If you're looking to pick up one of the best Apple AirPlay 2 speakers, to work with you iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple TV or HomePod, then you've come to the right place.
It‚Äôs been well over a year since Apple's AirPlay 2 finally became a reality, yet it‚Äôs safe to say that a lot of consumers are still almost tearful with gratitude. Finally, Apple has a viable method of getting some whole-house, multi-room, wireless functionality from a whole host of speakers, TVs and the like.
AirPlay is Apple‚Äôs proprietary streaming technology, which allows you to wirelessly transmit music from an Apple device to AirPlay-compatible devices via Wi-Fi. AirPlay 2‚Äôs big advantage is multi-room audio - so you can beam to multiple speakers at the same time. Apple Music subscribers can even play different music on different speakers.
It‚Äôs taken a while for AirPlay 2 to make it into quite of few third-party manufacturers‚Äô products. But now the likes of Sonos and B&W are on board, ubiquity is surely not all that far away. Bear in mind, however, that while a lot of products are being upgraded to AirPlay 2 via over-air software updates, not every old wireless speaker will be getting it.
Here, we‚Äôve rounded up the best pound-for-pound AirPlay speakers on the market. If you want to combine outstanding audio quality with absolute convenience, all over your home, just keep reading.
Jump right in
- The best AirPlay speakers
- A guide to AirPlay 2
- HomePod AirPlay 2 stereo setup
- AirPlay 2 on your TV
- Every AirPlay 2 speaker available
The best AirPlay 2 speakers
Buy now: apple.com | $299
If ever a speaker was born for AirPlay 2, Apple‚Äôs HomePod smart speaker is it. Even though AirPlay 2 wasn‚Äôt on board from Day One.
Once iOS 11.4 dropped, though, HomePod gained AirPlay 2 and with it the ability to painlessly establish a multi-room audio system, or to unify two HomePods to deliver true stereo sound.
The HomePod sound is delivered by a total of seven beam-forming tweeters arrayed in a circle, along with an upward-firing 102mm long-throw mid/bass driver. It‚Äôs an unusual and painstaking arrangement, and it allows HomePod to deliver a really wide, non-directional sound that is plenty powerful enough. Especially when you consider what a small and unassuming device the HomePod is.
The focus is on more than just hardware, too. The Apple uses spatial awareness, alongside a six-microphone array and internal bass-EQ mic, to sense the size and shape of the room it‚Äôs in and then adjust itself accordingly for optimum audio quality. And unlike some speakers, which require the user to perform a calibration set-up to achieve this, the HomePod does it automatically. The Apple is never off duty in this respect, either, and is constantly ready to finesse its low-frequency response to suit its environment.
The HomePod also has Siri built in, unlike any of the other speakers on this list. Although the assistant takes something of a supporting role to the sound, Siri can be a competent DJ (or ‚Äėmusicologist‚Äô, as Apple insists on) as long as you have an Apple Music subscription. Or just ask Siri to play music on any of the other HomePods in your home, or get the assistant to skip track, turn up the volume or any other hands-on instruction you don‚Äôt want to use your hands for. Siri performs the usual smart duties too, whether that‚Äôs controlling your HomeKit-connected tech or delivering your latest news briefing.
Where both Siri and the HomePod itself are rather less useful is when you step outside the Apple Music bubble. AirPlay 2 means you can stream whatever you‚Äôre playing on your Apple device, no matter the streaming service it‚Äôs coming from, but Siri is unable to select music from services beyond Apple‚Äôs own. So the lesson is: only Apple, all the time.
Buy now: Amazon | $199
Another great smart speaker, when Sonos launched its first voice-controlled speaker the main talking-point (pun intended) was built-in Amazon Alexa. But with AirPlay 2 now on board as well, the Siri voice assistant can come to the party too.
Inside the One (which looks like almost all the Sonos speakers that have gone before it) there are a pair of Class D amplifiers, one to power the single tweeter and one to drive the mid/bass driver. The sound can be finessed using Sonos Trueplay, the discrete calibration software that tweaks the Sonos‚Äô sound to the room it‚Äôs in - so bass should stay controlled and the midrange nice and clean. Bass and treble can be manually adjusted too, in case you don‚Äôt trust an automated process.
