Apple's Wi-Fi streaming protocol, AirPlay, has been alive since 2010. The latest edition is AirPlay 2, which finally adds multi-room support. 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‚Äôs 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 currently only on Apple TV. Through 2019 that will change as AirPlay 2 is coming to bunch of TV sets from Samsung, LG, Sony and more.
Read this: Best smart speakers
AirPlay 2's big new feature is multi-room audio, letting you beam sound to multiple speakers of your choosing at once. If you‚Äôre an Apple Music subscriber, you can even play different songs on different speakers. What a time to be alive.
Even though we're now into 2019 AirPlay 2 is still rolling out, so only a portion of AirPlay 2-ready speakers currently support the new protocol. Below, we‚Äôve rounded up the best speakers that are in line for AirPlay 2, some of which we‚Äôve been able to test with the update, others that are yet to get it. But first‚Ä¶
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 ‚Äď and a few others to consider.
Apple‚Äôs HomePod is the OG AirPlay 2 speaker, although the feature wasn‚Äôt actually available from Day One. iOS 11.4 brought AirPlay 2 to Apple‚Äôs mighty little speaker in mid-2018, 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‚Äôs small stature. And Apple‚Äôs 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.
The HomePod also has Siri built in, which you won‚Äôt 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 ‚Äď or ‚Äúmusicologist‚ÄĚ as Apple likes to call it ‚Äď 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 ‚Äď and HomePod ‚Äď 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.
- Fantastic audio quality
- Super slick design
- Apple Music integration is great
- Siri is lacking
- Spotify and co. are an afterthought
Bose's new smart speaker arrived with Alexa voice controls and wall-to-wall sound, but more recently it was blessed with AirPlay 2 support.
While all the speakers on this list offer stellar sound, Bose has a few features that set it apart. Such as the 2.3-inch x 1.3-inch LCD screen sitting in the middle, which will display album artwork and tell you what's playing, but little else, and if you're playing using Bluetooth you won't see anything.
The sound of the Home Speaker 500 is comparable to the HomePod, but lacks Apple's dynamic tuning. The Home Speaker 500 instead relies on two custom drivers pointing left and right to bounce sound off its surroundings, so you'll need to think a bit more carefully about where you place it.
The eight-array microphones situated on the device's top do a good job of hearing us when we talk to Alexa, even with loud music playing in the room. If anyhing it's almost too sensitive ‚Äď living with a flatmate called Alex has, as you can imagine, caused us plenty of problems.
We do wish there was a portable power supply stand available, as the company offers for some of its smaller 'dumb' speakers - and more so after spending time with the portable Libratone Zipp 2. But speaker's biggest downfall is the price: $400. That's a big ask, and more than its closest rivals, including the HomePod and Sonos One.
- Top-tier audio quality
- Sturdy, classy design
- Bose Music app is neat
- Grossly expensive
- Limited mini-screen
- Mild Alexa hiccups
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.
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 ‚Äď a highly lauded speaker that's been a Sonos favorite for quite some time
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. Here's how to do it.
- Deep bass, great sound
- Versatile music experience
- Classy design
- Alexa is profoundly deaf
- No voice control for non Spotify/Amazon music services
Naim Mu-so 2
British hi-fi company Naim Audio's first Mu-So speaker was an absolute powerhouse, with a wide soundstage and serious bass. While we might have guffawed at its price tag, it was the only major downside of an otherwise world-class speaker. So how do you improve that for the second iteration? And some low-end tweaks for even better bass.
And you wouldn't want to squander a speaker that sounds this good on inferior bitrates, would you? That's why the Mu-So can handle filed up to 32-bit/384kHz, for all you hi-res fanatics. Tidal subscribers and FLAC users, we're talking to you (we've been streaming a lot of Tidal on this thing, and it makes those cringe-inducing memories of Jay Z's awkward Tidal relaunch ceremony almost bearable).
