AirPlay, Apple’s wireless audio streaming technology, is a solid option for anyone tired of connecting and disconnecting iDevices to their speakers. And with the introduction of the new Lightning connector on most new Apple products, wireless streaming is an even better choice, as we have yet to see many speaker docks adopt the new proprietary connector.
With AirPlay, you can stream music from one source to multiple speakers in various locations, provided that they’re all on the same Wi-Fi network. AirPlay works with iPhones, iPods, and iPads as well as over iTunes from a PC or Mac. AirPlay also transmits track metadata, such as the artist, album, and song title. And with iTunes, you can set volume levels for individual wireless speakers.
So why choose AirPlay over Bluetooth for wireless streaming? Bluetooth used to have a reputation for poor sound quality, although that has largely been eliminated with the latest Bluetooth speakers. Instead, the difference is in features. Bluetooth wireless speakers can only connect to one device at a time. In addition, you have to be within direct range of the device—33 feet is the theoretical limit, but in practice it’s usually much less, and rarely exceeds 20 feet even with a clear line of sight. On the other hand, Bluetooth has the advantage of being more common, as it works with more devices (such as Android phones).
If you’re tied to a lot of Apple products already, you’ll definitely want to give AirPlay a look. The compatible speaker systems are generally pretty expensive, but they also typically provide stellar audio performance. And as with most Apple-associated products, the speaker systems feature minimal and elegant design elements that are sure to fit in with the rest of your Apple ensemble.
Serious audiophiles should still stick with their tethered systems, just because occasional signal dropouts can be maddening. But for the rest of us, the ease and convenience of wireless music nearly anywhere is sure to please.
FEATURED IN THIS ROUNDUP:
Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air
%displayPrice% at %seller%With Bowers and Wilkins, you definitely pay for the name and visual design as much as the audio quality. But the excellent-sounding Zeppelin Air iPod dock with wireless streaming via AirPlay does not disappoint. As such, this dirigible-looking speaker is our top choice for AirPlay Speakers. Read the full review ››
Altec Lansing inAir 5000 Wireless AirPlay Speaker
%displayPrice% at %seller% Altec Lansing’s inAir 5000 Wireless AirPlay Speaker offers powerful, distortion-free audio performance, with a simple app-driven set up. There are some problems with signal processing at top volume, but seeing as how this speaker gets extremely loud, it likely won’t be an issue for most. Read the full review ››
Bowers & Wilkins A5
The Bowers & Wilkins A5 is a joy to listen to, and even at high volumes, it’s generally a solid performer, though some deep bass tracks distort at maximum volume. Setting the A5 up is a piece of cake thanks to a free app, and the design is, like most Airplay docks (and B&W products) simple and easy on the eyes.
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Bowers & Wilkins A7
The Bowers & Wilkins A7 is a powerful, albeit pricey AirPlay speaker. The A7 delivers detailed, crystal clear audio with rich bass response, though its digital signal processing (DSP) will irk some audio purists. Regardless, the A7 is a top-notch system, if you can afford it.
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Klipsch Gallery G-17 Air
%displayPrice% at %seller%The Klipsch Gallery G-17 Air is a wonderful-sounding wireless speaker dock that features a sleek, modern, and wall-mountable design. This speaker system delivers a more audiophile-friendly flat response, but those looking for booming bass have better options elsewhere. Read the full review ››
The wireless Libratone Zipp is portable, ultra-stylish, and a solid audio performer at moderate volumes. The Zipp adds value with a feature called PlayDirect, which allows wireless audio streaming even when there are no available Wi-Fi networks—something that can’t be said of some of its pricier competitors.
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Audyssey Audio Dock Air
%displayPrice% at %seller% With its boosted bass, the Audyssey Audio Dock Air is an AirPlay dock intended for lovers of low frequencies. The unique square design has speakers on both sides, which is good for spreading the reach of audio, but not the width of the stereo field. Read the full review ››
%displayPrice% at %seller% It’s a shame the portable and Apple AirPlay-equipped iHome iW1 speaker distorts at high volumes, but it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker if you don’t listen to music with deep bass. The iHome iW1 is one of the more affordable AirPlay speakers, and the rechargeable battery makes it a solid option for taking your tunes with you on the go. Read the full review ››
JBL OnBeat Air
%displayPrice% at %seller% The JBL OnBeat Air is substantially less expensive than most AirPlay docks, and it offers reasonable audio performance. There are some issues with distortion at top volumes and it doesn’t get all that loud, but the addition of a docking arm for your iDevices makes it a viable option for a mini home theater. Read the full review ››
%displayPrice% at %seller% The very pricey Libratone Live speaker offers generally high-quality audio performance, but its stunning, unique look was clearly the top design priority. This cashmere-covered monolith is sure to please the design conscious, but only those with very deep pockets. Read the full review ››
Logitech UE Air Speaker
%displayPrice% at %seller% The Logitech UE Air Speaker is a solid wireless AirPlay dock at moderate volumes, but pump it up, and you’ll hear distortion. An included app lets you tweak treble and bass, and a physical dock allows you to charge your iDevices. Read the full review ››
By Eugene Kim, PCMag