The Sonos One sounds like the product of a company that knows exactly what it‚Äôs doing. Sonos remains the preeminent brand in wireless and/or multi-room audio, and the One simply adds a layer of Alexa to the Sonos Play: 1 template. And that‚Äôs a speaker that‚Äôs been a global favourite for quite some time.
Get some music playing via AirPlay 2 and you can use Alexa to pause, skip track, or even ask what‚Äôs currently playing. And AirPlay 2 works on a number of Sonos speakers - so if you own a second-gen Play:5, Playbase or the more recent Beam soundbar, you have an AirPlay 2-ready system. Even older Sonos speakers can piggyback on AirPlay 2-compatible siblings if they‚Äôre on the same network.
Given the way it looks, it‚Äôs not surprising there has been a lot of comparing and contrasting going on between the Sonos One and the Apple HomePod. We think the Sonos looks a little better - it can easily slip onto a bookshelf and look the part. And it‚Äôs a great-sounding little speaker, too - plus you can buy two Sonos Ones for not that much more than a single HomePod and enjoy a better experience.
Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation
The original Mu-so by British hi-fi company Naim was an absolute powerhouse, with a wide-open soundstage and very serious bass. Oh, we guffawed at the price tag - but that was the only major downside of an otherwise world-class wireless speaker. So how do you improve on that when the time for the second iteration rolls around?
The design is likely to divide opinion more than the sound, because a) Naim‚Äôs speaker is huge and heavy to the point that you won‚Äôt want to move it when you‚Äôve found it a home, and b) it looks virtually identical to the product it replaces. The black grille is standard, but you can chuck yet more money at name and score a ‚Äėterracotta‚Äô, ‚Äėolive‚Äô or ‚Äėpeacock‚Äô alternative for a little more pizazz.
On top there are touch-sensitive buttons and a nicely tactile control wheel - and, uniquely, this AirPlay 2 speaker comes with a remote control. There‚Äôs also the Mu-so smartphone app, but it‚Äôs not as good as it should be - it gets the job done, but initial set-up (for example) could be a lot more straightforward.
The price will be even more divisive. Consequently it‚Äôs the most expensive speaker on this list - but then the Naim is competing in an entirely different category to the rest of the speakers here.
You wouldn‚Äôt want to squander all that money on a speaker that doesn‚Äôt sound great, after all. And sure enough, the Mu-so 2 basically sounds great. It can handle digital audio files up the 32bit/384kHz standard (downscaling to a rather eccentric 24bt/88.2kHz) for the high-resolution fanatics - FLAC users and TIDAL subscribers, we‚Äôre looking at you in particular.
Judged purely on audio quality, it‚Äôs hands-down the best speaker on this list - and with Bluetooth, digital optical, USB and 3.5mm analogue methods of getting music into the Naim, it‚Äôs not short of facilities either. Use the HDMI ARC input to make it function as a soundbar. Use Spotify Connect for super-convenient streaming. And, of course, AirPlay 2 works like a charm.
Finally Sonos has launched a soundbar that isn‚Äôt bigger than the majority of TVs it‚Äôs designed to work with. Beam is pretty and compact (it‚Äôs 65cm wide), so will fit happily under most televisions - and although it‚Äôs not cheap (when was Sonos ever cheap?) it‚Äôs better value than, for instance, the Sonos Playbar.
It has Alexa and Google Assistant built in, just like the Sonos One, and now has AirPlay 2 to boot. So once you start streaming music via AirPlay 2, you can use Alexa or Google to control playback - even if you music or movie soundtrack is absolutely blaring.
How does it sound? Well, first and foremost you have to keep in mind that Beam has been primarily designed to assist with TV sound - that‚Äôs why Sonos has been so keen to pack as much technology as possible inside. It‚Äôs packing four full-range drivers, a centre-mounted tweeter and three passive radiators - the driver array is designed to mimic a left/right/centre channel arrangement, and there‚Äôs no doubt they create a pleasantly wide soundstage with clear and distinct separation.
