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How to hook up Apple TV to external optical-audio speakers

Apple TV 4K
Apple TV 4K (Image credit: iMore)

The fourth-generation Apple TV comes with many new features, but it's lost a few, too—namely, an optical audio port. If you relied on the optical audio port to hook up your AV system, here are a few solutions you may want to consider.

Use your TV (free)

If your TV offers an optical audio port, consider hooking up your sound system to it, rather than your Apple TV. You'll lose AirPlay support, yes, but that speaker system will still be ready to play anything from your new Apple TV. (Also: Make sure you train your remote to control your speaker system!)

What you'll need: Your current TV, an optical audio cable.

Keep your old Apple TV around (free)

If you own a third-generation Apple TV (and the plug space to keep it in your media center), you can use its optical audio port for your surround sound system thanks to a new Audio and Video routing setting on the fourth-generation Apple TV. You will have to wake your third-generation Apple TV from sleep when you want to use audio, which may require the use of your old Apple TV remote (or an extra setting on a universal remote).

What you'll need: A third-generation Apple TV, optical audio cable, fourth-generation Apple TV.

How to route your old Apple TV's audio to your new Apple TV

  1. Hook up your third-generation Apple TV to power, and connect the optical audio cable to your sound system. (You don't need to use an HDMI cable for anything.)
  2. Turn on your fourth-generation Apple TV and go to Settings > Audio and Video > Audio Output.


  1. Any AirPlay compatible speaker is listed here, including your third-generation Apple TV. Find your Apple TV name and click on it.

Note: When you're connected to your third-generation Apple TV's audio receiver, you won't hear any of the system pops and clicks from the fourth-generation Apple TV as you mouse around—but once you enter an app, game, or video, the audio will properly reroute.

Use an audio extractor ($15-$300)

Don't have an old Apple TV or optical out port on your television but still want to enjoy the benefits of optical out? Pick up an HDMI-to-Toslink (optical audio) extractor. This lives in-between your TV and Apple TV, routing the Apple TV's HDMI connection through a tiny box that separates the HDMI video signal and the audio signal. To make this work, you'll need a spare power port and extra HDMI cable.

The simplest of these boxes starts at just $15, with more expensive models going upwards of $300. I recently picked up the $31 ViewHD HDMI audio extractor (opens in new tab), which I like a lot—it has the option to route audio either via optical out or RCA.

What you'll need: Audio extractor, extra HDMI cable, optical audio cable.

ViewHD HDMI audio extractor - $31 (opens in new tab)

Hook up an Airport Express ($70)

If your stereo system isn't close enough to your TV to warrant an audio extractor setup via HDMI, consider hooking it up to an Airport Express. Apple's Wi-Fi router can also work on existing networks as a quick way to give a speaker system AirPlay powers—or, in this case, Apple TV powers.

What you'll need: Optical to 3.5mm Adapter (opens in new tab), Airport Express (opens in new tab) (or refurb Airport Express (opens in new tab), optical audio cable

How to route your Airport Express audio to your new Apple TV

  1. Hook up your Airport Express to power, and connect the optical audio cable to it (via 3.5mm adapter), and to your sound system.
  2. Turn on your fourth-generation Apple TV and go to Settings > Audio and Video > Audio Output.


  1. Any AirPlay compatible speaker is listed here. Find your Airport Express and click on it.


Questions?

Let us know below and we'll try to address them.

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.

