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Surround Sound not working on your Apple TV 4 or Apple TV 4k? Here's how to fix!

Surround Sound not working on your Apple TV 4 or Apple TV 4k? Here's how to fix!

There may be several reasons for surround sound not working on your Apple TV 4 or Apple TV 4K, ranging from improper audio settings, to faulty cables, to even software bugs. Follow this short checklist to find out where your problem might lie, and how to get your Apple TV surround sound back up and working again!

Before gettings started, make sure you are testing your system with *actual* Dolby Digital surround sound audio during each step. While you can certainly use an iTunes movie containing Dolby Digital surround sound, you’ll spend a lot of extra time searching for and rewinding to any obvious surround sound “moments.” A better solution is to download a speaker utility such as the free Surround Speaker Check app, specifically designed for troubleshooting surround sound audio on the Apple TV.

Recommended: Surround Speaker Check [Free]

Step 1: Check Apple TV Surround Sound Settings

The first thing you should do when your surround sound fails is check the “Surround Sound” settings in the tvOS Settings app. Open the Apple TV “Settings” app, go to “Video and Audio” and then look for the “Surround Sound” pop-up menu. By default, you should select the “Best Quality Available” option. If you have an older receiver, you might want to try the “Dolby Digital” setting to see if this fixes your problem.

tvOS Audio Settings Screen
Apple TV Surround Sound settings screen.

Step 2: Make sure your receiver or sound bar is on the correct audio setting.

As most AV receivers and their accompanying remote controls contain a large number of buttons and audio setting options, it can be confusing as to which one you need to get basic surround sound compatibility with your Apple TV. As such, your AV unit user manual is most definitely the best source of info for learning which setting enables surround sound. Manual aside, try looking for an “Auto”, “Straight”, or “Direct” setting, as either of these modes should provide straight-forward audio processing of the Dolby Digital signal.

Yamaha AV receiver screen
Example of a Yamaha receiver receiving Apple TV 5.1 surround sound
(Note how the display reads "PCM" rather than the expected "Dolby Digital").

About Apple TV’s “Best Quality Available” setting.

With “Best Quality Available” selected in the Apple TV Surround Sound audio settings, be aware your receiver may not display the text “Dolby Digital” on the front like it might when hooked up to a Blu-Ray player or game console, or even an older model Apple TV 2 or 3 (see image above). This is perfectly normal, and is because the Apple TV models 4 and 4K decode the Dolby Digital signal on board the Apple TV itself and then sends raw PCM format audio downstream to the receiver. With the Apple TV audio settings on “Dolby Digital” option, the Apple TV decodes the Dolby signal on board, and then re-encodes the signal to Dolby Digital AC3 audio for compatibility with older receiver models. In this case, the receiver will indeed say “Dolby Digital.” However, due to the re-encoding process to the lower-quality AC3 format audio (as opposed to Dolby Digital Plus E-AC3 format), it is recommended you choose the “Best Quality Available” setting mentioned in Step 1.

Step 3: Check your physical cable and speaker wire connections.

This includes all connected HDMI cables as well as speaker cables. Over time, incidental contact with AV components as well as general household vibrations (including those induced by rowdy pets or kids!) can potentially cause a shift in connected items. Cables which look fine on the surface might actually be only half inserted into their sockets or connectors, wreaking intermittent havoc on your home theater setup. So you write up your problem to faulty hardware or software, go through and make sure all connections are good and snug. (This is also probably a good time to dust off the top of your AV components as well to prevent issues from heat buildup!) If you’re still experiencing problems, another good troubleshooting step is to swap out HDMI cables to see if a bad cable is causing trouble.

Finally, once everything looks and sounds correct, use a dedicated home theater test app such as the above mentioned Surround Speaker Check to confirm the your speaker wiring. Perhaps the most common wiring issue with most home theater systems is that the left and right rear speakers are often wired backwards, a problem not easily detected with an iTunes or Netflix movie alone!