There‚Äôs no subwoofer here, and it‚Äôs fair to say the Sonos Beam is slightly short of bass extension and definition - but the Beam can easily be augmented by additional speakers from the Sonos line-up. So while it absolutely fits the bill as far as AirPlay 2 convenience and corking cinema sound are concerned, it‚Äôs not the first speaker you should think of if premium music playback is your goal.
Bowers & Wilkins Formation Wedge
Buy Now: bowerswilkins.com | $899.99
And now, as they used to say, for something completely different. Bowers & Wilkins‚Äô latest foray into the world of wireless multi-room audio has quite a number of elements in the range, but the outstanding product in the Formation series, for quite a number of reasons, is the Wedge.
The fiercely elliptical shape allows the five-driver speaker array to create a convincing stereo image from a single enclosure - plus, of course, it makes the B&W look a bit like a high-end lampshade. Beneath that ribbed, contoured full-width grille are two tweeters, two FST midrange drivers and a central woofer - they‚Äôre powered by a total of 240 watts, which makes the Wedge plenty powerful enough for most real-world applications.
In terms of physical connections, the Wedge has just an Ethernet socket - everything else happens wirelessly. As well as AirPlay 2 compatibility, the B&W has aptX HD Bluetooth reception, Spotify Connect, and is Roon Ready - so there are options here for everyone from the casual user to the hi-res hi-fi head.
As far as audio performance is concerned, all of Bowers & Wilkins‚Äô hard work has paid off, and in some style. Sound is distributed far and wide, without ever becoming vague or ill-focused, and there‚Äôs enough power on tap to fill even quite large domestic spaces with sound. DEtail levels are high, there‚Äôs ample bass heft and extension, and those five drivers work very sympathetically - there‚Äôs a unity and balance to the Wedge‚Äôs presentation that‚Äôs by no means a given in products of this type.
‚ÄėThis type‚Äô is a bit of a redundant description here, though. The Formation Wedge may have all the functionality of any other reasonably expensive wireless speaker, but it makes such a strong aesthetic statement - especially in the sliver/white finish - that it‚Äôs possible some people will buy into it on looks alone. Happily, the audio quality will not disappoint.
Buy Now: kef.com | $1,249.99
Quite a few of the speakers in this list make a big deal about their ability to produce ‚Äėtrue‚Äô stereo sound. They can‚Äôt, of course - even if they receive stereo information, and even if they deliver it in a nice, wide manner, it‚Äôs still originating from a single source. No, for ‚Äėtrue‚Äô stereo sound you need two speakers. Oh, hello KEF.
By effectively shrinking its brilliant LS50 Wireless speakers and larding on the functionality (LSX supports aptX Bluetooth, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect and Tidal straight out of the box), loudspeaker specialist KEF has managed to deliver a pair of stereo speakers that manage to be as useful and discreet as any other single speaker in this list. More discreet, in fact, when you look at the Bowers & WIlkins and Naim alternatives.
The little cabinets are available in a choice of five tasteful finishes. Each LSX speaker features KEF‚Äôs bespoke Uni-Q driver technology, where a 19mm aluminium dome tweeter sits in the throat of a 115mm alloy mid/bass driver. There‚Äôs a total of 200 watts of Class D power on board. And, of course, the fact that this is a stereo pair makes positioning them for optimum sound just a little bit more exciting that just plonking a speaker on a shelf.
And the sound the LSX make is absolutely in keeping with KEF‚Äôs decades of heritage. Smooth and full-bodied, but deft and detailed at the same time, these little boxes are capable of frankly unlikely scale and dynamic variation. They‚Äôre punchy, they‚Äôre refined, they‚Äôre alert to the finest details‚Ä¶ and, of course, they‚Äôre capable of serving up a much more convincing impression of stereo sound than any of the other speakers in this list.
Ignore what an incredible faff setting them up is (the KEF app is no one‚Äôs idea of a finished article) and instead concentrate on the results.
AirPlay 2 essential guide
AirPlay 2 went live on iOS, HomePod and Apple TV back in 2018. The standard brought a number of big updates to Apple's AirPlay platform, the biggest being multi-room audio. Sure, you may know the basics of AirPlay ‚Äď you can ping music from your iPhone to your Apple TV ‚Äď but have you ever gone beyond that?
AirPlay is evolving quickly, rivaling the likes of Chromecast for casting videos, and Sonos for multi-room music.