46 Comments
  • Can't you use Bluetooth to connect the new Apple TV to your optical audio device?
  • Yup, you can also do that!
  • Does it lag at all when you use Bluetooth?
  • I have connected my Sony AV receiver (ADP model circa late 2013, early 2014) to my ATV4 via Bluetooth & I am experiencing a 0.5-1.0 second lag on audio which as you can imagine is quite frustrating. Does any one know if there's a way in which this can be rectified via the ATV4, or is this something I would need to troubleshoot on my receiver? FYI If I am to use my TV Speakers I do not get this lag hence why I'm thinking it is due to the Bluetooth speaker connection. I did have my ATV3 connected via TOSLINK & was quite disappointed they scrapped the optical output as I'm left with subpar alternatives or the fact I need to dish out even more $$$ for a HDMI Splitter, not to mention another clutter-creating cord behind my system. Any help or solutions would be much appreciated!
  • Hmmmmm. So how DO you use Bluetooth to hook up to an optical audio device? I assume you mean an optical audio device that also has bluetooth...
  • Is there any perceivable lag when using airplay to a third-gen Apple TV?
  • Not to me!
  • Why Apple removed it ? It let its users do complicated things instead of keeping things simple, which is supposed to be their mojo Sent from the iMore App
  • Well, audio through HDMI is simpler and supports features Toslink does not, like 7.1. I do use a 7.1 AV receiver and the quality of the output from HDMI (LPCM 7.1) is clearly superior to the old Toslink. Of course, for people having no modern AV receiver and no optical out on the TV (which should be a clear minority), it is not simpler at all. I agree that Apple should have kept it for now, but in the long run, optical out is quite dead.
  • Does using airplay with 3rd gen ATV route 5.1 audio, or is it stereo only?
  • I've got mine hooked up this way and so far I can only get a stereo signal out... Hopefully the audio splitter box I've ordered will pass through 5.1 Strangely I can get 5.1 audio if I AirPlay a movie directly to the 3rd gen Apple TV, but airplaying content from 4th gen to the 3rd gen tv sends stereo audio every time.
  • i dont understand this article, ive done what it says here connected my appletv 4 and applte tv 3 with optical cable to home theater and i get only stereo sound and not 5.1. Whats the point of this article if it does not work?
  • Only stereo here via ATV3 over AirPlay. Haven't tried my Airport Express yet, but we'll see.
  • It may be worth mentioning that not all televisions will pass-thru a Dolby Digital/5.1 audio signal. At best, you might get stereo. The loss of optical output took the Apple TV off of my shopping list. Some claim that optical is old, outmoded technology, but if that is true why do all of my Macs have it? Indeed, Mac support of optical is why I used it in the first place. A.
  • That's exactly what I came here to comment.
    My 2014 LG in fact passes 5.1 to my old receiver (no HDMI) so I just switch everything on the TV and output to the receiver when I want to (I can toggle output bt TV speakers & optical out... ~5 layers into the menu :-/ )
    Odd though that my laptop supports >5.1 via HDMI if connected directly to a newer receiver, but the EDID of my TV only shows at 2-ch PCM, to computers only. AppleTV & PS3 are able to send AC3 DD & DTS via HDMI, then optical out to receiver. Sent from the iMore App
  • All great advice, but it still doesn't make the volume control on the Apple TV remote work for anything other than the built in TV speakers.
  • I thought Serenity mentioned "training" the remote to control the receiver. I was able to confirm in-store that the remote is controlling the TV volume via IR (LG TV setup), so IN THEORY, the remote may be able to control the receiver if it has IR. Sent from the iMore App
  • I could set it up to control my sound bar in the bedroom and my AV receiver in the living room. No idea if it works for all devices, but here it was 2 out of 2.
  • Yup, you can train it to recognize other things!
  • I have a top of the line Sony ES Receiver from the early 2000s. Dolby Digital 7.1 sound. Works great. Beautiful sound. However, it does not have HDMI ports. This Apple TV has no RCA, no Optical, no Coaxial output. Was Apple expecting me to shell out another two grand for a new receiver?
