ken as he reviewed the Quad 34, raved about the Tilt facility and started thus:

This popular (at least in the UK) and compact (only 12½" or 32cm wide) Quad 34 preamp is optimized for the enjoyment of symphonic music through the world's finest loudspeakers, namely the QUAD ESL-63 electrostatic in its day, or today, Harbeth.
http://kenrockwell.com/audio/quad/34-preamplifier.htm

Well, you can't argue with that.

He has a BIG readership. He loves small M-fit lenses. Perhaps Harbeth HQ should arrange him to try a pair of P3ESR.
 

Kumar Kane

New member
Airport Express

Airport Express

a serious test of the sound quality of Apple's Airport Express:
Ken is better known in the camera world and doesn't command a lot of respect in the serious picture taker fraternity. Which isn't to say he is always wrong, and I'd agree with him here because of my audio experience with the AEX, and because of the measurements published by Stereophile for an AEX first generation which said pretty much the same thing.

AEX has three issues when it comes to audio:
1. The hosting device that streams to it has to be always on, consuming battery or be connected to the mains to avoid that. And I don't know how it can be used in combination with a NAS, it probably can't.
2. Multiple room streaming via multiple AEX devices is limited to the same music in all rooms.
3. Since it uses the hub and spoke WiFi architecture, music play isn't as stable as it is from the Sonos dedicated WiFi layer that works in peer to peer mode wherever possible.

Where these issues did not become obtrusive, AEX was a solution just as good as Sonos, but I think that Chromecast may have changed the game now - once it gets the multi room capability upgrade that is promised by end of 2015. Still not as slick to use as Sonos, but for many, the price differential may compensate for that.
 

acroyear

Active member
Tube distortion

Tube distortion

I've read Ken Rockwell's reviews before, I did not realize he was such a tube advocate. He says something akin to: using solid state is good for music production when you want to get things correct but use tubes for playback because the distortion makes the music sound better.... though I'd say why allow you equipment to clip in the first place.



He has an article specifying 'why tubes sound better' (plus plenty tube amp reviews) as you can see he makes no bones about top end roll off and distortions adding to his preference, he is also aware that microwatt amps will work ok with compressed music at low volumes but dynamic classical for eg. will be hopeless if you want the peaks left intact.

edit: A bit OT so maybe this aspect better left in this thread:

http://www.harbeth.co.uk/usergroup/showthread.php?1942-Comparing-amplifiers-a-group-experiment-in-analysis-deduction-and-collaboration&p=37880#post37880
 

ssfas

Well-known member
Obsessive, compulsive audiophiles

Obsessive, compulsive audiophiles

Ken Rockwell does have the American "tube" issue - I understand it is a big thing over there.

I think we should separate the AEX and Airplay as separate issues. The AEX does have the limitations described above. Using Airplay built in to my network bridge (and Airplay is now almost standard in streamers) I stream from Qobuz on my iPhone. Once the screen goes off it uses hardly any battery.

Hi-end has hit the national papers ...
http://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/nov/29/lost-in-music-the-world-of-obsessive-audiophilia
 

Kumar Kane

New member
Airplay & AEX

Airplay & AEX

I think we should separate the AEX and Airplay as separate issues. Hi-end has hit the national papers ...
http://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/nov/29/lost-in-music-the-world-of-obsessive-audiophilia
I don't see how you can separate them, Airplay is AEX tech, licensed by Apple and embedded in the third party equipment. It avoids having to have an AEX box hanging from the end of the equipment.

The comments at the end of the Guardian article are also very entertaining, thanks!
 

willem

Well-known member
Let down by the Guardian

Let down by the Guardian

That Guardian article really is drivel. On the one hand it points to the fact that there is a lot of bogus in the high end field, to follow up with straight faced descriptions of systems that are based on nothing other than hot air. It leaves the naive reader with the impression that yes there are very rich people, and yes some of those systems do actually sound great even if we dot not quite know why.

There is no attempt to help the underpaid music loving intellectual who reads the Guardian to spend his money wisely.
 

