Best AirPlay Speakers 2020: HomePod & Alternatives

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There are lots of different types of speakers out there to choose from, but Apple users are likely best off getting one with AirPlay support. We’ve tested out some of the best ones you can buy right here.

Multi-room speaker systems are more popular than ever – especially as mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad allow us to carry our entire music library from room to room, or connect to streaming services such as Apple Music or Spotify with a quick tap.

There’s a lot of choice out there, offering a wide variety of features, specs, designs and price tags. But the speaker market – and especially the multi-room speaker market – got a real shake-up in 2018 with the release of Apple’s new AirPlay 2 software, so it’s time to look at the best AirPlay choices currently available for your Mac and iOS devices.

If you are looking for something more basic then check out our chart of the best Bluetooth speakers for iPhone, iPad and Mac.

Best multi-room speakers

1. Sonos One

Sonos One

2. Ikea Symfonisk Lamp Speaker

Ikea Sonos Symfonisk Lamp Speaker

3. Yamaha MusicCast 20

Yamaha MusicCast 20

4. Libratone Zipp 2

Libratone Zipp 2

5. Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay M5

Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay M5

6. Sonos Beam

Sonos Beam

7. Apple HomePod

Apple HomePod

8. Bowers & Wilkins Formation Wedge

Bowers & Wilkins Formation Wedge

9. JBL Bar 5.1

JBL Bar 5.1 Surround

10. Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i

Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i

How to choose an AirPlay speaker

There’s a lot to think about when buying an AirPlay speaker so make sure you read this buying advice before splashing the cash.

Music streaming & compatibility

Having your favourite music follow you around your home is great, but conventional multi-room speakers often have significant limitations. Many, for example, will only work with a limited number of streaming services that are built into the apps provided by each manufacturer.

As you might expect, most will work with Spotify, while Tidal and Deezer also get a lot of support. But for some reason, Sonos is one of the few manufacturers of multi-room speakers that also supports Apple Music. In fact, some speakers only provide apps for iOS or Android mobile devices, which means that you can’t even play music from iTunes on a Mac.

The other big problem with conventional speakers in the past was that you have generally had to buy them all from one manufacturer when assembling a multi-room setup because rival speakers were incompatible and wouldn’t work together.

AirPlay vs AirPlay 2

But the speaker market changed dramatically in 2018 with the release of Apple’s updated AirPlay 2 software. Released to coincide with the HomePod launch, AirPlay 2 has also been licensed to a number of well-known manufacturers, which means there’s now a wide range of compatible speakers available. In fact, our top 10 is now entirely composed of devices that work with the newer standard.

The first version of AirPlay, released back in 2010, was like a souped-up version of Bluetooth, allowing you to stream audio from any app on your Mac or iOS devices to any AirPlay-compatible speaker and freeing you from reliance on the manufacturer’s apps. AirPlay also uses a Wi-Fi connection, which means a higher bandwidth than Bluetooth and better sound quality – not to mention longer range.

The simplicity and versatility of AirPlay is great, but – like Bluetooth – its original version was only designed to work with one speaker at a time. AirPlay 2 takes Apple into the multi-room market, with the ability to stream music to several speakers in different rooms. (Alternatively, you can create a HomePods stereo pair in the same room.)

But the real game-changer with AirPlay 2 was ‘interoperability’, the ability to link together speakers from different manufacturers for the very first time. This means you can mix and match speakers around your home – picking, for instance, a HomePod as your main living-room speaker, a little Sonos One in the bedroom, and Libratone’s portable Zipp 2 for drinks in the garden – and have them all linked up to play music simultaneously.

Which version of AirPlay is supported?

The important thing to remember is that there are now two types of AirPlay speaker on sale. Several still use the original version of AirPlay – which is limited to streaming music to one speaker at a time – but most new speakers (and all the speakers in this article) focus on AirPlay 2. Some will have the AirPlay logo on the packaging, but this doesn’t specify whether it’s AirPlay or AirPlay 2. It’s therefore important to check which version is supported by any speaker before buying.

But even the original AirPlay is still really useful for owners of Macs and iOS devices, so we’ll continue to review basic AirPlay speakers as long as they’re still being sold. However, we’d recommend opting for newer speakers that provide the multi-room versatility of AirPlay 2 wherever possible.

It’s also worth mentioning that some older AirPlay speakers can be upgraded to work with AirPlay 2 as well. Libratone’s new Zipp 2 uses AirPlay 2, but it’s possible to download a software update for the older first-generation Zipp speakers that adds support for AirPlay 2. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with all AirPlay speakers, and some models are stuck with basic AirPlay.

Sound Quality vs Price

The fact that Apple licenses both AirPlay and AirPlay 2 to other speaker manufacturers has other advantages too. The HomePod provides excellent sound quality, but it comes with a pretty hefty £320/$349 price tag. Buying three HomePods for a multi-room system would set you back almost £1,000/$1,100.

Those on a budget may prefer less expensive alternatives from other manufacturers, such as the Sonos One or Libratone’s Zipp 2 range. At the other extreme, some really expensive hi-fi systems in the pipeline offer AirPlay 2 support for audiophiles and home cinema buffs. These options give you flexibility: you can spend heavily on a really high-quality speaker for your living room, for example, while opting for a less expensive model in the kitchen.

Indoors and Outdoors

Some manufacturers provide more specialised speakers too, such as soundbars that you can use with your TV, or sub-woofers that can provide a bass boost for parties, or for sound effects when watching films.

Some even include rechargeable batteries and lightweight, portable designs so you can pick them up and carry them from room to room – which is certainly cheaper than buying a new speaker for each room – or take them out into the garden for a barbecue.

Connectivity

Connectivity is another key issue. The HomePod has been criticised for relying on Wi-Fi for streaming, with no option for quick and easy Bluetooth streaming for Android and other non-Apple devices. It doesn’t have a 3.5mm audio connector either, which would allow you to use it with a CD player or other audio devices.

Fortunately, many AirPlay and AirPlay 2 speakers provide a greater range of connectivity, allowing you to play music from a wider range of devices than the HomePod. Sonos has even announced it will be releasing an AirPlay 2 amplifier soon that can form the centrepiece of a serious home entertainment system.

In other words, AirPlay 2 is here to stay. Here’s our choice of the best AirPlay and AirPlay 2 speakers that are available in 2019.

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