  • Sorry AppleZilla but your "top of the line" receiver isn't "top of the line" anymore. Honestly it wasn't "top of the line" when you bought it and 3 months later Sony had something better already. Deal with it. Now are you going to tell me that your early 2000s iPhone should be fully compatible with all the new app's?
  • Apple couldn't have included a 2 dollar part? Not a single audio output? A LOT of people use Apple TV as a Airplay audio conduit. You control the sound from another device without having to even cut the TV on. This has been a Selling point for Apple TV for years. And the Sony audio quality is virtually unchanged from the early 2000s. Receivers aren't accessories. Or anywhere comparable with an iPhone.
  • Unfortunately the sound output defaults back to the Apple TV after it is turned off. Needs to be reconnected each time! How annoying. Sent from the iMore App
  • I noticed that the surround sound doesn't seem to work on some apps for some reason. Watching an iTunes movie worked. Watching Homeland in the Showtime app didn't give me any rear channels for some reason. I tried it on my chromecast through the iPhones Showtime app on the same tv and it worked. Anyone else notice this?
  • I think the same thing goes for music.
  • Very useful info, thanks. Does this method work with Gen. 2 ATV?
  • I'm glad I saw this article. I have ATV3 and it totally meets my needs for easy access to iTunes Match, Netflix, Movies, and AirPlay support. Don't need anything else. But I JUST noticed via this article that the 4 doesn't even have an optical port. Total dealbreaker for me. I rely on that. My old receiver is still chugging along, but it does not do HDMI switching (yes apple, there still are many of these around). Thus I have to route video to the TV directly and audio to the receiver. I guess if my ATV3 died and I HAD to get a 4, I would have to buy an audio extractor and I'd prob go the $30 route that Serenity did. But, alas, ATV3 chugging along fine for me.
  • Jib21, and AppleZilla, I'm in a somewhat similar boat, as I have a quite old Yamaha RX-Z1 reciever circa 2002 that I still use and am quite fond of. I also have an Oppo BDP-103 Blu Ray player and thought I would not be able to use the new ATV4 but I remembered the Oppo has an HDMI INPUT. So, I ran the HDMI out from my ATV3 into the HDMI input on the Oppo, and it works without even using the optical out on the ATV3. So it should work with the ATV4 as well. The Audio from my ATV3 is routed along with the HDMI video into the Oppo, and the Oppo routes the audio from the ATV3 to it's own optical OR coaxial output, depending on which you prefer using. Of course, this moot if you don't have a component like the Oppo that has a HDMI input. I just thought that there may be a few readers here that has one that might be able to take advantage of this type of connection and configuration.
  • Do you get 5.1 when you play music on the ATV4?
  • I found an interesting phenomenon. When I hook up ATV4 to Airport Express, everything works except for the following glitches: I hear no system clicks or user-interface sounds (moving the cursor). I also get a lag while playing any games. All tv/movies have no lag, but the games have a lag. All of these problems are solved if I go directly via Bluetooth audio (my soundbar receives bluetooth). However, I actually would prefer to use the ATV4 & Airport Express. Anyone experience this lag problem / system sound problem with Airplay via Airport express?
  • Hi jbk. I'm experiencing exactly the same thing. I used Airport Utility to add an Express as an extender to my Time Capsule (this worked flawlessly btw). Instructed ATV4 to use my Express for audio output. It works, but like you I've lost the ATV4 user interface sounds, and game audio is sufficiently lagged as to be unplayable. But seems to work fine for Netflix and other video apps. I've also experienced some confusion/inconsistency about volume control through the Siri Remote. Once, I had to re-select the Express as audio output (even though it displayed as selected) because the Remote insisted on trying to control the TV volume despite my best arguments. And when the ATV4 first wakes up, it seems to take a second to correctly control the Express audio volume. Sadly I can't offer any suggestions. Guess I'll have to find another speaker solution.
  • I'm hoping that they fix this with a firmware update. It's a little sad..
