The 6 Best HDMI Audio Extractors
This wiki has been updated 21 times since it was first published in January of 2018. If you're setting up a home theater and you want to include a variety of inputs and outputs leading to stereo or surround sound speakers, a good HDMI audio extractor can help you grab the signal coming from your TV or Blu-ray player and send it to your receiver without using the television as an intermediary. The result is much higher fidelity and, often, no loss in picture quality. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
December 22, 2020:
With 4K media becoming more commonplace, I’ve taken this update as an opportunity to replace all extractors -except the Proster Switch - which were only compatible with up to HDMI 1.4 with ones which can offer support for up to HDMI 2.0. The logic behind this is fairly simple: like all HDMI-related components, extractors are backward-compatible; on the flip side, passing 4K60fps media through a component that couldn’t support it would step down its quality – that includes video as well as audio, as HDMI 2.0 affords a higher aggregate sampling rate (1536 vs. 768 kHz) and more channels than HDMI 1.4.
Display quality aside, the difference in audio between a 4K60fps signal running on these two protocols over a stereo setup – which includes 2 or 3 speakers - may be barely noticeable, but will begin to get noticeable on anything higher than a 3.1 (4-channel) system, and will certainly make a difference to an audiophile over 5.1(6-channel) and larger surround-sound systems, since the single-channel sampling rate over HDMI 1.4 will drop lower and lower to match the aggregate sampling rate. Another thing to keep in mind is to not use longer-than-necessary HDMI cables as that will degrade the signal quality, and HDMI is particularly susceptible to this issue, and also remember that all the components including the cables need to be of a format that supports the a/v signal quality you intend to stream.
May 15, 2019:
The major shakeup to this ranking came from the fact that more and more households are getting their hands on 4K TVs, which continue to plummet in price. As a result, the J-Tch Digital and ViewHD models on our previous list had to be updated. Fortunately, both companies offer very nice 4K options, and J-Tech was smart enough to take the reliability and simplicity of their 1080 device and hold onto just about everything that made it a good choice in the first place. As a result, it moved up considerably, now occupying the number two slot, while the impressive unit from iArkPower retained its supremacy at number one. Leaving our entirely is the Avantree ADC04, which has suffered from significant availability issues despite offering 4K passthrough and support for 3D tech. Performance problems with the Tendak previously at number seven kept it at the back of the ranking, but it did see a bump to number six with the ejection of the aforementioned Avantree.
A Visibly Meaningful Agreement
In high-definition's early days, the DVI and Firewire connectors were commonly sent with new, high-bandwidth cable boxes.
Decades before lossless streaming and truly wireless ear buds, Emile Berliner (a legitimate rival of Thomas Edison, who would later essentially steal Berliner's patent on prototype microphones) turned the original phonograph on its side and flattened its cylinder, ultimately introducing the first disc records. It was the advent of the A/V industry, and the first of many format wars to occur over the coming century.
In the 1940s, as home audio was first emerging, the Radio Corporation of America released a new connector with the intent of unifying the majority of plug formats, both audio and video.
Surprisingly, it worked.
In a rare triumph of electronic industry solidarity, the RCA connector spent decades as one of the most well-known means of getting signal into or out of a television, amplifier, VCR player, and even some car stereos. The distinctive, round connector is still found in the wild to this day, having been integral to home entertainment for longer than possibly any other standard connector in history. In fact, even when single-plug composite video gave way to three-part component in high-end setups, the connector on the end remained the same. A truly impressive run began to wrap up as digital video suddenly exploded, and consumers around the world migrated to multiple different options in search of better picture quality.
Coaxial cable did (and still often does) bring signals from the high-tension wires to the home, and with the advent of digital video came additional connectors. In high-definition's early days, the DVI and Firewire connectors were commonly sent with new, high-bandwidth cable boxes. But in the early 2000s, HDMI emerged over DisplayPort as the most popular format, with a level of consensus that A/V cables haven't enjoyed since the halcyon days of the RCA connector.
An A/V Revolution
In the dark, dark days of standard-definition televisions (which, incidentally, were usually brighter than today's UHDTVs), stations broadcast analog signal over the air as well as through cable. The only way to fit enough digital information in those waves and wires to fill a 720p screen was to make that information digital, just like the data stored on a DVD. A new signal meant a new cable and connector, and a remarkable number of major heads of industry came together to standardize the HDMI format. Naturally, that meant someone had to come along with an entirely separate format as competition, which happened in the form of DisplayPort.
The only way to fit enough digital information in those waves and wires to fill a 720p screen was to make that information digital, just like the data stored on a DVD.
Actually, for a few years, DisplayPort was notably superior to HDMI, especially when connecting high-end PCs and displays. Offering more bandwidth than the first HDMI specifications, DisplayPort is a common feature over an entire generation of high-resolution monitors and performance GPUs. Fortunately, in case any part of your system is limited to a DisplayPort connection, it's easily converted to HDMI with a simple adapter.
When HDMI 1.4 hit the market, it sent the standard back to the front of the pack, which is where it remains. Cutting-edge videographers swear by HDMI 2.0, which is capable of resolutions as fine as 4K at 120-Hz refresh rates — a framerate that even the fastest GPUs struggle to keep up with. Version 2.1 will once again offer more potential throughput than most users can supply, as it pushes the industry transition to ultra-sharp 8K video.
Separating The Audio From The Visual
Making up this single, relatively thick cable are many separate wires, a few of which are dedicated to high-quality audio transmission. Anyone who's ever cranked up an HDTV's built-in speakers knows they sound a little bit similar to someone beating a stick against a tin can, and have a bass output roughly equivalent to a pair of spoons. After all, even ancient, CRT dinosaurs had deep cavities into which engineers could nestle relatively decent speakers. It's not surprising that they can't find anywhere to put worthwhile cones inside a 1-inch-thick television set.
Thankfully, there's no shortage whatsoever of excellent stereo equipment. And just because that audio signal is embedded alongside the video does not mean it's tied to it. Though they're a bit more involved than a simple, passive adapter, the right audio extractor can do incredible things for your home theater setup.
Even though optical audio is a digital signal, it can only handle compressed versions of Dolby's surround sound technology.
First of all, remember those old RCA plugs of yore? You may recall that running audio required two of these: a left channel and a right channel. Well, within the HDMI cable is not one, not two, but up to eight individual audio channels, enough to supply a luxurious 7.1-channel surround-sound system. And it's those in search of a high-resolution aural experience who should consider an HDMI audio extractor. Older home theater receivers, even hi-fidelity, audiophile-level ones, will likely lack an HDMI input, though many newer ones have both HDMI as well as optical. Even though optical audio is a digital signal, it can only handle compressed versions of Dolby's surround sound technology. Therefore, the most discerning listeners will likely appreciate a dedicated, active extractor.
Keep in mind while comparing units that these aren't simply passive splitters, but actually powered pieces of equipment. As such, they have a number of varying features, and it's important to pay attention to them. Anyone in search of lossless, uncompressed sound should be certain that their choice supports Dolby TrueHD, as many other standards involve some sort of compression codec. Some models act as multi-device HDMI hubs, enabling the streamlining of entire entertainment systems, and they generally offer a selection of different output formats — crucial for anyone setting up slightly older equipment. You'll also want to double-check your cables' capabilities, as some older ones aren't capable of transmitting using the newest protocols. In the long run, whether you're installing a new hi-fi system or extending the life of an old one, the right HDMI audio extractor can go a long way in making the finished product sound great.