Step 4: Confirm your content is actually sending surround sound audio.

Sometimes, the reason your surround sound isn’t working is actually due to a bug in a media app, rather than your Apple TV setup. If you rely on streaming apps such as Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime to play home theater content containing surround sound audio, you can try ruling out that software issues by simply attempting to play surround content on the various apps. If surround works on one source, such as an iTunes movies or the Surround Speaker Check app, but does not work with another, such as on Netflix or Amazon Prime, then the problem is likely due to a software bug within the affected app. If this is the case, make sure you have the latest updates for tvOS and your streaming media apps. Software-related bugs can often be temporally remedied by re-launching the app, or by re-booting the Apple TV. Though sometimes, all you can do is submit feedback to the developer and sit tight until they can fix it in the next app update. (Which, fortunately, is usually the case.)

Yet another reason why it may seem that surround sound isn't working on your Apple TV is because not all movies or TV shows take full advantage of surround sound audio. It’s entirely possible (and actually fairly common) for a title to implement and advertise Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, yet have little to no audio routed to the rear speaker channels. As such, you should conduct your surround system testing and troubleshooting steps using content produced to take full advantage of Dolby Digital surround sound capabilities.

Surround Speaker Check app for Apple TV image
Surround Speaker Check app provides an essential tool for troubleshooting surround sound audio problems.

Hopefully, the troubleshooting steps above will work to help solve your Apple TV surround sound problem, and you’ll soon be back to enjoying the awesome Dolby Digital surround sound in your favorite movies and TV shows!

Surround Speaker Check is available as a free download in the tvOS App Store on the Apple TV 4 and Apple TV 4K. (Enter the app title “Surround Speaker Check” in the App Store Search menu.)

Using "Subwoofer Check Track" with Apple TV to Optimize Your Home Theater Bass

Subwoofer, TV and Apple TV

One of the most important components to a great-sounding home theater system is a subwoofer capable of reproducing the low-end rumbles, thumps, and blasts which highlight the drama and excitement of your favorite movies and TV shows. To get the most enjoyment out of your home theater audio, you should make sure your subwoofer is working and that your system is properly managing the bass frequencies for all your audio content, be it from music soundtracks or hollywood special effects.

In this article, we review four essential tests the Subwoofer Check Track in-app purchase for Apple TV will help you perform when setting up and optimizing the bass for your home theater audio system.

What’s involved:

Apple TV
Dolby Digital-capable audio system with subwoofer (2.1 or 5.1 speaker setup)
Home Theater Speaker Check app (for iOS and Apple TV 2 or 3)
Surround Speaker Check app (for tvOS and the Apple TV 4)
“Subwoofer Check Track” (available via in-app purchase in either app)

Test 1: Is your subwoofer correctly wired and powered on?

This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many people don’t realize their subwoofer is not even working properly. This may be due to the fact that low frequencies are not always prevalent in movies and TV shows, with the majority of dialogue and music residing in upper and mid-range frequencies. The free *Speaker Check 5.1* track (available in either app listed above) will help verify your subwoofer is connected and working by isolating the subwoofer via the Dolby Digital LFE (Low Frequency Effect) channel. At 0:55 in the Speaker Check 5.1 track, the subwoofer icon in the upper right-hand of the video screen will illuminate (see image below), signaling that you should only be hearing audio from the subwoofer. If you hear silence during this portion of the check, make sure your subwoofer is properly connected and powered on. You may also need to verify your system is properly decoding the Dolby Digital soundtrack, as discussed in steps 3 and 4 in Guide to Connecting Your Apple TV to Surround Sound Speakers.

Speaker Check 5.1 track performing LFE test.
"Speaker Check 5.1" track performing LFE test.

Test 2: Is your crossover set up and working properly?