  • I have optical coming from my TV to home theatre system and set my tv to output sound through optical so no matter what I plug in via hdmi sound is still output through speakers. It works for me.
  • so i have 2 receivers that i ran from my apple tv3. one uses hdmi switching and goes to big screen and indoor sound system. then i used optical out to go to my receiver that i use for the outdoor speakers. i could have the apple tv sound on 1, both or either easily. anyone know how i can do that now with ATV4? if i hook up an airport express will it still go to the tv via the receiver and HDMI when the optical is plugge into the outdoor receiver?
  • I just returned my ATV4 at the Apple Store. It hadn't occurred to me that Apple would drop the optical audio port. I have LOVED the ATV3's elegant simplicity: a HDMI connection to my TV and TOSLINK connection to my Yamaha AVR for Dolby 5.1 sound. Over 80% of my ATV3 use is streaming music from my iMac's iTunes library to my Yamaha AVR. The Apple Store employee informed that only a tiny fragment of ATV owners utilize the TOSLINK port, which is why Apple dropped it. How else do people stream their iTunes music to their AVRs? I briefly considered trying the proposed workaround of hooking up the ATV4 to my TV and using the TV's TOSLINK to connect to my AVR, but took heed of Alrescha's comment: "Not all televisions will pass-thru a Dolby Digital/5.1 audio signal. At best, you might get stereo." That's why I returned the ATV4. Again I pose the question: How else do people stream their iTunes music to their AVRs? ATV3 does this seamlessly; ATV4 does not.
  • Thanks for posting this. Was able to easily keep my old Apple TV+optical audio before I take the time to merge sound into HDMI. Very helpful!
  • DeRochier, thanks for the comment! I have an older Kenwood receiver with no HDMI inputs. Still love the receiver, and don't have the $$ to shell out for a new one (and why, since it still sounds great). So, if I'm following your logic, I could get an ATV3, hook the HDMI to the TV, then run the optical out to the other optical in on the receiver? I believe the other optical in on my receiver is "CD/DVD Optical" and the optical output on my TV says "digital optical out"
  • Thank you very much! I got the HDMI-to-Toslink (optical audio) extractor (ViewHD HDMI Audio Extractor for $39, incl. shipping) - and it works perfectly. I had been using the optical audio port from my ATV3 (hooked up to a Optical Toslink to R/L Stereo Audio Converter - to send the analog audio signal to Zone 2 of my Denon receiver) to play sound in second zone of speakers for the rest of my home. I was really disappointed when the ATV4 came out without the audio output, since I was then unable to play my iTunes music in Zone 2 (kitchen, rooms, outside, etc.). Now I am back in business!
  • Have you tested your configuration with content that is DRM projected, for example, movies purchased from the iTunes store? I set up a similar HDMI extractor and it successfully extracted stereo (L/R) audio ONLY when the source was not DRM protected. There is no signal on the analog L/R outputs when playing DRM projected content such as movies purchased on iTunes. I am seeking a method that will successfully extract analog audio from all content played on the Apple TV (Gen 3 now and Gen 4 future) regardless of DRM protection.
  • I had not tested it, so tried it out. I just played a purchased iTunes movie in Zone 1 (the tv room where I normally watch with surround sound) and in Zone 2 (rest of house). The sound worked fine in both zones.
  • I've done some further testing and determined that the problem I have encountered is not related to DRM. I am trying to obtain simultaneous multichannel LPCM (to feed Zone 1) and analog stereo (to feed zones 2 and 3). This is not easy to do with ATV3/4. What EDID setting have you set on your ViewHD HDMI Audio Extractor? What are your audio output settings in your ATV3/4?
  • Sorry - I am not very technical - so I am not sure what the EDID setting is? I just plugged in the Audio Extractor and it worked...I do not see any where to change settings... The audio output settings on my ATV4 is just the default = AppleTV. Surround Sound = Best Quality Available. Not sure this is helping you...
  • I am looking to address the same issue you had and wondered whether with the extractor you now pass HDMI through to Zone 1 (for both audio and video) and route analogue audio through RCA 2Ch(R/L) for your Zone 2 - thereby doing away w