Don't believe us? Read on to find out everything you need to know about Apple AirPlay 2 and how you could be getting more from your media setup.
What is Apple AirPlay 2?
First launched waaaaay back in 2004 ‚Äď but called AirTunes at the time and pretty limited by today's standards ‚Äď AirPlay as we know it now wasn't announced by the Cupertino giant until 2010. Essentially it's a two-way protocol, made up of a sender and receiver, that works over Wi-Fi. And you don't need to be on a common Wi-Fi network to get it working; Apple devices are clever enough to find each other without sharing an SSID.
A sender is an Apple device that's capable of playing media back and sending it to another device ‚Äď think iPhones, iPads and Macs. The receiver is the device that relays what's being sent, for example video on an Apple TV or music on an AirPlay enabled speaker. Apple TV is actually capable of being both a sender and a receiver ‚Äď it can act as a speaker for music sent over from an iPhone, for example, but it can also ping its audio to a HomePod speaker.
AirPlay 2 is Apple's recent update to the platform, announced alongside iOS 11 back in June 2017. Multi-room audio is the big feature that everyone has been waiting for, but there are several small quality-of-life improvements that make things much easier as well.
Apple AirPlay 2 ‚Äď what you can do
Using iOS ‚Äď iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad
Now that the technical bit is out of the way we can concentrate on the fun part: what exactly you can beam around your house?
Let's start with the simplest AirPlay operation. When listening to music on your iPhone or iPad ‚Äď either from Apple Music or third-party apps with AirPlay built in ‚Äď you can push the little AirPlay button to send that audio to a receiver. If you've got a bunch of AirPlay speakers, Apple TVs and the like you'll see a menu pop up where you select the receiver you want to hear your music on.
In that AirPlay menu, you'll see a little check box next to speakers that are AirPlay 2 compatible. You can click these boxes to play your music on multiple speakers at the same time. This is unlike the original AirPlay, where you could only play music to one speaker at a time.
When you choose your speaker you'll hear your music played back from it, and you can use any onboard speaker controls to skip songs, change the volume and the like. You can still use your iOS device for controls too ‚Äď so you can still scroll through Spotify, for example, on your phone, to change the tunes.
AirPlay 2 also makes it easier to party with friends. Anyone with an iOS device can add music to a queue on your AirPlay 2-compatible speaker. Say you were playing a lot of Dua Lipa, but your friend wanted to get their Ariana Grande on, they could just start queuing up their own songs.
From an iOS device you can also also stream visuals ‚Äď think photos and videos from your stream, and movies from iTunes and third-party apps ‚Äď to an Apple TV or AirPlay 2-compatible smart TV. It's the same little button that appears and, from Control Center, you can also mirror your iPhone or iPad's display. Mirroring on AirPlay was a little bit choppy, but it's been improved for AirPlay 2.
Another handy thing: if you're streaming something onto a speaker and someone calls you, that call won't interrupt your stream at all. The music will keep playing on the speaker and you can still accept and take the call on your phone. You can do both things at the same time. You can even play a game on your phone and nothing will happen.
Confusingly, you'll sometimes see an AirPlay icon appear when you're watching a video and you'll click it to find that only the audio is sent over. Thems the breaks we're afraid ‚Äď the world of third-party AirPlay can be an annoying place.
Using AirPlay 2 with macOS ‚Äď iMac, Mac Pro and MacBook
On your Mac, you can do all the iOS bits and bobs ‚Äď i.e. sending over audio and video to recipient AirPlay devices ‚Äď but it's limited to native Apple apps like iTunes, QuickTime and Safari.
For example, fire up a YouTube video on Safari - you'll see the AirPlay logo and you can relay the video over to your Apple TV. However, load the same YouTube URL on Chrome and the option is gone (replaced by a Chromecast logo, the sneaky so-and-sos).
Missing manual: Your comprehensive HomePod guide
You can, however, mirror your entire Mac display using the AirPlay logo in the top bar. You may run into some severe choppiness if you try to AirPlay a webpage playing a video, though, or if you try and play a game. Basically, it's only really good for static or slow moving pages ‚Äď so as a second screen for your Tweetdeck, email, document editing and that sort of thing.