A crossover circuit works to split the audio signal into two frequency ranges, sending the low frequencies to the subwoofer and mid and high-range frequencies to the main speakers. The Subwoofer Check Track includes two tests designed specifically to help you evaluate crossover functionality: the Low Pass Filter test and the High Pass Filter test.

Low Pass Filter test: With this test, a full-range drum and bass loop helps determine if low frequencies are being properly filtered to the subwoofer. If your system is set-up properly, you should hear a noticeable change of sound when the on-screen display alternates between “all speakers on” and “subwoofer-only”. With just the subwoofer icon illuminated blue, you should only be hearing the thump of the kick drum and bass guitar. (The music should sound muffled, almost like there’s a pillow over the speaker.)

High Pass Filter test: Here, a multi-guitar melody arrangement deliberately lacking low-frequency content is used to test the AV receiver’s ability to prevent high-end frequencies from reaching the subwoofer. In this case, you should hear virtual silence when the subwoofer icon activates.

High Pass Filter test in action.
High Pass Filter test in action.

If either of the Low or High Pass Filter tests above reveal that your crossover is not working properly, the best course of action would be go back and review the subwoofer and “bass management” sections in the user manual for your AV receiver.

Test 3: Check your subwoofer’s volume level!

In general, setting the level for your subwoofer comes down to a matter of taste. Some people use their subwoofer as a subtle enhancement for their main speakers, while other home theater enthusiasts want to literally feel the impact of sub-sonic frequencies hitting them in the chest! Whatever your preference, the Low Pass Filter test can also be a great way to check and set your subwoofer volume as it allows you to compare the original audio signal with what the subwoofer is actually playing back.

IMPORTANT! It should go without saying that every speaker has it limits. Pushing your speaker beyond it’s capabilities can damage or destroy the speaker altogether!

Test 4: Can your subwoofer cleanly reproduce low frequencies?

The Continuous Frequency Sweep test and the Stepped Frequency test both utilize a pure sine wave to create a virtual “hearing test” for the subwoofer to help you evaluate it’s effective frequency response.

Continuous Frequency Sweep test:

When playing through the Continuous Frequency Sweep test, the tone should sound smooth and steady as it descends in pitch throughout the test. Keep a close ear out for any distortion or static, as these unwanted sounds may reveal a damaged or malfunctioning speaker. However, if you do encounter distortion, first simply try backing off the volume to make sure you’re not just driving the speaker beyond it’s capabilities!

Stepped Frequency test:

The Stepped Frequency test provides another perspective on your subwoofer performance by allowing your system to audition pure sine wave tones at incremental 10 Hz intervals, ranging from 120 Hz down to 30 Hz. While the test can help reveal any defects or irregularities in your home theater subwoofer (and perhaps even an errant crossover setting), I’ve also found it helpful to track down pesky rattles or other odd noises in the listening space resulting from objects vibrating in resonance with certain low frequency sounds.

IMPORTANT! Note that not all speaker systems may be able to reproduce the lowest test tones (30-40Hz). So to reiterate the warning displayed in the app: Do not turn up your volume while listening to any inaudible low frequency sounds, as you may damage your speaker and/or AV receiver! Always set the maximum listening level for these tests using the free “Speaker Check 5.1” track.

Performing the Continuous Frequency Sweep test.
Performing the Continuous Frequency Sweep test.

If any of the above tests indicate your subwoofer is not working properly, you should review and confirm with your AV receiver manual on how to properly activate and set-up your home theater subwoofer.

Home Theater Speaker Check for iOS can be downloaded for free at the Apple App Store. [direct link]

Surround Speaker Check for tvOS, is available as a free download in the tvOS App Store on the Apple TV 4. (Enter the app title “Surround Speaker Check” in the App Store Search menu)

Subwoofer Check Track is available as a $0.99 in-app purchase in either app.

