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Best Apple AirPlay Speakers
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If you want the best wireless audio streaming solution in your home, you’re better off using a Wi-Fi speaker system. Unlike Bluetooth, audio streaming over a network allows for higher data transfer rates. Apple AirPlay is one of the most reliable wireless streaming technologies available, with support for it increasing over time. If you’re eager to join in on the move towards network-based content streaming, take a look at this list of the best Apple AirPlay speakers currently available.
Editor’s note: this article was updated on September 9, 2021, to include a link to the new Apple HomePod mini review.
The best Apple AirPlay speaker is the Sonos Move
Sonos is best known for making high-end audio products that deliver great sound with a sleek design—if you’re willing to drop some serious cash. The Sonos Move is no exception.
This is Sonos’ attempt at a portable speaker, featuring a more compact build in comparison to other speakers from the company. It sports an IP56 rating that allows this speaker to go anywhere—from the comfort of your living room to the beach or a hike. While the Sonos Move is portable, its handle design and heft make it quite difficult to carry around. This speaker is better suited for home use rather than your next road trip.
Related: Bluetooth speaker tips and tricks
As a Wi-Fi speaker, the Sonos Move supports AirPlay 2, so you can stream high-quality audio straight from the Sonos Move. For other devices, such as Android smartphones, the Sonos Move still supports Bluetooth connections, though you’re limited to streaming audio using either the SBC or AAC codec.
What you should know about Apple AirPlay
Apple developed AirPlay as a wireless content streaming protocol that lets you stream audio and video across a shared network. Seeing as this technology is proprietary, content can only be streamed from compatible devices: Windows machines streaming via Apple Music, Mac computers running macOS Catalina, and iOS devices running 11.4 or later. Receiver units, such as speakers and TVs, must have the label “Works with Apple AirPlay” on their packaging to verify compatibility.
Is AirPlay better than Bluetooth?
In short, yes. This is because AirPlay uses a Wi-Fi connection for greater transfer rates via the Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC), which supports eight channels of audio at 16, 20, 24, and 32-bit with a maximum sample rate of 384kHz. Unfortunately, Bluetooth doesn’t share the same streaming qualities as Wi-Fi, with transfer rates ranging from 320kbps (SBC) to 990 kbps (Sony LDAC).
See also: Understanding Bluetooth codecs
Because AirPlay is proprietary technology, there aren’t a lot of compatible devices currently on the market. AirPlay-compatible devices tend to cost more than traditional Bluetooth speakers, which may deter some budget-conscious consumers.
What’s the difference between Apple AirPlay and AirPlay 2?
Apple AirPlay 2 was announced in 2017, and features multi-room functionality and HomeKit support. Multi-room audio allows you to play music from a single speaker or to any other device throughout your house—all from a single device. You can even choose different songs to play on each speaker in your home, though this requires a subscription to Apple Music.
HomeKit support gives you the ability to automate your speakers by adding them to rooms or scenes. For example, when you come home from work, you can configure HomeKit to turn on your lights, adjust the temperature, and put on a soothing track over your AirPlay 2 speakers.
Other enhancements included with AirPlay 2 include uninterrupted playback when you receive calls, shared playlist compatibility for Apple Music subscribers, and multi-device streaming support.
Please note that multi-room connectivity is only compatible with AirPlay 2 speakers. The feature will not work if you try to stream content to both an AirPlay 1 and AirPlay 2-enabled device.
Expand your multi-room wireless sound system with the Denon Home 150 Wireless
If you already own a HEOS (Home Entertainment Operating System) speaker by Denon or Marantz or would like to start a multi-room setup, the Denon Home 150 Wireless could be a natural pick. The speaker features a dynamic tweeter and a mid-bass driver, designed to produce amplified highs and lows. In addition to AirPlay 2, you can stream music using Wi-Fi, HEOS, or Bluetooth. Heck, you can even plug a USB drive into the respective port on the back.
The HEOS app supports a host of streaming services, including Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music HD, Tidal, and more. Once you set them up, you can control them directly from the app. Still enjoy listening to the radio? Use the HEOS app to associate up to three internet radio stations with the Quick Select buttons at the top of the speaker.
This speaker does not contain a battery and requires a constant power connection.
The Marshall Uxbridge Voice balances form with function
Marshall’s audio products are trademarked by their signature guitar cabinet-inspired designs. The Marshall Uxbridge Voice is a speaker that follows the company’s tradition of offering a product that looks and sounds like it was designed for audiophiles.
As its name suggests, one of the speaker’s main selling points is its voice assistant integration. Whether you go for Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, the Marshall Uxbridge Voice is bound to be one of the best smart speakers you’ll ever use. With its dual far-field microphones, the speaker will be able to register your commands—whether you’re on the other side of the room, or trying to talk over your music.
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The sound from the Marshall Uxbridge Voice packs a punch, despite its small form factor. Bass notes are relayed clearly but this can result in auditory masking that makes it hard to perceive upper-midrange and treble notes. Fortunately, bass and treble can be adjusted using the controls found on the top of the unit.
The Marshall Uxbridge Voice supports both AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth connections, though it lacks any wired input options. If you’re really looking for a future-forward smart speaker that does away with wires, except for the power cable, this speaker is definitely worth picking up.
Apple users should get the Apple HomePod mini
You can’t expect to go through an article about AirPlay without mentioning the HomePod mini. If you’re already heavily invested in Apple’s ecosystem, commit even further with the company’s very own smart speaker.
For $99 USD, the HomePod mini offers features 360° audio, and support for multi-room playback when paired with other HomePod minis. The speaker also includes Apple’s S5 chips, enabling computational audio that analyzes and optimizes volume and EQ for playback.
To get the most out of the HomePod, you need to use an iOS device. In fact, you can’t even set up the speaker without one. On top of that, you’ll need a subscription to Apple Music to get access to features like hands-free control via Siri.
The Sonos Beam is one of the best AirPlay speakers for home entertainment
The Sonos Beam is one of the most popular soundbars on the market: it features a minimalist design that fits comfortably underneath many home entertainment setups.
Despite its slim figure, the Sonos Beam delivers a powerful sound with accurate bass reproduction that doesn’t mask the mids and highs. Upon setup, you’re prompted to use Sonos’ Trueplay system, which uses your iPhone’s microphone to adjust the sound of your speaker according to your listening environment. Unfortunately, this feature is not yet supported on Android. However, once you’re up and running, you’re in for an enjoyable listening experience—whether you’re watching a movie or jamming to your favorite playlist.
The Sonos Beam is a Wi-Fi speaker, though it can be connected to your home network via Ethernet. While AirPlay 2 is supported, there is no option to connect to the speaker via Bluetooth. Voice assistant integration is also included with the Sonos Beam, with your choice of using either Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant.
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Best Apple AirPlay Speakers: notable mentions
- Bose Portable Smart Speaker: If you’re willing to pay a premium, this speaker offers AirPlay music streaming in a sleek and portable design—coupled with omnidirectional speakers, voice assistant integration, 12-hour battery life, and IPX4 water resistance.
- Libratone Zipp 2: For high-quality audio streaming on the go, the Libratone Zipp 2 is perfect, sporting a compact design that delivers powerful sound in all directions.
- Sonos Roam: If you’re already invested in the Sonos ecosystem, this AirPlay 2 compatible speaker with an IP67 rating could be a nice add-on to take outside. It’s portable, features Trueplay tuning, and Sonos promises a 10-hour battery life.
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