Setting Up the Apple TV 4K for Lossless Music and Dolby Atmos with the Sonos Arc Surround Sound System: Installing the New Hardware

Previously in this Series

Back in February, 2022, I published the first in a series of four detailed posts about our efforts to upgrade our TV sound system in the Den. That first post, Setting Up the Apple TV 4K for Lossless Music and Dolby Atmos with the Sonos Arc Surround Sound System: The Hardware, focused on the hardware we were using and what additional hardware we were purchasing in our quest to get Dolby Atmos working affordably with our old Sony XBR-65X900C TV. 

The second post in the series, Setting Up the Apple TV 4K for Lossless Music and Dolby Atmos with the Sonos Arc Surround Sound System: The Settings, focused on the settings of each piece of equipment in preparation for the arrival of the Sonos 5.1.2 Surround Set with Arc, Sub G3 & One G2. It took another month for the Sonos system to finally arrive – chip shortages? supply chain issues? Who knows. All I know is that the new hardware was delayed by a month.

Promised and Now Delivering

I promised a third and fourth post when I installed our new Sonos system. The equipment arrived and I Installed it in early March, 2022. However, I haven’t written the third or the fourth posts until now, which is the end of June – about a four month delay! Yes, I waited a good long while to write this. 

Why the Delay? 

Well, after setting everything up initially, Dolby Atmos functionality with the AppleTV was unacceptably “iffy” to say the very least. Everything only worked twice when I turned it all on to watch TV! Sometimes it almost worked fine. But generally, we had big issues. Writing about setting up a system that wasn’t working most of the time seemed pointless.

Over the weeks that followed, I tried numerous variations in all of the settings, but nothing seemed to solve any number of problems that plagued the system, problems that included: getting the Dolby Atmos logo to appear in the Sonos app indicating the Sonos speakers were actually receiving and processing a Dolby Atmos audio signal from the AppleTV (when the AppleTV was in fact receiving a Dolby Atmos signal from the internet) and not defaulting to a PCM 5.1 audio signal, or not playing the AppleTV system audio sounds when navigating the menu unless you used AirPlay to connect the AppleTV to the Sonos system (But AirPlay lacks the bandwidth to even produce Dolby Atmos.), or not even connecting to the AppleTV audio signal at all – just plain, maddening silence when watching video that’s not a silent movie, but the tvOS had turned it into one.

I read that some AppleTV users were having huge spacial audio problems with their AppleTVs. And yes, I was one of them. So, I assumed this was an Apple tvOS 15.2 problem. Now, several Apple tvOS iterations later, these problems have been almost completely eliminated without my changing anything aside from updating the tvOS. So, now that everything is working as expected well over 90 – 95% of the time, I think it’s time to write these final posts.

So, this is Post Three on the new sound system setup process followed by a final post (Post Four) that details all of the updated settings for every piece of equipment I used. I will also include in this post a brief assessment of how well the new system works and how it sounds.

Two More Things

Two additional asides before beginning: The Digital Concert Hall app, by the Berlin Philharmonic, recently1 began streaming a Lossless Dolby Atmos audio signal! I’ll mention near the end of this post how to change your audio signal playback preferences in the Digital Concert Hall app if you use that app; so, you too can enjoy the Dolby Atmos audio encoding for these symphony performances.

And finally, to minimize troubleshooting I did not run any additional hardware connections, like a DVD player, through an additional HDMI switcher selector box. As the system stands now without this, I’m not even sure we can hear anything if we play a DVD in our DVD player, but we very rarely do that. When we want to play a DVD, I’ll research and troubleshoot how to best do those connections as we purchased (but did not install at this time) a multi-device HDMI hardware switcher selector box, the ROOFULL 5 Port 4K HDMI Switch with Remote Premium 5 in 1 Out [email protected] HDMI2.0 Switcher Selector, Support HDR 10, HDCP 2.2, Dolby Vision/ Atmos, Auto-Switch, 18Gbps, CEC, 1080P/3D.

Installing the New Hardware

Setting up the Sonos 5.1.2 Surround Set with Arc, Sub G3 & 2 One G2s was fairly time intensive but was also rather straight forward. I unboxed everything (including all of the new HDMI 2.1 cables which are essential for this to work), pulled all of the furniture out (so I could easily get to the back where all of the wired connections would be), and got my iPhone ready (as setup requires using the Sonos app on the iPhone).2 I began by installing the 4K Arcana 18GBPS HDMI splitter.

4K Arcana 18GBPS HDMI Splitter

Arcana 4K

Simple enough: 

  • plugged in the power to the Arcana, 
  • plugged the AppleTV’s HDMI output into the Arcana’s input, 
  • plugged the Arcana’s HDMI output into the Sony XBR-65X900C TV’s HDMI Arc input, 
  • plugged the Arcana’s HDMI eArc output directly into the Sonos Arc Soundbar. 

