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Airport express sound quality test

thurston

New member
Alternatives

Alternatives

I am fairly new to music-streaming.

I do use Fire TV and Apple TV for movies and such for a little longer and have to say that they work marvelously.

Maybe these experiences made me go a step further just recently. My trusty old Musical Fidelity amp did not make a sound anymore so I looked what is on the market.

As this stereo-setup is in the living-room it was not "necessary" to have audiophile stuff (or better "audiophile" brand names), cause I have a dedicated listening room in the basement for that kind of madness.

So I found the newly (re-)started Yamaha Musiccast system.
Their new receiver is very connective and includes (among others) an Airplay-option.

Ordered the amp (600,- € / compared to the audiophile jewelery we often buy a very competetive price, cause its has truckloads of options, includes tone-adjusts, looks like a an amp of the golden HifI-age and has reasonable power) and when it came I had to test it with my SHL5s in the listening room.

Using airplay it is a simple joy to use. Via spotify it is fairly easy to discover new music.

Because of these great results I tried their small active mono-speaker as well. The ease of use was also apparent, but the sound quality was IMO shockingly bad. I know that there are limitations because of the (for portable use) size, but the Sangean FM-radio in our kitchen manages to sound fairly good, despite being even smaller.

Apart from that I am very pleased with the Musiccast-system.
 

winfriend

New member
Different sound, different loudness

Different sound, different loudness

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.
It just happened to be so that I exchanged my Rotel 1582/85 set up with a Quad 99 (CD+Pre+amp)two days ago. My system setup is streaming from my Macbook Pro (iTunes) to Airport Express into Audio sytem to Harbeth P3ESR-2. In the Rotel system I used the Rotel Dac.

While putting the Quad system in place I decided "Oh what the heck, let's try the AEX Dac." I was more than pleased with the result for a while..... But my curious nature just couldn't leave me alone and pushed me into trying the Rotel Dac.

The sonic improvement was surprising and striking, because the 'roll off' (lesser dynamic range) from the AEX was clearly audible to my ears. I switched a couple of times between AEX (jack connection) and Rotel DAC (Toslink from AEX) and noticed that the signal from the AEX (jack) was more amplified compared to the Rotel. I have no clue as to why....
 

Gascho

New member
Apple wins

Apple wins

Having an iPhone and iMac, iTunes and Airport Express is still the best solution by far. It's built into the OS and seems to work with far more ease than other music apps.

If Google added Airplay I would be all over it, for now I'm very content. Never noticed a difference between 16/44 and 24/192.
 

Kumar Kane

New member
AirPlay etc.

AirPlay etc.

I'd like to stream music from Apple Music via AirPlay to the AirportExpress and then my hi-fi.
If the three items I pointed out earlier here aren't issues for you, this will work. Sound quality will be as good as the source material that is coded at 256kbps lossy in Apple Music. I have found no difference between Apple's lossy 256kbps albums sold on iTunes and lossless ripped CDs of the same well recorded music, so in your case I would be quite satisfied that I was hearing CD quality sound via your hifi.

And yes, Airplay is built into Airport Express.
 

Kumar Kane

New member
No comparison - level mismatch

No comparison - level mismatch

If CC is able to stream music from your computer or NAS with a good app, Sonos is in trouble..
CC can stream music from a NAS, but see my post #11 for why Sonos still comes out ahead. Does that lead justify the big price difference is a good question whose answers will vary from person to person. If I were to be buying now, I'd still pick Sonos. CC doesn't come close to the overall user experience that Sonos provides, in my assessment of it. Sonos will be pushed to smarten up its act though, which can only be good for the customer.
The sonic improvement was surprising and striking
I'd put this down first to sound level differences; unless instrument set sound level matching is done, an apples to apples comparison isn't being made.

It is possible that the AEX DAC is audibly inferior to your Rotel DAC of course, but establishing that in a listening based assessment needs the said apples to apples comparison.

