The best AirPlay 2 speakers: A guide to what's available, and what's yet to come

The speakers getting multi-room love this year

The best AirPlay 2 speakers

In 2017, Apple announced AirPlay 2, an update to its Wi-Fi streaming protocol. And almost exactly a year later, it launched it. Apple's own HomePod was the first speaker to offer the new feature, but AirPlay 2 is slowly rolling out to other third-party speakers as well

AirPlay is Apple’s proprietary streaming tech, which lets you send music from an Apple device, like an iPhone or iPad, to another AirPlay-compatible device over Wi-Fi. You can send video too, but only to an Apple TV.

Read this: Best smart speakers

AirPlay 2 builds on this with support for multi-room audio, letting you beam sound to multiple speakers of your choosing at once. If you’re an Apple Music subscriber, you can even play different songs on different speakers. What a time to be alive.

As we said, AirPlay 2 has only just started rolling out into the world, so only a small number of speakers currently support the new protocol. Apple has announced exactly which third-party speakers will get the new feature, but it’s going to be a slow rollout over the coming months. Below, we’ve rounded up the best speakers that are in line for AirPlay 2, some of which we’ve been able to test with the update, others that are yet to get it. But first…

AirPlay 2: Who's getting it?

Apple announced the AirPlay 2 roster at WWDC 2018, which included names like Sonos, Bang & Olufsen, Naim, Libratone and more. You can see the full list here. Many of these speakers are already on the market - third-party manufacturers will need implement AirPlay 2 support on their speakers via a software update. Unfortunately however, a lot of older speakers won't be getting AirPlay 2.

AirPlay 2: The best speakers you can buy right now

Below, we've rounded up the best AirPlay 2 speakers currently on the market. Some of these we've already tested with the update, while others are still waiting on AirPlay 2 to arrive. However, AirPlay 2 generally works the same across all speakers, so we're considering other merits too. Read on for the verdict on the speakers we've tried so far – and a few others to consider.

Best AirPlay 2 speakers:

Apple HomePod

$349, apple.com


Apple’s HomePod is the OG AirPlay 2 speaker, although the feature wasn’t actually available from Day One. iOS 11.4 brought AirPlay 2 to Apple’s mighty little speaker this year, and with it, the ability to pair two HomePods together for stereo sound.

The HomePod has seven beam-forming tweeters and a four-inch, upwards-facing, high-excursion woofer, all coming together to deliver a rich, powerful sound in spite of the speaker’s small stature. And Apple’s focus on audio quality extends beyond the hardware: the HomePod uses spatial awareness alongside its six-microphone array and internal bass-EQ microphone to sense the shape and size of the room, adjusting the sound for optimum quality. Whereas Sonos speakers require you to perform a calibration setup for this, Apple's HomePod does it automatically.

And the speaker is always adjusting the music coming out of it, tuning the low frequencies and automatically adapting the acoustics.

Read this: How to add your HomePod speaker to your Sonos group


The HomePod also has Siri built in, which you won’t find on other speakers in this list. Although the assistant takes more of a supporting role to the audio, Siri can be a proficient DJ – or “musicologist” as Apple likes to call it – so long as you have an Apple Music subscription. Furthermore, if you've set up other AirPlay 2 speakers in the Home app, you can ask Siri on the HomePod to start playing music on those instead. Oh, and you can use Siri to turn up the volume, pause, skip track etc.

But Siri performs its usual smart assistant duties too, whether that's controlling your HomeKit-connected tech or delivering your latest NPR news briefing. Where Siri – and HomePod – is less useful is when you're living outside of the Apple Music bubble. AirPlay means you can beam over whatever you're playing on your Apple device, no matter which streaming service it's coming from, but Siri won't be able to select music from services beyond Apple's own. That said, it will still be able to control playback once you've started streaming from Spotify etc and, in many cases, identify what's playing.

the ambient verdict
Apple HomePod
There's no way around it – the Apple HomePod feels half-baked. It's annoying because the Cupertino giant has absolutely nailed the difficult bit of creating a fantastic sounding speaker, but has fluffed its lines on the smart assistant and ecosystem front. You could argue that it should be judged as a standalone speaker in its price-range and, if it was, it'd get a higher score. But we're living in a new era; an era of multi-platform streaming media, smart home automation and digital assistants. And in that era Apple is lagging behind its two big rivals – Google and Amazon. Sure, HomeKit will evolve and sure, Siri will (surely?) get better – and AirPlay 2 and its multi-room features have improved the HomePod overnight… but that all just adds to fact that the HomePod doesn't quite feel like a finished product.
PROS
  • Fantastic audio quality
  • Super slick design
  • Apple Music integration is great
CONS
  • Siri is lacking
  • Spotify and co. are an afterthought
  • Expensive


Best AirPlay 2 speakers:

Sonos One

$199, sonos.com | Amazon

Alexa has been the real talking point of the Sonos One, the company's debut smart speaker, but with AirPlay 2 you now you have a way of bringing Siri to the party.