Tube Amp Vs Modeling Software Shootout Part 2: Peavey 5150/6505

Tube Amp Vs Modeling Software Shootout Part 2: Peavey 5150/6505

In part 2 of my amp vs modeling shootout, we put the high gain capabilities of several amp modeling software products to the test by pitting them against a venerable hard rock and metal favorite, the Peavey 5150/6505 tube amp.

High gain amps like the 5150/6505 typically rely on the preamp stage to generate a heavier-sounding, more harmonically charged distortion.

In my previous round of listening tests (see Tube Amp Vs Modeling Software, Part 1), we primarily focused on the sound of a Fender Deluxe Reverb’s power stage being pushed into overdrive. However, while power tube breakup is great for creating tones suitable for a variety of styles such as blues (e.g. Stevie Ray Vaughan) and classic rock (e.g. AC/DC), hard rock and metal guitarists typical favor a more aggressive form of overdrive, often referred to as “high gain distortion”. High gain-capable amps like the 5150/6505 typically rely on the preamp stage to generate a heavier-sounding, more harmonically charged distortion sound associated with hard rock and metal styles of music (e.g. Metallica or In Flames). As such, this test compares several software models’ ability to emulate the preamp stage distortion of the mighty 5150 tube amp.

Peavey 5150/6505

For high gain duties, I often call on my revered Peavey 5150 amp, the first generation of a line of powerhouse signature amps co-designed by guitar legend Eddie Van Halen himself. Back in the 1990’s, the 5150 set a new standard among high gain guitar amps, and were soon adopted by a multitude of hard rock and metal players alike. While Van Halen and his trademark 5150 brand have long since parted ways with Peavey, the amp continues on as the Peavey 6505, a model still very popular with rock and metal players to this day. For these listening tests, the 5150 powers a closed-back 4x12 cabinet loaded with G12M-style speakers, Van Halen’s favorite speaker model for any of his signature amps. The microphone is a Sennheiser MD-421 positioned on the outer edge of the center speaker cone, just 1” off the cab grill.

Reminder: For best results, be sure to listen to the files on a decent pair of headphones or external speakers.

Peavey 5150/6505 - Heavy Riff

Real Amp

Native Instruments Guitar Rig

IK Multimedia Amplitude

Peavey Revalver

Peavey 5150/6505 - Lead Lick

Real Amp

Native Instruments Guitar Rig

IK Multimedia Amplitude

Peavey Revalver

All product names used in parts 1 or 2 of this article are trademarks of their respective owners, which are in no way associated or affiliated with this website.

Fender, Deluxe Reverb, are registered trademarks of Fender Musical Instruments Corporation.
Peavey, 6505, are registered trademarks of Peavey Electronics.
5150 is a trademark of ELVH Inc.

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Tube Amp Vs Modeling Software Shootout Part 1: Fender Deluxe Reverb

Tube Amp Vs Modeling Software Shootout Part 1: Fender Deluxe Reverb

In this amp vs modeling shootout, we compare several popular amp modeling software products against a real Fender Deluxe Reverb and a Peavey 5150/6505 tube amp.

Has amp modeling finally come of age? Or does software just provide a “close-enough” approximation?

While recently gearing up to record a new batch of songs, I thought about all the prep work I’d soon be involved with before I could even hit the “record” button. Dialing in amp tones, setting up and testing microphones, and routing cables all takes precious time away from actually playing the guitar. (Did I mention all the cables!?!) Although there is a certain amount of fun in playing with studio gadgetry, I found myself wondering if it might be worthwhile to take a second look at the possibility of recording with one of the many software amp modeling options available. After all, there’s no denying the plug-and-play convenience software modeling offers in terms of streamlining the recording process. Very few cables to run. No excessive amp volume to disturb family or housemates. Easy recall of amp settings. But what’s the tradeoff? Is amp modeling truly ready for prime time? Or does software provide just a “close-enough” approximation? To answer my own questions, I decided to put together a comprehensive listening test where I could directly compare a real tube amplifier against the latest guitar amp modeling software.