That said, toslink cables are cheap, and if you have established that connection, enjoy the better outcome that you are hearing!

I haven't kept up with AEX, but I suspect that the current models don't offer the optical output via the dual purpose jack that the wall wart models had. IMO, even if that is the case, AEX can still be good solution if its limitations aren't relevant to the circumstances. I have found that the AEX DAC is perfectly adequate.
 

Milosz

Active member
AirportExpress

AirportExpress

If the three items I pointed out earlier here aren't issues for you, this will work. Sound quality will be as good as the source material that is coded at 256kbps lossy in Apple Music. I have found no difference between Apple's lossy 256kbps albums sold on iTunes and lossless ripped CDs of the same well recorded music, so in your case I would be quite satisfied that I was hearing CD quality sound via your hifi.

And yes, Airplay is built into Airport Express.
Thanks Kumar! In fact I just bought and configured the AirportExpress yesterday and it works very well at streaming music from my iPhone. Quality of the music streamed via Apple Music is not a big concern to me as I'm only using this service for listening to popular music. Well recorded jazz and classical music that need the real quality I'm still listening from CD's or lossless files stored on the hard drive of my PC. Neither the three items that you pointed out before are issues for me cause they don't go in the way that I'm intending to use the AEX.

Nonetheless, there might be a different issue that I didn't give enough thought before. I have yet to find out how to stream music from the Apple TV to the AEX. I have no problem streaming from the iPhone but am still not sure if the Apple TV enables further streaming to another device or can only receive a stream. I will post here when I find out.
 

thurston

New member
Yamaha CD-NT670d

Yamaha CD-NT670d

@ssfas

I haven´t tried the Tascam, but because of my good experiences with the Yamaha-system I will try their CD-Player/Streaming-combo.

It is called Yamaha CD-NT670d and features the functions of the Tascam plus some others, most importantly Airplay.
It also looks more like a unit for home-use instead of the studio-equipment appearance of the Tascam.

The Yamaha costs around 400,- € and as soon as it is available (said to be in December) I guess I have to try it out. It would connect my "good" stereo (the one with the SHL5s) to the modern streaming-world of today.
 

SChat

New member
Auralic Aries

Auralic Aries

Tascam do a combined disc spinner and DLNA networked streamer/DAC with all required inputs and balanced and unbalanced outputs. Remote control and a TEAC app on iOS and Android.

£349 - anyone tried it?

http://tascam.com/product/cd-240/
http://www.juno.co.uk/products/tascam-cd240-rackmount-network-cd-player/554228-01/
Where would you put Auralic Aries compared to this or Sonos?

PS - I am looking for comparison in terms of connectivity, convenience, features etc. NOT sound quality.
 

Milosz

Active member
Aex

Aex

I haven't kept up with AEX, but I suspect that the current models don't offer the optical output via the dual purpose jack that the wall wart models had.
The current AEX still has the optical output via the dual purpose jack. You need a Mini TosLink -> TosLink cable for that. If it didn't have that feature, I wouldn't buy the AEX as I'm just going to plug it into my Audio Aero Capitole Mk. II CD player via the optical cable.
 

winfriend

New member
Aex dac

Aex dac

I'd put this down first to sound level differences; unless instrument set sound level matching is done, an apples to apples comparison isn't being made.

I'd put this down first to sound level differences; unless instrument set sound level matching is done, an apples to apples comparison isn't being made.

It is possible that the AEX DAC is audibly inferior to your Rotel DAC of course, but establishing that in a listening based assessment needs the said apples to apples comparison.
I've bent my brains around your reply to try and understand what you mean by 'instrument set sound level is done' in this case. But I assume that you refer to Alan's method of which I am totally aware and agree to.
But Alan's method (less than 0.2 dB and exact same Voltage output) difference in the amplification output to the speakers) is not opportune here, since the only change was made in changing the input into the amplifier from Analog signal (from AEX DAC into the amplifier) to Toslink optical signal (from AEX through the Rotel Dac into the amplifier.) The output from the source (iTunes) remains the same. I assume here that the signals entering the amplifier have exact the same electric value. Or is this the point where all you techies shake your head and think "Oh boy, this guy really doesn't get it...." :)

(Oh lord, why did I pursue an arts career instead of a technical one.....?) ;-)

BTW: The latest AEX models have still the same dual purpose jack.