No surprises, the Sonos One sounds like a speaker made by people who know what they're doing. Sonos is arguably still the strongest name in home audio, and the One simply adds a layer of Alexa to the Sonos Play:1 – a highly lauded speaker that's been kicking around for a few years.

Inside, the Sonos One has two class-D digital amplifiers, one tweeter and a mid-woofer. You've also got an adjustable bass and treble controls that let you adjust each Sonos One to its room. When you first set up the Sonos One you'll be prompted to use Trueplay, Sonos' calibration software that tweaks the sound to the room around it, making sure the bass is tuned and that the mid-range is nice and clean.

Once you've started music playing on the Sonos One over AirPlay, you can use Alexa to pause, skip track and even ask what's currently playing, something you can also do with the new Sonos Beam soundbar.

The One is a great sounding little speaker that can easily slip onto a bookshelf and look the part. We think it looks a little better than the HomePod, but unsurprisingly there has been a lot of comparing and contrasting of the two. For a while, the bottom line was: buy two Sonos Ones, get a better experience than a single HomePod. And considering the Sonos One is still significantly less expensive than its Apple rival, that line of thinking still holds up.

The other great thing here is that AirPlay 2 works on several Sonos speakers, meaning if you own a second-generation Play:5, Playbase, or the new Sonos Beam soundbar, you've got yourself an AirPlay 2-ready system. And even if you own older Sonos speakers, they can piggyback on AirPlay 2-compatible ones if they're on the same network.

the ambient verdict
Sonos One
This super sounding speaker is given an extra dimension by the presence of Alexa, baked in and ever present, without the ignominy of push-to-talk buttons that have torpedoed other third party speakers. Sonos is a wonderful and scalable addition to the smart home, and still the only true choice. The only downside is Alexa's deafness compared to true Echo speakers, which means that many people will simply be served better by adding a cheap Echo Dot and using the perfectly adequate Sonos skill for a better voice assistant experience.
PROS
  • Deep bass, great sound
  • Versatile music experience
  • Classy design
CONS
  • Alexa is profoundly deaf
  • No voice control for non Spotify/Amazon music services

Best AirPlay 2 speakers:

Sonos Play:5

$499, sonos.com | Amazon

As we've already mentioned, the second-generation Play:5 also now has AirPlay 2 support. The simply designed yet sucker-punching Play:5 is the biggest and most powerful speaker in the Sonos catalogue. In terms of how it fits in with the rest of the Sonos family, this is the hi-fi centrepiece for music listening.

The original Play:5 was at the top of its game in 2015, and the newer model sounds even better. Yes, you can probably pick up something of even higher audio quality for that price, but as part of a multi-room setup, the Play:5 is an outstanding speaker – and the most powerful Sonos has made to date.

Inside there are three 10cm drivers and three tweeters – left, right and middle – which is an upgrade on what was found in the first-gen version. Trueplay, which calibrates the sound to the surrounding room, ensures the Play5 keeps that lovely rounded sound, with powerful bass and clear separation between instruments.

Unlike the Sonos One, there's no built-in assistant, but with AirPlay 2 you can now add the Play:5 to the Home app and tell Siri, from your iOS device, to play music on that specific speaker. The Play:5 is a perfect central speaker for the home, and with AirPlay 2, you won't even need to mess about with the Sonos app.

Sadly it's also very expensive, but there's no doubt about it: this is a room-filling speaker with 100% of its focus on producing amazing sounding music. Meanwhile, if it's something for the TV you want, look to the Beam, Playbar and Playbase.

the ambient verdict
Sonos Play:5
The Sonos Play:5 is the best sounding speaker in the Sonos family, and with AirPlay 2 it becomes an even better central speaker for the home. Sonos' Trueplay feature gives it a dynamic edge by tweaking the sound to the room and keeping it working to optimal quality.
PROS
  • Rich, room-filling sound
  • Integrates with other Sonos speakers
  • Trueplay tweaks sound for room
CONS
  • Expensive
  • Very heavy – not ideal for mounting
  • No assistant

The best AirPlay 2 speakers: A guide to what's available, and what's yet to come

Sonos Beam

$399, sonos.com | Amazon

The Sonos Beam is the company's new soundbar. Why do we like it? For one thing it's compact, sitting at just 26 inches wide, making it easy to fit snugly under a TV. And although it's not cheap (what is from Sonos?), it's more reasonable than, say, the Playbar. It also has Alexa built in, like the Sonos One, and now has AirPlay 2 to boot. That means once you've started playing music over AirPlay, you can use Alexa to control playback.

