Use Apple TV for Audio Only – Headless Apple TV

Apple TV Audio Only

If you’ve connected your Apple TV to an amp and speakers as suggested in this post, you may want to use your Apple TV for audio only. That is to say, whilst your music is playing the TV screen is switched off. Being able to switch off the screen (and its associated low level white noise) allows you to get into the music that much easier and not get dazzled by the Apple TV screen savers or streamed cover art.

This article looks at how easy setting up your Apple TV for audio only is and benefits of doing so. I’ve tried to be as comprehensive as possible, but if you feel I’ve missed anything please add a comment.

How-to set Apple TV for audio only

To be able to benefit from audio only Apple TV use you will need something to receive the digital audio signal from the Toslink port. This might be a digital receiver, soundbar with optical input or by using a DAC to connect to an analogue setup. The Toslink port is the most straightforward means of connecting your Apple TV to an audio setup and avoids awkward HDMI splitting.

The Toslink port looks a little bit like a house and sends digital information using light. When you plug in a cable, you should be able to look at the other end and see that it glows red.

The following picture shows you where the  Toslink port is on the Apple TV.

Apple TV Toslink Port

And here is a cable from Amazon which will plug into your Apple TV. [UK Link]

When you are setting up your system for headless playback you most likely have your TV connected – even if it is switched off. Because you have a screen connected it is easy to line up music from iTunes Match if you subscribe to that service.

As long as your Apple TV is switched on and connected to the same network, you will be able to see your device through AirPlay. As a result, you can easily play music from an iOS device (or some Android apps) through your Apple TV whilst the screen is off.

On you iOS device swipe from the bottom and connect to your Apple TV using AirPlay. You can do this whether the screen is off or on.

 My Setup

I’ve taken a few snaps of my setup with all of the connecting equipment in front of the TV. You will see that I am running a DAC that converts the digital signal into and analogue output that can be played through my powered speakers. The powered speakers have an amplifier built into them and are a little more compact than having a dedicated unit for this purpose.

Home Sharing

If you have Home Sharing enabled on your Apple TV and a Mac computer you can play this headless too. What you need to do is install the Remote App from the App Store onto an iOS device. This allows you to access the majority of the Apple TV functionality – including the ability to connect to your iTunes library that is being shared.

Some NAS servers can be employed to host your iTunes library. And whilst you will still need a Mac computer for Home Sharing, you do not need to have your library on the Mac itself.

The remote app is useful for the setup of your Apple TV also. It helps to avoid having to use the including silver remote with your Apple TV to type in passwords and the like.

Network Connection

If your wireless connection is less than ideal, then you might want to consider connecting your Apple TV back to your broadband router with a set of Powerline adapters. As you can see from my Apple TV, the ethernet port is occupied. I’ve done this despite the Apple TV being in the same room as my wireless router. I find that a pseudo-network connection like Powerline is significantly superior to the reliability of 802.1n wireless networking. And, whilst it is not going to make a massive difference for wireless music streaming, when it comes to playing HD films (which are often around 3Gb in size) that the film is ready to play that much sooner than if I’d relied on the wireless signal.


If you have an Apple TV and have a digital music collection, then being able to stream this music to it is wonderful. Being able to set if free from your TV screen and onto proper music playback equipment is even better. I’m not claiming that this is an audiophile solution, but for the average person, with an average setup, the quality is good enough. And, without having to rely on expensive specialist equipment – such as Sonos, you can have a good quality streaming setup for not a great deal of cash.

With an iOS device, it doesn’t matter whether your music is within iTunes, Google Play Music, Spotify, Deezer or some other service. You can use your iPhone or iPad to relay the music from your device to your speakers. This also works for internet radio stations and soundcloud, so you should never be short of a bit of music to listen to.

TV’s are great. Especially if you want to watch a film. But for folk of a certain age (I include myself in this category) having a screen switched on whilst listening to music feels odd. Not having to put up with this allows you to get into the mood of the music, or, if you have friends around not stare at the screen because it is on.

Any more to add?

If you are doing something similar, or have a different experience to the one described above please get in touch. Do you find that there are other benefits above and beyond the ones I’ve listed? If so, let me know and I’d be particularly keen to hear what equipment you are using and how it all performs.

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