Basically, it sounds great. On sheer audio quality alone, it's the best sounding speaker on this list - hands down - and the best pick for audiophiles, with Bluetooth, USB, 3.5mm and optical providing a veritable feast of input options. The Mu-so 2 is also compatible with older Mu-so speakers, should you want to loop them into your multi-room setup. AirPlay 2 works a charm, and you've also got Spotify Connect and Google Cast to make use of. Should you want to, the Mu-so 2 even works as a soundbar thanks to the addition of an HDMI ARC input.
The design will likely divide opinion more than the sound; Naim's speaker is huge and heavy, one you don't want to move once you find it a home. It comes with a black grille as default, but Naim is offering Terracotta, Olive or Peacock alternatives to give it some added pizazz. On top you'll find touch-sensitive buttons and, uniquely, this AirPlay 2 speaker comes with a remote. Fear not, you also have the Mu-so smartphone app, although we don't think its actually very good. It gets the job done, but in setting up the speaker it could be a lot more straightforward.
Even more likely to divide is the price: $1599. That also makes it the most expensive speaker on this list, but Naim is playing in another category, one that just got a damn good AirPlay 2 speaker.
- Incredible audio quality
- Huge array of input options
- Can act as a soundbar
- Chunky and heavy
- App needs work
The 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 second-gen 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 ‚Äď and the most powerful Sonos has made to date.
Inside there are three 10cm drivers and three tweeters ‚Äď left, right and middle ‚Äď which is an upgrade on what was found in the first-gen version. Trueplay, which calibrates the sound to the surrounding room, ensures the Play:5 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 use your iOS device to tell Siri 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.
- Rich, room-filling sound
- Integrates with other Sonos speakers
- Trueplay tweaks sound for room
- Very heavy ‚Äď not ideal for mounting
- No assistant
The Sonos Beam is the company's latest soundbar. It's pretty and compact, sitting at just 26 inches wide, making it easy to fit snugly under a TV. And although it's not cheap (what ever is from Sonos?) it's more reasonable than, say, the Playbar. It also has Alexa built in (Google Assistant is coming), like the Sonos One, and now has AirPlay 2 to boot. That means once you've started streaming music over AirPlay, you can use Alexa to control playback.
How does it sound? For its size, it's fairly impressive, and that's because the company has managed to pack in a considerable amount of tech inside this thing. 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‚Äôs no subwoofer here, and the bass on the Sonos Beam does lack a bit of detail, but this can be helped by linking up with additional Sonos speakers.
As the Beam has been 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.
- Strong sound for TV
- Great Alexa support
- Compact design
- Not about that bass
- Not optimised for music
- Google Assistant still missing
The Libratone Zipp 2 tries to do it all, and for the most part is succeeds. Alexa, AirPlay 2, Bluetooth, 3.5mm aux input; the Zipp 2 is a versatile beast. Even better? You can take it portable.
The Zipp 2 also comes in a smaller version, the Zipp Mini 2, which is functionally similar but in a smaller package (if that wasn't obvious). With normal use you can get up to 12 hours of battery life from a charge which, considering everything on offer, is impressive.
The Zipp 2 has a 1-inch tweeter and 4-inch woofer (the Mini slims the woofer down to 3 inches) and the sound quality is rather great, while the app has a range of EQ tweaks on offer, including some set profiles like Easy Listening, Movie Mode and Jazz Club, which adjust the balance accordingly. There's Tidal integration in the app too, along with support for Spotify Connect.
Alexa‚Äôs abilities are similar to most other third-party speakers which support the assistant ‚Äď so it can do pretty much everything but voice calling. We found Alexa was pretty good at hearing us via the six far-field microphones built in, even with some bassy tunes planes. Not perfectly consistent, but more sensitive than it is on the Sonos One.
- Superb sound
- Alexa and AirPlay 2
- Good EQ features
- The price
- Not as portable as it thinks
- Wavers a bit at high volumes