The Arcana splits the eArc signal that comes out of the AppleTV and sends the eArc signal directly into the Sonos Arc Soundbar. The Arcana also sends the AppleTV’s HDMI signal to the Sony XBR-65X900C TV’s HDMI input.3

Sonos Arc Soundbar

Sonos Arc

I then went into the Sonos app, under Settings, under System, and selected “+ Add Product.” Following the prompts was straight forward because the phone immediately found the new Arc Soundbar and wanted to set it up. Smooth sailing. By the way, I skipped Trueplaying the soundbar until all of the new Sonos components were added to the room. I don’t know if waiting to do this was necessary or if I could have Trueplayed each product as I went. These are just the steps I took, and they worked for me.

Sonos Subwoofer

Sub

I then plugged the Sub (Generation 3) into the electrical outlet4 , launched the Sonos app and, under Settings, under System, selected “+ Add Product.” Following the prompts was, once again, straight forward because the phone immediately found the new subwoofer and wanted to set it up. Also smooth sailing.

The Two Sonos Ones

And finally, I plugged the 2 One (Generation 2) speakers into the electrical outlet5 and followed the same process detailed above for adding them to the den Sonos system in the Sonos app. The app asks if you want to create a stereo pair out of these rear speakers, and I did. 

These Sonos One speakers are positioned behind the sofa in a bookcase at ear level when seated. They function as the rear speakers in the surround sound field.

Trueplay

In the last step in adding a new speaker, the app asks if you want to setup Trueplay for the speaker you’re adding. I then setup Trueplay for the Den sound system. The Sonos app clearly walks you through this process. The sounds used in the process are interesting.

Most Difficult Part

Truly, the most difficult part of setup, in my situation, was hiding all of the wires. I had to drill holes in the bookcase behind the sofa… Ug! But the final appearance once the sawdust was removed, all of the furniture was put back in place, and the wires were hidden was great – very clean with minimal visual noise.

Setup was very straight forward and easy. I suggest allowing yourself plenty of time (because you will need it) and not rushing.

How To Change the Digital Concert Hall App Audio Settings to Use Lossless Dolby Atmos

A few weeks ago, when I launched the Belin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall app, which I affectionately call bPhil for short, it advised me they were now streaming 3 audio options, one of which was Dolby Atmos, or “Immersive Audio.” At this point Apple had fixed their Dolby Atmos issues; so, I was crazy excited. But I had to search online to figure out how to turn this on. Once you figure it out, it makes sense. But initially it was well hidden to me.

On the AppleTV go to a concert performance that has the Dolby Atmos audio quality indicator in the concert’s description.

Dolby Atmos audio quality indicator in the concert’s description

Play the performance. While the concert is playing, when you move your finger down on the circular scrolling surface on the remote, the familiar timeline appears at the bottom of the screen. Using that circular scrolling surface select the gear icon to the right just above the timeline and press the center of the circular scrolling surface to display the audio quality options. Dolby Atmos is at the top of the list. Select the quality you desire.

The app will remember the setting you have chosen even across devices. So, when you listen to other performances that are streaming in Dolby Atmos, even if they are on a different device, the player will automatically choose Dolby Atmos for you. I think, at the present time, the bPhil app only provides audio streams in Dolby Atmos for concerts from the last 3 seasons (since 2019/2020). For more detailed information about this topic, including how to select audio settings on other devices, go to the Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall website by visiting this link.

So, How Does Dolby Atmos Sound on the Sonos Speakers?

I’ve mentioned that initially I had a tremendously difficult time (because of Apple’s tvOS 15.2) getting the AppleTV to send a Dolby Atmos signal to the Sonos system via the Arcana. As a result, the Sonos system would almost always process the audio signal as PCM 5.1 or simply PCM, even when I was playing music that Apple Music clearly designated as encoded as Spacial Audio (or Dolby Atmos). However, even with just 5.2.1 surround sound audio, the Sonos sound system produces astonishing results: clean, clear, fully ranged surround sound that completely fills our TV space without any distortion. The change from our old NAIM soundbar is nothing short of revelatory in that we can now hear the audio. We can always understand the spoken dialogue in TV shows and movies which had previously often been difficult and sometimes just not possible.

And when listening to audio encoded in Dolby Atmos on the Sonos system, it’s honestly a bit mind bending. I think the best word to describe it is in Apple’s name for Dolby Atmos, “spacial audio.” The bPhil website refers to it as 3D audio. It is. It’s unexpectedly spacious and dimensional – volumetric. You are in the middle of the sound, and it’s clear and undistorted even at high levels. I have never heard the system run out of headroom, but then, we don’t play it at absurdly loud, ear-damaging levels. Without doubt, listening to Dolby Atmos music (when it is well encoded – when it’s not, which is very rare but has happened, things can sound “misplaced” or oddly chopped away making me think encoding music in Dolby Atmos is as much art as science) is my preferred way to listen to music of any kind. It’s my preferred way to watch TV and movies.