So, how does it sound? Well, for its size, it's fairly impressive, and that's because the company has managed to pack in a considerable amount of tech inside. In the Beam are four full-range woofers, a center-mounted tweeter, and three passive bass radiators. It has a center channel, a left and a right, and together they create a pleasantly wide soundscape with clear separation. There’s no subwoofer here, and the bass on the Sonos Beam does lack a bit of detail, but this can be aided by linking up with additional Sonos speakers.

Of course, with this thing being fine-tuned for TVs, you also have to keep in mind that it's less impressive at handling your music. During our testing, we found the Beam less open, balanced and bass-y when compared to the Sonos One and HomePod, and while it's naturally not terrible, it's also one that you shouldn't buy with premium music playback as your goal.

As we mentioned, not only do you get control here for your iOS devices through AirPlay 2, which is a cinch to operate, but Alexa is also on board to help out. Sonos promises that Google Assistant, too, will come to the Beam before the turn of the year, and we expect it to perform similarly well to Amazon's voice assistant. That means your commands from across the room will still be picked up while your soundbar is blaring.

the ambient verdict
Sonos Beam
The Sonos Beam may be small for its tier, but it packs a punch - particularly if you're looking for the best audio quality for your TV. Control through Alexa works nicely, despite needing a HDMI-ARC and Amazon Fire TV to get the most out of it, and AirPlay 2 support puts this bar among the premium options for you to consider.
PROS
  • Strong sound for TV
  • Great Alexa support
  • Compact design
CONS
  • Not about that bass
  • Not optimised for music
  • Google Assistant still missing

Best AirPlay 2 speakers:

Libratone Zipp

$299, libratone.com | Amazon


The Zipp recently got AirPlay 2 support, and just as well, because the Zip is a wonderful little speaker with attitude.

And your eyes don't deceive you: the Zipp does in fact have a working zip that goes around the entire circumference – this lets you change the colour of the case, which covers about three quarters of the speaker. The Zipp is the most portable speaker on our list, not only due to its size but the rechargeable battery inside that will give you up to 10 hours of playback per cycle (you'll get more if streaming over Bluetooth, less over Wi-Fi).

10 hours feel a bit short, but for a speaker that delivers this level of quality, it's great to have even that much freedom. Also, we've found we've managed to get an hour or two more than that in testing.

The Zipp is just over 10 inches high and light enough to chuck in a bag for a picnic in the park (something we recently did). Inside there are two one-inch tweeters, a 4-inch woofer and two 4-inch low frequency radiators. The Zipp doesn't quite meet Sonos' speakers or the HomePod in a battle of sound quality, which makes the cost harder to justify. But the Zipp still sounds really good, even at higher volumes, although you don't have the dynamic room adjustments on the aforementioned rivals.

One of the biggest bugbears with the Zipp is the on-speaker controls, so AirPlay 2 thankfully gives us even less need to touch the speaker. The fact it needs its proprietary charger is a bit annoying though. A USB option would have been simpler.

And if you don't fancy paying $299 for the Zipp, there's the cheaper Zipp Mini, which has also been blessed with AirPlay 2 for $50 less.

the ambient verdict
Libratone Zipp
The Libratone Zipp offers portability and added flair to help it stand out from the crowd, and while it doesn't match Sonos and Apple on sound quality, it sure as hell comes close. The Zipp Mini is cheaper and still offers AirPlay 2, but we'd recommend paying the extra.
PROS
  • Rich, clear sound
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
  • Customisable design
CONS
  • Too pricey
  • Finicky touch controls
  • Battery life too short


AirPlay 2 speakers: Others to consider

Best AirPlay 2 speakers:

B&O Beoplay M5

B&O's wool-covered speaker is a step up from the M3 in sound quality, and twice the price at $599. It's also pretty versatile, supporting a range of inputs including Bluetooth, Chromecast and, soon, AirPlay 2. If you like your bass, and we mean really like it, the M5 is a particularly good pick.

Best AirPlay 2 speakers:

Naim Mu-So

While it certainly won't be the most expensive AirPlay 2 speaker by the end of the year, Naim's $1000 Mu-So is the priciest on our list. The British hi-fi company's first wireless speaker is, however, an absolute powerhouse with a wide soundstage and serious bass. No word yet on when exactly AirPlay 2 will roll out on Naim's speaker range.


TAGGED   speakers

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