SChat

New member
Airport Express is first a WiFi bridge, then a streamer

Airport Express is first a WiFi bridge, then a streamer

Ken is better known in the camera world and doesn't command a lot of respect in the serious picture taker fraternity. Which isn't to say he is always wrong, and I'd agree with him here because of my audio experience with the AEX, and because of the measurements published by Stereophile for an AEX first generation which said pretty much the same thing.

AEX has three issues when it comes to audio:

1. The hosting device that streams to it has to be always on, consuming battery or be connected to the mains to avoid that. And I don't know how it can be used in combination with a NAS, it probably can't.

2. Multiple room streaming via multiple AEX devices is limited to the same music in all rooms.

3. Since it uses the hub and spoke WiFi architecture, music play isn't as stable as it is from the Sonos dedicated WiFi layer that works in peer to peer mode wherever possible.

Where these issues did not become obtrusive, AEX was a solution just as good as Sonos, but I think that Chromecast may have changed the game now - once it gets the multi room capability upgrade that is promised by end of 2015. Still not as slick to use as Sonos, but for many, the price differential may compensate for that.
Obviously there is a lot of misunderstanding about how an Airport Express can (and should) be used in a home streaming network.

First of all, AEX is not just a DAC or a Streamer - its primary function is that it can extend and create a wifi network! Which the SONOS or the Chromecasts of tye world cannot. That allows it to be used as aan access point (to the network) using which a DMA or a uPnp capable amp can be connected to the home network. Airplay allows an iPhone or iPad to connect to the AEX and the home network and therefore steeam directly from the mobile device or from the NAS by using the mobile device simply as a remote.

I have an Amazon Fire TV Stick (which incidentally has way more content than Chromecast) so I am aware of the advantages and limitations of these "streaming sticks".

The thing about Google is that, and I know and love Google for many reasons, but they just do not get ecosystems. Anyone remembers Orkut? And did anyone recently visit Google+? Its the haunted house of social media.
 

Kumar Kane

New member
Sonos v. Chromecast

Sonos v. Chromecast

its primary function is that it can extend and create a wifi network! Which the SONOS or the Chromecasts of tye world cannot. That allows it to be used as aan access point (to the network)
It seems that Sonos isn't well understood either. While essentially a dedicated to audio platform, it also allows access to the parallel home WiFi network in place and has ethernet jacks on every unit to enable just this, so if one needs to, even a printer could be wired to any Sonos unit via that jack. It offers this facility while not having the three referred disadvantages of AEX/Airplay.

Sonos of course cannot create the WiFi network in the first place, it can only act to extend reach, while the jack of all trades AEX can do both things.

I used AEX to stream content from a mac and iPod touch before its three inadequacies took me to Sonos in 2011. How do you use it with a router attached NAS? What kind of app allows the mobile device to be used just as a remote, and can this be done on non Apple devices as well? I have also used the Apple remote app to use the mobile as a remote control for the streaming from iTunes on a Mac, but the Mac had to be kept awake and running for this. But if there is a way to have a NAS serve up the music via airplay to AEX with the PC/MAC/handheld powered down, that does eliminate one of the three AEX for audio issues.

I just do not know how to do that, hence I have it down as one of three issues with AEX, and that may be wrong. Also, how can one use AEX to access music from Spotify as an example, and have the streaming continue with the mobile remote powered down, as both Sonos and Chromecast allow? To the best of my knowledge, with AEX the bitstream has to go from the router to the app hosting device and then back to AEX from said device, so if the app hosting device is shut down, music stops. Note that sound quality isn't one of the three issues though. That it wasn't is what allowed me to bin my SACD player and switch to wirelessly streamed digital audio. I moved beyond AEX only because it did not meet all my feature and stability needs in the manner that Sonos does.

What content does Chromecast need to have? It seems to me that all it needs to do is pull the stream from somewhere, cloud or wired to router NAS, and feed it to the amplifier or active speaker. The streaming side has to allow itself to be so pulled or casted, but I expect everyone except perhaps Apple to have that built into their streaming service access app. And there has to be a reason why 20 million video dongles have been sold in 18 months. This does not automatically mean that the audio dongles will be equally successful, but there isn't anything that rules out its success either. The interface is clunky at this time, but once music starts it plays without hiccups and is of perfectly good quality.