And yes, the AEX Dac is perfectly adequate. It would never have crossed my mind to buy another Dac if I hadn't the Rotel Dac. But this damn curiosity...... ;)
 

Kumar Kane

New member
Different voltages

Different voltages

the only change was made in changing the input into the amplifier from Analog signal (from AEX DAC into the amplifier) to Toslink optical signal (from AEX through the Rotel Dac into the amplifier.) I assume here that the signals entering the amplifier have exact the same electric value.
No, they don't. The analog input on your amp almost certainly receives signals of differing voltages from the AEX analog output and from the analog output of the Rotel DAC.

Why lose sleep over this though? In your case you seem to have found a solution that you like, I'd just move to enjoying the results from the much larger music that you now have access to:).

And thanks for the clarification on the dual purpose jack on the new models.
 

Kumar Kane

New member
Avoid the PC

Avoid the PC

Well recorded jazz and classical music that need the real quality I'm still listening from CD's or lossless files stored on the hard drive of my PC. .
To keep the PC out of the loop for music play, moving the lossless files to a router attached NAS as simple as a WD MyCloud is the usual route. But I have no idea how to get this music to play on your hifi using AEX; if you know a way, do post that as well.

If you are able to do this, be assured that sound quality will not be compromised as long as your music play isn't getting interrupted for WiFi reasons. And you may first want to just see how ECM albums streamed to AEX/HiFi from Apple music sound. I would be very surprised if these sound lower quality compared to CD play through the same hifi set up. It would be a pity to not use the larger music store of Jazz for example, in Apple Music.
 

Batears

New member
Lossy?

Lossy?

Lossy is an unfortunate adjective yet we save our photographic images to jpeg, why not audio?
 

Gascho

New member
Streamer equipment?

Streamer equipment?

Apple TV and Airport Express can only receive signals, not send them out. You need to have some form Apple device to stream music to them. There may be Airplay enabled NAS out there, with some kind of remote app, but none that I know of.
 

Kumar Kane

New member
The wonder of ChromeCast (even without technical evaluation)

The wonder of ChromeCast (even without technical evaluation)

Lossy is an unfortunate adjective yet we save our photographic images to jpeg, why not audio?
Good point, though my SLR is used for only RAW image capture, just because that affords me a lot more scope for post processing manipulations compared to what jpeg does. When I export the finished picture to anywhere, jpeg works just fine for me as well. The analogy is the recording engineer needing the audio equivalent of RAW - 24 bits - but his finished version that we get to use even in 16bit/44 can sound just as good even using up to a certain level of lossy compression.

This is where the camera analogy to home audio breaks down actually; a serious amateur photographer is the equivalent of a recording engineer with the camera as an active tool whereas home audio is always only the equivalent of seeing the finished product, with the equipment in a much more passive role. Therefore, while a lot of photographer antics are similar to those of audiophiles, there can be justification for them at least in some cases, for even things like ergonomics. A camera - the tool - that is easier to handle can often result in better pictures, for instance. Much of the change that is brought about to passive home audio kit works only where it has the scope to, in the psychological domain.

Apple TV and Airport Express can only receive signals, not send them out. You need to have some form Apple device to stream music to them. There may be Airplay enabled NAS out there, with some kind of remote app, but none that I know of.
As I said, I don't know of any either - and I suspect this may have something to do with Airplay/AEX architecture. The streaming device you refer to has to be on, in stable WiFi range of the AEX if music is to keep playing, and consume power either from the mains or battery all the time music is playing.