Bottom Line

Now that Apple has fixed the AppleTV’s operating system, we love the sound the new Sonos system produces. I highly recommend it – highly.

How Does the New System Work

We are having a few minor issues still.

Remaining Problems:

  • Turning on the AppleTV does not automatically turn on the television set. I think this will never be resolved because I suspect the problem lies with my current TV. When the TV is replaced, it should work then, but that’s a lot of money to avoid having to use two remote controls to turn everything on/off.
  • After the AppleTV and the television set come on, you start streaming something, right? Well, it always takes several seconds, between 5 and 10 seconds, before the audio begins playing. So, you don’t hear the first few seconds of whatever you’re streaming. I suspect that the AppleTV doesn’t immediately “wake up” the Sonos speakers when the AppleTV first boots up, but this is pure speculation on my part. So, I always worry that the audio is not going to work. But, for now anyway, it eventually does, and my anxiety level goes away.
  • Now, on occasion, the TV does not come on and recognize the AppleTV is sending it a signal. It then produces the TV’s Android-based app menu. This annoys the hell out of me. I will never use it. I have to then go to the TV remote control and select input, and select the AppleTV input (again – because it already is selected). Then it displays the AppleTV. I’m not sure why this happens sometimes and not others. I have been unable to see any logical pattern here. It used to happen all of the time, every time. But after Apple upgraded to tvOS, it now rarely happens, but it still does happen.
  • The AppleTV remote will not control the volume of the Sonos audio equipment unless you are AirPlaying the AppleTV to the Sonos equipment. Then the remote works perfectly. But there is a catch! AirPlay does not have the bandwidth to stream Dolby Atmos audio, which, of course, was the whole point of adding the Sonos system to begin with, right?! So, no. The AppleTV remote will not control the volume of the Sonos audio equipment unless you’re content with crap audio quality. So, in order to control the volume of the Sonos audio equipment, I have to use the Sonos app. This becomes annoying because the different platforms (apps on the AppleTV like Netflix, Hulu, Apple’s TV app, etc) all have a very different definition of audio amplitude. Some apps blast the audio at insanely high levels, others are much lower. So, when I change from one app to another, I have to readjust the audio level in the Sonos app or wish I had.

Concluding Thoughts

All in all, the audio visual system is now working rather well and dependably with the few remaining issues detailed above. I am currently fairly pleased with performance, but I’m overwhelmingly happy with the sound quality of the Sonos speakers. The Dolby Atmos audio performance is simply awesome.

Other Posts in This Series

Post One: Setting Up the Apple TV 4K for Lossless Music and Dolby Atmos with the Sonos Arc Surround Sound System: The Hardware

Post Two: Setting Up the Apple TV 4K for Lossless Music and Dolby Atmos with the Sonos Arc Surround Sound System: The Settings

Post Three: Setting Up the Apple TV 4K for Lossless Music and Dolby Atmos with the Sonos Arc Surround Sound System: Installing the New Hardware

This post

Post Four: Setting Up the Apple TV 4K for Lossless Music and Dolby Atmos with the Sonos Arc Surround Sound System: Settings after the New Installation

In the final post in this series, I go through every single current setting on every single piece of hardware in this setup that in any way impacts the audio (and in some cases the video) performance output.

A reminder: I never have nor ever will accept any requests or payments of any kind for my endorsements or negative comments. I buy the products I write about just like everyone else, and I report my own personal experiences with them. All opinions are my own. Your opinions and experiences may vary.

Footnotes


  1. The beginning of June, 2022 

  2. I need to be clear, you can set these products up using an Android phone as well; however, you will not be able to setup Trueplay for your room. I can not highly recommend enough setting up Trueplay for your room, even if you have to borrow a friend’s iPhone to do so! Trueplay adjusts the sound output of your new system to the acoustic properties of the physical space the system is in, making the sound customized for the room in which it exists thereby providing an optimized, precise listening experience. 

  3. Remember: we had to use the Arcana device because our Sony XBR-65X900C TV, like many (most) televisions currently in use, can not process or even throughput an eArc signal. This means Dolby Atmos would never work with our Sony XBR-65X900C TV because the eARC signal could never get out of the AppleTV to the Sonos sound system without the Arcana. Our TV is too old to have an eARC input/output. 

  4. The subwoofer wirelessly connects to the Sonos Arc for it’s audio signal. 

  5. The subwoofer wirelessly connects to the Sonos Arc for it’s audio signal.