I should qualify that by saying that it plays without any more hiccups than what the best wireless streaming solutions, even Sonos, display once in a while. For USD 35 a pop, that is noteworthy I would say. So long as one does not have the issues that some people have about Google knowing what music I listen to if I were to use Chromecast - I don't care if they do.
 

Kumar Kane

New member
The Sonos advantage

The Sonos advantage

What I love about Sonos is how simple it is to use. Each Sonos unit also has start/stop and volume control buttons. I have Sonos front ended set ups in four rooms and each room usually has either a different NAS derived playlist or preferred radio service/station that has been selected for it via the handheld device hosted control app.

Stopping music play then is as simple as hitting the stop button on the unit, while restarting, even after a few days/weeks, is just a matter of touching it again and music will instantly start in any or all four rooms from where it had stopped if, as designed to be, the Sonos units have been left in standby mode. All of this can be done without having to first finding and then invoking the app on a possibly sleeping handheld device and waiting for things to become usable. And all of this leveraging one NAS+router+broadband connection infrastructure, with the handheld not required to be invoked except when the music selection has to be changed.

The Mac is only used when I buy new music or when I make playlist changes because it is easier to do this there.

All of this sounds trivial, but isn't so once one gets used to the ease and convenience of music play, and I haven't yet come across another solution that does this as slickly and effortlessly as Sonos does. I still haven't had hardware failures from any unit, some of which date back to 2011, so build quality also seems to be good enough, while the firmware keeps getting upgraded for free much the way Apple does this. What Sonos does that is notably different from Apple though is respect the need for backward compatibility. Every playing unit sold since 2005 will still work on the same platform as the latest ones on sale.

AEX does not come anywhere near this ease of use, and at this time, neither does Chromecast. One reason why Sonos may be also stay ahead of Apple and Google is because Sonos does only home audio. Hopefully, it doesn't end up getting bought by one of the two.

As far as I know, no one can do all that Sonos does at its price point. Probably the closest, but at a higher price point, is Bluesound that does hi res as well for those that hear the value in that, but doesn't offer the dedicated to audio peer to peer WiFi layer that Sonos does.
 

A.S.

Administrator
Staff member
Chromecast review (in computer magazine)

Chromecast review (in computer magazine)

Here is a review. I still have not dared to connect mine.
 
Attachments only viewable to members

Kumar Kane

New member
Airplay v. CC

Airplay v. CC

Here is a review.
The sound quality referred is in line with my experience of CC, using the 2 volts high dynamic range option.

A recent discovery on Airplay v CC. Airplay is an iOS feature so any audio app that is developed for and works on iOS will also allow Airplay by default. The ability to cast CC on the other hand has to be built into each app by the app developer, so this will mean some ramp up time for many apps to get the casting capability needed to work with CC. Most music service apps as well as Tune In radio are on board and castable by now though, so this may not be a big issue. Unless one must have Apple music, and I don't expect even the recently launched Android version to have the cast feature in it.

Apple music is slated for integration into Sonos before end of 2015 though; today the only way to play it on Sonos is via Airplay/AEX, with AEX wired to a line in jack on Sonos. A bit clunky, but it works well enough.
 

ssfas

Well-known member
File formats?

File formats?

I have a mix of 16/44, 24/48, 24/96 and 24/192 files on my server.

Airplay is limited to 16/44, which is why I use a network bridge. What about Sonos Connect and Chromecast? What are their data limitations?
 

SChat

New member
Sonos & Bluesound are best

Sonos & Bluesound are best

The sound quality referred is in line with my experience of CC, using the 2 volts high dynamic range option.

A recent discovery on Airplay v CC. Airplay is an iOS feature so any audio app that is developed for and works on iOS will also allow Airplay by default. The ability to cast CC on the other hand has to be built into each app by the app developer, so this will mean some ramp up time for many apps to get the casting capability needed to work with CC. Most music service apps as well as Tune In radio are on board and castable by now though, so this may not be a big issue. Unless one must have Apple music, and I don't expect even the recently launched Android version to have the cast feature in it.