Where macOS does come into its own with AirPlay is audio. Multi-room audio was already available on AirPlay, should you have iTunes running on a Mac. It even works the same way as multi-room audio works on iOS with AirPlay 2. From the AirPlay logo in iTunes, you can select multiple speakers and have them all playing in harmony.
AirPlay and TV
Once upon a time, Apple TV was the only way you could stream video to the television from an iOS device using AirPlay. But at the start in 2019 Apple announced it was bringing AirPlay 2 to third-party smart TVs. The likes of Samsung, Sony, Vizio and LG are all involved - you can check out a full list of compatible AirPlay 2 TVs here.
AirPlay 2 lets you play videos, music, photos, and more directly from your iPhone, iPad and Mac, direct to your TV.
AirPort Express was Apple's networking accessory, but the company is bringing that product to the end of its life. While it did act as an AirPlay receiver, it's not compatible with AirPlay 2. Sorry about that.
The AirPort Express did have an audio-out 3.5mm jack on the back, which you could plug into existing stereo systems. Then, when you selected the AirPort Express on the AirPlay drop-down mirror it would, in turn, play the music through those speakers.
Multi-room audio and AirPlay 2 are very exciting, but there's another feature that HomePod can pull off thanks to AirPlay 2. It's called stereo pair, and you can enable it fairly easily should you have two HomePods.
Stereo pair treats two HomePods as one, pairing them both up to give you bigger, richer sound. This is especially great for home cinema setups where you want some booming sounds to go with your rewatches of The Last Jedi. Here's how to do it:
1. Head over to the Home app.
2. Click on one HomePod.
3. Select Create stereo pair.
4. Choose your other HomePod.
5. Confirm your left and right channels are properly chosen.
That's it. Your left HomePod is the main one, which means that's where Siri will live. Your right HomePod will complement your left one when it's playing audio. Simple.
Full list of Apple AirPlay 2 speakers
Obviously Apple wants you to buy a HomePod and we'd recommend grabbing one of our top picks, but there are around 50 speakers that are AirPlay 2 ready. Do keep in mind that some of these speakers are announced, but have not yet arrived. Here they are‚Ä¶
- Apple HomePod
- Bang & Olufsen Beoplay A6
- Bang & Olufsen Beoplay A9 (2nd gen.)
- Bang & Olufsen Beoplay A9 (3rd gen.)
- Bang & Olufsen Beoplay A9 (4th gen.)
- Bang & Olufsen Beoplay M3
- Bang & Olufsen Beoplay M5
- Bang & Olufsen Beosound 1 (1st gen.)
- Bang & Olufsen Beosound 1 (2nd gen.)
- Bang & Olufsen Beosound 2 (1st gen.)
- Bang & Olufsen Beosound 2 (2nd gen.)
- Bang & Olufsen Beosound 35
- Bang & Olufsen Beosound Edge
- Bang & Olufsen Beosound Essence (2nd gen.)
- Bang & Olufsen Beovision Eclipse
- Bluesound PULSE 2i
- Bluesound PULSE FLEX 2i
- Bluesound PULSE MINI 2i
- Bluesound PULSE SOUNDBAR 2i
- Bose Home Speaker 300
- Bose Home Speaker 500
- Bose Soundbar 500
- Bose Soundbar 700
- Bowers & Wilkins Formation Bar
- Bowers & Wilkins Formation Wedge
- Denon HEOS HomeCinema HS2
- Devialet Phantom
- KEF LSX
- Libratone ZIPP
- Libratone ZIPP 2
- Libratone ZIPP Mini
- Libratone ZIPP Mini 2
- Mcintosh RS200 Wireless loudspeaker system
- Mu-so Qb
- Naim ND 555
- Pure DiscovR
- RIVA Concert
- Sonos Beam
- Sonos One
- Sonos Play:5
- Sonos Playbase
- Teenage Engineering OD-11
- Yamaha MusicCast 20
- Yamaha MusicCast 50
- Yamaha MusicCast BAR 400
You can also create a multi-room wireless speaker setup using Amazon's Alexa Echo smart speaker range, as well as setting up a multi-room system with Google Home and the Assistant.