The test

Perhaps one of the most elusive characteristics of tube amp modeling is capturing the effect of the power tube stage being driven into overdrive. The 22 watt Fender Deluxe Reverb is easily overdriven, thus making the amp a great test subject for comparing how accurately modeling software can emulate the rich, creamy sound of power tube distortion.

The Fender Deluxe Reverb “dirty” and “overdrive” tests heavily focus on the sound of an overdriven power tube stage.

Since tube amps react differently depending on how hard you pick or strum, it’s imperative that any test compares the exact same performance. So to provide a fair and accurate testing ground, I’ve employed a professional audio switcher to simultaneously split the guitar signal to both the real amplifier’s input jack and the computer’s DAW interface. No guitar pedals were inserted in either signal path, and absolutely no eq, compression or other effects have been applied to the recording. This way, the only differing variable between each take is the amp modeling software itself!

The amp modeling software

The shootout involves the latest version of several popular software amp products and their respective models for the Fender Deluxe Reverb (be it an official licensed model or otherwise). Every attempt was made to duplicate the actual amp settings. However, in instances of dramatic difference in tone and volume, minor adjustments were made in an attempt bring the sound of the emulation closer to that of the real amp. Largely though, what you hear is what you get: raw guitar signal and a pure amp tone without the aid of any production editing or effects.

So without further ado, on to the Tube Amp vs Modeling Software Shootout!

Fender Deluxe Reverb

The majority of the tests here focus on the 22 watt Fender Deluxe Reverb amp. It’s relatively compact combo design and versatility among different musical genres have made the Fender Deluxe Reverb one of the most recorded, if not popular tube amps on the face of the earth. This particular unit was a reissue model purchased circa 2010, and has received no modifications over the course of it’s life. The amp is biased conservatively, and the speaker was mic’ed with a Shure SM57, positioned within 1” of the grill and on center of the speaker cone.

Tip: On review, I’ve found some of the takes can sound pretty similar when played back through tiny laptop or phone speakers. So for best results, be sure to listen to the files on a decent pair of headphones or external speakers!

Fender Deluxe Reverb - Clean (Vol. on 3)

Real Amp

Native Instruments Guitar Rig

IK Multimedia Amplitude

Peavey Revalver

Fender Deluxe Reverb - Dirty (Vol. on 4)

Real Amp

Native Instruments Guitar Rig

IK Multimedia Amplitude

Peavey Revalver

Fender Deluxe Reverb - Overdriven (Vol. on 10)

Real Amp

Native Instruments Guitar Rig

IK Multimedia Amplitude

Peavey Revalver

For the next series of listening tests, we’ll fire up the Peavey 5150/6505 amp to find out how accurate software modeling is when emulating preamp tube distortion, commonly employed in high-gain amps prevalent to rock and metal genres. You can check out part 2 of the shootout at: Tube Amp Vs Modeling Software Shootout Part 2.

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String Gauges of 50 Legendary Guitar Players

String Gauges of 50 Legendary Guitar Players

Choosing which guitar strings to use is one of the biggest decisions a guitarist can make regarding how their instrument plays, both in terms of tone and feel. Some players prefer thicker, heavier gauge strings for greater projection and durability, while others rely on the pliability of thinner-gauge strings to allow for “fast action” (lower string height) to better accommodate speedy note runs and frequent use of string bending techniques. Additional factors to consider when choosing one’s guitar strings include the scale length of the guitar, the tuning to be used, the style of music played, and so on. As such, when faced with the prospect of picking out a new set of new strings, many guitar players, at some point in their career, will look towards their peers and musical influences for reference. As a matter of interest (and entertainment), I’ve put together a comprehensive list matching famous guitar players with their personal choice of string gauge.

Notes to consider

— This list was culled solely from authenticated sources (i.e., Guitar World or Guitar Player magazine, among others), typically involving interviews with either the artist themselves or their personal guitar technician.