Both Sonos and Chromecast on the other hand work by having their remote app on the handheld device give a command to the home NAS or the server of the music service provider to start streaming directly to a specified kit of theirs which is supplied mains power and hard wired to the amp or active speaker. Once that is done, the remote app/handheld has no role to play till change of music stream is required, it can even be turned off till that time without affecting music play.

I found the Chromecast Audio interface to be a little clunky in getting music to start playing at times, or when the music stream had to be changed. But once music play from the music service starts, the little device works flawlessly and delivers - to my ears - CD level sound quality even from the analog outputs, using the 2 volts signal option into a hifi set up, with well recorded music. I for one no longer need measurements to be satisfied that this is the case - YMMV.

The big test for Chromecast will be how capable it is to do multi room, this can only be tested once that upgrade is released, perfect sync multi room play is challenging. If successful, Sonos will be in some trouble. At USD 35 a room, the CC route will then be ground breaking value for money. For a single room installation, it is so even now.
 

SChat

New member
Direct connection

Direct connection

Apple TV and Airport Express can only receive signals, not send them out
i am sorry - but I do not understand that sentence. Airport Express can certainly receive a broadband signal either through the ethernet port or WiFi and then send them out either through Ethernet or WiFi. Therefore an AEX can act as a bridge between the base router (to which one can connect a NAS) and the audio end.

A mobile device connected to the network using WiFi can run an app controlling the NAS's file management software. The mobile device essentially works as a remote. One does not even need to use "Airplay" to do any of this.

PS - And as far as Apple TV is concerned - it can, just like CC, access services on the net and stream to the amplifier. There is no need to use Airplay from the mobile device
 

ssfas

Well-known member
Coverage

Coverage

For those like me streaming from a NAS wirelessly, pleased to report my modem router problems are over.

The "Asus DSL-AC68U AC1900 VDSL/ADSL Modem Router" is astonishing. Was able to set it up to replace my Sky Modem in about 5 minutes (after having recovered the password using Wireshark). It basically did it itself. The onboard software is extremely good and it is very easy to get a list of the IP addresses of all devices on your network. Miles better than Sky, TPlink or Netgear.

The main thing is that the coverage is incredible, it is on the ground floor and covers that and the two floors above and the shed at the end of the garden with no trouble at all. I therefore now have a redundant Airport Extreme.
 

kerouack

Member
Router problems generally

Router problems generally

Main problem about routers is: The free routers from ISP's are really awfull. That system (giving people "free" routers, that are not free, we really rent them in a hidden way), creates a lot of problems, incompatibilities if you buy another router, ISP's dont give you configuration to use your own router, makes the router brands not investing in creating good software and easy to use, cause almost nobody buys routers in shops, and more...

Yes, lately, Asus routers are very good in all aspects and with good price. Apple routers are good, but expensive, like the very new google routers (made by Asus and TP-Link) that we can not buy in europe. Tp-Link are good too. Problem sometimes is configuration by someone who is not a computer expert, router brands need to improve in that, i think Asus did that too.

I would prefer a 4 euros discount per month with my ISP and no free router, just buying one. In fact right now i payed my router in a shop and i am also paying the hidden rent fee frm my ISP.
 

Milosz

Active member
$th generation Apple TV

$th generation Apple TV

Apple TV and Airport Express can only receive signals, not send them out.
Above is not true as regards the new 4th generation Apple TV which has Apple Music app pre-installed on it and can stream directly to another AirPlay enabled device, such as the AirportExpress or my Marantz AV amp. You can change audio output in settings of the Apple TV. I just selected AirportExpress there and am happily streaming music from the Apple Music app on the Apple TV to the AirportExpress and then my hifi. Works great!!!

Simple and efficient streaming solution that I've been waiting for for years. No need to rip CD's, tag files, store them on the NAS etc. cause Apple Music has it all. It's a perfect solution for me.

Apple Music app on the Apple TV -> AirPlay -> AEX -> TosLink -> Audio Aero Capitole Mk. II -> QUAD 909 -> Harbeth SHL5+
 
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