I hate to be too negative and nitpicky about Apple's products, especially when they do so much for me. So when I go to tweet about a problem I'm having, my finger hovers over the "Send" button in a moment of doubt. "Does the world really need to know that my Apple TV's audio is flaking out? What does anyone gain from my complaints?" I went ahead and sent it.
I got back the stock response to any Apple complaint: file a radar. But I also learned something from Robert Cooper, who's been having his own Apple TV audio troubles. You can pair Bluetooth audio devices to it! I knew that the 4th generation Apple TV had limited Bluetooth support when it first launched, and I just assumed that audio output over anything except HDMI was impossible.
My TV has mediocre internal speakers that I've put up with for a long time because I haven't yet splurged on a better audio setup. But there's a better speaker right here in my living room. It's the Amazon Echo sitting just a few inches above my TV! After the usual Bluetooth pairing dance — make the device discoverable first, or search for devices first? — Alexa cheerily said "Now connected to Apple TV."
The difference in audio quality is noticeable, in both good and bad ways. The Echo's speakers are richer than my TV's, especially for music and sound effects, but it tends to dampen the spoken word. Since the Echo speakers are all stacked up in a tube, there's no stereo separation. I also had to crank the Echo master volume up to 5 or 6 out of 10, which is far too loud for most other uses. On the whole, it's a modest improvement.
Playing audio through the Echo enables new features as well. On the Siri remote, there's no mute button, and telling Siri "mute" won't adjust your volume; instead it takes you directly to a short film called Mute in the iTunes store. On the Echo, "Alexa, mute" and "Alexa, unmute" work perfectly. That puts me one step closer to permanently getting rid of my television's remote. So credit to Apple for letting the Apple TV play Bluetooth audio, and credit to Amazon for letting the Echo appear to be an ordinary speaker. And extra credit to Robert and anyone else who takes my complaints about Apple as a chance for us to all learn and improve.