— String gauges listed are for electric guitars only.

— The string gauge listed accounts for each guitarist’s choice of strings at a particular time in their career. Be aware that most guitarists experiment with different gauges at some point or another, and rarely use the same exact brand or gauge of strings their entire career.

— When referencing string gauges in this list, readers should consider the style of music and tuning for each player. For example, heavy gauge strings with loose tension feel and play more like a lighter gauge when tuned below standard tuning.

— A single string gauge (ie. .009) references the high E string, and represents the overall gauge for the set, as typically listed by string vendors.

Now without further ado…

The list

Stevie Ray Vaughan .013 (.013 - .052)
Jimi Hendrix .009 - .038 (also .010, .013, .015, .026, .032 and .038)
Chuck Berry .008
Jimmy Page .008, .009
Jeff Beck .011 - .049 (also .009 - .052)
Brian Setzer .010
Eddie Van Halen .009 - .040
James Hetfield .009, (also .011 - .048)
Billy Gibbons .008
Kirk Hammett .010 (.011 set for bottom three string)

Buddy Guy .010
B.B. King .008 (.010 for signature set)
Slash .011 - .048
Tony Iommi (For D# tuning, from high to low): .008, .008, .011 (unwound), .018 .024, and .032. (For C# tuning, from high to low) .009, .010, .012 (unwound), .020, .032 and .042.
Dimebag Darrell .011 (.009 for standard tuning)
Mark Knopfler .009
Gary Moore .009 (also .010)
Eric Clapton .010 - .046
David Gilmour .010 - .048
Joe Perry .008, .009, or .010 (depending on guitar & tuning)

Angus Young .009
Malcolm Young .012 - .056
Al Dimeola .010
Zakk Wylde .010
Randy Rhoads .009 (also .010)
Steve Vai .009 (also .010)
Joe Satriani .009
Robbie Kreiger .010
Ace Frehley .009
Vernon Reid .011

Marty Friedman .010
Joe Bonamassa .011 - .052
Albert Lee .010
Alex Leifson .010
Keith Richards .011 - .042
Yngwie Malmsteen .008 - .048
Brian May .009 - .034
Trey Anastasio .010
Brad Paisley .010
Mark Tremonti .010 (.011 on bottom three)

Jerry Garcia .011
Kenny Wayne Shepherd .010, .011, or .012
Jerry Cantrell .010 - .046
Alexi Laiho .010 - .056
Eric Johnson .010 - .046
Frank Zappa .009 - .042
George Lynch .009, .010, or .011
Lenny Kravitz .010 - .052
Adrian Smith .009 - .040
Dave Murray .009 - .040

Plus two more!

Nancy Wilson .010 - .046
John Frusciante .010


Notes of interest

— A common misconception among guitarists nowadays is that heavier strings are required for a “bigger” tone. However, of the players interviewed, many overwhelmingly stated that avoiding string breakage on stage was the primary reason for going with a heavier gauge.

— On casual examination, it would appear that .010 gauge is the most commonly-used string gauge set. However, you again need to consider the source; Does the player favor a Stratocaster or Les Paul-style of guitar? This makes a big difference because the LP’s shorter scale-length will make the .010 strings feel “slinkier” in comparison to the same strings on a Stratocaster. Does the guitarist typically tune to standard pitch (A = 440hz), or does he or she tune down? Tuning down a whole step or more, for example, can easily make those .010-gauge strings feel more like a set of .008s!


“I wonder what strings [insert name of famous guitarist] uses?”, or “Do I need heavy gauge strings to play [insert name of music genre] music?”, are familiar questions all guitarists ask themselves at some point in their career. Hopefully, this list helps quench, or at least entertain, that momentary thirst for this particular topic of guitar-lore. However, I believe it’s fair to assume that most, if not all of the guitarists listed above would say that ultimately, which strings you choose should be decided through your own experience of trial and experimentation. —Jeff Perrin

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