With an Apple TV4, a pair of Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 9 speakers, and a plan to connect them, I decided to find a solution to wirelessly transfer audio from Netflix, HBO, Amazon, and other services to the BeoLab speakers. Airplay was the solution. Here is how it works.
Apple TV: Wireless audio out
My Apple TV4 is connected to the TV but the built-in speakers are not great for watching movies and TV shows. If you own B&O equipment you know that it is not exactly easy to pair BeoLab speakers to products outside of the B&O ecosystem.
Before I set up my current system, I tried using audio jack, headphone out, and optical output but one of the challenges with active BeoLab speakers is that they end up being always on. Another challenge is that you end up having significant audio delay, which of course makes it completely useless for watching TV (but OK for music).
B&O has introduced a wireless sound platform (WiSa) but it is relatively expensive and not very flexible at the moment. I was looking for a wireless audio system for TV and music.
I did the following:
Apple TV4 (& Apple TV3) can output TV audio wirelessly via Airplay, without delay. If you already own an Airplay speaker you can ”swipe” down from the top with the Siri Remote and select the Airplay speaker as audio output.
Bang & Olufsen has products with built-in Airplay, and these products can automatically trigger the speakers to ensure that they are turned on only when in-use. BeoSound Essence is one such box and since I was also looking for a music solution (with Airplay), Essence was the obvious choice.
Essence connects to B&O BeoLab speakers via PowerLink cables (1 less wireless connection) and connects to the home WiFi.
Apple TV can now see Essence as an Airplay speaker (see photo) and when selected it wirelessly beams audio to Essence and the BeoLab speakers.
Because Airplay is integrated on a system level in Apple TV, it works with all apps, including iTunes, Netflix, HBO, YouTube, Plex, Infuse etc. Some app developers have decided to remove the default top menu but in those cases you can activate Airplay audio output from the settings menu on Apple TV.
It also works with the Apple Music app that allows you to watch music videos on the TV and get sound through your BeoLab speakers.
One of the advantages of this solution is that you can continue to use Apple TV’s Siri remote for everything. At home, we are not even using the standard TV remote so any audio solution that would require entering the TV’s menus, would not work.
The BeoLab Essence is available for around €675 / £600 including the Essence remote (can be excluded to save money) and looks like this.
Some things to consider
Many people associate wireless sound with delay, sporadic drop outs, and reduced audio quality. However, Airplay does not compress audio (lossless) and although it is not yet a high-res format, it supports stereo TV sound.
I have yet to experience drop outs in sound, but in the end it depends mostly on your WiFi at home. Investing in a good WiFi router is definitely worth it.
You adjust audio volume with the Apple TV’s Sire Remote. You can also use Apple’s Remote app (if you TV fully supports HDMI CEC) or B&O’s remote controls (including the Essence Remote).
Of course, this solution only works with video played via Apple TV. It does not work with my PlayStation or Xbox, and not with my Nvidia Shield.
Wireless sound does not work with games on Apple TV
The same approach can be used to pair other Airplay speakers to Apple TV but since Airplay speakers are often designed for music, they rarely deliver stereo sound. At the moment, the Airplay system only supports one output target (in my case Essence) so it is not possible to expand to surround yet. The upcoming Airplay 2 protocol from Apple will support multiple speakers and multiroom.
Wireless sound does not work in games on Apple TV since games introduce significant audio delay. This is apparently related to the fact that Airplay has not been deeply integrated in Apple’s ’Metal’ game engine. It may be solved in the future (Airplay 2?).
Another option to consider: B&O also sells the 'Transmitter 1', which can be connected to the TV's audio output to transfer all audio to WiSA-enabled BeoLab speakers. BeoLab 9 are not WiSA-enabled. B&O sells the 'Receiver 1' to make any BeoLab speaker WiSA-capable. The reason why I did not opt for this solution is that Transmitter 1 lacks Apple Airplay.
For a 100% wireless audio solution Airplay would have to be integrated in both the TV and speakers, and we do not expect the former to happen anytime soon.