Apple music is slated for integration into Sonos before end of 2015 though; today the only way to play it on Sonos is via Airplay/AEX, with AEX wired to a line in jack on Sonos. A bit clunky, but it works well enough.
Sonos or Bluesound (if H-Res is a must) are the most optimum solutions.
 

Milosz

Active member
AirPlay?

AirPlay?

Does the AirportExpress have the AirPlay feature in-built? I have the new generation Apple TV and I'd like to stream music from Apple Music via AirPlay to the AirportExpress and then my hi-fi.

Would it work or I'd rather get Arcam AirDAC instead of the AEX?
 

Kumar Kane

New member
High res audio

High res audio

CC goes up to 24/96.

Sonos has till date refused to get on to the hi res bandwagon, because they don't believe there is any audible effect from just the higher numbers, and doing so for just new units will affect backward compatibility. It still has the same limits as Airplay and Sonos users that have higher files do a one time downsample to 16/44 to obtain the benefit of any remastering driven sound improvements.

There is a lot of noise about the inconvenience of this in the Sonos world, and on the fly transcoding down will probably be offered in the future.
 
Ease and convenience first

Ease and convenience first

What I love about Sonos is how simple it is to use. Each Sonos unit also has start/stop and volume control buttons. I have Sonos front ended set ups in four rooms and each room usually has either a different NAS derived playlist or preferred radio service/station that has been selected for it via the handheld device hosted control app.

Stopping music play then is as simple as hitting the stop button on the unit, while restarting, even after a few days/weeks, is just a matter of touching it again and music will instantly start in any or all four rooms from where it had stopped if, as designed to be, the Sonos units have been left in standby mode. All of this can be done without having to first finding and then invoking the app on a possibly sleeping handheld device and waiting for things to become usable. And all of this leveraging one NAS+router+broadband connection infrastructure, with the handheld not required to be invoked except when the music selection has to be changed.

The Mac is only used when I buy new music or when I make playlist changes because it is easier to do this there.

All of this sounds trivial, but isn't so once one gets used to the ease and convenience of music play, and I haven't yet come across another solution that does this as slickly and effortlessly as Sonos does. I still haven't had hardware failures from any unit, some of which date back to 2011, so build quality also seems to be good enough, while the firmware keeps getting upgraded for free much the way Apple does this. What Sonos does that is notably different from Apple though is respect the need for backward compatibility. Every playing unit sold since 2005 will still work on the same platform as the latest ones on sale.

AEX does not come anywhere near this ease of use, and at this time, neither does Chromecast. One reason why Sonos may be also stay ahead of Apple and Google is because Sonos does only home audio. Hopefully, it doesn't end up getting bought by one of the two.

As far as I know, no one can do all that Sonos does at its price point. Probably the closest, but at a higher price point, is Bluesound that does hi res as well for those that hear the value in that, but doesn't offer the dedicated to audio peer to peer WiFi layer that Sonos does.
I am very satisfied with my Sonos zoneplayer ( I don't like their "play" units) but since the CC I am asking myself why does it has to cost almost 400 euro's. If CC is able to stream music from your computer or NAS with a good app, Sonos is in trouble..
 

willem

Well-known member
Where are the measurements?

Where are the measurements?

The Chromecast DAC is 24/192, but is apparently currently limited to 24/48. There are reports that this will be upped. The optical output probably has an upper limit of 24/96, but I am not sure. In any event, the support for higher resolutions is better than on Sonos or Airplay. Whether you think that matters is different story. I note that the review that Alan linked to has nothing on the analogue sound quality from the DAC, and thus far I have not found a single proper test with measurements.

From what I understand from a picture of the settings on the app sharing your behaviour with Google is an option that you can refuse.
 

learning

New member
Resampling

Resampling

I have a mix of 16/44, 24/48, 24/96 and 24/192 files on my server.

Airplay is limited to 16/44, which is why I use a network bridge. What about Sonos Connect and Chromecast? What are their data limitations?
Streaming Spotify show up as 24/48. When I've tried to play 24/96 files stored on my NAS via UPNP the DAC shows them as being resampled to 24/48. An update is supposedly on the way to permit bitperfect if anyone can actually hear the difference.
 
Top